October 20, 2023

How an elderly veteran helped fight invading Hamas terrorists – opinion

By Barbara Sofer

My name is Mina Cohen. My parents made aliyah from Iran. I was born in Tel Aviv.

When I was a soldier in the tank corps, I met a slightly older man named Baruch – very handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes.

He waited outside the base gate and insisted on courting me. His mother survived the Nazis in Europe. His dream was to build the country by living in the South.

I had a different boyfriend at the time, but Baruch’s charisma overwhelmed me.

After we were married, we moved to Kibbutz Magen on the border with Gaza. Magen was established in 1949 on the site of the biblical Bethul (Joshua 19:4). It was a battlefield in the War of Independence.

I am a good organizer. I arranged kibbutz events and became a professional project organizer while studying at university.

One of the projects I was assigned and carried out was to build safe rooms for the kibbutz.

Baruch served as a paratrooper in the Yom Kippur War and fought in the battle of the Chinese Farm, officially called Abiray-Halev, Knight of the Heart. He was always involved with the non-military defense of the kibbutz. For the last 17 years, he has headed our kibbutz civil defense unit. He lectures IDF soldiers on preparedness. He’s always armed and carries communication devices with him. His car is a moving ammunition carrier.

In hundreds of attacks on the kibbutz over the decades, Baruch has been the first to respond. Our husband-wife agreement is that I would not phone and disturb him, and I would manage on my own. This was true when our three children were growing up, and now they are all adults. This has taken a toll on me, and I have gone for resilience counseling. It has helped with the stress and fear.

On Saturday morning, October 7, we were still in bed when the alarm sounded. 

I don’t know why, but I went outside and looked at the sky. The rockets looked like fireworks.

Baruch, as always, left quickly, but this time he told me to lock the door and window when I was in the safe room. 

Safe rooms are good for rockets, but they aren’t constructed to protect you from intruders. 

Baruch, 72, drove his car to the perimeter. There are iron gates on both sides, and he locked them. Of course, the fences that surround the kibbutz fields where we grow wheat, peanuts, and potatoes for export are easily cut, but that would take them more time.

In recent months, our son and daughter-in-law moved to the kibbutz. Our son is one of Baruch’s teammates. My daughter-in-law called me from her safe room in a panic. I talked her through it, even though I was not really calm myself. You know how it is with your adult children.

While I was on the phone, I didn’t know what was happening to Baruch; and although I tried to reassure my daughter-in-law, I, too, was worried that if terrorists came with guns, they could easily shoot the locks on the doors and shutters and murder me. The possibility of a mass infiltration of terrorists was a scenario Baruch had worried about.

By now, the world knows about massacres of babies, children, whole families, and the elderly in other kibbutzim where the terrorists entered.

Every kibbutz and town has a citizen defense unit, but on our kibbutz, Baruch was obsessive about training his team.

People said he was crazy. He even took the volunteers away every year for intensive sharpshooter practice. There is a hill in the center of the kibbutz. Baruch’s plan was to place his men on all sides of the hill.

ON OCTOBER 7, the volunteers positioned themselves, facing all directions. My son took a position too, together with a friend.

He told me later that he said goodbye to his friend, expecting to die, ready to die defending the kibbutz. The men shot hundreds of rounds, as the terrorists shot at them with automatic weapons and shoulder-held rockets.

The terrorists who were assigned to penetrate our kibbutz, to kill us all and to destroy our kibbutz, couldn’t get to us. They finally gave up and ran away.

I didn’t know that the terrorists were already at the kibbutz gates when Baruch arrived to close them. They shot an RPG, a shoulder-held rocket grenade launcher, at Baruch. He fell out of his car. They weren’t sure if it killed him, so they shot him three times, too. He played dead but gripped a knife in his hand.

From my safe room, I called the kibbutz secretariat. They gave me double talk. I knew they were hiding something. Finally, they said Baruch was badly wounded, but they didn’t know what happened to him.

We learned that Baruch, six hours after being attacked, was taken by helicopter to Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem.

I was asked if he had identifying marks.

Did he have any scars or tattoos? What was he wearing? I knew he was wearing American army shoes he’d received as a gift.

We assumed he was dead. My son looked for him in the Hadassah morgue, checking the dead bodies. My son identified Baruch’s co-head of security and dear friend among the dead.

I went out of my safe room and began setting up the living room for shiva.

Then we heard that Baruch was alive! Barely. In critical condition.

My son told me the orthopedic surgeons were asking permission to amputate his right leg, the one struck by the RPG.

As a couple, we had discussed that if either of us were going to be grievously disabled and had a chance to live or die, we would choose death. But faced with the reality, I knew we were wrong. I simply couldn’t let Baruch die.

He was still in critical condition, the soft-spoken head of the Intensive Care Department told us. But, with the expert care, he came around.

I know that on some days when life is tough with one leg, he will be angry at me. He is used to being fiercely independent. 

WHEN BARUCH woke after surgery, he saw that he had no leg. “I can live with it,” he said. But it won’t be easy for a fighter like him. He tells visitors that the mayor of our area, Gadi Yarkoni, lost two legs and can still be a leader. Baruch was the one who put the tourniquets on Gadi and saved his life.

For the most part, I’m holding it together. But when my women friends from Kibbutz Magen came to Hadassah to comfort me and thank Baruch, I let go. 

“Without Baruch, we wouldn’t be alive,” they all said. Then they put their arms around me, and I allowed myself to cry.

Sometimes you can’t process everything that’s happened, and worse, what might have happened. ■