This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

Just one house in Kib­butz Be’eri. Walls pocked by gun­fire and shrap­nel from the grenades of the Hamas attack­ers. Draw­ers and clos­ets left open, their con­tents cast on the floor; ran­sacked by the loot­ers who fol­lowed the mur­der­ers. Walls and ceil­ings cov­ered in the soot left by the fire set by the slaugh­ter­ers. A met­al stair­case twist­ed and win­dows blown out, prob­a­bly when the IDF shelled the hous­es to kill the invaders, when it was clear there was no Israeli soul alive. Fur­ni­ture top­pled over, piled up, cast aside, pre­sum­ably by those who came lat­er, to search for the bod­ies, iden­ti­fy them, and pre­pare them for burial.

But one cor­ner remains pris­tine, as if it had been pro­tect­ed from the blood and hatred. A desk, and above it a book­shelf. Three rows, almost every­thing in Hebrew. On the bot­tom shelf, Hebrew trans­la­tions of Ian McEwan’s Atone­ment and of John Le Carré’s Our Game. On the mid­dle shelf, most­ly Hebrew fic­tion — Yoram Kaniuk’s The Sec­ond Book of David and Mer­av Halperin’s Over My Dead Body.

In a house near­by, a book­case in a room where a child was mur­dered in bed (the slaugh­ter began ear­ly Sat­ur­day morn­ing, when they were still sleep­ing). Leah Goldberg’s Gar­den of Stars, and anoth­er, Some­thing Else, whose author’s name I can­not make out because it’s blocked by debris. A Google search lat­er iden­ti­fies her as Kathryn Cave and the illus­tra­tor as Chris Rid­del. For this book they won the first inter­na­tion­al UNESCO prize for Children’s and Young Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture in the Ser­vice of Tolerance.

At the adja­cent Re’im campsite,(the site of the nature par­ty), fam­i­lies fled from their tents to their cars when mor­tar shells began falling at dawn. Gun­fire came from all direc­tions and the Hamas attack­ers burned some of them alive in their cars. Left behind were pages from activ­i­ty books they had brought along for their young chil­dren, scat­tered by their tents or dropped in their flight. One is a draw­ing of a pas­toral lawn with a fruit tree, with instruc­tions for kids to search for hid­den items that you would expect to find in your backyard.

At Kfar Aza, the attack­ers broke through the kibbutz’s back gate, assail­ing three rows of old­er apart­ments that were rent­ed by stu­dents and oth­er young peo­ple. On a blood­stained bed lay Nobody’s Chil­dren, a book of poems by Yehu­da Atlas based on inter­views he con­duct­ed with chil­dren at risk from bro­ken fam­i­lies, or with no fam­i­lies at all.

A musician’s apart­ment. Elec­tron­ic key­board, sound equip­ment. On the book­shelf above all this, Hebrew trans­la­tions of Alice Munro’s Some­thing I’ve Been Mean­ing to Tell You and Philip Roth’s Good­bye, Colum­bus, Yoni Rechter’s Twen­ty Songs from Five Decades. On the key­board, Bach etudes.

The books on the top shelf of the three rows of vol­umes in the island of seren­i­ty in that gut­ted hell in Be’eri have top­pled over to the left. Per­haps when the house shook from explo­sions. Or per­haps, the night before, a woman had sat there, writ­ing, as I am writ­ing now, had recalled a phrase she want­ed to quote and had stretched her arm up to retrieve a book. And the books top­pled over when she did that and, because it was after a fam­i­ly hol­i­day din­ner, and she’d had maybe a bit too much wine, she was too tired to right the books. She’d deal with it in the morn­ing. On the right, Avi­ad Kleinberg’s album-style his­to­ry of Israel’s first fifty years, Res­ur­rec­tion. In the mid­dle, Boccaccio’s Decameron. On the left, lean­ing over the edge, as if about to plum­met into Infer­no, a well-worn, black-bound vol­ume with sil­ver let­ter­ing on the spine: Torah. Nevi’im. Ketu­vim.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Haim Watz­man lives in Jerusalem and is the author of three books: Com­pa­ny C: An American’s Life as a Cit­i­zen-Sol­dier in Israel; A Crack in the Earth: A Jour­ney Up Israel’s Rift Val­ley; and a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Nec­es­sary Sto­ries, a selec­tion of the more than 150 he has writ­ten. His play The Chair won the 2021 The­ater Insti­tute Award of the Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Dra­ma Inter­na­tion­al Com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by the Estera Rachel and Ida Makin­skie Jew­ish The­ater in War­saw. He has trans­lat­ed more than 50 books from Hebrew into Eng­lish, among them works by Shlo­mo Avineri, David Gross­man, Hil­lel Cohen, Amos Oz, and Tom Segev. He edit­ed the Eng­lish-lan­guage ver­sion of Yuval Noah Harari’s world­wide best­seller, Sapi­ens. Sub­scribe to his Sub­stack newslet­ter here.