Those We Have Lost

Roi Poppelwell, 53: ‘A real kibbutznik’ who had a way with animals

Murdered outside his home in Kibbutz Nirim on October 7

Roi Popplewell (Ayelet Svatitzky via Facebook)
Roi Popplewell (Ayelet Svatitzky via Facebook)

Roi Popplewell, 53, was shot and killed by Hamas terrorists behind his Kibbutz Nirim home on October 7.

He is survived by his mother, South African immigrant Channah Peri, 79, and his sibling Ayelet Svatitzky, 46. Brother Nadav Popplewell, 51, was killed while in Hamas captivity, according to a June 3, 2024, statement by the IDF.

All three siblings were born and raised in Nirim and hold dual British-Israeli citizenship from their late father, Rafi Popplewell.

Nadav and Channah were taken hostage on October 7 from their adjacent homes on the kibbutz. While Channah was released on November 24 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel, Nadav remained in captivity. The two were together throughout the length of Channah’s captivity, held in a tunnel under Gaza. Nadav was seen in a Hamas propaganda video released in May, apparently weeks after his death, according to the IDF.

Having only heard of Roi’s death upon her release, one of the first things Channah did after her return to Israel was visit her son’s grave.

Sister Svatitzky, who was the only living member of her immediate family to avoid the Hamas attacks on October 7, has chosen not to learn about the minute details of her brother’s death.

“I only know that they found him shot,” she told Haaretz in late October, a few days before the funeral, “and I didn’t ask for more details. It’s not relevant to me. I don’t need pictures in my head, nor do I watch all the Hamas video clips [of the massacre] that are being posted now. I can’t let anything in that might cause me to go into shock, to affect my functioning. I’m on a mission at the moment. I can’t do anything about my slain brother… At least I know – that’s more than others have. Not knowing is worse than my situation.”

Popplewell was buried on Kibbutz Yagur, where his sister lives, on October 27. The family intends to re-bury him beside his father in Kibbutz Nirim once it is safe to do so.

Affectionately called “Pepe” by close friends, Popplewell was “a real kibbutznik” and a dedicated farmer who had a special connection with animals.

“He’d sit in the evening with his Goldstar beer, relaxed, in a cowboy hat,” his sister told Haaretz.

“There was always a puppy or five who adopted Pepe,” his friend Yochai Bashan wrote on Facebook after the funeral. “It just works differently with him.” He added that the two would spend time riding horses, and Popplewell often stopped Bashan mid-ride because he knew the horse was uncomfortable and needed the equipment adjusted. “I never understood how he knew. Pepe would understand their hearts and their needs without speaking.”

“He was an amazing athlete, with tremendous physical strength,” Bashan wrote. Popplewell was also a highly talented artist who was much more interested in the process of creating art than receiving recognition or praise once it was completed. “He had a beautiful painting… that he kept behind his barn shoes full of cow dung.”

“He was a tall, muscular, handsome guy with laughter in his eyes,” Bashan said of his late friend. “The girls tried to tame him and failed. Only the animals could get answers from him.”

At his funeral, Svatitzky promised her brother that she would not stop fighting for the return of their kidnapped family members.

She also told him that she was “comforted by the fact that you’re with Dad now… The murderers have taken you but they will never take our love and they will never be able to erase your memory from my heart and the hearts of all those who love you.”

Read more Those We Have Lost stories here.

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