In Ofakim, one woman’s graceful bravery offers precious solace to a grieving nation

Rachel Edry charmed five armed captors holed up in her home as she conveyed information secretly to a SWAT team she knew was watching

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Daniel Mualem, toting a plastic bag, looks at the house of Rachel and David Edry in Ofakim, Israel, on October 9, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)
Daniel Mualem, toting a plastic bag, looks at the house of Rachel and David Edry in Ofakim, Israel, on October 9, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

When Hamas terrorists invaded the home of Rachel Edry in Ofakim amid the brutal onslaught from the Gaza Strip on Saturday, she treated them in the way that came most naturally to her: politely.

The terrorists spent 15 hours until early Sunday morning in the home of Edry and her husband David, a couple in their seventies from Ofakim.

During that time, Rachel Edry, who was born in what is now Iran, served the terrorist treats, joked with them in rudimentary Arabic and even sang with them a Hebrew-language song by Lior Narkis they knew from the radio.

This semblance of hospitality may have saved the couple’s lives.

At 3 a.m. on Sunday, a police force broke into the duplex after hours of negotiations, killing all five terrorists and reuniting the couple, completely unharmed, with their daughter and two sons, both police officers who participated in the rescue operation.

“I can’t believe I’m alive,” Rachel Edry told the news site Walla after her release.

Screen capture from video of Rachel describing how she surreptitiously indicated to police how many terrorists were holding her captive in her home in Ofakim, October 8, 2023. (Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In Ofakim and in Israel more broadly, the Edrys’ survival is one of a precious few bright spots shining against the dark aftermath of an unprecedented massacre.

Their story is part of a trickle of inspiring anecdotes, many of them involving heroism, that’s emerging alongside a flood of countless accounts of atrocities, tragedies and operational failures around the Hamas terrorist assault of October 7, which has prompted a massive retaliation and put the country in a state of war.

Blood stains attract flies outside the home of Rachel and David Edry in Ofakim, Israel on October 9, 2023. (Times of Israel/Canaan Lidor)

One tale of bravery involves a handful of men and women who, with only two rifles and a few handguns, prevented a detachment of heavily armed terrorists from setting foot in their community of Ein Habesor.

None of the defenders died in the 20-minute-long gunfight, in which they employed subterfuge to make the terrorists believe they were up against a more formidable fighting force.

Ein Habesor remained unbreached.

Noam Gotliv guards his moshav of Ein Habesor, Israel, near the border with Gaza on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy of Gotliv)

Another is about Noam Tibon, a reserves general from Tel Aviv who, within an hour of the terrorist incursion, led a hastily assembled intervention team to the home of his son — Amir Tibon of the Haaretz newpaper — in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

The team killed several terrorists outside several homes, including that of his son, Amir, who was holed up inside with his wife and daughters.

A third account revolves around Inbal Rabin-Lieberman, the 25-year-old security coordinator of Kibbutz Nir Am. She and her uncle Ami led a guard detail so alert that it killed two terrorists as they were trying to enter a nearby chicken farm. This response was so effective that it made the dead invaders’ entire detachment lose the appetite for entering Nir Am.

It meant no one from Nir Am was added to the list of at least 900 Israelis whom Gaza terrorists killed on Saturday and Sunday, and which ended with the abduction of about 130 Israelis and the wounding of more than 2,600.

Online, Rachel Edry’s viral bravery story prompted jokes (“Rachel Edry says: ‘Why are your guns so dirty, here’s a tissue, clean them up so you can shoot like human beings,'” one user of X jested) and memes that afforded many distraught Israelis a moment of levity.

A volunteer with the Hevra Kadisha burial society cleans up blood outside the home of David and Rachel Edry in Ofakim, Israel, on October 9. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

But it was no joking matter in Ofakim, a largely religious city where the incident was widely seen as a sign of divine intervention. Locals here celebrated both the bravery of the two officers who died engaging the Edrys’ captors and the guile employed by the woman of the house to make the operation a success.

“It was a miracle, and it’s uplifting because it shows God is watching over us and that with his help we have the wits and humanity to best our enemies’ bestial brutality even when our backs are against the wall,” said Daniel Mualem, a 33-year-old father of four who lives near the Edrys.

He is one of the thousands of Haredi Jews living in this desert city, which has 29,000 residents.

An Israeli flag flies over the bloodstained entrance to the Edry family household on October 9, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

On Monday, Ofakim was a few thousand residents emptier than normal. Whole families left on Sunday morning, when police said they had killed all the terrorists who briefly appeared to have occupied the city on Saturday.

Gaza terrorists fired hundreds of rockets at Ofakim and beyond, a threat with which the locals have much experience, but which compounded their fears following the rampage.

Cars and partygoers fleeing the site of the Kibbutz Re’im Nature Party on October 7, 2023. (courtesy Shye Weinstein)

Most of those who remained stayed inside for many hours, with some self-confining into Monday. “The concern is that perhaps a few terrorists are holed up somewhere planning a second surprise killing spree,” said Mualem on Monday.

His wife and children have not left the house since Friday, and he has only gone out twice: Once for food and again to help clean the blood at the Edrys’ home, a long and arduous process requiring volunteers and overseen by the local Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish burial service.

