ToI podcast'Before we can make peace, we have to make war'

What Matters Now to Oct. 7 survivor Adele Raemer: Telling the world

She’s lived near Gaza at Kibbutz Nirim for almost five decades and while sadly accustomed to rocket attacks, the thought of terrorists entering her home was always ‘inconceivable’

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

Welcome to What Matters Now, a weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now.

No one knew what to expect at 6:30 a.m. on October 7 when the initial rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip began pounding Israel. But veteran, war-hardened residents of the Gaza envelope sensed immediately that something was different this time.

They had no idea what was to come.

Adele Raemer has lived on Kibbutz Nirim since 1975. Just 2 kilometers from the Gaza border, on the morning of October 7, beginning at the start of the Hamas barrage, she hosted several Facebook live sessions. Her social media posts, collected into a blog, document the unfolding evolution of Israelis’ awareness of the horrifically brutal invasion.

While Raemer and her family survived the multi-pronged attack, five Israelis were murdered at Kibbutz Nirim on October 7 and another five are missing. Her son-in-law shot one terrorist dead.

Today, Raemer and the rest of Kibbutz Nirim are in a hotel in Eilat for an undefined period. The former teacher is a cherished Times of Israel blogger — and a trained medical clown who always has a red nose in her bag. She has now made it her life’s mission to tell the world about what happened on October 7.

This week on What Matters Now, we speak with Kibbutz Nirim member Adele Raemer about the events of October 7 and how she and her community are faring now.

The following conversation has been very slightly edited.

The Times of Israel: Adele, thank you so much for joining me today from your hotel in Eilat.

Adele Raemer: Thank you for having me.

We are going to talk about life before, during and after the horrendous October 7 attack on Israel. The massacre that saw 1,400 people dead, mostly civilians, some of whom were your friends. I first of all would like to talk about, however, the kibbutz and how you joined the kibbutz. You joined the kibbutz in 1975, is that correct?

That’s right.

So tell us about Kibbutz Nirim.

So Kibbutz Nirim is a kibbutz that was founded, it’s one of the 11 points of the Negev that were founded in 1946. One night in 1946, after Yom Kippur was out, 11 different communities set out on the same night to have a presence in the Negev so that when the state would eventually be declared we would have people, communities in the Negev.

Obviously, our listeners can hear from your accent that you are not a native, Israeli-born woman. How did you arrive at Kibbutz Nirim?

So, I was in the Young Judaea Zionist youth movement and after high school, I went on a year program, a Young Judaea year course in ‘72-73, and I fell in love with the place. I went back to the States, to New York in August ’73. And I had intended to go to NYU Theater School, but I was in Israel when they were having the auditions. So I was just waiting for the winter term to come along and doing odd jobs. And then in October 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out and I said, well, what am I doing in the States? Israel needs me. And that’s when I started the procedure for making aliyah through the Jewish Agency.

I finally made aliyah to Kibbutz Ketura in December 1973, near Eilat, not far from where I am now. As soon as I landed, because I just turned 19 and it was still wartime, I got my draft papers and was told to show up at the draft board within a year. I went into the army and in the middle of my army service I realized that I wasn’t really happy on Ketura. And that’s how I got to Kibbutz Nirim, because I could only move someplace the army would approve of. Nirim, because it was on the border and it was a small kibbutz [was suitable]. When I was in the army, already on Nirim, my army service was there. I was stationed on Nirim. So it was like already home base.

View of the water line built to transfer water between Israel and the Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Nirim, on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip, September 4, 2019. (Flash90)

Home base serving your community. Anyone who has been to a kibbutz throughout Israel — I mean, they differ, obviously quite greatly — but it is an island of utopia, usually in the middle of some other type of country. In this case, of course, it’s quite arid where you live, and yet I imagine your kibbutz is quite beautiful.

It is. Beautiful and green and we have amazing landscaping crews, and we have definitely fulfilled [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion’s dream of making the desert bloom.

You’ve been through so many wars, so many barrages, so many disasters that on October 7, as you blogged for The Times of Israel — or our blog’s editor, Miriam Herschlag collected your posts and created this blog for October 7 — in the beginning of the barrages, you seemed blase almost. This isn’t your first rodeo. You have been down this road before. You’re saying stuff like: “Oh, it just doesn’t stop. Apparently, there will be a war.” And yet at the same time, an hour into the barrages, you went on Facebook Live and you were outside of your safe room and it just seemed at that point that you learned about infiltrators being around on the kibbutzim, on the different settlements around the Gaza envelope, but yet you weren’t very concerned. Tell me about the evolution of that day for you.

