Photo Credit: Courtesy

Leah (Desure) and Dr. Chaim Arias are both ba’alei teshuva who grew up in California and affiliate with Chabad. Leah always saw herself moving to Israel. Chaim loved Israel but did not see himself raising a family there. Leah talked about Israel often and when Chaim was accepted to medical school in Chaifa, they saw what life in Israel was really like. By the time the Arias family moved to Las Vegas for Chaim’s pediatric residency, it was just a question of when they would be coming back.

When they heard that a group of friends was starting a project near Beer Sheva six years later, they decided it was a good place to get started. “Despite the warm welcome, after a few years we realized that our dream was to raise our children barefoot and on the land, which wasn’t actualizing,” says Leah. “We wanted our kids to learn about love of Torah and Hashem while understanding the earth and how we can connect to it. Our landlord suggested we check out Beerot near Netivot, which is an anthroposophical school with small classes. It was perfect. Aside from the creative nature-based projects, there is an amazing energy of loving Hashem and loving Israel. The gan of the school is in Shuva, which is a moshav on the Gaza border.


“I actually didn’t realize how close it was to Gaza at the time but I fell in love with the community and both Chaim and I said, this space, these people, it’s our dream. The community is so passionate in their parenting that they based the school on such a healthy outlook. There are orchards and nature everywhere, there are people who are Breslov, Chabad, Dati Leumi, Sephardi, all sorts of Jews. It’s such a magical place that there were no available houses and everyone tried to find a rental for us, which ultimately happened. The shul is surrounded by farm animals, wildflowers and herbs and is in a big tent on land owned by Esther, who teaches classes on herbal medicine. There are often concerts and everyone brings their instruments. When our oldest started high school, we felt she needed an Anglo-friendly school, which brought us to Ulpanat Orly in Bet Shemesh, where we often drove her back and forth. It’s a long drive but it was worth that inconvenience to live in our amazing community.

“On Simchat Torah, we heard the red alert sirens very early and we ran down to the mamad (safe room). As a doctor, Chaim had his phone on. We started getting messages that the roads weren’t good but we didn’t know much. A few hours later, Chaim was asked to come to the front of Shuva and help people from neighboring kibbutzim and he ran out with his medical box. He was gone for hours and he called once to say he was OK but that we needed to stay in the mamad. Then we started getting messages on WhatsApp from the moshav asking for supplies – bandages, shoes for people who had run out barefoot, trash bags to cover dead bodies.

“The hours were slow and every message we received was so painful. Many people who were able to walk, came and took refuge in Shuva homes. People helped however they could. Our moshav’s orchard is backed up to Kibbutz Beeri’s, but it’s a six-minute drive. We heard guns and later helicopters but figured they were from our army; we didn’t realize how bad it was. My mother, who was visiting, and I tried to entertain my six kids in the mamad and keep them calm. Terrorists did try to infiltrate our moshav and at some point, there were terrorists in the orchard behind my house but Baruch Hashem, the army killed them. They were later found with maps of our houses on them. There were terrorists who tried to paraglide into our moshav but the army killed them too. My husband spent hours trying to treat people but he used up all of the materials he had and the wounded kept coming. The roads were full of terrorists and we were told not to leave until it was safe to evacuate.

“We were evacuated from Shuva the next day. I didn’t have time to grab much. I threw some clothes in a bag and my Insta-pot. My baby was three months at the time so I grabbed diapers and her blanket. Most people didn’t know where they were actually going to stay. We were all told to head towards Eilat, where we have an uncle, who took us in. Many people were taken to hotels and even glamping sites near Eilat. Only a few days in did we realize how little we brought. The kibbutz was so helpful in finding us used clothing and supplies. Our moshav was then moved to Almog where we spent three months and then we went to the U.S. for three months to spend time with family and friends.”

Leah described their journey over those few months in posts on her Facebook account:

November 21: I live in a weird world. Nothing like the world I used to live in. I remember when I used to stress about my untidy house. How to get my kids ready in time for school. What to make for dinner. The normal stuff I thought was hard and it probably was.

But now I live in a fog. The stress is so overwhelming that it’s become numb. We were just too close. I close my eyes and imagine terrorists in our orchards, in my mind they are in my windows…my nightmares. I still smell the smoke in my house. I can’t look at my own kids in the same way. I keep stealing hugs whenever I can. It feels like everything is sand in an hourglass. I can’t keep my hold on any of it. We don’t know the future.

