On October 7, Claudia Simons, who made aliyah from Sydney several years ago, woke up to frantic messages, desperately asking where she was.
Claudia, along with her fiancé, was meant to be at the Supernova Festival near Re’im to support her best friend Marj, who was one of the producers. They didn’t end up going, as Marj was in Brazil. But several of their friends did.
“We had friends who we knew were at the party who weren’t answering their phones, while Marj was telling us that producers at the festival were saying there were 200 to 300 bodies there,” Claudia told The AJN over Zoom from Tel Aviv with her mum Diane Symonds, who is immediate past president of WIZO NSW.
“You don’t know how to process that, because you’re trying to talk to your friends who aren’t answering you and so many conversations are happening at once. You straight away go to, ‘no they must be in hiding’ or ‘their phones have died.'”
Claudia explained that quite early on she had an inkling that there were going to be mass casualties from the terror attack, particularly at the festival.
And then she started seeing the videos.
And then she started seeing the videos, which she described as some of the most “inhumane things”.
They were even sent videos of terrorists dressed as IDF soldiers. “I have visuals of people in our uniforms hurting our people. Even though you know it’s the terrorists dressed in Israeli uniforms, you can’t get those out of your mind,” she said, recalling the fear of even leaving her apartment.
Within the first couple of days, Claudia and Diane went to the grocery store. They described feeling jumpy and fearful of every person who walked in. “Every time someone walks in, you’re preparing yourself to either hide, or jump on them,” Claudia recalled.
The fear now is that the terrorists are still in hiding. Both Claudia and Diane (who spends a lot of her time in Israel as two of her children currently live there) have gotten used to the rockets. But as Diane explained, “this is a different level”.
Claudia spent the first week after October 7 attending four funerals.
She knew more people, but it was impossible to go to them all.
At one of her friend’s funerals, there was a line of empty gravesites with the names of more victims.
“These people are young; they’re supposed to be in the prime of their lives. But you’re going to funerals with 700 or 800 people,” she recalled, going on to describe the Israeli spirit. “It’s the only country in the world where you’ll be at a funeral, having just buried a friend, and then somehow you find light in the space, and people laugh. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Diane said she too has never seen the unity on the ground before.
“I’ve been coming to Israel my entire life. My mother is seventh generation Israel, and we have a lot of family in Israel. But I have never, ever seen the unity of what is going on here, especially after what was happening a month ago,” she said, recalling the deep divide the nation was experiencing around the judicial overhaul plans.
“The amount of people cooking, helping, packing, giving blood; to feel this love is amazing. At the end of the day, we all say it, but this really is the only place that we can actually call our home. Everybody here will do anything, including giving up their apartments for people in need, at the drop of a hat. Everyone is going beyond what they can possibly do to help, and to be part of that is the most incredible feeling. Within so much pain is so much understanding of what it means to be Jewish.”
Claudia acknowledged that while the fear is still there, she will get to a point where she no longer feels it. She said the biggest challenge will be dealing with the trauma.
“We’re dealing with a huge scale of traumatised people, and many don’t actually acknowledge that they’re traumatised,” she said. “My biggest worry for myself, for my family, for my people and for my generation is that mental health has never been taken seriously here. You’re pretty much living on the backbone of post-trauma here. I’m most fearful that we’re all still in shock; not one second of this has been processed.”
In fact, many went from surviving the attack to attending funerals to putting on their uniforms.
“I had friends who survived the party, with bullet holes through their cars, who would certainly be experiencing post trauma, with no time to process it, and were sent straight to miluim,” Claudia explained.
Despite all of this though, for Claudia leaving Israel isn’t an option.
“My life is here, my love is here. My friends have become my family. This is my home.”