Rabbi Marozov of Chabad of SCV spent four days in Israel with 27 other rabbis, brought humanitarian aid to victims of ‘brutal attack’
Rabbi Choni Marozov of Chabad of SCV didn’t know about the deadly attack on Israel by Hamas when it happened.
The attack that occurred on Oct. 7 was in the middle of the Sabbath on Saturday, meaning Marozov and other Orthodox Jews were in the midst of their weekly disconnection from technology. It was only when a few community members told Marozov during the morning prayer session that Saturday that he learned of the deadly, unprovoked terrorist attack by Hamas on a music festival near the Gaza border.
“Some people came to services and told us little bits of information, whatever they had that morning,” Marozov said.
Oct. 7 was also the middle of the holiday of Simchat Torah, the annual celebration of the conclusion of the reading of the Torah. As evening services began, more people came in with reports of the deadly attack.
“Every service, people came and sort of reported what they heard, what they saw,” Marozov said. “So, the news trickled in slowly over that Saturday and Sunday.”
On that Sunday night, Marozov turned on his phone and finally saw for himself the destruction that was occurring in Israel.
“That Sunday night really hit me,” Marozov said. “Of course, in the beginning, we didn’t know the scope of it, the number of people who were killed and hostages, etc. But we definitely knew it was a brutal attack on the Jewish people.”
As of Monday afternoon, more than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and 240 hostages have been taken, according to The Associated Press, which also reported the Palestinian death toll has reached 8,306, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.
The death toll of Americans in Israel has reached approximately 31, according to multiple published reports.
Marozov made the decision on Oct. 8 to travel to Israel, but it wasn’t until Oct. 20 that he was able to actually go. He went with a group of 28 Chabad rabbis, including one from Canada and one from Australia, to Israel to lend aid and see for themselves what had become of their homeland.
The group went for four days, first landing in Tel Aviv. They flew in on El-Al, an Israeli airline, which only allows for five suitcases per person. Each rabbi brought five, totaling 140 suitcases filled with items to give to families and others who had been displaced. The group also brought $500,000 in cash to give out.
The group’s first stop was the Israeli Defense Force command center in Tel Aviv, which was an office building that had become somewhat of a haven for families who had been displaced.
“Families come and try to hear some news and to try to see what they can do to help out the situation, get the word out,” Marozov said. “And we met with some family members, parents who have children who are hostage, grandparents who have children and grandchildren hostage, some children whose parents are taken hostage.”
The group had the chance to see just how many lives were lost, with a line of trailers at an army base carrying over 1,200 dead bodies. Most of those dead people were identified. Some were too brutally destroyed to do so.
“There are just a line of trailers that were turned into morgues, freezers,” Marozov said. “Almost all of them — almost three weeks later — almost all of them were identified. There are still a couple of trailers that were not. They’re just body parts and they’re burnt bodies that they couldn’t identify yet.”
While in Israel, the group stayed near the Gaza Strip in a town called Sderodt, located approximately half a mile from the northeastern Gaza border. Marozov said that while rockets from Gaza are being sent to all parts of Israel, the people in the areas closest to Gaza, such as Sderodt, have very little time to run for shelter when the sirens go off announcing a barrage of rockets.
“You have 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter from when you hear the sirens,” Marozov said. “So as soon as they see a missile coming towards the city, they sound a siren, you have either 15 seconds or 30 seconds, depends where you are, to get down to a bomb shelter.
“If you’re traveling in the street, you can’t really get to a bomb shelter, so you just lay down on the floor and cover your head and hope for the best.”
The group also visited the city of Ashkelon, located about 8 miles north of the Gaza border. According to Marozov, over 1,200 rockets have been sent to the city from Gaza over the last three weeks, but only 200 were direct hits.
The IDF stopped the rest thanks to the “Iron Dome.” According to the American Jewish Committee, the Iron Dome “is an air defense missile system developed by two Israeli firms with support from the U.S.” Its emphasis is on defense and “it is never used to attack or retaliate and poses no threat to Palestinians.”
“The strongest air defense system in the world has three components: a radar that detects incoming rockets; a command-and-control system that determines the threat level; and an interceptor that, if the system determines human lives or infrastructure are at risk, seeks to destroy the incoming rocket before it strikes,” the AJC website reads.
