I went to see Kfar Aza, the kibbutz where the October 7 massacre—in which 5,000 Israelis were killed or wounded out of a population of 9 million—began in part. I’m not going to describe what I saw in any detail, because my efforts will fail. Instead, imagine a flood zone where the flood has subsided, but there had been no flood, only murderous rapists and rampagers and torturers who left behind an apocalyptic ruin. Furniture overturned, houses gutted by fire, mattresses strewn about—it’s only when you imagine what it looked like before and what it took to make it look the way it does now that the true horror is revealed. The population of Kfar Aza was 760 on the morning of October 7; by nightfall, 65 of them were dead and 20 had been taken hostage. it took the IDF three days to secure control of the area. Three days.
The IDF and the government has left Kfar Aza as is, awaiting the decision of the surviving members of the kibbutz on whether they will return and in what kind of way. At this moment it has become a kind of way-station inside Israel of what is commonly called the “March of the Living,” the trips that are taken through Poland to see the sites of death camps and World War II massacres. It’s also an unofficial outpost of Yad Va-Shem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, which has become a central tourist destination.
I hope Kfar Aza will not stay this way for long.
I hope it is rebuilt, with care and love, and that the residents who return continue to lead the life they choose to lead, and that others join them. Hamas should not be allowed to have turned a working home for Jews into a memorial to their genocide—and Kfar Aza deserves to be a place of new purpose and new memories.
I doubt the people of Kfar Aza are big fans of COMMENTARY; this is a peacenik, old-time leftie kibbutz. But one cannot view its residents with anything other than respect, because they put their money where their mouth is—and decided to live in a risky way because they believed in something and wanted to walk the walk. They believed in peaceful coexistence with the Gazans. They lived a mile away from the border and tried to find a way to be neighborly. They petitioned the government to let Gazans in to Israel to work, and employed them at Kfar Aza. In extending the hand of friendship, they gave Hamas a window inside their streets and walls—and the information passed back to the leaders helped provide the literal map for the invasion and slaughter.
I am not going to condemn them for foolishness. They knew what they were doing posed a potential danger to them and they did it anyway out of deep conviction. These are not limousine liberals toying with radical politics from their Park Avenue apartments and Hamptons houses. These are missionaries, their religion a secular creed of coexistence. Missionaries have, from time immemorial, risked their lives for their deep conviction and hope of bringing about salvation. I’m not a Christian, but I am awed by the stories of the daring of Christian missionaries across time to spread what they believe to be the Word. I’m not a peace activist either, but the last thing you can say about the victims at Kfar Aza and their fellow kibbutzniks is that they were and self-parodying unserious people. They lived in Israel as Jews and they were murdered for being Jews, their only crime to seek a better future for their country. There’s a word for what they are. The word is “martyr.”
Kibbutzim are collectivist communities of a kind pretty much unique to Israel, a social experiment in radical utopianism which involved the reorienting of the most basic daily life decisions and ordinary human wants toward a sense of collective purpose. In the early decades of the movement’s existence, most kibbutzniks literally owned nothing of their own, dined together, and even raised their children separately from parents in dormitories so as to engineer a sense of collective responsibility for all the kids. They were awash in demented ideas, potted efforts to make communist fantasies real—and as the kibbutzim themselves began to realize this, their novelty and reputation for innovation began to fade.
By now, kibbutzim are best understood as small towns without individual private property whose residents generally join together to pursue a single line of business. Some are still dedicated to farming, which is what all the kibbutzim did from their earliest days in the 1920s. But not many. A family member of mine grew up on a kibbutz that sold chocolate and had a small kiddie amusement park. There’s one that holds a patent on a certain high-grade military plastic and as a result is of the richest places per capita on earth. (With a population of 400, it makes an estimated $850 million per year.) By now, very few Israelis live on them; kibbutzniks make up about 1.5 percent of Israel’s population.
There are a couple hundred kibbutzim left, and they are home to a mere 1.3 percent of the country’s population. I hope, 100 years from now, if there is one still standing, it will be Kfar Aza—because Hamas’s depredations have marked it even more powerfully in the history of our people a place for Jews. And Jews should therefore be there forever.