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Le Monde
Le Monde
21 Oct 2023


One Israeli family shares how their ideal kibbutz life turned to terror

By
Published today at 4:36 am (Paris)

Time to 5 min. Lire en français

Patrick Spitz (seated center) and his family, the Spitz-Rafenbergs, on October 14 in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, where they fled from their kibbutz.

"Yarin has disappeared. If you have any information, please contact us. She was at the Nahal Oz base yesterday." It was the day after the October 7 attack when hundreds of Hamas militants infiltrated Israel, launching assaults on soldiers and civilians, resulting in the loss of at least 1,400 lives. On social media platforms, the sweet face of 20-year-old Yarin, a nurse at the Nahal Oz military base on the border with Gaza, was shared by Patrick Spitz, her grandfather.

A few hours later, it was Yaël, one of Patrick's three daughters, who, in a voice message sent to me, announced the death of her niece. She was breathless: "She's dead. Her body is being guarded by the army. She was not kidnapped. We're all devastated." No burial date has yet been set, as the entire region has been declared a combat zone.

Malka Rafenberg, Patrick Spitz's wife and Yarin's grandmother, is a distant relative of mine whose life I've been keeping track of for a number of years, thanks in particular to social media. We talk regularly without ever having met. In 1939, Malka's father Shimon, a cousin of my great-grandfather, left Warsaw, enlisted in the Polish cavalry and managed to escape on horseback to the USSR as soon as the Germans invaded. With its pogroms, indignities and anti-Semitism, Poland was a hostile land for Jews. Family members who fled to France, the United Kingdom or Russia survived. Others perished in the Warsaw ghetto or concentration camps.

In Leningrad, Shimon met Helena, a medical student. Together, they moved to Tashkent (now Uzbekistan), where their son Yoel was born, and then to Lviv, Ukraine, where their daughter Malka was born in 1951. Nine years later, they returned to Warsaw, where their parents had disappeared and the family home had been razed to the ground. They learned that Poland was the only Soviet bloc country to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel. They moved to the suburbs of Tel Aviv. Shimon worked in the aeronautics industry, while Helena, who became an oncologist, devoted herself to raising their children.

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'Equality and fraternity'

In 1970, Patrick Spitz, a 23-year-old from a Catholic family in Strasbourg, visited a friend in Israel. Having left home at the age of 18 with his brother, he loved discovering the world and had just returned from a long trip to San Francisco, California. In the seaside resort of Eilat, he met Malka, fell in love, converted to Judaism and decided to stay in Israel.

Forty-eight hours before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, they married and settled in the Magen kibbutz, just 5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip (then under Israeli control). The kibbutz was founded by Romanian Holocaust survivors in the aftermath of the Second World War. For Patrick Spitz, the choice of kibbutz life echoed his French upbringing. "In Strasbourg, we grew up in a large family, and our mother ran a kind of boarding house where workers lived alongside doctors, and everyone paid rent according to their income. It was a sort of French-style kibbutz," said his brother, Thierry Spitz.

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