She’s a local woman who moved to Israel, is immersed in grotesque tragedy, and wants bridges built to Palestinians.
Ma’ayan Oren, 26, is a Nicolet High School graduate who made aliyah eight years ago. Her cousin was among those brutally murdered by terrorists on Oct. 7.
Oren is able to explain what happened to her cousin Stav in detail, even while saying she “can’t comprehend,” at times falling into tears. But when asked if there is anything that Jewish Milwaukee can do, Oren talks about building bridges.
“Try to make as much peace and understanding and conversation as you can, where you are in your little world. That affects our little world just like our world affects your world,” Oren said.
She said she is not angry at Palestinians.
“I feel a lot of support from my Palestinian friends,” said Oren, who added that the Palestinian people and Hamas are not the same thing. “This is a terrorist organization who murdered and raped women.”
“I don’t want to be political. I don’t know if anything about this war is not political, but I’m just a 26-year-old girl wanting people to get along, wanting peace.”
Oren is the daughter of Elana Kahn, who served Jewish Milwaukee in different roles over many years, before moving to Chicago.
Oren went straight from Nicolet High School to the Israel Defense Forces. There, she taught search and rescue, and she is now on call for search and rescue efforts if needed in Tel Aviv. She traveled the far east, lived in a small Israeli desert community, and worked towards a degree in psychology and the study of consciousness. She’s in her last year of the program. She was also to start doula training. With the Israel-Hamas war, it’s all postponed.
She misses a sense of unity that exists in Jewish Milwaukee, she said. “I felt connected … and I felt like I belonged,” she said. The war in Israel has connected people, but outside of that there can be separation among different streams of Judaism, she said.
When war is not on, Oren lives near the Lebanon border. She can see Lebanon from just outside her home. The area has been evacuated by Israel and she is staying in the Tel Aviv area.
How Oct. 7 unfolded
Oren was in Jerusalem on Oct. 7, the day of the catastrophic Hamas-led terror attacks in Israel.
She loves to be in Jerusalem for Simchat Torah, she said, when one can see hundreds of people dancing around the Torah. She fell asleep with a friend in a tent, outside the friend’s family home in Jerusalem, and woke up to sirens on Oct. 7. There were children in the home, with one rocket falling just 10 minutes away from them, with no nearby shelter.
“Every time there’s a siren, it takes up the whole body, like my whole body,” she said.
Oren spent the time with the children, while their father watched the news and gave her intermittent updates.
Oren has family near Gaza, but the electricity in the area was out, she said. “I was immediately calling my grandmother, texting my cousin and not getting any answers from them. That lasted the whole day.”
Soon, she learned what happened to Stav, her first cousin.
Stav Kimchi had moved in with her boyfriend three months ago, near Gaza. He was divorced from his wife, with children.
When a terrorist came through a door at the home on Oct. 7, the boyfriend had some sort of power tool that he used to fend off and injure the invader, Oren said. Then, Kimchi and her boyfriend, Dvir Karp, were killed, after putting themselves between the terrorists and the two children.
“We know all of this because the 8-year-old girl was on the phone and texting her mother,” Oren said. “… and said, ‘they’ve murdered Dvir and they’ve murdered Stav.’ I have the exact messages.”
The children spent hours with the two bodies, until a neighbor risked his life to go to the home and get them out. The terrorists had written in lipstick on a wall, “Al Qassam doesn’t kill children.” The note appeared to refer to one of the Gaza-based terror groups, and though these children were spared, there were others who terrorists did murder that day.
The last time Oren saw Stav Kimchi, they had a two-hour conversation about right and wrong, about family, and about how they wanted to get closer. She remembered telling Kimchi, “I’m excited. I feel like we’re just beginning to learn each other.”
“It was touching the potential of how close we could be.”
Stav’s father died years ago. Among those she leaves behind are her identical twin sister and her mother.
“It’s hard to believe that she’s dead, you know, and she was so fragile and strong, full of life,” Oren said. “And then to have to grasp that people, people came and murdered her.”
“I can tell you that the same time that my cousin’s funeral was happening, one of my best friend’s mom’s funeral was also happening,” Oren said, in a late October interview. “And tomorrow we have another funeral to go to, like five other shivas to go to this week. I really can’t comprehend; there’s no way to comprehend what’s happening.”
And yet, this: Oren and her boyfriend prepared vegan lunches, hopped in a car, and drove down to the Gaza area. “We packaged and drove for six hours so that 200 soldiers could have a good meal for lunch,” she said. “And risked our lives. We were right next to Gaza and there are still bombs. We’re all in this together … to make it a little less awful, to bring a little light where we can.”
“And right now, I’m also sleeping/babysitting, helping a family that I don’t know. The dad is in the reserves.”
After interviewing, she texted a link to a story about a Bedouin bus driver, an Arab, who saved Jews on Oct. 7. He drove towards the gunfire and filled a 14-seat bus with 30 Jewish Israelis at the music festival that became a deathtrap.
It inspires her. She said she may be idealistic, she knows. She said she wants Jews and Palestinians to come together.
* * *