newsOctober 7

Student villages on Israel’s borders are among the war’s victims

“I don’t know if I’ll feel safe going back if nothing changes. I don’t know if I’ll be able to live there as I had intended.”

Kedma students at Roger's House Hostel in Tel Aviv after moving from Metula in the aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attacks. Credit: Courtesy of Kedma.
Kedma students at Roger's House Hostel in Tel Aviv after moving from Metula in the aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attacks. Credit: Courtesy of Kedma.

“We are functional but still broken,” Menashe Edri, a survivor of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre at Kibbutz Nir Oz, told JNS. 

Edri had been living in Nir Oz for two years at a student village established by Kedma, an organization that works to reinforce communities on Israel’s borders by providing students and young professionals with opportunities to relocate.

“We were only five students out of 20 at the village on Oct. 7. Most had returned to their families for the holiday,” recalled Edri. 

Early that Saturday morning, Edri and the rest of the community woke up to the sound of alarms triggered by rockets entering Israeli airspace. Edri and his girlfriend rushed to the safe room and locked the door, expecting the incident to end shortly. 

Posters of Sharon Aloni-Cunio, David Cunio, their twin daughters Emma and Yuli, and Sharon’s niece Emilia Aloni near their home in Nir Oz, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo: Amelie Botbol.

“Then, we started hearing screaming near the house, gunshots and terrorists yelling ‘Allahu Akbar,’” said Edri. “The terrorists did not enter my house and another house where two friends were hiding,” he added.

Throughout the attack, he monitored messages on the kibbutz WhatsApp group, where some members reported that their houses had been set on fire and others, who were witnessing murders, were pleading for help. 

“Around 2 p.m., when the terrorists had completed their rampage, they left. The army arrived 30 minutes after the terrorists were no longer there. The soldiers checked each house on the kibbutz. At 5:30 p.m., we were rescued after spending approximately 11 hours inside our safe room,” Edri related. 

An Israeli soldier surveys the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in Kibbutz Nir Oz, Oct. 30, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Nir Oz survivors were relocated to Eilat, where they lived for three months at the Yam Suf [Red Sea] Hotel. Kedma’s students have since resettled in a temporary student village in Kiryat Gat, about 20 miles northwest of Gaza. 

“We, the student village, did not suffer direct losses, which makes it a bit easier for us than for the rest of the kibbutz,” said Edri. “We’re more functional, but we’re still broken,” he added. 

As part of the Kedma program, students are expected to volunteer with the community where they live. “We have programs with the elderly and children who we visit once a week, it’s very hard right now,” said Edri.

Kedma students also took the initiative of setting up the Nir Oz tent at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv. “The kibbutz members don’t have the energy to do these things, they rarely go out,” Edri added.

Illy Markovich, manager of Kedma’s student hostel in Kiryat Gat, inside the Nir Oz tent she helped build at Tel Aviv’s Hostage Square, Feb. 10, 2024. Photo: Amelie Botbol

Illy Markovich, 28, the manager of the Kedma student village in Kiryat Gat, moved from Tel Aviv to Nir Oz a year before the attacks took place, but was away on a trip to Japan with her family on Oct. 7. 

“I was in constant communication with my friends in Nir Oz during the massacre,” she told JNS. 

“One out of every four residents of the kibbutz were either murdered or kidnapped. We had five students there and they somehow dodged that bullet. People we met daily in the kibbutz; at the supermarket, in the park, during holiday celebrations, people we were close to, were either kidnapped or murdered,” she said. 

Markovich spoke of Yair Horn, who managed the pub in the kibbutz, and Ofer Kalderon, who helped organize cultural events. Both were kidnapped by Hamas into Gaza; Yirmi Shafir, Noya Dan and Carmela Dan, with whom the students used to volunteer, were all killed. 

“We might come back. It will take time,” said Markovich. 

Shahar Meadan, the manager of the Kedma student village in the northern Galilee city of Metula, was woken up by a phone call telling her of the assault on the south. “I turned on the news and told everyone that we needed to leave Metula,” she told JNS. 

“As soon as we could, we left,” she said.

Kedma students share a meal at Roger’s House Hostel in Tel Aviv after moving from Metula in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks. Photo courtesy of Kedma.

A few weeks later, the Kedma students resettled at Roger’s House Hostel in Tel Aviv, which was turned into a student village. “In the Galilee, we were about 30 students in Metula, 20 in Kibbutz Misgav Am and another seven in Kfar Yuval. Twenty-five students now live here in Tel Aviv. Those who don’t still volunteer with us,” she added. 

Meadan described her pre-Oct. 7 walks on the Lebanese border and a feeling of safety that has vanished into thin air in the wake of the constant missile and UAV attacks from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization, after Hamas attacked Israel in the south. 

For Meadan, returning to Israel’s northernmost city, which she called home for two and a half years, is not an option with Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah deployed along the border. 

“I don’t know if I’ll feel safe going back if nothing changes. I don’t know if I’ll be able to live there as I had intended,” she said. 

Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah has launched thousands of rockets across the border at towns in northern Israel. On Feb. 13, two Israelis were wounded in a Hezbollah rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona.

Ori Ebelman, 22, originally from Alon Shvut in Judea, had found a house in Metula and was meant to move in on Oct. 9. 

“I wanted to live in nature and be surrounded by greenery in a quiet place. In the end, I found myself at a student village here in Tel Aviv. This is what Hashem wanted. I am not thinking of moving back to Metula right now,” Ebelman told JNS. 

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