Around the bloodied front gate, the pavement is stained with encrusted blood. So is the yard – the aftermath of a shootout that ended with the death of two police officers and five terrorists.

A fireball erupts during Israeli bombardment of Gaza City on October 9, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

As neighbors watch, the volunteers pour water over the bloodstains to dissolve them, and then absorb the red liquid into tissue rolls that are to be buried with the bodies of the Jewish victims to whom the blood is believed to belong.

“This is a terrorist, this one is a police officer,” a local rabbi who studied the scene tells the volunteers, pointing at two dried stains swarming with flies. They patiently absorb the police officer’s blood until the tissue comes out almost white after it’s dabbed in the pavement. They pour bleach over the spot said to be stained with a terrorist’s blood and scrub the mess away. The volunteers do this also with a puddle of blood determined to belong to a dog that the terrorists killed.

Screen capture from video of David Edry, who was held captive with his wife by Hamas terrorists for 15 hours in Ofakim, October 8, 2023. (Channel 12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

As that scene unfolded, residents began arriving at the address of the Edrys, who were staying with one of their sons until their bullet-riddled home is renovated. Some came out of sheer curiosity, snapping selfies of themselves at what has become a local monument overnight. Others displayed something akin to a pilgrim’s reverence for the place.

“Inside, a miracle happened. But outside the house, it was a small Holocaust,” said Oded Omesi, a resident who slowed down his car opposite the house. He and his wife, Hanna, came over with their two small children to deliver to the Edrys a package decorated by the toddlers and stuffed with sweets they had selected for them.

But as the Omesis pulled up to the house, they realized the Edrys weren’t home and decided to leave quickly before the children registered the blood. “I didn’t know it would be so gory still, or I wouldn’t have brought the kids,” Omesi said before he drove off.

Shmuel Schwartz greets visitors to his street in Ofakim, Israel on October 9, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

The Edrys’ next-door neighbor, 60-year-old Shmuel Schwartz, also had a close encounter with a terrorist, which he described with humor. “I came out to see what the noise was. A man strapping an AK-47 put his hand around my shoulder and started walking with me in the direction I was headed. I didn’t say anything and neither did he. Then I asked myself: ‘Hey, why am I walking around with this guy like he’s my girlfriend?’ so I kind of shrugged him off and kept walking. I have no idea why he didn’t shoot me,” said Schwartz, who was born in Romania and immigrated to Israel when he was 10.

Other terrorists “came here with a passion for killing,” said Itzik Me’alam, a 53-year-old taxi driver who saw the terrorists arrive in two pickup trucks, park them and disembark with automatic rifles (locals quickly set those cars on fire to prevent an escape.) “But if there’s one person in Ofakim who could charm even Hamas terrorists, then it’s Rachel Edry,” said Me’alem, who used to work as a truck driver with David Edry.

Visitors arrive at the home of David and Rachel Edry in Ofakim, Israel on October 9, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

“She’s got such inherent grace. She’ll also not leave you alone if you look sick, or pale, or have a bruise. She can’t help it, she tends to people around her. Sometimes even against their will,” Me’alem said of his neighbor.

Rachel Edry displayed more than pleasantness during her sequestering. She repeatedly asked to go the bathroom so that snipers watching the house would know she was inside. She lied spontaneously when the kidnappers found evidence that her sons are police officers, saying they had emigrated to the United States, a lie designed to please the invaders, whose terrorist group, Hamas, often fantasizes about Jewish flight from Israel.

“She told me she’d fed them because she knows a hungry man is more dangerous than a recently fed one,” Me’alam said. “She also knew these young men believed they would die and were probably missing their mothers. It was not a bad idea to become that person.”

Edry did her best to make the invaders’ stay pleasant, while simultaneously making constant calculations in order to stay alive — and what to do if death became inevitable. “I whispered to David that if we die, I want us to die holding hands,” she told Walla. She also flashed five fingers several times through a window she assumed would be watched, to convey to troops how many hostile infiltrators were inside.

A man rides his bicycle in Ofakim, Israel, on October 31 2010. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

When police broke in, they first threw in a grenade. David Edry, a heart patient, threw himself on his wife to shield her from any further explosions, she told Walla. Police moved in and shot the terrorists dead.

“I hosted them as best I could. I joked around with them. I played a game with them, in which they taught me a word in Arabic and I taught them one in Hebrew,” she recalled. “I did it all to stay alive. I needed to stall until the cavalry came to the rescue.”

Back in Ein Habesor, local resident Noam Gotliv says, “We’re only hearing the tip of the iceberg of the bravery that Israelis showed over the past two days.” Gotliv used a handgun to fire from close range on terrorists armed with rifles. Another resident armed with nothing but an axe stayed with Gotliv’s wife, Julie, and three children inside their home shelter in case the terrorists breached the gate.

But, Gotliv added, “Defensive bravery isn’t enough in the Middle East. Hamas needs to get crushed. Gaza needs to suffer, I’m sorry to say. Now we must  demonstrate bravery in offense.”

In Ofakim, Boaz Gross, a local rabbi, concerned himself with a different mission. Kneeling in front of the Edry residence, he collected some of the bullet casings left on the ground from the gunfight.

“These will make an excellent Hanukkah menorah in a couple of months,” he said. “From great darkness, great light will emerge.”

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