SAN DIEGO — A family from Israel is taking respite in San Diego after fleeing their home in Israel during the Hamas attacks. The mother shared the harrowing story with FOX 5.
“We were the lucky ones. We are. I can hug my children, I can hug my husband,” said Addi Cherry, the who fled Israel alongside her family.
The Cherry family is made up mother Addi, father Oren, and their three kids: 15-year-old Guy, 12-year-old Shani, and 9-year-old Yahav.
The Cherry’s are survivors of Hamas attacks. The day before, Oct. 6, Addi said they were at home in Sha’ar HaNegev celebrating their Kibbutz Nahal Oz’s 70th anniversary.
Cherry said, “Little did I know that few of my friends, it would be the last time I gave a hug goodnight.”
On Oct. 7, the Cherry’s work up to missiles and heavy bombing, Addi explained. She said their house is just 800 meters from the Gaza Strip in Sha’ar HaNegev, in the Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
“My husband, just had a peak through the window and he was yelling ‘oh my God, the Hamas in the Kibbutz!’ He saw three or four terrorists wearing all black, with green band-aids (bandanas) with RPGs, and grenades, and weapons and he yelled ‘run to Guy’s room!’” Addi recounted.
Each kid’s room is a fortified safe room, which is surrounded with concrete and steel.
“Immediately outside the window we heard, yelling….’slaughter the Jew!’” Cherry said. “(Hamas) started a war zone, fire, they throw grenades on our house,” Addi explained.
The safe rooms do not lock because the intent is to be rescued. Addi said she, her husband, and her eldest son held the door shut.
Cherry said, “In my head, if they do manage to open the door, maybe they will see me a woman, and maybe I’ll be enough just me, and maybe I can save my family.”
She continued, “And we heard them coming into our house, screaming and shouting…the terror you feel…it’s hard to explain, your blood freezes.”
Addi said Hamas would come back again. The Cherry’s hid in the room, for 11 hours with no electricity, no food, and very little water, plus the oxygen grew thin.
“So, we fell in and out of sleep due to lack of oxygen,” Cherry described.
“The true heroes are our kids. For 11 hours they barely said a word. They didn’t cry, they didn’t say anything, really cooperating,” Cherry said.
Addi explained how she got a message from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of rescue plans. Addi said the IDF would say something specific so people knew they were not Hamas disguising themselves as IDF.
Addi said they were not rescued until about 2:30 a.m. the next day. The Cherry’s grabbed a few shirts, shoes, and pants. IDF soldiers surrounded the kids to shield them from seeing the horrors outside.
“It’s literally like we stepped into hell, literally. When you imagine hell, that was Nahal Oz,” the mother of three explained.
Addi said they went to a military base, then a kibbutz in Northern Israel. Addi is from Belgium and decided it was time to be with family during the Israel-Hamas war.
“Literally burst into tears, I said we are safe, my family is safe and we saw our family,” Cherry said.
“Everyone needs to hear this story. This is a human story, not a Jewish story. This is a story of atrocity, to understand the point of the world we are at today,” said Heidi Gantwerk, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego.
Gantwerk said the Cherry’s story motivated them to bring them to San Diego to share their story, but also so they can enjoy a relaxing vacation.
“Their experience and the reality of the story is so important for people to understand,” Gantwreck said.
They feel some relief now that they are in safety, but for the Cherry’s each day is a fight for healing.
“There are moments we laugh and moments it’s extremely difficult. You think your heart could not be more broken, then you discover your heart can be broken, it can go lower…so it’s like a seesaw,” Cherry said.
Addi said she is unsure whether she will return home to Sha’ar HaNegev, but looks forward to its rebuild.
Donations to the Jewish Federation of San Diego’s Israel Emergency Response fund can be made here.
The Cherry’s plan is to stay in San Diego until Saturday. They will then head to the Florida Keys to visit family before returning to Belgium, where Addi said she will enroll her kids in Jewish school.