ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 196

Ron Rahamim. (Dafna Talmon)
Photos: Dafna Talmon

'Most of the time I feel strong and stay restrained. But I have understood that I am not immune and that nothing has passed over me. Life may go on, but the soul cannot bridge the gap'

Taught high school photography before taking sabbatical this year to pursue his art ● Evacuated from his home in the Gaza envelope to Tel Aviv ● This is his story

Photos: Dafna Talmon

This is part of a series, “Uprooted.” Each column is a curated monologue from an individual among the tens of thousands of internally displaced Israelis during the war with Hamas who were evacuated from the country’s northern border and the Gaza envelope.

I was born and raised in Moshav Mivtahim, and until this year, I taught photography in high school. The first job I did was in Beersheba’s Makif Vav school with deaf and hard-of-hearing students. I worked there for five years, and in the last few years, I taught in Nofei Habsor. At the beginning of this year, I took a sabbatical to make more time for my work as a photographer.

On October 6, I was at Mor Zipori’s birthday party next to Kibbutz Re’im. We celebrated in nature, and one of the guys in the group, Hayim Katzman from Kibbutz Holit, DJ’ed. A week before, I had seen him play at the ISIS Brewery in Moshav Dekel. I had photographed him and we had talked about meeting at the party.

At the end of the evening on October 6, we considered staying to sleep outside, but we decided to go back. The next day, I was scheduled for a photography job. Yahel, a colleague from Ofakim, and I were invited to take pictures at an agricultural festival at Kibbutz Beeri, which was celebrating the 77th anniversary of its foundation.

Saturday, October 7

Saturday began with deliberation: Should I go out for a bike ride, go home, get ready, and go to the job? Or should I ride to Beeri, get ready in someone’s house, and go to the job from there? In the end, I gave up and then “October 7” began.

The window in my bedroom was open, which rarely happens because I like to sleep in the dark, and suddenly I heard sirens. Usually, we would catch the first round of rockets and then they would move north toward Ashkelon and Israel’s center. But this time, the explosions did not stop.

Ron Rahamim’s home in Moshav Mivtahim. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

I messaged Yahel, “What’s happening? They’re interrupting my sleep,” with a laughing emoji. She responded with, “What is this? Oh my God, it’s crazy! We didn’t have time to run to the safe room. We’ve never had explosions like this.” I answered, “They’re probably deliberating what to do in Beeri as well.”

I still lived in the delusion that this would stop any moment and we would go do the photoshoot. A volley of rockets, and on we go. As awful as it sounds, we were used to it.

I live alone in a house with no safe room which is part of my parents’ farm. I ran to their house, which I rarely do during sirens. When there was a short break, I decided to go back home and take a short nap before I left for Beeri. But suddenly, I heard my mom yell, “Ron, there are terrorists, come quick,” and I ran back to them.

My parents got updates from a Mivtahim WhatsApp group that I hadn’t been in until that day. People wrote that they had seen terrorists and heard gunshots and called for the army. We got updates on casualties and didn’t understand what was happening. Only when the number of victims reached 400 did I get it.

And then we got the message that our security coordinator Dan Asulin and emergency response team member Tal Maman were murdered.

I asked the moshav’s secretary to add me to the WhatsApp group and tried to help the Nahum family from the moshav to find Dor, their son who had been at the Supernova music festival. It later turned out that he had escaped the party, reached Mivtahim, and was shot by terrorists together with four friends — among them Chen Ben-Aviv, another member of the moshav.

Friends celebrate at ISIS Brewery in Moshav Dekel a week before October 7. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

The evacuation

On Saturday evening, I sent a message to the moshav group saying, “I want to help, what can I do?” They said there was no need. The next day, they told me that someone had to organize evacuations and that I should take that.

I found myself intensively dealing with evacuation bureaucracy, sitting with people who lived with me in the moshav and getting to know new parts of them, their desires, needs, and allergies.