Marozov said that because Ashkelon is an older city, not every building has a shelter.
“We’re talking about being bombarded in the middle of the night, you wake up and you got to run down to the shelter within 30 seconds,” Marozov said. “It’s so much trauma. We talked to the people there, the children are traumatized because at any moment, they hear the siren — and these go off multiple times a day — at any moment, you gotta run down. And you don’t know if it’s gonna hit, it’s not gonna hit, my house, next to our house.”
Even in Tel Aviv, approximately 44 miles north of the Gaza border and one of the most bustling cities in Israel, rockets can be dropped on the city at a moment’s notice.
Marozov was in Tel Aviv with the rest of his group driving through the city when the sirens went off. They had no choice but to stop, get out and find some sort of shelter.
“We pulled over, everyone had to get out, lie on the floor,” Marozov said. “I’m looking around, it’s just hundreds of people in the Tel Aviv streets, laying down on the floor with their hands over their heads. And that sort of became the way of life.
“I don’t think any other country in the world would tolerate that, constant barrages of missiles against their citizens.”
That, Marozov said, is why the IDF fights back so ferociously.
The IDF has responded to the Hamas attacks with bombings of their own in Gaza. The difference, Marozov said, is that the IDF will not attack innocent civilians or hospitals — unless an attack cannot be performed without endangering those innocent people — while Hamas does not care who is killed in their attacks.
Marozov said that Hamas was even killing field workers from Thailand. And even though those workers were not Jewish, the Israeli people mourned for them as if they were their own.
“They were in the field and they were murdered, and this, they’re mourning over them,” Marozov said. “They knew them personally. They weren’t Jewish, they weren’t Israeli, but Hamas didn’t care.”
The people of Israel have not let the now-constant threat of attacks interrupt their daily lives, he said. Marozov said that while schools in both Israel and Gaza are not always operating, the Israeli people have tried their best to keep life as normal as possible — only pausing to run to a bomb shelter.
“That’s the one thing I was the most impressed in Israel: Everyone is optimistic. Everyone’s upbeat,” Marozov said. “You walk in the streets of Tel Aviv or the streets of Jerusalem, people are doing their business. There aren’t a lot of tourists. There are hardly any tourists. The tourist areas are closed, but the Israelis are going about their life.”
Where the world goes from here, Marozov is not sure. He said that he is frustrated by how some parts of the world are angered by Israel defending itself.
Marozov understands that different news sources will cover the Israel-Hamas war from different angles, but he does not understand how people can take the side of a terrorist organization such as Hamas.
“When Israel defends itself, all of a sudden, the world’s up in arms,” Marozov said. “So, Israelis are frustrated. They’re frustrated. We just want to live in peace. That’s all we want to do.”
When Marozov asked the Israeli people what was needed from the outside world, they answered, “awareness.”
“Explain to them, you know, talk to people, ask them if they have a child, imagine that their child was taken away, and they have no idea where they are,” Marozov recalled the Israeli people telling him. “They know they’re in the hands of evil, cruel people who can dismember mothers, but they don’t know what their state of being is now, and they’re not giving any medical help. Bring awareness to the world and that’s why we’ve been trying to do this. We have posters of the hostages, trying to bring awareness to the world of the reality.”
While in Israel, Marozov had downloaded a mobile app for his phone that alerted him whenever a bomb was being dropped, similar to the siren system that has been in place for decades.
Even though he’s been back for a few days, Marozov still gets alerts from the app, a somber reminder that, while safe in America, his religious brethren are fighting for their lives in Israel.
“I didn’t want to leave Israel,” Marozov said. “Truly, it was very difficult for me to leave, because I just felt at home. I felt, my brothers and sisters, there was a kinship there. The first two weeks before I left for Israel, I was so stressed because I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I had to be there with them. And just being there with them and giving them comfort everywhere we went, they were so touched by the fact that we came from America to visit them. And I still want to be there. I still want to experience what they’re experiencing and being there with them, and perhaps subconsciously, that’s why I didn’t delete it.
“Whenever it goes off, I look at it and see where the missiles are falling, and I say a prayer for them.”
Rabbi Marozov will be briefing the community on the details of his trip. For more information, call 661-254-3434.