When Sarit Kurtzman heard rocket sirens early Saturday morning, she grabbed her 14-month-old daughter, Zohar, and quickly made her way with her husband, Yonatan, to the safe room in their home in the kibbutz Alumim in southern Israel.
As a resident of a kibbutz only a few miles from the Gaza Strip, it was an experience she has grown accustomed to. Ms. Kurtzman, a modern Orthodox Jew, typically leaves her phone off on Saturdays but turned it on when she realized something was wrong. The barrage of rockets and sirens continued for longer than usual.
“We’re used to hearing the missiles, we’re used to hearing the Iron Dome, we’re used to hearing even planes and tanks and helicopters, but this was the first time we heard gunshots right outside our window and we understood that something is going on — that the terrorists are nearby,” Ms. Kurtzman, 28, said.
Her kibbutz, which has a volunteer security team and several methods of communicating warnings, alerted residents that the community had been infiltrated by attackers and that residents needed to seek shelter.
“We were just on our phones the whole entire time trying to calm down my baby without food, without water, without diapers,” she said. She shared her live location on her phone with her family.
To calm her daughter, she made toys out of random items in the safe room, including a wallet. “I cut it open so she could put stuff in it and take out,” Ms. Kurtzman said, adding, “mostly she was just amazing.”
“Thank God she’s young enough to not understand what’s going on.”
At one point, Ms. Kurtzman decided to exit the safe room to grab water, food, diapers and a knife. “I ran out knowing that I might be meeting a terrorist at my fridge, but I felt like I needed to feed my daughter,” she said.
As the fighting continued outside, thoughts of the family’s future stayed top of mind.
“I looked at my husband and I said to him like, ‘Where are we going to live? Is this place going to exist? Are we going to want to put our daughter in this situation?’” she said.
Altogether, they spent 26 hours in the safe room before receiving a notification that it was safe to exit.
Outside, Ms. Kurtzman took in the alarming aftermath: the community’s barn had been burned down, and in the streets, cars riddled with bullets had been flipped over.
Her sister, Adena Lesnick-Weil, who was in Jerusalem, described the terror of not being able to help her sister.
“It’s 26 hours, but when you’re a family member, it was centuries, it was years,” she said, adding, “I just needed her to get out of there.”
Ms. Kurtzman’s husband has been drafted, and she says she would typically be as well, but that her new role as a mother has altered the calculation for her.
“It’s the first time that something like this has happened, and I’m a mother, and I’m torn,” she said. “I feel guilty that it’s not obvious for me that I have to be a mother right now.”