People shared private matters with me and had all sorts of “demands.” From time to time I found myself thinking, “Why is it so essential to be in a room with a balcony right now? This is delusional, let’s be grateful we’re alive.”

I very quickly learned that behind every “special” request was a deep distress or need. I tried to stay “practical” in the face of it, but at the end of the day, these were human beings and it was complicated.

In all the operations until October 7, my parents and I did not evacuate. This time, however, I decided to evacuate despite my parents deciding to stay. I packed some clothes, a laptop, my bicycle, and my photography equipment. I wrote in the group that I was leaving and someone asked if we could leave together. We drove through the fields, and I didn’t pass any of the horrific sights, but at every corner, I saw the army.

First stop: Pardes Hanna

In the first week, I stayed with friends in Pardes Hanna. Most of the time, I was busy with the logistics of evacuations, phone calls, and charts: First name, surname, phone number, and where they wanted to evacuate to (Tel Aviv or Eilat).

Family and friends visit the grave of Chen Ben-Aviv, November, 2023. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

Unlike most kibbutzim that are up to four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the border and had organized evacuation plans from the army, the moshav was not very organized. My phone number got sent around, and I started getting requests from members of other moshavim as well.

A few days later, I realized how overwhelmed I was and that I was harming my hosts’ privacy. I didn’t even begin to process what was happening with me. They welcomed me nicely and let me feel at home, but I understood that my presence was messing with their lives.

I decided to go to a hotel. I left Pardes Hanna and didn’t know where to go, and then a friend called me and said, “Come. We’re in Tel Aviv.”

Second stop: Tel Aviv

When I arrived at the hotel in Tel Aviv, I checked in and then went to get some more things from Mivtahim because I understood that this would be my reality for a while. I wasn’t scared of the explosions and the sirens, but I was worried that dealing with evacuations and conversations in the lobby would be overwhelming. I preferred to be in a different hotel, apart from the moshav’s members.

In the end, my parents decided to evacuate to a hotel in Netanya, and after a month and a half, they returned to Mivtahim. I asked my dad why he went back and he said, “I already know every inch of the boardwalk and every shop in the mall, and I visited my brother five times.” He went crazy there.

My dad is a laborer, a farmer. Over the years, he has grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. My cousin was keeping agriculture going in the moshav, and my dad helped a bit with other volunteers.

People evacuated from the South stand outside a Tel Aviv hotel. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

After a month in the hotel, I moved to a different one in Tel Aviv. The staff in the first hotel was incredible, but the building was cold and dark, and I felt like it was closing in on me. The room in the current hotel is significantly smaller than what I had in the previous hotel, but it is well-lit, has a balcony, and I don’t feel claustrophobic.

I’m adaptive and try to keep things in proportion. True, it’s not “comfortable,” and I don’t have my three bicycles, and some of my photography equipment is in the car because I don’t have room to store it, but I’m doing okay.

I don’t feel like a refugee because I still live in my country, speak Hebrew, and get my basic needs taken care of by the state. I have a roof over my head, and food, and civil support. Many aid organizations were started in one day, although I didn’t contact any of them myself. I mainly needed psychological help, and every request I made got a response.

I know some people will see things differently. When there are no children and no direct responsibility for other people, the stress you’re under is different. On the other hand, emotional stress is difficult to measure. What I can say is that the life I knew was cut off in a single moment.

Trips to the envelope

Two weeks after the war started, I drove to the moshav for the first time and was shocked. I felt like I had arrived at a cemetery despite the noises of the war in the background. During “normal times” the area is quiet, but it’s full of life.

Now, even when there is quiet, it’s not the quiet I’m used to. You can barely hear the sounds of tractors and birds. The families are not here and there isn’t really any life here, but there are some things that are still working: The emergency response team, farmers, and the grocery store.

