Survivors of the Kfar Aza Massacre Recount Their Tales of Horror

The four survivors from the Kfar Aza kibbutz who spoke at Congregation Adath Jeshurun from left are Sergei Yankelevich, Ayelet Benedek-Kazir, Lir Soussana and Doron Admoni. Photos by Stephen Silver

Stephen Silver

Four survivors of the Oct. 7 Kfar Aza kibbutz massacre appeared at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park on Feb. 25, telling their stories of that terrible day while urging both the return of the remaining hostages and support for the rebuilding of their kibbutz.

The four survivors are Ayelet Benedek-Kazir, Doron Admoni, Lir Soussana and Sergei Yankelevich. The spouses of Benedek-Kazir and Admoni were both killed in the attacks, as was Admoni’s son, and all four lost people with whom they were close. The survivors, who are touring synagogues and other locations in the United States, are sponsored by the Kfar Aza Foundation.

Kfar Aza in southern Israel was founded in 1951 at the dawn of the state of Israel itself. On Oct. 7, the kibbutz, located three miles from the border of the Gaza Strip, was attacked by Hamas. That day, 64 people there were killed and 18 more were taken hostage, with five of them still being held. Since then, the kibbutz has been designated a “closed military area,” with its inhabitants unable to return to their homes. Most have relocated to other kibbutzim and locations in Israel.

From left: The photos on the chairs are of the five remaining hostages from the kibbutz: Ziv and Gali Berman, Doron Steinbrecher, Emily Damari and Keith Samuel Siegel. Photos by Stephen Silver

The 67-year-old Admoni has lived at Kfar Aza since 1989. However, he was not present there on Oct. 7, as he was traveling in the U.S. He received an early-morning message from his wife, Michal, and soon after that, a message from the kibbutz itself that the attack was underway. When he didn’t hear again from his wife or his son, Guy, he suspected that they were killed; their bodies were found four days after the attack.

“Everyone in the kibbutz lost something,” Admoni said. However, he struck something of a hopeful tone, calling for both the return of the hostages and the rebuilding of the kibbutz.
“We have to continue our life,” he said. He added that due to the tragedy, the current condition of the kibbutz is “like a Holocaust museum for us.”

Benedek-Kazir, 63, who was born in Israel and has lived on various kibbutzim since the 1960s, lost her husband David in the attack. He went out that morning in his Jeep — one of what she called his “extreme Jeep drives” — and never returned, while his wife remained in a safe room on the kibbutz. His death was confirmed days later although, like Admoni, she suspected much earlier that he had been killed.

“I lost my beloved, my best friend,” she said at the event. “My children lost their protective father. He was one really one of a kind.”

David Kazir, 72, was described in a Times of Israel obituary as the “uniting center” of his family.

Benedek-Kazir, a mother of three and grandmother of two, is a psychotherapist specializing in, among other things, post-traumatic stress disorder — something she suspects she may be suffering from herself. She described herself as a lifelong believer in peace but said that she had started questioning that worldview following the attack.

Soussana, 27, was the youngest of the four survivors present. A provider of dog-assisted therapy to people with autism, she was at her parents’ home when the attack began. After hours in a safe room, she and her boyfriend fled by car.

“For me, it meant everything,” Soussana said of kibbutzes, on which she has spent her entire life. “For me, to live in a city is too hard. I need the fields … I need the quiet, the green and the community.”

Soussana, much like Benedek-Kazir, has had a peacenik-oriented worldview, although that’s something she’s begun to question.

“We’re all confused,” she said. “We’re all trying to figure out how, now, can we live?

Because if we tried to make peace and it didn’t work, what are you supposed to do now? I think most people are like me; they have shifted their opinions. You heard Ayelet; she was very on the left wing, and she believed in peace … difficult. I don’t have a good answer to that.”

And what of the hostages?

“I’m not a politician, I really don’t know,” she said, “and it’s the first time we have civilians that are hostages … so these are not prisoners of war; these are normal people. So do whatever we can bring them home because we have to; we have no choice.”

Five hostages taken from Kfar Aza remain in captivity: Twin brothers Ziv and Gali Berman, Doron Steinbrecher, Emily Damari and Keith Samuel Siegel. All five had their photographs adorned on chairs on the bimah during the event.

Yankelevich, a 43-year-old father of two born in the former Soviet Union and who has lived at Kfar Azza for seven years, reacted to the attacks differently — with a career change. Formerly a vice president at a manufacturing plant, Yankelevich began studying for a master’s degree in clinical social work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“So many needed to be helped,” he said.

“Such good friends, everything together,” he said of his love for the kibbutz life.
Adath Jeshurun Rabbi Shai Cherry reflected on the event afterward.

“As painful as it was to hear their experiences, it was the kind of first-hand account that we generally don’t get on American media,” he said. “And, therefore, it was critically important for us to be brought into their accounts of Oct. 7 and how they’re processing the aftereffects.”

Stephen Silver is a Broomall-based freelance writer.


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