Israeli Visitors and our Communities Together: Nahal Oz – Atlanta & St. Louis Partnership

Naomi Petel Adler and Mirjam Heutink are both from Kibbutz Nahal Oz. This was the first kibbutz attacked by Hamas on October 7, 2023. Both their families managed to survive and they were rescued and taken to Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’ Emek—located in our partnership region of Megiddo. The Jewish Agency for Israel created Partnership2Gether where Elliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan is the director. Atlanta and St. Louis are partners to Yokneam – Megiddo regions in Israel through this program.

After the Hamas terror attacks the Partnership Region has been working with Atlanta and St. Louis on the Communities Together Partnership. Our two Federations have been extending support and aid to the evacuees from Nahal Oz. We created the Community Together Partnership with Nahal Oz to focus on rehabilitation and rebuilding.

Both women have lived through terror and have come to St. Louis to share their stories. Here is their background and we hope you have the opportunity to hear more from them and to help hold their stories.

About Naomi Petel Adler
Naomi is 42. She is married to Amir and together they have three boys: ages 8, 6, and 3. Naomi was born in Minneapolis to an American Mom and an Israeli Dad. The family made Aliya when Naomi was 18 months and she grew up in Jerusalem. She attended Nursing school in the IDF and has practiced as an RN for 21 years. Naomi and Amir moved from Jerusalem to Nahal Oz in 2017. That is where her two younger sons were born. She managed the clinic in Nahal Oz for five years and Amir worked in the fields managing the banana and avocado plantations. They built their house in the new neighborhood in the kibbutz and moved in on January 1st, 2023. Naomi, Amir and their three boys were in Nahal Oz on October 7th. They were under siege in their shelter for 19 hours—most of that time without electricity and cell service. They were rescued out of their home and evacuated to kibbutz Mishmar Haemek on October 8th, and they have been there since that day.

From Mirjam Heutink
My name is Mirjam, I am 43 years old. Until the 7th of October, I was working as a guide in the visitor center Nativ LeShalom (the path to peace) in Nativ HaAsara where I spoke about how it is to live so close to the border with Gaza and to make people aware of the situation which we are living in. We are a family of five and we made Aliya almost six years ago from the Netherlands, Rotterdam. We wanted to live the Jewish life to the fullest and also because of the growing antisemitism we decided to leave the Netherlands. Our children were 2, 7 and 8 years old so for them it was easy to adjust to the new life. We left everything behind, even all our family. Somehow, we ended up in a small kibbutz, only 700 meters from the border with Gaza, named Nahal Oz. The evening we arrived Hamas fired the first rockets towards Israel after four years of quietness, and it hasn’t been quiet since.

Terrorists released helium balloons and kites with fire—these fires were falling in our area and literally everything was on fire around us. My husband and I used to be firefighters in the Netherlands, that was our profession, so we didn’t hesitate and immediately started to extinguish all the fires, for months, almost every day after finishing our normal jobs. We are officially volunteer firefighters of Israel and I am proud of that. Soon after our arrival, things started to heat up between Israel and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and soon we had our first red alert and experienced how it was to be under attack by rockets and mortars. Life wasn’t quite as we expected. After only one year of living in Israel, during one of the operations/wars a mortar fired by Hamas fell on our house and exploded inside our living room. We were at home, luckily inside the safe room which saved our lives. We were all ok but part of the house was destroyed. There was a big hole in the roof but the hole in my heart was so much bigger. I was questioning myself over and over again, “Why are we here, why did we move to this place? What are we doing to our children?” I felt guilty as well. But somehow I knew we were in the right place, this is where we belong. We have been through so many operations/wars that I can’t even count them anymore. Missing children while we were under rocket fire, not knowing if they were ok and just hoping they followed the procedure. Driving in our car while rockets flew over, without time to get out to hide and nowhere to go.

My husband is working at the cowshed of Nahal Oz, when I have the chance to leave the area to a safe place during war I will but he will always stay behind. Despite everything, all the hard times we never thought about leaving. This is our home, we belong here. We have the right to be here. And by being here, living in this area, we indirectly contribute to the protection of our country.

About Eliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan
Since August 2016 Eliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan is the director of Yokneam Megiddo- Atlanta St. Louis Partnerships, and since September 2020 Eliad is the Federations’ representative in Israel. Prior to this current position, Eliad served as the Senior Community Shaliach of 12 communities in the United States where he was responsible for developing and managing educational programs between the communities and the Western Galilee partnership area. He also served as the Community Shaliach in Omaha, Nebraska. Married with six children, Eliad is originally from a mixed neighborhood in the old city of Akko. Before serving as a shaliach, Eliad worked as an educational coordinator for the Western Galilee- Central American Community Consortium Partnership. Before this, Eliad worked as a mentor for the Jewish Agency’s Youth Futures program in Akko. Eliad holds a BA in Communications and an MA in Public and Political Communications, both from Bar Ilan University, as well as a degree in Journalism and Communication from the Bar Ilan University Press and Communication Unit. Eliad was also a Mandel Program for Excellence Fellow for former emissaries. The program goal was to nurture a young generation of professional leadership, that will lead process of excellence and innovation, and will help to meet the future challenges of Israeli society and the Jewish people.