At 6.30 am on the early morning of the Simchat Torah festival, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel in the north western Negev. It was the Sabbath. Most families were still in their beds. Hamas went from house to house, from community to community, murdering families in their beds and safe rooms. At the same time there was a music festival in the name of peace. Revelers were still partying when Hamas gunmen mowed them down in their hundreds.
1,300 Israelis were slaughtered in the Simchat Torah Massacre. These were mostly civilians. Houses were set on fire and people were burned alive. Whole families were killed, including the elderly, women and children. Even babies were slaughtered in the most gruesome ways possible. Family dogs were sadistically shot. The people who perpetuated these horrors were Palestinian. They were in the guise of Hamas, the militant terrorist organization, but the methods were that of ISIS. More Jews lost their lives in October 7th 2023 than on any day since the Holocaust. To put it in context, this was the equivalent of America losing 35,000 people in one day.
In addition Hamas took 150 hostages. They kidnapped mothers and babies, and grandmothers in poor health, in their eighties and carted them off to Gaza. The civilized world showed its revulsion and President Biden of the United States gave a great speech supporting Israel. Israel having been attacked, declared war on Hamas.
There is no one in Israel who does not know someone killed, kidnapped or missing. There is no industry or organization not affected. Wine was not targeted, but remains disrupted by the Simchat Torah Massacre and its aftermath. Winery workers have been called up the army. (The IDF is a people’s army.) Wineries have had to close. Visitor’s Centers are not operating and there are no tourists anyway. The white wine harvest was finished, but the war has interrupted the completion of the red wine harvest. Many agricultural workers have been called up, but by hook or by crook, the wineries will get the harvest in. Nature does not wait for war.
Those that work in winery offices frequently have to run to bomb shelters. Hamas has fired roughly 5,000 rockets on Israeli civilians. Schools have been closed; so many winery workers have to work from home whilst looking after restless children. The main region under attack is the Western Negev Desert and the southern Coastal Plain. This is the same Negev Desert wowing the world with how Israelis are making the desert bloom with vineyards. They have had to cope with frequent barrages of rockets fired indiscriminately into civilian areas. Even Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are targeted. Furthermore the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights is Israel’s main wine growing area in the north of the country. Their vineyards are overlooked by the terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon. They are allies of Hamas and proxies of Iran. There are daily skirmishes with rockets fired, but in the meantime a full throated conflict is on a slow burner. However as a precaution, people have been evacuated from the nearby villages and communities to the border. In many cases vineyard workers can’t get to their vineyards.
Far more shocking has been the loss of loved ones. Or Ran z”l was an example of Israel’s finest. He was felled in the prime of his life; one of the victims of the slaughter. He is the brother of Mika Ran Mandel, owner winemaker of Mika Winery, one of our most promising wineries. Heartfelt condolences to her and her family. May his memory be a blessing.
Others are missing. Over a week after the catastrophe, nothing has been heard about them. Daniel Lifshitz is the ex-goalkeeper of Maccabi Tel Aviv. He is a wine importer and one of the leading experts of Burgundy in the country. His company is called Bourgogne Crown. His grandparents Oded and Yocheved Lifshitz, respectively 83 and 85 years old, are amongst the missing. They were kidnapped on that terrible day. No-one knows where they are and there is no contact whatsoever. There is shock and outrage that civilians, children and the elderly should be held. Inhuman behavior. The house of Israel is praying for the healthy return of Daniel Lifshitz’s grandparents.
The son of wine importer Shai Wenkart went to that Peace Festival Music Festival. Many young people were murdered in cold blood. Omer Wenkart was presumed to have survived but was one of the innocents carted away as a hostage. A week later the family have received no contact whatsoever; no indication of life. The families of the missing are going out of their minds. We want Omer back home with his family.
The war also touches wineries in different ways. A Hamas rocket landed in one of the vineyards owned by Domaine du Castel, one of Israel’s leading wineries. Ironically it was the same vineyard burnt in a wild fire a couple of years ago. Castel is situated in the Judean Hills that rise towards Jerusalem. Ramat Negev Winery, one of the pioneers of the Negev Desert, received a surprise. A container of new bottles was hit by a rocket by Hamas. The bottles were largely destroyed but thankfully noone was injured. However, it is an example of collateral damage.
The country is at war. The roads are clear and the supermarket shelves are empty. People are hurting. The shock and horror is felt by everyone and is merely repeatedly emphasized as more and more stories come to light. The positive thing is the spirit of Israelis, the togetherness and the determination. For the last ten months Israel has been split due to the actions of the most right wing government ever. The government had its agenda, and those opposing made their feelings known with enormous ongoing demonstrations lasting over 40 weeks. The day of reckoning will come for the prime minister, ministers and government as well as the security, that presided over the biggest debacle in Israel’s industry. In the meantime Israel is united and focused. The disaster has brought Israelis together.