On October 2, 2023, Shahar Naim and her husband Amir celebrated their first wedding anniversary. Five days later, Amir was killed defending their kibbutz in southern Israel against invading Hamas terrorists.
Amir and the other members of Kibbutz Erez’s emergency response team battled the many terrorists for hours, ultimately succeeding in preventing them from conquering the kibbutz. The cost was Amir’s life and the wounding of four of his colleagues.
Eleven weeks pregnant, Shahar Naim was suddenly a 27-year-old war widow.
“We were hiding in our safe room and as soon as Amir understood that something unusual was happening, he jumped up, got ready in two minutes, and went out to handle things. We didn’t even have a chance to say a proper goodbye,” she said.
Naim, along with dozens of other women in her situation, is the reason that the IDF Widows and Orphans (IDFWO) organization recently launched a new program called “L’tzidech” (By Your Side) to support pregnant war widows.
The initiative is designed to aid expectant mothers in a variety of psychosocial, practical, and financial ways to help them get through a reality they could never have imagined. The program supports the women during pregnancy and birth, as well as for three months postpartum.
“There were obviously war widows before in Israel’s history, but not in these kind of numbers since our organization was established in the early 1990s,” said IDFWO chair Tami Shelach, whose husband, pilot Lt. Col. Ehud Shelach, was shot down and killed over Egypt during the first days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Since October 7, more than 220 spouses of IDF regular and reserve soldiers have been widowed and more than 500 children orphaned. Of the widows, some 30 are currently pregnant or have recently given birth.
“I emotionally suppressed my pregnancy for a long time,” Mahol Shosh told The Times of Israel.
Shosh, 35, and her three children aged two, four, and six, witnessed her husband Noy dying as he was shot through the safe room door in their Kibbutz Be’eri home on October 7. Noy had received an emergency IDF reserve duty notification, but he didn’t even make it out of the house.
“The kids saw it all and the older ones understand what happened to their dad. They ask a lot of questions. They ask why it happened,” Shosh said.
Adding to the young family’s sorrow, Shosh’s 15-year-old nephew Lior Tarshansky was murdered by terrorists, and her 13-year-old niece Gali Tarshansky was kidnapped. Gali was released on November 29 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar and the United States between Hamas and Israel.
A high school teacher, Shosh was evacuated with her kids to a cramped hotel room at the Dead Sea, where they will still be living when she gives birth to a baby girl in about three months.
“On an intellectual level I know that Noy is dead, but I am having trouble processing it emotionally because here we are living in a hotel, which is not our home or our usual routine — so Noy is not missing in that way. Nothing is the same as it was. It’s like an alternate reality and it is hard to understand what is really happening,” Shosh said.
Each IDF widow is struggling to internalize her new status.
“I have visited every widow in her home and each one’s circumstances are different. Some have not yet processed the grief. The word ‘widow’ hasn’t even taken root in their mind,” Shelach said.
“I even met some women who had been doing fertility treatments for years and only discovered after October 7 that they were pregnant. Their husbands died without even knowing,” she said.
Each widow is matched with a dedicated social worker from the Defense Ministry who offers tailored long-term support to address their unique needs. The new IDFWO program supplements this with bi-monthly group meetings for all pregnant widows wishing to attend.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to go,” Naim said of the first group meeting held in Tel Aviv on January 29.
Now in week 28 of her pregnancy, Naim finally decided that attending would be a positive part of moving ahead in the stages of her grief and feeling less isolated.
“It was good to hear that others were going through the same thing as me, that I am not alone. Of course, we are not the same, but we are similar,” she said.
Shosh shared that she has felt that her situation is unique in many ways — even among war widows — which has added to the difficulty in coming to terms with events.
“I saw him killed in front of my eyes. It’s not like other war widows whose husbands were far away from home and were killed in battle,” she noted.
Like Naim, she found a sense of belonging among the women at the January 29 gathering.
“It was the closest I have come to people understanding me,” Shosh said.
Both women said they look forward to attending future meetings. Naim hoped that like at the first gathering, future ones would include parallel discussions for the women’s mothers and other supporters.
“Support for those who are caring for and supporting us now is also important,” said Naim, who is temporarily living in an apartment in Yavne.
Without their husbands with them at the births, the pregnant women must decide who they want there instead. Some may want only a doula. Naim will also have her mother and mother-in-law by her side, as well as a doctor who has been monitoring her pregnancy. Shosh hasn’t decided yet who she wants to be with her.
“I’m not sure I want family members there because unfortunately, they are part of the trauma,” she said.
Regardless of what they decide, the program participants will be assigned a midwife to accompany and mentor them through the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period. In Israel, where women are generally delivered by whichever midwife is on duty at the hospital when it is time, this is a perk.
According to Shelach, “L’tzidech” also offers the option of staying at a post-birth hotel adjacent to the hospital for a few days, as well as help at home afterward with the baby and any other children.
The women also receive a NIS 5,000 ($1,370) voucher for a major retailer specializing in baby equipment, clothing, and toys. Shosh, who left everything behind when she was evacuated and has no idea what remains in her home, said the voucher will surely come in handy.
Naim, who is back at work in human resources, agreed.
“This financial help is allowing me to breathe a bit. It is really appreciated. I was in a fog as to how I was going to handle this aspect of things,” she said.
Despite how hard it has been, Shosh said that she rebuffed suggestions from some that she might consider terminating her pregnancy, which was still relatively early.
“Noy and I very much wanted this pregnancy. I never considered ending it,” she said.
Naim that she feels her husband’s absence at every doctor’s appointment, test, and scan on the journey toward their son’s birth.
“The embrace of the ‘L’tzidech’ program does not replace Amir, but it makes me feel supported and calmer about the situation I am going through,” Naim said.
“Amir left me and the whole family a huge gift and that makes me take good care of myself and the baby, who is a pinpoint of light I am waiting to meet,” she said.