So even as we speak now, by the way, there are rockets in my area, I’m seeing pop-ups on the TV screen. So we realized right away. I actually Facebook-lived from the first few moments even saying, because you could see on the TV, in the Facebook Live, you could see the alarm pop-ups saying where the alarms were, and some children’s show, some totally detached children’s show, going on in the background.

Nobody realized what was going on yet, but we realized from the very beginning that this was something different because it was such a heavy barrage. Usually, you get one rocket, two rockets in your community, and then you see rockets all around by the pop-ups and everything. But here it was like on Nirim, it was one after another.

My son and I were sitting on the floor in case there was shrapnel that came through the window because it was so intense that I was scared to stand up and close the window. Takes a few good seconds because it’s really heavy. And I was scared to do that at that point. And then, I don’t know, it’s hard. The timeline is hard. And I actually looked back on it this morning.

Adele Raemer at 1:18 p.m. in her safe room at Kibbutz Nirim on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

It seems like about 15 minutes into the event we were getting notifications that there were terrorist infiltrations. According to what it says on the blog that Miriam captured for me, it was like closer to 40 minutes later that we realized that they were inside my kibbutz. But I can’t really recollect that. But it was not long after it started that we were told to go outside the safe room, lock the doors and windows as much as possible, close the shades, and to lock ourselves in the safe room because there were terrorists rampaging through the kibbutz. Terrorists had entered the kibbutz.

This was a new threat in a way. You have lived through so many rockets, but the idea that Hamas would have come into your home — had that ever entered your mind, really?

Inconceivable for me. Although my daughter, who’s now 41, has been scared of infiltration since she was eight. To such an extent that when she was doing — she did a year of text-writing studies in Beit Berl — her final project was making a movie that showed this fear of hers in her childhood about how petrified she was living on the rim, how scared she was that a terrorist was going to come up under her window and capture her. And I still have that movie. It’s just eerie.

This fear of a terrorist coming actually did come true. And when this happened, how did your family react? You said you were with your son. Where was the rest of your family?

So, my daughter and my son-in-law are separated. My daughter was in her house, petrified with fear. She was under the bed, turned off the lights, and on my Facebook, I posted a translation of her account. So, I’m sorry to get graphic, but she had to go to the bathroom. She did it on herself under the bed. She was scared to get out from under the bed and even to find a bag to do it in, which many people did. My son urinated in a bottle until there were no more bottles left and in a bag because we were supposed to not leave the safe room.

And of course, in retrospect, that was the right decision.

Yeah. Although I did leave the safe room, I would not do that in front of my son. Plus, I cannot urinate into a bottle. I’m not built that way.

So, at one point, we heard bullets outside, we heard grenades outside. We heard RPGs exploding. I mean, these are different than the sounds that we often hear with rockets exploding. And we heard voices speaking Arabic. They were that close. My son, who understands a little bit of Arabic, was sitting by the safe room door, holding down the handle, because the safe room door does not lock. The safe room is safe against rockets and the lock that it has clicks down so that if a rocket hits someplace else in the house, the implosion won’t blow the door open, but it can be unlocked from the outside. You just lift up the handle from either side. So in order to have it locked and have the pins, the iron pins jutting into the wall and the ceiling, you have to hold down the handle. So he was sitting by the door and holding down that handle and he heard them saying in Arabic: “Come here.” So we didn’t know what that was about, but we were not about to come here or anywhere, and we just waited, petrified. Petrified to hear that they were coming in the house and petrified that that’s it, this was the end.

I’ve never seen such fear in my son’s eyes, and I’m sure vice-versa, than we did that day. We didn’t say goodbye to each other. We probably did tell each other that we loved each other. I remember that. But we didn’t say our goodbyes. About an hour later, things seemed to calm down and I had to go. So I endangered us and I did the wrong thing and I opened up the safe room door as quietly as I could so that if there were terrorists in the house, I would hear it and close it immediately again. But I was in pain. I was already literally in physical pain. We’re talking about 6:30 in the morning when we did not get to go to the bathroom after a night’s sleep. And this was about 10.

I saw the window opposite my safe room with the slats broken. So they never entered the house, but they tried. But they didn’t try very hard, because if they tried really hard, if they’d really wanted to, it would have been very easy. So that Arabic “come here” was apparently somebody else calling whoever it was that was trying to break in, calling him over to something else. So whether it was divine intervention or dumb luck or my late husband watching over me, us, terrorists did not enter my house.

