Mirjam Reijnen and Naomi Adler, survivors of the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas attack, spoke at Emory University Hillel about their experiences during the attacks in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz in southern Israel.

Hillels of Georgia Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Larry Sernovitz hosted the event, which was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He said the event was an effort to allow people to hear the survivors’ stories and share insight about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“When you hear these stories, there is context to what we’re dealing with in the world,” Sernovitz said. “In that way, when you recognize the humanity of the other, we can change the way that we live in the world.”

Adler was born in Minneapolis but has lived in Jerusalem since she was a baby. She said when she was pregnant with her second son, she “fell in love” with Nahal Oz and decided to move there with her family. Reijnen, however, said she moved to Nahal Oz from the Netherlands because of the “growing antisemitism” in Europe.

On the morning of Oct. 7, 2023, Reijnen said a missile alert woke her and her family. They then ran into their home shelter and stayed there for more than 17 hours without food or water as rockets struck the vicinity.

“We just heard noises outside,” Reijnen said. “We didn’t even know exactly what was going on because you’re just sitting in this room, and you didn’t have … connection with the outside world.”

Around 4 p.m. that day, Reijnen heard knocking on her door, but she did not open it. She said she had learned of Hamas members pretending to be Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers. Reijnen added that it was a “really frightening moment.”

“I remember my daughter sitting behind me, no place to hide,” Reijnen said. “Our safe room is seven square meters … There was no place where she could hide. She was crying, and … one of my sons was just lying in his bed with the blanket over his head.”

After about 10 minutes, Reijnen opened the door after her neighbor told her that it was safe. When she stepped out of the door, she fell into the arms of the first IDF soldier she saw and started to cry.

“I thought we’re safe,” Reijnen said. “They came to help us, and then they said, ‘No, I’m sorry, but you only have a few minutes. Take something to drink, take something to eat and go back in your safe room.’”

Reijnen and her family waited until midnight before the IDF came to take them out of their house. She reflected that the more she tells her story, the harder it gets.

“It’s not just a bad, bad movie,” Reijnen said. “It really happened, and we’re still in a war, and we cannot go home.”

Emory University Hillel members and Oct. 7 survivors pose with posters of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. (Hannah Xu/Staff Photographer)

Adler showed a photo of a 10-year-old boy who is friends with her sons. She described how his 18-year-old sister was killed in front of him on Oct. 7, 2023, and his father is currently being held hostage in Gaza. The boy’s grandmother watched her son being taken hostage on Facebook through a Hamas livestream.

She recalled following security message instructions that same day and running to the safe room after the initial attack. Adler later found that Hamas had shot rounds at her front door but was not able to break into the house.

When the IDF retrieved Adler and her family 19 hours after the attack began, they had already been without power for 12 hours.

“It [was] pitch black,” Adler said. “There was no shred of light coming in, and we couldn’t charge our phones, and there were hours when we were completely disconnected from everything.”

Adler shed tears as she said she struggled to retell the situation she lived through.

“I made myself so small, both physically and mentally, so that I wouldn’t have to come to grips with the fact that outside, people are coming to kill us,” Adler said.

After sharing her experience with the attacks, Adler emphasized her desire for her people to come home and said she was “furious at the world’s reaction.”

“I want my people back,” Adler said. “I want our two neighbors back home. I want the female soldiers that were taken from the Nahal Oz base who were paraded around Gaza after being raped. I want those girls to come back home. Those girls were your age. I want them to come home to their moms.”

In response to a question about reconciliation with Palestinians, Reijnen noted her shift in perspective since Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7, 2023.

“My whole thoughts, perspective of this ideology, it changed,” Reijnen said. “Because I’m not so sure how innocent the … normal Palestinian people are, because we know that they came, we know that they also took people to Gaza, that they came also to steal, to kill.”

Emory Hillel President Avery Adelman (24C) shared that it was “heartbreaking” to hear the stories of the survivors.

“I’ve read all these stories online from people … in October, I heard from some of the family members of those taken hostage,” Adelman said. “But this is my first time in person hearing from people who were there, and so just hearing about their trauma reactions and seeing them tell their own stories, it’s just emotional in a whole other way.”

Zoe Teicher (27C), who attended the event, expressed her admiration for Reijnen and Adler.

“These people are survivors,” Teicher said. “They are beyond strong. Their stories must be heard, and their truth must be spread.”

Sernovitz acknowledged the courage needed to hear someone else’s story and urged the Emory community to listen to each other to improve the climate on campus.

“The one thing that’s missing at Emory right now is people listening to each other’s stories,” Sernovitz said. “There’s lots of social media, and there’s lots of these blurbs that people are reading, but they actually don’t take the time to hear the story.”

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Lauren Yee (25Ox) is a News Editor at The Emory Wheel. She is from Hong Kong, and is majoring in Religion. Outside of the Wheel, Yee serves on the boards of the Phi Gamma Literary Society and the Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists. In her free time, you can find her playing the saxophone, watching musicals or enjoying an iced oat milk matcha!