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Reflections on a home that turned into a house of horror

Niva Kaspi
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Reflection on a home that turned into a house of horror

Published: 24 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

NIVA KASPI, now living in Perth, longs for the time when people had never heard of her old kibbutz, Reim.

Once, Reim was one of those small, indistinguishable kibbutzim in the Western Negev Desert. When someone asked where exactly it was, we would answer, begrudgingly, "near Kibbutz Be'eri". "Aha!" would come the predictable spark of recognition. Because that’s how it used to be: Be'eri stood as our larger, more accomplished, widely recognised sibling – a rival in the way only siblings can be.

Between Reim and Beeri runs the Little Wadi, but in October, as you take the last bend heading south on the road to Reim, the landscape takes on a monotonous golden-brown theme, occasionally punctuated by a lone, stooped eucalypt, a precision-cut orchard, or a tangle of bushes, all in various shades of faded green. To the right, an Anzac memorial stands, unseen, and a short distance down the road, just before Kibbutz Reim’s entrance, is where thousands of young revellers would have been dancing on the morning of October 7, when the percussion of gunshots and rockets merged with the beat of a bass.   

During winter, when a rumour would circulate that the Little Wadi was flooded, we would rush over to watch the procession of anxious vehicles attempting to cross the gushing waters. We would hold our collective breaths when a driver, unfamiliar with the hidden dips and bumps beneath the water, made a critical error.

In summer, when the Big Wadi which encloses Reim on the other side would dry up, we would head to the arid ravine to collect chocolate - cracked segments of dark brown mud that we couldn’t resist tasting.

Artwork by Reim artist Adi Drimer
Artwork by Reim artist Adi Drimer

Across the road from the kibbutz stands its most notable landmark, the Tel: a noble hill where remnants of ancient communities rest with their unearthed vessels and jewels and weapons, layered like chapters in a history book. In our communal dining room, a vast, floor-to-ceiling window frames the Tel in the distance, and this view can be particularly striking in summer, when dinnertime aligns with sunset.

Kibbutzniks collectively refer to themselves as “we”, and each time I’m asked, “Is your family OK?”, I can’t help but feel a little bit lonelier in my grief.  “Family”. There should be a word to capture our kind of connection. The people there are not “friends”, because I neither chose them, nor can I let them go, even after many years away.  In a sense, we were forged into a single organism.

Back in the old days, kibbutzniks used to call one another haver, a term that encompasses both “friend” and “member”. We are members of a People, of a distinct species.  

I resist October 7; holding it back, barricading against it in the hope that my home can remain suspended in time - as part of the cluster of nearly identical kibbutzim in the Western Negev from the days before the term Otef Aza ("The Gaza envelope") was even invented.

These kibbutzim are now distinguishable from one another by the tally of their dead, their kidnapped, their missing, and their charred houses. Other, silent scores, exist, but no one dares think of those. I long for the days when someone would ask “Reim? Where exactly is that?”

The story of October 7 is not mine to tell. I will let it be glimpsed by borrowing from a piece by Reim artist, Adi Drimer, and translate a selection of messages posted on the Reim WhatsApp group during that fateful morning:

People to the young neighbourhood – urgent – army to the young– urgent – I have a shooting injured – send forces – is the army here? – where is the army??? – urgent urgent to Dvir’s house, [kids’ names] are on their own, Dvir has been murdered, urgent – please friends lock the house and stay in the safe room we are waiting for the army – urgent urgent please please – where is the army – get the army the hell over here – how come there’s no army here yet? – friends the entire strip from north to south has terrorists, you must be patient – please text messages not audio.

We need total silence – please someone update, is the army here? Any security forces? They’ve just notified us that no. Can we contact the military to get them to send people over?!?!?! Please come they are outside our place, please please come quickly – I can’t lift the handle up – security team are you on your way?

Please I can’t breath – if there’s a bed or a table that you can block the door with, push something against it – lift the handle up and slam the door hard – handle up and hold forcefully – handle up – no it’s not locking like that – please come...

Dedicated with love to the Reim people who have lost their lives, and to those who live.

Please Help The Hamas Terror Victims of Kibbutz Reim 

Photo: Israeli soldiers drive by the rave party site, where hundreds were killed, near the Kibbutz Re'im, close to the Gaza Strip border fence, on Tuesday, October 10 (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

About the author

Niva Kaspi

Niva Kaspi lectures in Media and Culture at Edith Cowan College, is a published Hebrew to English literary translator, and has a research interest in linguistic and cultural untranslatables.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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