A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

Get daily updates delivered right to your inbox

Planes, trains, automobiles and a Bubbe: St. Louisan Madison Pines’ journey home from Israel

After a six-day journey home, 22-year-old Ballwin native Madison Pines made it home from Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks. The recent graduate of Butler University returned on Oct. 17 from what was supposed to be a year teaching English in Jerusalem.

Madison was enjoying her time as an English Fellow, and she had been teaching second through sixth graders and experiencing Israeli culture since August.  However, when the attacks began, her focus shifted from education to safety, and her daily surroundings changed from a school to a bomb shelter.

Madison and her family spent nearly a week figuring out the best option to keep her safe amid the uncertainty of the attacks before she began her journey home. When not in a bomb shelter, Pines volunteered by packing goods for soldiers to pass the time.

“Having seen it firsthand, it was awful,” Madison said. “However, despite all of the tragedy, I also saw people setting aside their differences to help in any way that they could.”

Terrified of what the following days could hold, her parents, United Hebrew members Jennifer and Ken Pines, were home in St. Louis searching for a way to bring her back. They quickly found a flight on Oct. 8 departing that Friday morning (Oct. 13) from Tel Aviv, to Aman, Jordan, to Chicago, and then home. They were unsure of how to safely transport her from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, as public transportation was likely an unsafe option and at many points, not running.

“I had a lot of people texting me prayers and asking how they could help. Anyone who mentioned they had family or other contacts in Israel, I told them that we needed to find her a safe ride to the airport because public transportation was no longer a viable option,” Jennifer said. “A friend, who I had not talked to in a long time, reached out and mentioned she had a cousin in Israel who would love to help. He was a dad-type figure, and Madison felt like he would be able to get her safely to the airport.”

The plan was set, but it was still a few days away. They knew that the ever-changing landscape of war could change the plan at any minute. That’s exactly what happened when Madison was awoken to the news that Hamas had called for an “International Day of Terror” on the day of her scheduled flight.

“I had turned off all social media that day and gone to sleep early when my roommate woke me up at one in the morning to tell me what was going on,” Madison said. “I called my parents in a panic and we started researching other flights.”

After hours of searching for a flight with open seats, they found the last flight available still running with open seats. It was leaving that morning to Thessaloniki, Greece. Madison had never heard of the city.

“[My roommate and I] had no idea where we were going to stay when we got there, how we were going to get around, or how we were going to get home,” Madison said.

Madison and her roommate, also an English Fellow from the United States, worked to figure out a plan. She then called Eyal, the man who was originally going to drive her to the airport on Friday.

“When she called Eyal in the middle of the night, he responded to her call and came right over to pick her and her roommate up and get them to the airport despite the early hours,” Jennifer said. “He really is the hero in this story because otherwise, she would not have had safe passage to the airport.”

When they arrived at the airport, they felt they could not take a breath until their plane was in the air and outside of the zone of terror.

“We stood in the security line for five hours as everyone was trying to leave the country,” Madison said. “We were lined up all around Ben Gurion, and if anything had happened, there was nowhere for all of us to go.”

As Madison and her roommate set off on what was going to be a long journey, her parents were working tirelessly to figure out the next steps. The wheels began turning, thanks to Jewish connections.

A close friend of the Pines family, Lisa Lederer (also of St. Louis) started the chain. Her sister-in-law has a friend whose parents live in Tel Aviv. Fate stepped in, as at this time, those parents just so happened to be vacationing in Thessaloniki.

This story of Jewish geography is how the Pines got in contact with “Bubbe Yael.” After two middle-of-the-night phone calls to coordinate, “Bubbe Yael” and her husband offered to pick up Madison and her roommate at the Thessaloniki airport and bring them back to the same hotel where they were staying.

“As Bubbes do, she took control and said, ‘We’ll pick them up, we have a car, we’ll reserve them a room at our hotel, we’ll take them somewhere to get dinner, don’t worry,’” said Ken. “And not only that, but she even left her husband at the airport when they couldn’t all fit with the luggage, and then went back to get him later after getting them settled in.”

After witnessing the traumatic events and intense sleep deprivation, having “Jewish grandparents” to help on the journey was a lifesaver. The same set of Jewish grandparents is also currently letting Israel Defense Forces soldiers stay in their Tel Aviv home while they are away.

When Madison and her roommate got settled in Greece, they found a flight to Frankfurt, Germany on Monday, Oct. 16. They would then fly from Frankfurt to Charlotte, N.C. and Madison would fly home to St. Louis from there. Friends and family continued to help along the way.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Madison’s family tearfully welcomed her home at the airport, while hundreds of family members, friends and others from the local and wider Jewish community celebrated her arrival on social media.

Family reunites after Madison’s return: Ken Pines, Chase Pines (14), Dylan Pines (19), Jennifer Pines, and Madison Pines (22).

Madison noted that while it is good to be home, it was also hard to leave. Mourning the Israel experience she was hoping pales to her mourning the destruction and Jewish lives lost. Witnessing such tragedy is difficult to see on the news, let alone firsthand.

“My heart goes out to everyone affected by the horrific events that have transpired,” said Madison. “I think my story shows just how strong and resilient the Jewish community is.”

| RELATED: St. Louisan shares her own story and that of IDF nephew wounded in battle

More to Discover