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Back from the Dead: Returning to Israel after the October 7 massacre

“I wasn’t used to this shiva house that Israel had become since October 7.”

By Mollie Andron

This year, I was in Israel for Sukkot, staying in my grandparents’ apartment at Diskin St. 7. They had bought it from blueprints right after the 1973 war—a symbol to them of “never again”—and I was there, in their apartment, when it happened again on October 7. Four days later, amidst the blur—before the ground invasion, as the dead were being counted in droves—I boarded a plane with my one-and-a-half-year-old, heading back to New York. This week, I came back to Israel for the first time since leaving on October 11. 

I landed back in Israel for three days to come again, to meet my sister’s baby, to see my other sister and nieces, and simply to be here up close and physically touch some of those that I love.  Last night, my oldest group of girlfriends came over to hang out, like we always did. Liat’s dad drove her from her grandmother’s place in Nahlaot and he too couldn’t believe what a time capsule it was—a real blast from the past to gather together for a night of drinking and talking the night away at Diskin 7. The world can change, we can change, but Diskin 7 stays the same. It is an imperative for it to stay the same. It is the one constant. 

Usually, it’s nearly impossible to get this group of friends together. Even before kids, each one had her own whims that, at times, took us to different places. Commitment isn’t the word that I would use to describe this group of friends. Depth, love, laughter, honesty, authenticity, and trust is what I would say—but not consistency or commitment to plans. It is a small miracle when it happens. But it was almost like everyone needed to be at Diskin 7 together, and needed to feel the nostalgia—to remember that there was a time before October 7. And that we were all once innocent and young and full of hope. 

The second everyone walked in, they could tell that I was feeling unsettled. My body told a story of its own. They realized before I did that I was uncomfortable. And once I opened my mouth, I too realized that I was uncomfortable. I was having a hard time claiming my own story. I was uncomfortable being here and there—Jerusalem and New York—sitting between two places. 

I’m not used to this shiva house that Israel has become since October 7. I’m not used to the signposts with images of the dead. I’m not used to learning dedicated to lost cousins. I’m not used to posters of the hostages—the hatufim—whole and unripped, I’m not used to men without uniforms walking around with guns, people speaking about coming back from Gaza for Shabbat, and everyone’s spirit dim-yet-bright at the same time. 

Last night, Liat said that for two months straight, she cried every night. She watched videos on repeat about the kids and women, and didn’t sleep. She broke and fell as low as she possibly could. Rotem asked, “What if everyone took to the streets, could we get the hatufim back that way? Should we stop fighting?” Esther said, “Then what did our soldiers die for—what for? If we stop, will our soldiers have died in vain?” There is no separation between the soldiers and the kidnapped and us. It is “ours.” But can people claim this story as “ours”? Even if we feel it? Who has the right to say “ours”? 

“We have to get the hatufim back,” Keren and Tali said. “If we don’t get them back, they’ve won. They are the soul. No one will ever feel safe in this country and no one will want to go to the army.” Liat said, “They’ve already won, they raped our girls, they killed our babies and grandparents, people moved away, they’ve already won.”

There are no answers. Only thoughts born of  heartache. And so much brokenness. And Einat stopped the conversation in her usual way to bring us back to something else. “And what about you, Mollie, what’s happening in America? What’s it like being there? What about your friends? Who are your people? What do people think and say?”

I’ve been protecting myself, I’ve been staying close to home, talking to people that I know and love. Have I been asked to represent Israel and what people think? Sometimes, but not usually. Thankfully, I’m in a context where people know a lot, and if they don’t, they ask questions. “But it must be harder to be outside,” they said, and, yes, it is harder sometimes to be outside. You have to deal with the implications of what this all means in the world. You have to interact with people who have drastically different takes. You have to see signs from both sides and people who have nothing to do with this nevertheless intervening. And you don’t see the beauty of the people to balance out the systems and institutions that are part of what is causing so much harm. 

Hilli said she wished soldiers could just go around and share their stories with the world. But no one wants to listen to stories from both sides, because that just makes it so much harder. It is easier to just listen to one side of the story. Still, figuring out where you are in a story is hard. A story that you are actually a part of—not just one that you are latching onto or witnessing from the side. A story in which you have a stake—a story that is part of you. Hilli shared that she was able to let go of her relationship with Ariel once she understood that she had agency, once she realized that she was an active person in the story. During the UN trials, Tal Becker was talking about how South Africa left out a major part of the story: Hamas. They had agency—they were an active part of the story. It wasn’t just that the fighting started without any reason, but rather there were actors on the other side. Hilli said that since October 7, she has been breaking down and building herself back up, breaking down and building herself back up, that it's cyclical. She has had to do it for herself and her children and her story. 

I wonder if that is what “from Shoa to Tekuma”—from holocaust to revival—really means. It isn’t one continuous ascent, but rather something that’s ongoing. There’s destruction, and then you rebuild. You break down, and then you emerge. The process of emergence is slow and there are many steps backwards before moving forward, and once you are moving forward, you may still falter and trip again. But it is continuous—you keep moving and keep going. You look for the moments of connection and beauty to keep you strong as you make your way through it all.

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