For Addi Cherry, her husband and her three children, Oct. 7 is a day that they will never be able to forget.
“The house was in bad shape, horrible,” Cherry said. “But when we step outside it’s literally like we stepped into hell.”
The family of five is from Nahal Oz, a kibbutz in southern Israel that has a population of a few hundred. It is also one of the first places that was targeted by Hamas.
“There are moments where we laugh and there are moments it’s extremely difficult because for the past month, every few hours we receive another message: This one is murdered, this one is kidnapped,” Cherry said.
It all started in the early morning, when Cherry said, “we woke up in the 10 to six range to a barrage of missiles and sirens.”
Cherry said it is not unusual where they live to see or hear missiles, but this event immediately felt different.
“It wasn’t normal, which is a funny sentence to say normal with missiles,” she said. “But it wasn’t.”
Cherry explained it is typical for homes in the region to have one or two safe rooms made out of a special concrete and window coverings. “We have three children and every child has a safe room and that means you could stay in his room when it’s bombing,” Cherry said.
When Cherry and her husband woke up to the artillery, they immediately ran to get their younger children and got into one of those rooms. Then, about 20 minutes later, she said the bombing seemed to stop.
“So we came out of the rooms into the living room,” she said. “Everything was closed, but there was a gap and my husband, you know, just had a peek through the window and he was yelling, ‘Oh my God, the Hamas in the kibbutz.'”
The whole family then went into their oldest son’s room because it was the safest.
“We were there for hours in the dark with no water and the air gets really thin. You don’t have enough air, so we fell in and out of sleep due to lack of oxygen,” she recalled.
The family ended up hiding in the safe room together for nearly 24 hours. During that time, Cherry described hearing their “main door being broken” and then hearing a few different people “screaming and shouting” inside.
“I wrote in the WhatsApp of the kibbutz, ‘Oh my God, they’re here please help us,'” she said, as the plea for help grew increasingly desperate.
Cherry and her husband agreed to hide the two youngest kids in the corner of the room, while they fortified the door using furniture and their own strength along with the help of their 15-year-old son, Guy.
“I told them just to push from the side and I was in front of the door because in my head, I said, ‘You know, if they do manage to open to door maybe they’ll see me, a woman, and maybe I’ll be enough and I could save my family,’” Cherry said.
The Cherry family managed to fight off intruders for long enough that no one made it inside of the safe room they were in. However, the inside of the home was destroyed. Cherry shared photos with NBC 7 that show TVs on the ground, drawers strewn about, furniture damaged and liquids spilled on the rugs.
“It was mind blowing because I thought we were a really peaceful community,” she said.
It wasn’t until 2:30 the next morning that members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) came to the Cherry’s home to rescue them.
“We heard outside in the morning, the terrorists yelling, ‘It’s IDF,’ in order for us to go out, but we can recognize the Arabic accent so we didn’t say anything,” she said. “So when the army did come, they said, ‘It’s IDF,’ and the words they told us they would say, but we didn’t say anything because we wanted them to keep talking for us to really hear Hebrew.”
They were taken to a nearby military base alongside others from their town, but it was not all a relief.
“They gave us some food and drinks, but in the base we started to realize what was going on, that they kidnapped children, families, murdered whole families,” Cherry said. “Actually people thought we were dead because it was really hectic in our house and people could see. They were sure that we were dead.”
They eventually made their way to Belgium, where Cherry is from, and spent time with extended family there. She mentioned that the only items they left home with were the clothes they were wearing, and she’s not sure if they’ll ever go back home.
“I have to be honest, I don’t know because to go back to the same house we had terrorists inside, I’m not sure,” she said, and added it was their dream home that they moved into a few years ago.
Cherry spoke to NBC 7 while on a trip in San Diego. The Jewish Federation of San Diego brought her and her family here and arranged travel, lodging and activities to help them get a break, but also to give Cherry an opportunity share about their experience.
“It takes incredible bravery and strength to be able to, just a few weeks later after being threatened and her children threatened, to be able to come here and share that story,” Heidi Gantwerk, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego, said.
“Being in San Diego, I felt like I can breathe,” Cherry added.
Cherry said her family is fortunate, they all survived, and while they may not ultimately have a home to return to, “I can hug my children, I can hug my husband. Some families aren’t that lucky.”
Nahal Oz is part of Sha’ar HaNegev, which is a sister city of San Diego. Ofir Liebstein, the city’s mayor, was killed in the attacks. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria posted about his death on X, saying in part, “Ofir was a friend and the news of his death is absolutely heartbreaking. I offer San Diego’s deepest condolences to his family and the people of the community he loved so much and served so well.”