Oct. 7 survivors spoke at the JCC | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Oct. 7 survivors spoke at the JCC

They keep telling their story, over and over, with multiple trips from Israel to points overseas. They endure the pain, the memories, and push through, for the third time in a day, to share what happened.  

They do it to bring the Jewish people together at a difficult time and in an effort to bring the remaining hostages home. It has been said that this is part of what makes them heroes.  

Each was living an ordinary day in Israel, on Oct. 7, 2024, when Hamas and other terrorists invaded and brutally attacked and killed civilians. They survived, but their lives are forever changed. 

Their talk, “Heroes of Light: Survivors of the October 7th Attack,” was held Feb. 22, at the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC in Whitefish Bay. Sharon Anna Yacobi, David Bar, Zohar Lahav-Shefer, and Shoham Cohen were the Oct. 7 survivors. Moderator Moshe Katz invited them to share their testimony, which they did before taking questions. 

Shades of their stories 

Bar teaches high school near Gaza. He spoke of a 75-year-old member of his kibbutz who was killed, and of a baby who survived. “Fourteen of our foreign workers had been slaughtered. They took refuge in a bombproof room which we built for them … and they were followed in and murdered, mutilated,” Bar said. 

Bar said people ask him if the stories of what happened that day are true. “Well, we’re here to tell you,” he said.  

Four days after Oct. 7, Bar saw his adult son: “He is one of these Rambo-type guys. And he couldn’t speak, and that’s not him. And I said is everything OK? And he broke down. He said, ‘Abba (father), I can’t believe when I saw, what I witnessed.’ I’m looking carefully at the age of people here so I’m not going to go into details. I think you probably heard the details of murder, rape, mutilation, beheading, chaos, so yes, it’s true.” 

Lahav-Shefer told her story of rushing to a safe room, near her home in the area near Gaza. But there was no lock on the doors of safe rooms, since the spaces are intended to provide refuge during missile attacks. From there, she watched a live video of the horrors unfolding on her phone. 

Yacobi heard gunshots while inside her safe room. She’s a teacher and one of her students called her asking what to do. She told the young student to call the police, not realizing the police had already been overrun. 

Cohen, 27, was at the Supernova music festival. She lives in the center of Israel and arrived there with her boyfriend and a friend. When trouble erupted, the three of them got in their car, but roads were closed amid confusion and fear.  

“A terrorist came into my window. It was open. And he was looking at me, and I thought it was one of us,” Cohen said. “So I asked him, ‘Are you okay?’ And he looked at me like, ‘What? What are you doing? Why are you talking to me?’ And few seconds later, there was a massive shooting behind us.” 

Cohen, her boyfriend and her friend ran from the car, she said. Cohen was separated from her friend. They wound up hiding on the grounds as best they could for hours, amid shooting and death. 

She said that since that day, she can’t concentrate on work and hasn’t been able to live life as she once did.  

Why they do this 

“We want you to talk about it. We want you to raise awareness about the kidnapped, awareness of the hole that we have,” Yaco said. 

Bar said the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs was looking for English-speaking survivors to tell their stories, so he stepped forward. Bar made aliyah to Israel from the UK in 1985. 

“We still have hostages,” said Yaco, referring to the dozens of hostages still held by Hamas and its allies in Gaza. “We need to raise their voices.” 

Other issues 

Bar noted that close to 20 years ago, Israel “withdrew from Gaza for peace.” But he said there cannot be a cease-fire. It might preclude a possible future where Israel and Gazans might someday live side by side as good neighbors. 

“If we don’t finish this tentacle of Iran called Hamas in our area, and we leave one little unit around, then that terrorist unit is just going to grow and grow again. And we’ll go through this again,” he said. “We have to make every effort to at least not allow them to have any military influence in the area and re-educate the population, if that’s possible.” 

Rabbi Wes Kalmar, spiritual leader of Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah, raised his hand from the audience: “First of all, thank you for your courage. Thank you for being willing to tell your story again and again. I can only imagine how painful that must be. A question for you is what would you like us to do?” 

The survivors on the panel said they want support, for people to talk about what happened and for people to shed a spotlight on the civilian, innocent hostages still in captivity. 

The moderator, Katz, added his own response. 

“Go to Israel, get on planes and go to Israel, buy Israel bonds, give to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation emergency campaign, do anything you can to bring Israel home,” said Katz, a longtime local Jewish community advocate.  

“But if tonight was a sampling of what you’re feeling now, imagine that 24/7 … Imagine what it’s like to pick the grapes, or the turnips out of the ground, knowing that you’re going to feed families with that product. Imagine what it’s like when you visit the soldiers in the hospitals, making them feel good because you’re there. Imagine what it’s like to simply hold somebody’s hand. Go to Israel.”