Ayelet Svatitzky holds up a picture of her mother, as a picture of her brother is held at right, who were taken hostage from Kibbutz Nirim, during a press conference with families of hostages taken after the October 7 assault by Hamas militants, at the Israeli Embassy in London, October 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

But they did enter a house a few doors down and captured my neighbor Channah [Peri], who is 79 years old and who I’ve known ever since I came to Nirim and her 51-year-old son [Nadav Popplewell]. And they’re now someplace in Gaza.

The whole time we’re in the safe room, we have this internal messaging service. And we see people’s messages. We see people’s frantic calls for help, and we see them saying, the terrorists are in our house. They’re walking around in our house. We can hear them. They’re setting fire to our house. They’re burning our house from the inside. They’re trying to open the safe room. And we see this all happening live. So you’re just sitting there petrified, waiting for you to be next. You’re watching the messages, trying to figure out geographically who these messages are from and where they are in the community, and just waiting. And there’s nothing you can do but hold that handle.

During the whole experience, because everyone now is connected by telephone, I’m sure you were connected with your family outside the kibbutz as well. And did you yourself ask for them to find help to get you both out of this situation?

No. I know we have our first responders and our head of security, Daniel. They were in touch with anybody who could come help us. My stepson in Tel Aviv or my daughter in Neve Ilan weren’t going to be swooping down to Kibbutz Nirim helping us, and I certainly didn’t want to worry them. I was in touch with my daughter on Nirim. In times of stress, she is not very verbal with me, but I know that she is with friends. So, once an hour, I made it a point to send her a message: “How are you?” And she’d send me a thumbs up, but she was petrified. I know she was petrified and suffering terribly.

What I didn’t know was that my son-in-law, who’s one of the first responders — so he’s armed — but he couldn’t go out and join the first responders because my three granddaughters, aged two, six and eight, were in the safe room with him and he couldn’t leave them alone. So he was in the house. And what I found out only much later, if not the next day, is that terrorists entered his house and he heard them walking around and making noise.

At one point, he told his three little ones, my three granddaughters, hide under the blanket so that they wouldn’t see anything and so that they wouldn’t be seen. He said: “You’re going to hear a loud noise, but it’s going to be okay. Do not come after me. I’ll be right back.”

These kids never listen. They listened.

He opened the safe room door and shot the terrorist who was just outside his safe room door. He tried to go out and get two others that were in the house. But when he got to the threshold, he saw numerous armed terrorists outside and figured he’d cut his losses and go back and protect his children. And I knew nothing about this while it was happening. Only afterward did I discover it.

Only last week, when I went back to Nirim and I went back to his house, did I see it with my own eyes. The puddle of blood from the terrorist was right in front of his safe room door, inches away from my grandchildren.

All the while, we’re waiting for the army to come and save us, because the first responders are meant to hold the fort for five minutes, 10 minutes, and then the army comes. But the army didn’t come. So there were four guys out there with weapons, four brave men who had some angel on their shoulders because nothing happened to any of them. And one of the things I’ve been doing while here in Eilat, I’ve been recording, videotaping their accounts because when we were told to evacuate, I grabbed a bunch of stuff and shoved them into a small suitcase. But I also grabbed my laptop and my camera, because I knew I would be doing this. I’ve heard three very detailed accounts, and it’s just a miracle that they’re alive.

They did what they could. They managed to kill seven terrorists out of the nine, approximately. There were 60, 50-60 terrorists in the kibbutz altogether. Many, many of them went back to Gaza together with the loot that they stole, together with the five kidnapped people. Four from my community and one who was visiting. So in the end, the forces altogether managed to kill nine of them. And it took seven hours for the first army troops to arrive. Seven hours. These four guys held it down, and they told every family, you’re on your own, because we can’t help everyone.

Illustrative: Scenes of houses destroyed when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Kibbutz Be’eri, and 30 other nearby communities in Southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people, seen on October 25, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

As a community, after the army arrived, you were brought together into one of the communal buildings, correct?

Slowly, but yes, because we couldn’t just step outside our doors. We had to wait for the army to get to us. And we were given clear instructions only to open the safe room door if we heard our names being called. And there were people in some of the accounts, there was one person who, even though the army came and they called his name, he asked them questions, who’s this? Who’s the commander of that? In order to test them, he did not trust that they weren’t Hamas. They started evacuating us at about 1:30 after going to the most dire areas.

There was one house where there was a family with a baby that was eight days old and their house was on fire. And they kept calling for help, begging for help, for the police, for the army, for the fire department, anybody. They said: “Our baby’s here and the room is filling with smoke because the terrorists managed to dislodge the safe room door just enough so that smoke would be able to come in.” So they went to evacuate them first and to the other areas of the kibbutz that were most in danger because their houses were on fire.

