Today we are casting a spotlight on Susan (Sue) Braun Svorai, who was born and grew up in Buffalo and lives in Israel. Sue has a BS in occupational Therapy from the University of Buffalo and worked as a registered occupational therapist with children and adults. In her mid-20’s she visited Israel for the first time and subsequently moved there in 1984. In Israel, she received her Master’s degree in second language teaching and has been teaching at various colleges since. Sue and her husband have two adult sons and a grandchild. As her schedule allows, she spends her summer and early fall in Buffalo each year. We are pleased to share Sue’s words about how the crisis in Israel has impacted her and her loved ones.
As usual, I had spent much of this summer in Buffalo, joyously enjoying the relatively cool weather as compared to Israel, and visiting relatives and friends. I attended Camp Centerland as a kid and Lakeland as a teen, worked as camp counselor and at the JCC front desk throughout college. In 1984 I made aliyah to Israel and have lived at Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuchad since 1986. Flights to and from Israel had become so routine and the distance of ten to twelve hours easy to navigate. But I am a worrier, so on October 6th my concerns were whether my flight out of Buffalo to JFK would take off as planned, whether my suitcases would be overweight, and whether the leg room in economy would be too small. I also fretted about the limited time I had given myself to settle back to Israel before resuming my teaching job as a lecturer at an academic college. Not for a moment did it cross my mind that I would be returning to an Israel at war.
Just as we were ready to take off, there was a strange announcement from an attendant that due to a baggage issue, there was a delay and anyone who wished to could get off the plane. My seatmates and I groaned after hearing this confusing message; did this mean a delay of seven hours or more? Soon after, another attendant announced that the issue would be resolved in less than thirty minutes, and the flight, packed with excited tourists, took off.
Thanks to those who had wi-fi, soon after taking off the returning college students in my row told me that something was happening in Israel, and there were rockets coming from Gaza. No worries still, as this was not an unusual occurrence. When they told me there were up to two hundred and fifty casualties, I assumed it meant people in the Gaza strip. As the flight progressed, even though my seatmates kept me updated, my mind refused to take it in until close to the last thirty minutes. Would we be able to land in Israel after all or be diverted to Cyprus? All I wanted was for the plane to land in Israel and be with my family, and thankfully, it did.
No husband greeted me at the airport due to rocket fire earlier, so I made my way through the confused crowds outside the airport and hopped on the first bus that would take me to Haifa, where my husband would meet me and take me home.
Home is in the Jezreel Valley, twenty kilometers from the Jordan border. We are empty nesters with our oldest son in Rehovot with his wife and baby daughter, and our younger son in Beersheva. Turning on the TV, I had no doubt that this was Israel’s 9/11. The biggest question was how could this happen? I had been so confident that had even the smallest attack faced Israel anywhere in the country, the army and every citizen would be prepared to quicky quash it. But that is not what happened.
I am not qualified to answer why Israel found itself taken by surprise on October 7th, but I am proud to report that the minute it became known, without hesitation, many brave retired and off duty soldiers and civilians drove to the stricken kibbutzim and fought Hamas. Badly outnumbered, so many who tried to protect their brethren were killed. The Brothers in Arms network that had organized the weekly protests diverted its resources to set up help in these crucial hours: providing needed supplies, transportation, food, clothes, and places to house the evacuees.
My younger son had already been called up and is currently serving in the reserves in the north. My older son has been collecting and moving military equipment for the soldiers. While there is terrible sorrow for those who died so violently and anguish over the missing, the efforts made each day and every minute by citizen volunteers is nonstop. As in the series New Amsterdam, the heartfelt words How can I help flood social media. The academic year has been delayed so I have been free to offer assistance. Schools in the ‘quiet’ areas are beginning to learn again on zoom.
On my kibbutz, even though we are privatized as are most of the kibbutzim by now, the feeling of togetherness and giving trumps fear and anger; this is true everywhere throughout the country. Yes, I had noticed that the grocery shelves were getting a little thin like in the days of corona, but we quickly moved into more established routines. The kibbutz has become a place of refuge for families evacuated from the south or the far north. Two companies of soldiers are housed here, and the area is constantly patrolled. When we watch the news, as we do obsessively, we see the TV screen light up with news flashes that certain areas of the country are being hit by rocket barrages from Gaza. Most of the rockets fired are downed by the Iron Dome and do not cause the kind of damage they were intended to. It has become habit for Hamas to fire off a massive barrage at the country center, Tel Aviv, at nine o’clock each evening. Only on one night these past seven days has the siren on our kibbutz gone off, and we were instructed to stay inside due to possible infiltration. Luckily this turned out to be a false report.
My sons worry about me unnecessarily. I am grateful that my flight did not get cancelled or turned around. Even though I longed to see Western New York’s fall foliage, had I been stuck there due to the war I would have felt so helpless. Here, there is no end to what can be done, and each day seems to fill itself up with a myriad of ways to be useful.
For those who write me and ask if I am OK, no, Israel is not OK. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by this terrorist act on October 7. The questions of how this could have happened are temporarily set aside so that we can deal in solidarity as brothers and sisters in arms.