The Kutz family. Photo courtesy Hapoel Shlomo Tel Aviv.
A family with a philanthropic tie to Alabama was murdered in the initial wave of the Hamas invasion on Saturday.
Rabbi Shmuel Bowman of Operation Lifeshield told the Birmingham Jewish Federation that Livnat Katz, husband Aviv, children Yiftach, Yonatan and Rotem, and her in-laws were murdered at home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
Livnat was director of Beit Melacha, which Bowman described as “a creative educational centre for children with PTSD, based at the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council Education Campus (beside Sapir College) in Southern Israel.”
The basketball club Hapoel Shlomo Tel Aviv also announced their deaths, as the two sons were academy players for them.
“Hamas terrorists killed multiple families in their homes in Kfar Aza, with some people even decapitated,” the club announced. “There is no official death toll, as Israeli soldiers are still searching homes in the area that might be booby-trapped with explosives.”
There have been numerous reports that babies were decapitated and adults dismembered.
The massacre also included the looting and burning of homes. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career, never in 40 years of service, this something I never imagined,” Maj. Gen. Itai Veruv told CNN just after the town was taken back from the Hamas operatives.
Kfar Aza is a frequent stop for visiting Congressional tours, due to its proximity to Gaza.
For over 15 years, Operation Lifeshield has provided above-ground bomb shelters to Israeli communities under threat from missiles launched from Lebanon and Gaza.
Livnat founded the educational center after working for Intel in Israel. In a July 2018 visit to Birmingham, Bowman explained that the stress of living under constant threat of missile attacks has led to first and second grade students in the region being unable to learn basic concepts. “These children are growing up in trauma” from the rocket attacks from Gaza, he said.
Beit Malacha uses art and creativity to teach those basic concepts, reaching 150 students a day. But not long before the 2018 visit, the Israeli military shut down the program. Since it was on the second floor of a building in an area without a shelter, in a zone where response time to a missile launch would be just a few seconds, not long enough to get students downstairs, they had to close.
Operation Lifeshield brought in a company that specializes in shelters, fortifying Israeli embassies around the world in an unobtrusive manner.
In many places around the world, the location of Israeli installations are not known to the public, so to fortify such anonymous spaces, one can’t draw attention by bringing in heavy equipment or unusual materials. The company has developed fortified materials that resemble normal building materials.
They converted a corridor on the second floor to serve as a bomb shelter, enabling the center to reopen.
It was such a large project that four sponsors were needed, Bowman noted. Two of them were from Alabama — the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Israel World Jewry Bureau, and the Baxley Companies of Dothan.
Noting that one donor was Jewish and one was Christian, Bowman said “we actually do bridge the communities of the Jewish and Christian world… in a project we all can really care about.”
In his message today, Bowman said “Your generosity enabled Livnat to fulfill her dream to keep Beit Melacha open and accessible for all children, and you provided a safe space for them during times of conflict.”