Agriculture in Moshav Mivtahim. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

I’ve seen how a moshav becomes a military outpost with piles of sand at the entrance and soldiers lying across it aiming a weapon at you.

With every visit, my heart opens and is excited, and then I see the signs of what happened. Route 232 is damaged, and there are remains of burnt cars on the side of the road. With time, the war has eased up a bit, but the area is still a military zone. I understand that there is no income or social life to be had in the moshav because there are barely any people there.

Last week, I went to Mivtahim for a whole weekend for the first time. Even before October 7, I didn’t think I would continue to live near Gaza, but when I go there, I feel again how the cards have been reshuffled. Things aren’t cut and dry.

The desire to leave came up before because of changes in my work. Tel Aviv seemed to me — not a permanent place, but another gateway to the world of photography. But now, because of my help with the evacuations, I’ve been given an interesting job offer near Gaza. A professional door has opened and I feel confused.

Meeting with anxiety

A few days ago, for the first time since October 7, I had a panic attack. I was in a meeting with a career counselor, and suddenly, the door opened and I jumped. She told me it was okay and it was only the neighbor, but I still got up to check. I made sure everything was okay, and then I began to cry. I never imagined I would react that way to a door opening and an unfamiliar sound.

Most of the time, I feel strong and stay restrained. Sometimes, I feel my heartbeat and understand that it isn’t just about what we went through and the people we lost but also the fact that I don’t have my anchors and my friends.

Agricultural fields in Moshav Mivtahim. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

I understood that I was not immune and that nothing skipped over me. Life may go on, but the soul cannot close the gaps.

The future

What worries me now is mainly an income. At the beginning of the year, I went out on an independent journey, and everything stopped. I have to say that the whole time since the disaster, I have met some wonderful people. Someone connected me to a photography project, the social worker who helped me in the early days still asks after me, and people have helped me beyond their job descriptions.

Many people tell me to advertise myself and offer my skills as a photographer, but something is holding me back. Sometimes I think it’s not okay or moral to advertise myself right now.

Why isn’t it okay? Your life was turned upside down

It’s hard for me to advertise that I’m from the Gaza envelope and that I’m looking for work. I feel like it would be taking advantage of the situation. I signed up for some work initiatives and got a few jobs from there.

I also met with a career counselor from Maof who helped me and even invited me to take photos at a sales event for businesses from the Gaza envelope, but when I arrived, I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt like a poor beggar, and I hate to feel that way. I felt that they had not invited me to take photos because it was needed but because they felt sorry for me, and I had a hard time with that.

A few days ago, I went to photograph another event. They were trying to be nice to me but I knew that if they had not called me they would have called someone else, so I went. When they asked me where I was from, I told them and I said I was sorry but that I preferred not to talk about it. We were there to celebrate.

Ron Rahamim. (Dafna Talmon)

I try to create a routine. I join cycling groups in Tel Aviv to stay sane and I arrive at rides excited but then in the middle of the ride, I come across a photo of Ofer Calderon from Nir Oz, who was taken hostage together with two of his children. We used to ride together sometimes. His kids have been released from Hamas captivity, but he is still being held. I walk through the streets of Tel Aviv and see photos of hostages I knew, some of whom were my students.

A few weeks ago, I went to a cafe for a date. When we entered, I saw a group of youths waving at us. When I got closer, I realized they were my students. My heart burst with excitement.

I started scanning them one by one to see how they were and among them was Liam Or from Re’im, who had been released two days earlier from Hamas captivity and looked so thin. I hugged him and was torn between wanting to stay and sit with them and the woman I was on a date with.

What do you miss most?

I really miss the open spaces. Sometimes, I feel like the city is too much for me. The decision to stay in the center for now is mainly to do with work and an income as well as the desire to experience a different life, but I miss the quiet and the peace.

There’s a tendency now to point to the good things, to find the light in the dark, and to see the best in everything. But I don’t know if there’s an upshot from this period. And if there is, I still don’t see it.

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