Like so many Israelis around her, Australian woman Hayley Alpern is trying to channel her grief and sadness into “some semblance of purposeful action”.
Alpern, who moved to Israel six years ago, lives just 45 minutes away from the Gaza border with her husband Zohar and their two-month-old daughter Aria. On the morning of October 7 they heard sirens wailing and quickly ran down to their mamad (safe room), where they waited for over six hours while rockets flew overhead.
Zohar was called up to his army base the very next day and it soon became apparent just how unprepared Israel was for a war, which is why Alpern began a fundraising effort to get her husband’s unit better protection.
Speaking to The AJN, Alpern said the support from Israelis and the global Jewish community has meant “everything, both practically and emotionally”.
“The amount of soldiers called up to war is completely unprecedented and we were not prepared,” Alpern said.
“Practically, people have been sent to frontlines without the ceramic vests they need and unfortunately a lot of people haven’t made it just because of the lack of equipment. So it is genuinely the difference between life and death. Raising money and sending goods to allow our soldiers to protect us and for families who are completely displaced to have nappies and wipes for their babies, then the breast milk that’s been donated from overseas because kids have been left orphaned.”
Aside from the practical help, Alpern said the emotional support has been equally important, particularly when the rest of the world shows a “really ugly side and makes us feel even more alone”.
“To know your brothers and sisters are out there fighting with you, holding your hand, is sometimes the only thing that gives us the courage to keep up the fight,” Alpern said.
“It’s harder to do alone, so knowing that we have communities not only practically supporting us, but also putting the word out and having conversations with people out there, trying to change the misinformation, is sometimes what helps you through the day.”
With her husband in the army and the majority of her family in Australia, Alpern and her baby daughter have moved further up north to stay with a friend. Her focus is on Aria, but after feeling overcome by the amount of misinformation flying about she is also using social media to try and redirect the information to truer sources.
“Everyone just chooses a different way that makes them feel like they can contribute,” Alpern said.
“Some people are going to kitchens to cook food, other people are trying to get clothes to give to families, others are going to babysit the kids whose parents are no longer around. I am taking to social media to get involved in the comments sections to try and engage in conversations with people.
“That is another form of the fight. It’s the only way for us to move forward, otherwise we keep getting caught on the cycle of ‘don’t bother, it’s too much’. And it is, I am exhausted, but this is the place for us to try and catch it at the root. If people are allowed to sit with their misinformation, we’ll never move beyond this.”
Alpern said that while these are dark days for the Jewish community and Israel, it does present an opportunity for everyone to start to re-engage in a different way.
“We can use our pain for fuel to recreate conversations and just promote ourselves to be better educated on what’s happening,” she said.
“We can try educate others so we don’t land here again.”
Amid all the grief and sadness – Alpern attended a funeral where she saw a soldier break down because it was his sixth funeral in a week – she describes Israelis as being unlike any other in their absolute joy for life.
“The beauty of seeing how, in the face of people hating you and wanting to annihilate you, there are weddings happening on army bases, there are volunteers flooding in to give everything they can – food, time, clothes,” she said.
“There are Israeli boys on their base singing songs and musicians going to hospitals. This is what they are about – making sure that no matter how much hatred there is, you still feel held.”