Last Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, I went for a run, early in the morning as usual.
When I was in the middle of the difficult climb on my challenging running route, my cell phone rang. I was wondering who was calling me on Saturday at 7 a.m. The messages started ticking on my phone.
It was Abraham, my husband, who informed me of the situation in the south, and the rest is history.
I have been running for years.
I ran alone and ran in official races. This April, if everything goes well, I will run the Berlin Half Marathon.
Over the years, I have met wonderful people in the official races in Israel, runners like me.
Members of kibbutzim, urbanites like me, members of settlements, soldiers, boys and girls, adults like me, families who run together, people who share a common “madness.”
But I want to tell you about three “running freaks” from the south, who went out like me for a routine run on Saturday, Oct. 7. Only one returned from this run.
Naomi Shtrit-Azolai, Kobi Parintah and Ram Hayon went for a routine run, as they do every Shabbat, in the beautiful fields near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, when the sky was filled with fireballs.
This is Ram’s story:
“We lived in Ramat Gan, but we moved down to Moshav Tidhar so that my wife could take over the private business of her family who lived in the Moshav, and indeed the business is thriving at full strength. Being urban and in the center of the country, it was not easy for me to move to the south, but over the years, I fell in love with this area, an intense love, and even more I loved the runs in the fields and the wonderful areas we have here.”
Ram paused and drew air into his lungs:
“I met Kobi and Naomi in the Sderot running group, which contains runners from the settlements, the kibbutzim and the surrounding cities, and I immediately connected with them. The three of us used to run together and, of course, also as part of a large group of runners, and it was my greatest pleasure. On that cursed Saturday, we arranged to meet at 6 a.m. near the gas station at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and we set off. After about 25 minutes of running, we spotted launches in the sky and as people are used to this, we lay down on the ground and waited for it to end. But the rocket barrage intensified in a way we are less familiar with, and we realized that this was a different event. We saw an IDF vehicle and ran to it. The soldier who was inside told us it was a normal volley, but we thought it didn’t make sense.”
Ram took a sip from a water bottle and couldn’t continue talking. After a moment, he continued in a loud voice:
“We realized that we needed to help ourselves and we started running—after all, we are champions at running—in the directions we know, to take cover, and from there, we started a face-to-face battle without weapons against hundreds of armed terrorists who saw us and started chasing after us. The result of this battle is that Naomi and Kobi are dead—they were murdered by the abominable terrorists. I was injured and managed to get to the area where the army is located, and from there I was evacuated to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva.”
At the exact same time in Haifa in the north, 6 a.m., I, Judith Baruch, started my usual run in the Mount Carmel area, and about half an hour later, I received both a phone call and messages about what was happening in the south.
I did not finish my usual route that damn morning. I ran back quickly toward my peaceful home and was happy to see that Abraham was waiting for me safe and sound, which did not happen to Ram, Naomi and Kobi.
My routine run on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, will remain engraved in my heart as a run that did not end.
This is in memory of Naomi Shtrit-Azolai, 52 years old, from Sderot, married to Yuval and a mother of three, and Kobi Parintah, 43 years old, from Sderot, married and a father of four. And sending lots of love and reinforcements for Ram Hayon from Moshav Tidhar, who came down from the center to live in the south, fell in love with the south intensely and was also injured in the south.
Judith Baruch is the coordinator of CJP’s Boston-Haifa Peoplehood committee.