Hana Rothschild knew something was wrong when she received a text from her son in Israel at 3 a.m. the morning of Oct. 7 telling her he was okay. Rothschild, an artist/curator and clinical social worker, lives in Israel, but had flown to Canada days earlier for what was supposed to be a brief visit to arrange for new tenants to move into her income property in St. Catharines and participate in an art exhibit in Oakville, spent the next hours watching in horror as the full extent of the atrocities committed by Hamas on Israel’s southern border came to light.
Her return home delayed by the war, Rothschild immediately joined a WhatsApp group of volunteer therapists and has been offering counselling to “ordinary Israelis living in the centre of Israel, not in an area of direct conflict. You would think that these people would feel safe but of course they are not,” she says. “Nobody feels safe in Israel. And after the attack, the anxiety level went up and people were very scared about terrorists entering their homes.” The attacks in the south, she said, “shook the foundation of safety in Israel.”
When Rothschild and her family lived in Hamilton in the early 2000s, she worked at SISO, then the city’s largest immigration settlement agency, as part of a support team for newly arrived refugees, many of whom were from Arab countries.
“Very quickly they would ask, ‘where are you from? You look like us.’ And I would say I’m from Israel and I’m here to help you for the whole year. Initially they would be just stunned. I’m probably the first Israeli they met and over the course of the year, I helped them in many circumstances, and they learned I’m not a monster and I’m there to help them and I’m authentic and caring.”
The irony hasn’t escaped her that, today, living in limbo, she is spending much of time doing exactly what she used to counsel those refugees back in another reality.
“I remember when we visited the refugees at their homes, they would be watching the news from their countries and we would recommend to them to reduce that because it heightens your levels of anxiety ... And now I understand the sense of worry for the people who are back home. I understand the pain, the trauma and the feeling of being displaced.”
When Niv Shimshon and his wife moved from Israel to Canada in 2013, they could hardly have imagined that 10 years later, they’d be longing to return. But that was their exact sentiment the morning of Oct. 7 when they woke to frantic messages from family members, including Shimshon’s aunt, texting from her saferoom on Alumim, a southern Israel kibbutz which miraculously escaped the slaughter.
Shimshon is a local photographer best known for his large-format portraits of Hamiltonians, which explore the social intricacies of Canadian identity. But these days, he finds himself completely absorbed by events in Israel and what he sees unfolding on social media.
“When you grow up in Israel, you always hear about the Holocaust and all the antisemitism, but then you travel the world and everybody’s nice to you ... We always felt that Canada was super welcoming, and that nobody really cares where you’re from but after October 7, you see what’s going on and it’s just insane,” said Shimshon, who describes himself as someone on the “liberal left” who always felt a natural affinity with left wing causes.
Shimshon has since taken to Instagram, previously devoted solely to his art, to express his profound disappointment in his progressive community and promote Photographers for Israel (photographersforisrael.com), an online print store he created that features the work of well-known Israeli and Jewish photographers, with all proceeds going to support survivors from Israel’s southern kibbutzim.