Shahar Snurman and his wife, Ayelet Kohn, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the communities hardest hit during Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre. Credit: Courtesy of Shahar Snurman.
Shahar Snurman and his wife, Ayelet Kohn, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the communities hardest hit during Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre. Credit: Courtesy of Shahar Snurman.
featureOctober 7

‘We could no longer be refugees in our own country’

"It’s good for our soul to be in this kibbutz,” says Kfar Aza resident Shahar Snurman, a survivor of the Oct. 7 massacre who returned home in December.

“We see burned-out houses or areas destroyed by RPGs. We remember that a friend or a neighbor was murdered in every house,”  Shahar Snurman, 62, a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza and a survivor of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, told JNS. 

“It gives me the strength to stay and rebuild,” he added. 

On Oct. 7, Snurman, 62, and his wife, Ayelet Kohn, 56, hid in their safe room for hours. At one point, Snurman received a call from a neighbor asking him to help locate his wife. 

“We knew there were terrorists in the kibbutz but we didn’t know how many, so I went outside to look for her. I found her dead, she had been murdered by Hamas,” said Snurman.

“I went outside a few times and saw three terrorists. I almost engaged them but decided not to,” he added. 

Shahar Snurman. Photo: Courtesy.

After spending 30 hours under siege, the two were evacuated by the army to a nearby gas station before making their way to Snurman’s sister in Kibbutz Harduf.

“We left while still under fire. We entered a military vehicle from one side while soldiers were shooting from the other,” he recalled. 

The couple spent seven weeks in temporary housing in Tel Aviv while the rest of the community resettled in Shefayim, a kibbutz in central Israel.

Refugees from Kibbutz Kfar Aza in Kibbutz Shefayim in central Israel, Dec, 24, 2023. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90.

On Dec. 10, Snurman and his wife were the first residents to move back to Kfar Aza. 

“We came back because we could no longer be refugees in our own country. It was too hard,” he said. 

“We couldn’t give Hamas the satisfaction of throwing us out of our house. After seven weeks, we decided it was time to come back. I couldn’t let them have this victory,” he added. 

Israeli soldiers in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israeli-Gaza border in southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Kfar Aza was the scene of some of Hamas’s worst atrocities on Oct. 7. Sixty-two members of the kibbutz were murdered; Alon Shamriz, 26, and Yotam Haim, 28, were kidnapped into Gaza, managed to escape from their Hamas captors and were mistakenly killed by Israeli forces in December, along with Samer Fouad Talalka, 22, who was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Am.

“I never really thought I would stay away for this long,” said Snurman. “After the army rescued us, my wife asked me what we were going to do. I told her that we would wait a few hours and then once the IDF had cleaned up the kibbutz, we would go back,” he continued. 

“Of course, we’re afraid. We are on the border in the middle of a war, we still hear [rocket sirens], but if we let fear drive us we won’t do anything,” he added. 

Yotam Haim
Yotam Haim, one of three Israeli hostages mistakenly killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 15, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

Guarded by Israeli forces, Kfar Aza remains a closed military zone only accessible to those who receive authorization from the army. While living there has disadvantages, said Snurman, they make it work. 

“When we want to buy something, we just go to the next city, Netivot or Sderot. My mail goes to Shefayim, where most of the kibbutz currently resides. We go once a week to speak with a therapist and visit our friends,” he explained. 

“It’s not normal that those who want to come visit us have to ask the army ahead of time. No one can just stop by, they have to let us know a day or two in advance and we arrange it for them. We try to live a normal life in abnormal settings. I think we are quite successful,” he added. 

“The community has not lived here for seven months so it looked quite awful, but now we have a nice garden, the houses are clean and we wait for the government to allocate funds to start rebuilding the kibbutz,” said Snurman. 

The aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Kibbutz Kfar Aza in southern Israel, April 7, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Volunteers from all over the country have traveled to the kibbutz to help clean up the houses and maintain the garden.

According to Snurman, more people have returned to Kfar Aza over the past few weeks.

“We are now six, sometimes even eight. Some don’t spend the entire week here. Everyone that comes back is a small celebration, a small victory. It’s another person that resettles in the place that they truly want to live in,” he told JNS. 

“In the end, no one went to live in Shefayim because they wanted to. They want to live in their house. Everybody that comes back is another step in the right direction,” he added. 

Kibbutz Kfar Aza on Jan. 03, 2024. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90.

Snurman never doubted that he’d eventually return to the kibbutz. 

“The right thing is to come back. This is the only place in Israel where we can live. Our house still stands and I don’t see any reason why not to live here. It’s good for our soul to be in this kibbutz,” he told JNS. 

Snurman and the others do everything they can to honor those they lost in the massacre and those who are still held hostage. 

On Whatsapp, Snurman replaced his profile picture with one of Doron Steinbrecher, 30, who was kidnapped from Kfar Aza on Oct. 7 and is one of 19 women still being held by Hamas in Gaza.  

Dor Steinbrecher wit
Dor Steinbrecher is interviewed by Jake Tapper on “CNN,” about his sister, 30-year-old Doron Steinbrecher (pictured at left), who is being held captive in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, Source: Screenshot.

“I worked with her father for the past 15 years. I see myself as a good friend of the family and I want everyone who calls me to see the face of this young lady who remains in Gaza,” said Snurman. 

“ She is part of my community. I want her and all the other hostages to come home,” he added. 

Snurman, who attended a lot of funerals after Oct. 7, said there isn’t a day or a morning in which he and his wife don’t cry about those they lost. 

“We walk by their house and oftentimes we put a candle outside for them. We talk about them. We do everything we can to remember all of them and to remember our good friends,” he said. 

Hostage Photos Dizengoff Square
Israelis walk past candles and photos of the victims killed and held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since the Oct. 7 massacre, on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on April 8, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Speaking to JNS a day after Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Snurman described the commemoration which took place in Kfar Aza.

“On Yom Hashoah, we all stopped what we were doing and got together at 9:45 a.m. We had a nice ceremony, said a few things and then we continued with our work,” he said.

“Yom Hazikaron [Remembrance Day] will be very hard. We will do it in Kfar Aza because we think we should mark all the holidays and all the sad dates here,” he added.

Siren, Israel, Holocaust Remembrance Day
People stand still in Tel Aviv, as a two-minute siren is sounded across Israel to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 6, 2024. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

“We will walk to a few places where our friends were murdered, light candles and then come home. We are not going to do anything big this year, not for Yom Hazikaron and not for Yom Haatzmaut [Independence day],” he added. 

While he realizes that the community will never be the same after Oct. 7—in addition to the death and destruction, several residents have decided not to return to the kibbutz—Snurman remains hopeful that life will return to Kfar Aza in a few years. 

“It will be a different community, which I hope will be strong,” he said. 

“It will take years to understand where we go from here. I hope Kfar Aza will be once again a good place with a good community,” he added.

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