“When will we go home,” my kids ask. And I have no answer. Not just because I don’t have a date. I just don’t know what that home is anymore. When I close my eyes, I get lost. And so, I wake up every day and put one foot in front of the other. I sit down in our big crazy dining room with food that I didn’t cook myself and feed my babies. I wash our clothes in a communal washing room. I choose clothes from the donation bin or the mall if I can get away. One foot, then the next. And I pray for better days. When we can all hold our loved ones. When we can stop feeling so much grief and so much fear. When we can actually see the good without the fog.

May it happen speedily and before we lose hope.

December 12: Today we went back to Shuva for a few hours. I didn’t know how I would feel. But honestly, with all the booms and smoke it still felt like coming home. For now we are staying put in Almog. We don’t have a clear timetable or exact idea about what’s next. I can only say that in these moments there is a drop more clarity, even if it’s just in knowing that this place still feels like my home. And just like that, we are a little less lost.

December 25: I always said I would never leave Israel when she was in trouble. Right now there is so much pain here and so many unknowns. Many families were leaving our displaced persons camp and suddenly I felt the rug slipping out from under us. So we came home to Shuva for Shabbos. We had to feel the dirt under our feet and our heads on our own pillows. It was healing in a way I can’t describe. To light candles in my house and just be. As we came out of Shabbos, I realized something. We are not running away from our home. We are taking a breath in so that we may breathe out easier. We need the embrace of the family and friends we miss so much. So that we may return stronger from the healing that love brings. Wish us luck on our trip to America. We haven’t even left yet but can’t wait to get back home.

February 6: Nothing is simple. Days become long and strange. We are in control of nothing. Yet, there are glimmers of light. A hug from a true friend. Love felt from family. But in the quiet moments, when you lay your head down and pretend to sleep. While you stand in line at the checkout in yet another town you don’t live in. The worry and not knowing has become all you can hear in that silence. We pack and unpack. It hurts more that the littles have stopped asking when we are going home. They know the answer isn’t clear.

March 24: There are moments that stick with you forever. Looking around this strong group of women was one of those moments. The road we are on is so rocky. These women feel it with every piece of themselves. As we heard Megillah, it was so clear to us all that we are living through the story being told. The pain, the struggle, the worry, but also the power and the love. The faith we all share that the Purim story ends in goodness. And we hold each other hoping that it be revealed soon. The story of Purim shows the true strength of the Jewish women. We hold up our nation in so many ways. May every woman feel the ground beneath her feet again.

Before we went to America, we stopped in Shuva for Shabbos and cleaned out our fridge from Tishrei and threw out all the moldy laundry from Sukkos. When I lit candles that Shabbos, I tasted home. We finally moved back home a week before Purim and it was the magic we needed in our souls. We held each other as we listened to the Megillah and felt it was telling our own story.

Some of our kids have not been to school this year for more than a month but they are doing better than expected. Chaim has not worked as a pediatrician since October 7 and has unfortunately and understandably been affected deeply by the trauma he experienced that day, although the nurse who worked with him reminds us that he was a real hero and helped so many. It’s a common reaction for first responders, who saw horrible things and didn’t have the equipment to do more.

It’s been a heavy year but we are trying to build ourselves back up within our new reality. We have a community member whose brother is held hostage in Gaza and I think about him all the time. It’s a crazy reality to look around the world and feel that they’ve scrolled past while we have real family and friends still over there; it’s all still very real and raw for us. We still hear all of the booms at night. I am so grateful for our community; we are all helping each other through and the kids help each other in such a powerful way. The incredible strength of Shuva is the front of the Moshav – where Chaim treated people – where they’ve built a stage for musicians to play and have food trucks, a kitchen and coffee for all of the soldiers as they leave Gaza. It’s that energy of Klal Yisrael which helps us get through and I realize that only a place with this much light could handle being right along the border of so much darkness.

We have found a treasure in our community here; I have never met people like this in my life. We are one of only two olim families here, which is hard but this just shows the kind of strength and beautiful energy that lives here. We are very much connected. Even after everything we had been through, we couldn’t imagine not coming home


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Ariela Davis is a passionate Jewish educator/writer and also served as a Rebbetzin before her aliyah in 2020. She is the Menahelet of Ulpanat Orly in Bet Shemesh.