Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story was published briefly last week. Due to safety concerns, the story was temporarily removed and we are now republishing it with updated information.
Edmonds resident Barry Klarman’s son, Alex, came home last weekend from his studies in Israel after Hamas terrorists Oct. 7 attacked nearby villages and towns. But the 15-year-old is determined to help those who were displaced by the war by participating in a fundraiser run by Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Heller High School and Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
Students and volunteers have made more than 1,700 relief aid packages for Israeli civilians and soldiers who were affected and displaced by the war.
Heller High School – where Alex has been attending since August – was closed after the war made leaving the campus impossible, and the teachers were too impacted to teach. Many of the staff have family members or friends who were killed in the attack.
In an interview Wednesday, Alex said that he woke up to the sounds of sirens outside of his hotel room in Jerusalem on the day of the Hamas attack. He and his schoolmates were on a trip to the city to celebrate Simchat Torah, the last day of the annual cycle of public Torah reading.
“The counselors were banging on our doors and told us to head to the bomb shelter,” he said. “I didn’t feel scared. It was routine.”
After the school closed, the school staff worked with the students and their families to return home to the U.S. All students and chaperones of both high schools took a chartered plane to Rome, Italy. While Alex and other students were waiting for their plane at the crowded Ben Gurion Airport, sirens went off in the building and everyone fled to the nearest bomb shelter.
Within a minute after the flight took off, Barry said that a fleet of drones were detected flying from Lebanon to northern Israel. It turned out to be a false alarm.
After spending a night in Rome, Alex and the other students and chaperones took an international carrier to Boston. From there, Alex flew to Seattle. Now that he has been back home for a week, Alex said that he wants to get back to his “ordinary routine.”
Barry added: “The students who are doing this fundraiser, which Alex is a part of, are from a school in Israel that takes Jewish teenagers from high schools all over North America to expose them to one high school semester to Jewish history from the earliest times to modern times,” Klarman said.
During the semester, the students get to see and experience some of the Jewish holy sites, including the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, while keeping up with other courses, such as math and science.
“We visited all the archaeological sites from the times of Abraham,” Alex said. “It’s like very different from looking at pictures. You can walk through [places], and people were buried here. It feels more real.” He also met and connected with other Jewish teenagers from Canada and other countries as well as those in Israel.
“Because we’re diaspora and a very small percentage of any population, it’s extremely rare to be in a place where there’s a lot of Jewish kids—never mind other [Jewish] adults,” Klarman added.
Three days after the attack, with his son still in Israel, Klarman attended an Oct. 10 vigil at the Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle. Hundreds of people gathered, including U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington State Lt. Gov. Denny Heck and Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz. Guitarist Chava Mirel and Senior Rabbi Daniel Weiner started the service with a song, followed by a prayer and an opening.
“We must be driven. Not by the bloodlust of vengeance, but by the clarion call of justice,” Weiner said. “Not by a corrupting hatred, but by a defining determination. Not by a desire only to eradicate today’s enemy, but a responsibility to combat the evil for which we are the world’ eternal witness, with eyes ever turned toward tomorrow’s path of peace.”
Cantwell followed with an acknowledgement of the grief the Israelis are going through. “The grisly execution of children, of grandmothers, or daughters should be condemned by every country, by every person and by every religion,” she said. “Anything less than pure condemnation of these attacks by Hamas is unacceptable. We must condemn the violence that reminds us of the violence we saw with ISIS, and we should say there is no place for Hamas or other terrorist groups in Israel, or in Gaza or anywhere in the Middle East. There must be no place for terrorism in this world.”
Currently, the Alexander Muss High School is providing shelter for Israelis who were displaced by the Oct. 7 attack.
“It (the scene of the attack) looks like the worst of Ukrainian towns that got hit by Russia,” Klarman said, referring to southern Israeli towns like Sderot. “It deeply affected the students. [The school staff] know the people. They want to do something to support the evacuees, the internally displaced people, which as of today are still around. We just want to spread the opportunity to have other people to do something that connects a local Edmonds kid [who] is touched by this.”
The fundraiser currently raised more than $115,000, nearly halfway to their $250,000 goal of helping displaced Israeli families and citizens. You can donate to the effort here.
— Story and photos by Nick Ng