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

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Survivors of Hamas attack visit St. Louis, sharing painful memories and grateful testimony

Last Oct. 7, everything changed for Naomi Petel Adler and Mirjam Heutink, two residents of Nahal Oz, a kibbutz less than one mile from Gaza. Both women and their families survived the Hamas attack. They visited St. Louis on April 4 to share painful memories about the attack and thank the American Jewish community for its support.

Eliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan, Mirjam Heutink and Naomi Petel Adle. (Bill Motchan)

“We came to give our testimony, we came to tell people what Nahal Oz is,” Adler said. “We came to talk about our hostages, so that not for a single second do we forget that there are 134 people in Gaza right now, and that they must come home. But we also came to say thank you.”

Adler and Heutink’s visit was arranged by the Jewish Agency for Israel and its Partnership2Gether program. They were hosted by the Jewish Federations of St. Louis and Atlanta. Both organizations are longtime partners of the Yodneam-Megiddo regions in Israel. The Adler and Heutink families are now living in that region.

Adler, 42, and her husband Amir have three pre-teen boys. Following the Hamas attack they stayed in a shelter for 19 hours, without electricity or any means of communication. The following day they were rescued and evacuated. Huetink, 43, and her husband also have three children. Originally from the Netherlands, they wanted a fuller Jewish life, so they moved to Nahal Oz. The Oct. 7 attack wasn’t their first close call with Hamas. After one year living in Israel, a mortar fired by Hamas fell on their house and exploded in the living room. They were inside a saferoom and had no injuries, but part of their home was destroyed.

The American Jewish community needs to hear stories of survivors of the Oct. 7 massacre like Adler and Heutink, according to Eliad Eliyahu Ben Shushan, director of Yokneam Megiddo- Atlanta St. Louis Partnerships.

“It’s important that everyone knows what happened there, comparing it to the information that is shared in the news media, and in the social media, and to give tools to people to share personal stories like theirs,” Ben Shushan said.

They are also helping to dispel misinformation, and making sure the hostages aren’t forgotten, Adler said.

“There are still two children who have not been released,” she said. “One of them is a tiny little baby and one of them is a 4-year-old child. There are still many young women who have not been released. But as soon as the bulk of the kids were released and that first deal was made, people thought, ‘Now Israel is just going into Gaza and destroying it and is responsible for the devastation.’ People find it easy to move on and side with who they perceive to be the underdog, who they perceive to be the poor, downtrodden victims of this situation.”

One of the questions Adler and Heutink have often been asked on their visit to American cities is “What can we do?” According to Adler, “We need to make sure that every single person that we know shares it with every single person that they know, that 134 people were kidnapped, brutally, and are kept without being seen by the Red Cross or the U.N., and they’re being tortured and starved and they’re wounded and they’re sick, and we have to get them back.”

Heutink echoed Adler’s comments and said despite the ongoing military operations, she recommended Americans who were planning to visit Israel prior to Oct. 7 now do so.

“Israel is a safe place. We have a lot of people who are coming to the south who are not only for holiday, but also to volunteer to help,” Heutink said. “It’s good for us to see that people are coming, and people who are just coming to hug us, to bring us some warmth, so we know that we’re not alone.”



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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.