Though Thanksgiving is behind us, I hope feelings of gratitude for the blessings in your life continue to linger. I know for so many new families who joined our community after Oct. 7, gratitude hardly captures what they feel toward our school and the broader JCDS community. Last week, Oz Carmel, a parent who returned to Israel this week, shared the following letter with us. We temporarily welcomed the Carmel family from Israel, including dad Oz, mom Neomi, Mika (sixth grade), Gili (fifth grade) and Niv (first grade). I hope his words lift your spirits as much as they lifted mine. As we look forward to Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, I am proud that through these dark times, JCDS offered light to shine through the cracks. I am grateful to all of you who helped make that happen.

Kibbutz Lahav, Israel, Thursday, Oct. 5.

Neomi decided to go with Mika to Tel Aviv—a fun day for mother and daughter. Mika will soon celebrate her bat mitzvah, so why not spoil her a bit? I, Oz, have been working from home, as usual (since the COVID-19 pandemic). It was a beautiful day at our kibbutz, Kibbutz Lahav, at the end of Sukkot, preparing for the end of the holiday and Simchat Torah. The sukkah we built in the yard was decorated and beautiful. The weather was pleasant, still warm with blue skies. Liv and Gili were playing at home and we were waiting for the chaggim to end, ready for our children to return to school. Liv just started studying in first grade and Gili started studying in a new school.

This is what our life looked like before Oct. 7.

Then the sky fell.

Already on Saturday morning, we realized that something terrible had happened. We were in the kibbutz when heavy rocket barrages started. The siren was heard, and we are used to it: less than one minute to enter the protected space at home. It doesn’t matter if you are in the shower, toilet, or outside.

But it didn’t feel at all like an ordinary rocket event. From one second to another, it became clear that this was a great disaster that is still unfolding.

The news, the harsh rumors, the uncertainty—everything suddenly felt like a second Holocaust.

Paralyzing fear. What happened to our army? How did they abandon us? Why is the government not acting? More than anything, the horror stories made us fear for the fate of the children. What do we do with the children? How do we mediate the story to them without hurting their soft souls?

A week passed, and feelings of fear, insecurity, great sadness, and grief overwhelmed everyone. Everyone’s faces were off and dark, and the rockets continued. They were joined by the noise of our planes, which encouraged us but added to the enormous tension, too. Explosive sounds and loud booms also continued 24 hours a day. The sky was littered with jets of fire and smoke from all directions.

Neomi is a nurse at the kibbutz clinic. Injured people who miraculously survived arrived at the clinic and told difficult stories. I went up to guard the perimeter around the kibbutz.

Despite our strong community, we felt that the world we had built was collapsing.

We decided in one moment of agreement to simply try to get out of the country, fly to Boston, and try to figure out what to do.

The children were confused, just as much as we were. We booked an El Al flight (the only airline flying), packed quickly, and drove to the airport. We saw couples parting from each other in tears, and soldiers and reservists in uniform leaving their families and returning to Gaza. Sad and discouraging.

The Iron Dome is regularly stationed at the airport to intercept rockets that could endanger the planes. When the plane took off, there was still a great deal of tension, which lasted a long time. This was not a normal flight; it was survival.

We arrived in Cambridge and stayed with Neomi’s sister. We weren’t ready for winter on the East Coast, barely able to pack the bare essentials in our heightened emotional state.

It took us two weeks to get over the initial shock, to understand that there were no more rockets and alarms, and that families were living in houses without the need for shelters.

Then we got to JCDS.

It’s hard to explain in words the feeling we had from the first moment we arrived, and actually even before that. The school staff did everything so Mika, Gili, and Liv would feel comfortable. We received school essentials, lunch boxes, and water bottles. The kids participated in class activities and made some friends. It was almost three weeks of priceless normality.

I will miss many great people who helped us from the reception to the moment we decided to return to Israel. But I must mention two dear people:

Karen Siegel, director of admissions, who listened to all our needs, and managed to find us and the children the exact place that would suit them. Karen, we’re glad we met you.

And Avi Minder, fifth grade advisor and fifth/sixth grade English teacher, who gained Gili’s trust and was much more than a teacher. Avi helped him to feel comfortable in class, spending many hours tirelessly making English content accessible in Hebrew. Our observations moved us to tears every time we looked into the classroom window.

Thanks to the volunteers who accompanied us and to all the school’s professional staff who surrounded us, gave us a feeling of warmth and security, and even gave me an office to continue working on my own.

This is a wonderful school, and there is a strong and warm Jewish community here. Keep praying for the State of Israel, and we will continue to keep and protect our country in the Land of Israel.

You will always be in our hearts.

Am Israel Chai!

Neomi, Oz, Mika, Gili, and Liv Carmel

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