Those we have lost

Varda Harmati, 81: Red-haired, crimson-lipped kibbutz grandma

Killed in her home on Kibbutz Re’im on October 7

Varda Harmati, 81, was killed in her home on Kibbutz Re'im on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)
Varda Harmati, 81, was killed in her home on Kibbutz Re'im on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Varda Harmati, 81, was killed in her home on Kibbutz Re’im, near the Gaza border, on October 7.

She was found in her bed with a gunshot wound to the head by her partner of over 50 years, Boaz, who lived elsewhere on the kibbutz.

“The queen is dead,” he texted (Hebrew link) her family, who had been frantically trying to reach her for hours that devastating Saturday morning on October 7. She would always send a good morning message with flower emojis in the family chat. That morning, those messages never came.

Boaz stayed with Varda’s body for approximately 30 hours until forces arrived.

A child of Holocaust survivors, Harmati was born in pre-state Israel in 1942 on Kibbutz Maoz Haim in the Beit She’an Valley. She served in the since-disbanded Sayeret Shaked special forces unit (1955-1979), part of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, which was tasked with thwarting infiltrators and traffickers from the then Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern borders.

She fell in love with the south during her service, according to her family.

Harmati was among the founders of Kibbutz Re’im, where she raised two children and saw her grandchildren grow up. Recently, a great-grandchild was born to granddaughter, Noa Harmati, and Varda was excited for an upcoming visit set for the weekend after October 7.

“You waited for your great-granddaughter Niv to come to the kibbutz and to show her to all the friends. I promise you that we will give Niv the tour you so wanted to give,” Noa Harmati, 26, said of her grandmother.

Still rocking red hair and crimson lipstick at 81, Harmati was a fixture of the kibbutz and somewhat of a local celebrity. She still worked in the kibbutz factory for laser-based engineering company Isralaser.

She was “a woman who everyone on the kibbutz loved, it was impossible not to,” said (Hebrew link) her grandson Itamar Mizrachi, the son of her daughter Ayelet Harmati.

“A woman so sociable and full of life that the friends in the kibbutz were like her sisters. She is a woman full of values, a true pioneer who instilled in us the love of the place. She never left it in any war, and indeed my mother stayed in the kibbutz and raised a family there, and I also returned to stay,” Mizrachi said.

Mizrachi, 24, returned to Kibbutz Re’im after six years away studying fashion design.

“We did everything together,” he said. “I had no doubt that I had one home to which I wanted to return. Grandma and I were best friends. I was close to her, talking to her about everything and visiting her every day.”

Mizrachi survived the killings, first by hiding in his apartment’s safe room and then communicating with the kibbutz’s civil defense team which instructed him on safer hiding areas.

He soon learned of his grandmother’s death. He and others with him “didn’t allow ourselves to cry so that they wouldn’t hear us.”

With tears in his eyes, he described to Maariv that his grandmother was like “a movie star because that’s what she looked like and that’s what she transmitted.

“Sweet, loving, compassionate, a soulmate, a loving person and a loving grandmother to her grandchildren and great-granddaughter. If you met [her]… a ruby red mark would remain on your cheek for the whole day,” he said.

“A woman who is a fighter, who loved life and the country and traveled almost all over the world. Worked until her last day at the kibbutz factory. Every morning she would ride her bike, work, visit friends, go shopping in Netivot, go to plays and the cinema. A larger-than-life woman,” Mizrachi went on.

Noa Harmati said goodbye to her with these words: “My beloved grandmother, I always thought you would live forever. Getting up in the morning for work, walking around the kibbutz, it really seemed like your whole life was still ahead of you. The kibbutz was your pride, you would walk in it like a queen. My heart is broken, grandma. I’m sorry your life ended this way, grandma.”

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