The families made the trip home to the kibbutz as a semblance of calm settled over the area, after an extended stay in Kibbutz Orim, where their kids had been incorporated into the local school system.
The kibbutz, which came under heavy mortar fire during Operation Protective Edge, is preparing to open its kindergartens on Sunday – though most of the homes that were damaged during the fighting had only been repaired Thursday morning.
The veteran members of the kibbutz, which had stayed put throughout the latest round of hostilities, went house to house in the morning to help their neighbors clean and prepare for their families' arrival. The children made the return trip home in the afternoon.
On Friday the kibbutz will host a festive Shabbat dinner to mark the return of the families who had left – composed mostly of those with young children.
However, several families have already announced that they will not return home, while others have said they left for a "sabbatical year."
As the kibbutz slowly filled up with residents, the veterans expressed a sense of relief, having worried of a rapid exodus following the heavy fighting. "We have a lot of hard work – not only in rebuilding the place, but in rehabilitating the community," said Esther Toronto.
"Many families have lost the feeling of safety, there is a lack of faith, there is fear, and we need to fix it. We are a strong community which suffered a severe trauma after Daniel's death; we are at a low point, but we must look at it in only one way – from here, things can only get better."
She emphasized the importance of the kibbutz to its residents. "This is the only way for us to continue to survive here. Nahal Oz is our home, we will rehabilitate it, we will build anew – and going into the future we will continue to build and to absorb new people."
But Toronto stressed that "none of this can happen if we do not receive assistance from the government, to improve the kibbutz and to increase our security measures, because we have lost faith in that matter. We demand peace and quiet, we demand adequate protection of this community."
Yael Lehiani returned early to the kibbutz on Thursday to prepare her home for her children's return. "It's sad that some families are leaving, especially when it's at one time. We have had many miracles over the last 14 years, so it's hard to understand. But we ran out of miracles and had a massive disaster."
She added: "When you have run out of miracles, you lose your sense of security. There is no sense of joy, but at least we still have the feeling of coming home, to a place that we love."