They got to my house at about 5:15, something like that. And it took until at least 9 at night for the entire community to be evacuated. They went house by house, clearing out, sterilizing the area around, being sure that they were checking under every bush, every corner, every place that a terrorist could be hiding, to keep us safe for the evacuation. And then they walked us through the kibbutz.

They walked us around the long way and I couldn’t understand — we’re under fire, there’s still rocket fire, there could be terrorists loose. Why are we going the long way around? A rocket alert caught us in the middle. We just threw ourselves down on the ground and covered our heads. So it worked out they were taking us the long way around so that we wouldn’t go where there were dead bodies — so that we would be spared that sight. Although we did pass some, I did not see. One of the people who was with me said that he did see one of them.

You spent the night in the communal hall and you were obviously not equipped for any kind of sleeping arrangements. And there’s a picture of you with a tablecloth around your shoulders and you were even during that moment making jokes about what was happening, using humor to diffuse the situation. At what point were you taken out of the kibbutz entirely?

So we slept there, kinda-sorta, if you can sleep on two chairs put together, blanketed in the tablecloth. But at around 1:30 the next day, we were told that it was safe enough for us to go to our houses quickly, to pack up and when we finished packing, to go into the safe room and wait there for word to go out to the buses. The buses were — there were four buses in different sections of the kibbutz. That was not organized wonderfully. I mean, in all fairness, there was really no time to organize, very thoroughly, who went on what bus. So when they gave the word to go to the buses, we went to the bus, but it took a long time to get the buses boarded. It took a long time. I was sitting in that bus for 40 minutes, petrified that we would have rockets. And if you’re on a bus with other people — you cannot evacuate an entire bus in 0-10 seconds and get to someplace safe. But thank God there was no alert when we were on the bus.

Adele Raemer using a tablecloth to keep warm in the Kibbutz Nirim communal building on the night of October 7-8, 2023, as the IDF continued to clear the town of terrorists. (Courtesy)

Then we evacuated about a quarter to three and drove through an active war zone. There were smoking cars on the side and charred bodies on the road, and we drove through that. We had an army escort, but what’s an army escort going to do if you get attacked by soldiers on the side? I thought, at first I thought, well, I won’t sit next to a window in case a terrorist jumps out and starts shooting at the bus. But then somebody sat down next to me, so I moved over to the window.

I didn’t breathe easy until we passed Beersheba and eventually got to Eilat at about eight in the evening. 8:30. I’m not an observant religious person, but for the first time in my life, I googled [the Jewish prayer of gratitude] “Birkat HaGomel” and said it.

You are in Eilat with your entire kibbutz. You evacuated as a community?

Yeah.

How many are you?

We’re about 400. The great majority of us are here in the hotel. It’s very hard, very hard altogether. In the country, there’s something like 250,000 displaced people, north and south. So in our hotel, which just welcomed us so warmly and gave us such a big hug, all of our needs are seen to here. We’ve got three meals a day and the staff are wonderful and they bought us washing machines and dryers so that we can do our own laundry. They’ve just gone over and above to make us feel comfortable here.

On the first day, they gathered donations from people — a lot of clothing and toys and books and everything you can think of because people like my daughter and her three kids, she was scared to go back to her house to get anything, so she just left with the shirt on her back. And the children, so they came with nothing. The entire hall on the lower floor of the hotel was filled with donations from people in Eilat, new, secondhand, everything, whatever you need.

But now the hotel is extremely crowded. It’s extremely noisy. We have people from not only Nirim, now we have people from Sderot, and from Ashkelon, and Ashdod and Kiryat Shmona. Like really all over, and it’s gotten very hard. A lot of people have started complaining that you can’t go to the dining room because it’s too noisy. Like, people who have hearing aids — and I have hearing aids — know how difficult it is to be in a dining room. And when you’re in a dining room, there’s lots of kids screaming and lots of noise. It’s just your ears hurt, it’s physically painful.

So while we really appreciate everything that’s been done for us here, but all of the kibbutzim, all of the communities are looking for other alternatives, in-between solutions, so that we won’t have to stay in the hotels. Eventually, the hotels are going to want to get back to being hotels and not refugee centers. And so the kibbutzim are looking into different options.

Adele, as we were speaking, you said that you saw rocket attacks already, again, still on your kibbutz. So obviously going back home is not an option right now in terms of safety, but even in terms of infrastructure, the destruction is so rampant. How long do you think it would take?

