After Oct. 7, entire kibbutz temporarily resettles in two newly built Tel Aviv towers

Following long weeks in Eilat hotels, Re’im residents seek to maintain community within Florentine neighborhood; wary of lifestyle change, most plan to return home once possible

Kibbutz Re'im evacuees, the Avital family, spot the community's new temporary homes in two south Tel Aviv towers, December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Kibbutz Re'im evacuees, the Avital family, spot the community's new temporary homes in two south Tel Aviv towers, December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An entire community that was evacuated from the Gaza periphery following Hamas’s murderous invasion of Israel on October 7 has been temporarily resettled in two newly constructed apartment towers in south Tel Aviv.

After spending over 10 weeks at Eilat hotels, this week Kibbutz Re’im’s 435 members were welcomed into 142 longer-term apartments in two newly constructed towers. They were built as part of the “Theodor” project constructed on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv’s grungy but trendy Florentine neighborhood.

While pleased to continue communal life together, Kibbutz members initially pushed back at the idea of moving to an urban location that is anathema to their lifestyle. Kibbutz Re’im’s community director David Gabai recounted to Channel 12 news on Friday night that members told him he was out of his mind, and that it would ruin the kibbutz.

On October 7, Re’im residents became trapped in their homes for over 24 hours during Hamas’s rampage through southern communities in which the terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people and took 240 hostage. The kibbutz’s fields hosted the Supernova nature party, where 360 partygoers were massacred and dozens were taken hostage.

Gabai was one of the many kibbutz members who fought against the terrorists on October 7, using his pistol to fight as dozens of terrorists stormed the community. The defensive action saved much of the population, though seven people were killed, including five kibbutz members and two Thai workers. Five were taken hostage — teen resident Liam Or and four Thai workers — all of whom have been freed.

Gabai, who stayed at the kibbutz to direct IDF forces after its evacuation, encountered a Hamas terrorist several days after the initial attack while walking down a path in the community. The man, who had apparently remained in hiding until that point, jumped at him with a knife, poised to stab him. Soldiers who were with him shot and neutralized the attacker.

Gabai told Channel 12 that when he joined his evacuated family at an Eilat hotel the following weekend, he looked at kibbutz members and noted their dead-eyed expressions. He knew then they had to get out of there and restart their lives as a community.

Kibbutz Re’im head Dudi Gabai on the kibbutz grounds near the Gaza Strip, December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

While the Israeli government was still scrambling to meet evacuees’ needs, Gabai turned to the Brothers in Arms grassroots movement — which originally was formed to fight the government’s judicial overhaul effort, but has since pivoted to helping the citizenry during the war.

The group eventually connected him to the hi-tech firm Cisco, which designated a member of its strategic management team, Eli Banai, to take over the search for appropriate accommodations and become the project manager dedicated to bringing the kibbutz back home.

Friends in high places

To fast-track the project and get the community out of their Eilat hotels as soon as possible, Banai burned up phone lines, speaking with heads of utility companies and even Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai himself to get past the bureaucracy and arrange in weeks what generally would take many months.

Huldai, a former kibbutznik from Hulda who was evacuated as a child during the War of Independence, told kibbutz residents that he’d never expected to welcome an entire kibbutz to the city. He told them that they should “be themselves” in the urban jungle and “we’ll do our best to make you feel at home,” Banai said.

Kibbutz Re’im is welcomed to its temporary home in south Tel Aviv with a sign, ‘Re’im on its way home,’ December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“The evacuees are receiving a complete package of municipal services in the fields of welfare, education and community,” Huldai told Globes. “From our point of view, they are not guests. They are residents of Tel Aviv-Yafo for all intents and purposes, and we are obligated to them — from integration into our municipal education system to providing parking permits and veterinary services.”

One of the two towers, which are 13- and 14-stories high, has 105 two-room units earmarked as rentals. The other tower’s 37 slightly larger units are privately owned. That building is divided into two-room apartments and larger families will receive two units, one for sleep and the other for living. Obtaining the leases for those flats was relatively easy, said Banai. The other building was soon also on board, with 90 percent of the owners agreeing almost immediately to a lease of a year for the kibbutz with the option of two more, Globes reported.

The paper estimates that the cost of the rentals will reach NIS 14.5 million ($4 million) per year.

Initial funding was provided by groups of companies and philanthropists including Cisco, Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, More Investment House and the Viola Group. State-owned housing and construction company Amidar has since taken on the leases and the government is covering the evacuees’ costs.

A communal Kibbutz Re’im space in the historic ‘Well House’ attached to the two towers housing the community in south Tel Aviv, December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Strictly temporary

Many kibbutz members, including Gabai’s wife, Anais, who heads the community’s kindergarten, were uneasy about the lifestyle change. “Moving a kibbutz kindergarten, with kids who are used to daily outings in nature, into a concrete building with a few plants is, for us, upsetting,” she told Channel 12.

On the kibbutz, children are accustomed to complete independence and move from place to place alone, visiting families and friends, playing and riding their bikes.

She said, however, that she and other members don’t want to return to Re’im until it is again “the safest place to raise our children and the next generation.”

Other kibbutz members emphasized that this is a temporary stay. Some hope their one-year leases won’t even be through before they can return home to the Gaza border.

Yigael (left) and Deganit Hoch on the balcony of their temporary long-term home in south Tel Aviv, December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Retired farmer Yigael Hoch has remained at the kibbutz to oversee its agriculture and facilities. “October 7 proved that the worst nightmares, and even worse, can come true,” he told Channel 12.

Hoch was reluctant to join his family in the Eilat hotels, and emphasizes that moving into the Tel Aviv apartments is “a midpoint” on their journey back home. “Let’s just say we’re on our way. From these buildings, back to the kibbutz,” said Hoch.

An urban kibbutz

Instead of the kibbutz’s massive lawns and trails, the center of communal life will be in the Theodor project’s historic preservation building “Beit HaBe’er” or Well House. With beautiful arched windows and tiled floors, it will house all communal needs, including a dining room, kindergarten, clubhouses for youth and elderly and a recreation room for screening films and lectures.

Forty of the kibbutz’s 70 pupils will enter Tel Aviv’s School of Nature, which emphasizes the environment and social responsibility. Highly competitive to enter, it’s likely the closest possible urban match to what they knew from home, with open spaces dotted with trees and petting zoos for a quick recharge. Some 3,000 pupils from the Gaza envelope have entered Tel Aviv schools since October 7, according to Globes.

For Re’im’s children, walking the streets of Tel Aviv is odd and exciting, father and building engineer Avi Avital said in the TV report. He worked night and day to prepare the towers for occupation this week. The father of three explained that “each individual shop is an attraction for the children. We have only one general store on the kibbutz.”

Aerial view of the two south Tel Aviv towers housing Kibbutz Re’im, December 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Not all Re’im members are joining their families in Tel Aviv, however. Some 20-30 remain at the kibbutz around the clock, working in the fields, orchards and factories.

Farmer Dor Maman told Channel 12, “From my point of view, remaining here and working is our victory. Us run away? No way. People want to return to their homes,” he said, pausing and adding, “maybe not everyone.”

Gabai is optimistic about the community’s eventual return to Re’im following their stay in Tel Aviv. “We’re going back and my hope is we’ll go back as 600 members, not 450.”

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