My name is Ori Merla Hefetz. I'm a 15-year-old girl with a younger brother, separated parents, three cats, and a pair of dogs, living a fairly ordinary life. My mother, however, would argue that I'm exceptional and talented. From an unbiased perspective, I'm just a typical teenager. I enjoy baking, although I have celiac disease, and I find comfort in sad songs even when I'm happy. I love to read but don't find enough time for it, and even though I struggle to sleep early, I cherish my sleep. Everything about my usual routine changed on Saturday, October 7.
I live in Kibbutz Nirim, located dangerously close to the Gaza Strip. On October 6th, a Friday, we marked the 77th anniversary of our small community. I spent the day working at a stand, snacking, watching videos we had made for the Kibbutz with friends, and dancing to "Just Dance". That evening, I returned home to cook my favorite meal, complete my homework, and finally went to bed at 5:00 am. Little did I know, in just ninety minutes, I would wake up to the most horrifying day of my life.
I was at my mother's house when she woke me during a siren. I dashed to the shelter, not even grabbing my phone, assuming it would be a brief disturbance and I would go back to sleep shortly. However, that wasn't the case. We quickly understood this attack was not like the others and a peculiar feeling set in. My younger brother and I took to the bed, while my mom and her partner situated themselves by the door on the floor. An hour into the ordeal, we understood that there were terrorists in the Kibbutz.
We could hear sporadic gunfire and my mother, a member of a local security team, relayed whatever scant information she had. My fear grew when I heard shouts in Arabic from outside. We switched off all lights and refrained from even using the air conditioning to avoid revealing our presence. Silence was our best defense.
In a moment of dread, I confessed to my mother that I loved her and feared death was near. We were in contact with my father, who was in a nearby shelter, just 20 meters away, along with his partner and my aunt who had stayed over in the Kibbutz after Friday's celebration.
I fell asleep a little after 9:00. Having only had an hour and a half of sleep the previous night, I convinced myself that I would rather be asleep if anything were to happen. So, I simply drifted off. I didn't wake up until 14:30, when soldiers arrived after inspecting all the houses to ensure no terrorists were hiding. For the first time, I was allowed to leave the shelter for a brief time.
I had 50 unread chats waiting on my phone, all from that morning, from people who feared the worst regarding my fate. I responded to each one. I tried to gather information about what had occurred while I slept and what was currently happening, without much success. My mother didn't want to share much, and attempts to glean anything from her messages proved futile. Eventually, we were told that evacuations to the main community center in the kibbutz were starting, where the army would provide protection, but this didn't happen until about three hours later. It was there that I first reunited with my father.
The 20 hours we spent at the club felt like an eternal hell. Only then were we informed about the dead, the kidnapped, and the missing - name after name, people from the kibbutz or my school. The only breaks in the flow of horrifying news came when there was no reception on phones. But as soon as the network resumed, we were hit with updates about more victims. It was only on Sunday at 14:00 that they allowed us to return to our homes to hastily pack what we could take, without knowing when we would be able to return.
Most of the kibbutz's residents boarded buses to Eilat because most cars were burned or destroyed. I traveled with my family towards the center of the country and eventually ended up alone at my grandparents' in Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh in the north. This was because my mother was managing the community evacuation in Eilat, and my father was in Herzliya with my brother and his partner.
I've already had the chance to travel down to Eilat to be with the kibbutz for a week and then return to Ein Hahoresh. It's been 11 days and I still haven't fully processed what happened. I doubt I ever will. Just yesterday, I managed to cry for the first time, and I know it won't be the last. The question that constantly lingers in my mind is - when will we return? When will we go back to my beautiful kibbutz? For a moment, I wondered - will we return at all? But that's not even a question. I will never abandon this community. And I want everyone to know that.
So, I'm not the normal and average girl I once was. All I ask is that this new me will never be forsaken in the same way.