I wouldn’t say the destruction is rampant, but it’s still possible. I went back to my kibbutz last week. A team from the BBC had come to my kibbutz in 2020 to cover the elections. They were in Israel and they came to me and they were with me when I voted. They reached out to me at the beginning of last week to ask if they could come interview me again. And I said: “Well, you know, I’m going to Nirim on Tuesday, you could come meet me there if you want.” And they did.

I got a ride up to Kibbutz Tze’elim and in Tze’elim I got out and I joined the BBC cars and drove into the kibbutz. They documented my return to the kibbutz, my return to my house, and they were with me in my house. And first of all, it’s less scary when you’re in a scary place with somebody. They were there when they documented me hanging up a flag on my porch and changing my shirt to a shirt that says, “We won’t give up on Nirim” from 2014. And they helped me empty my fridge and throw out the garbage.

I wanted to take my car home because I figured, if my car was one piece — and many, many cars were burnt to a crisp or shot through or slashed, I didn’t know what situation my car was in. So I figured, if it’s in one piece, why leave it there to be rocket fodder? I can’t move my house, but I can move the car and keep that safe. But it was covered with dust and I started washing it down then the BBC guy said: “Oh, let me do that for you.” So they were very sweet and very helpful.

File: Adele Raemer points out an unexploded missile just 20 meters from the kibbutz playground on August 6, 2014, at Kibbutz Nirim near Gaza. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

I took them for a short walk around the kibbutz, around to the most destroyed, the highly-destroyed places where that house where the baby was, the house that was burnt, and other houses, like an entire corner where the younger people lived, in the smaller houses, was just totally destroyed. We went into my son-in-law’s house, which is where I saw what it actually looks like with my own eyes. We went to see where the gate had been breached.

I did not go into the house where one of our members and his daughter were slaughtered. That was already too much for me.

It was heartbreaking being back there and seeing what had been done. But on the other hand, it was also, in a way, encouraging, because I saw that most of the kibbutz, most of the houses are intact, as of now. Again, every time there’s a pop-up that says, Nirim, my house could be hit. You never know.

Adele, do you see yourself going back there, moving back and living on Kibbutz Nirim?

Yes, but the army has a lot of work to do. The government has a lot of work to do to earn back my trust and sense of security. But I believe they will. Because if you give up on the western Negev, you can give up on Israel.

But I can’t promise that my daughter will be back. I haven’t even talked to her about it and I’m not going to talk to her about it. I’ve heard from many people — I don’t ask anybody, usually. I refrain from asking people because it’s just too fresh. We think about one day to the next. I don’t think about what I’m doing next week. I don’t have plans for the future. We just take it one day at a time.

So I don’t know how many young people, young kibbutz members with young kids and their families are going to be back. I don’t know if they’ll be able to feel safe letting their children play freely on the lawns again. I mean, my sense of security was so strong when I was there: I’m an amateur photographer, and I’ve never had any problem getting in my car, driving out the back gate towards the west, towards Gaza, driving through the fields in the evening, taking pictures, all by myself, all alone, not a soul around. I’ve never been scared.

And something very serious is going to have to happen in order to reinstill that sense of security and resilience because that’s the name of the game. If you don’t feel secure and resilient, you can’t live there. The country spent billions of dollars on safe rooms, on this fancy-schmancy underground barrier that supposedly was impenetrable, on this fence that couldn’t be cut through, couldn’t be infiltrated, and we can’t do that anymore, because they’ll find a way.

So it’s either us or them. I cannot live next door to those neighbors anymore. They must be evicted or destroyed. I prefer destroyed. And, I mean, it’s hard for me to say that, because there are people that I’m in touch with in Gaza, even today. But I’ve lost faith. I don’t know who to trust anymore. There are people who I know who have escaped from Gaza, and these are people who I’ve been in touch with for years already. And I know that they believe there can be a different way. And my hope is that when we destroy Hamas, these will be the people that are going to lead the Gazans and reeducate the Gazans to a different way of life, so that we can be good neighbors eventually.

I was always the first person to say that this is not a conflict that can be solved with weapons. It has to be solved with diplomacy. But on October 7, something in my DNA switched and now I realize that before we can make peace, we have to make war.

Adele, thank you so much for joining me today.

Thank you for having me. Bye.

Blogs written by Adele Raemer on and since October 7:

I hear massive shooting. I have never been this scared in my life

Painful homecoming

PHOTO ESSAY: My people of Kibbutz Nirim, in black and white

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