Richard Nugent, Hawesville native and son of the late Bryant and Helen Nugent, has been in prayer for his daughter, Melanie, and her family who have been weathering the storm in Israel since the Hamas attacks began on October 7th. Melanie and her husband, Ofer, have 3 young sons. She is pregnant and their 4th son will be arriving in just weeks, so instead of evacuating they are remaining in Tel Aviv.
Growing up, Richard and his family attended Hawesville Baptist Church, and members there and from other churches in the community have been praying for Melanie and her family, as well as for Richard and his wife, Marilyn, to be comforted from their worry during this time.
Melanie and Ofer’s sons, Ari, Dylan and Isaac, are 9, 7 and 3. Ofer’s family lives in Tel Aviv, Israel and he was given an opportunity to teach at Tel Aviv University, which provided a way for them to move from their home in Australia to Israel and spend more quality time with his family.
On the day Hamas attacked Israel, it was not only the Jewish Sabbath, but also a holy festival day. Following the 7 joyous days of Sukkot, is the happy holiday known as Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah that began on Friday, October 6th at sundown, and ended at nightfall on Sunday, October 8th. It was a time meant for togetherness with friends and family and gathering in synagogue, but everyone’s plans were drastically changed in the blink of an eye.
“We’re in a situation we definitely didn’t expect,” Melanie said. “We’re doing good. I’m sure my parents are probably more freaked out. My husband’s parents are originally from Israel. My husband was born in Israel and they moved to the U.S. when he was 3. His parents moved back quite a few years ago. His parents, his younger brother and sister and their partners are all here.
We came to have some time with the family. My husband got a position at the university here, and we’ve gotten to spend wonderful time with his family, let the kids learn Hebrew and there is so much history to let the kids experience – a new culture and all of the history they normally wouldn’t get to see just on a 2-week trip.”
The First Attacks
“It was very unexpected,” Melanie said. “It started on the morning of Shabbat (Sabbath/day of rest). Nothing is open on Shabbat. Very few people work, unless you’re emergency services or hospital personnel. The mall isn’t open, the trains don’t work, so it’s a very quiet day and everybody sleeps late. At 6:30 a.m., we woke up to the sirens of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) going off. We actually thought it was a mistake because it had been so calm here. Usually, you kind of have a feeling when something is coming but it had been so calm.
I had never heard the sirens before so we weren’t even sure that that is what it was. Then we turned on the news and saw that Israel was under attack. We woke up the kids together. We weren’t really sure and thought maybe it was just a few rockets. That happens every once in awhile. But then an hour later in the news, we started to see the Hamas infiltrators and realized it was very serious.
We live on the 6th floor of an apartment. Most of the houses in Israel have a shelter actually inside the house. We live in an older building, so our shelter is on the ground floor of our entire building. We have to go down 7 flights of stairs.”
A Safer Shelter
“His parents live in a safer location, so we threw some stuff in a bag and immediately came over to his parents’ 2-story house,” she said, “and we’ve been here since. There is a shelter in the basement. Since I’m 34 weeks pregnant, it’s really hard to get up and down the stairs. They actually have a room in the basement, and so we’ve been staying there so everybody is in the same room down there. We feel very safe and it’s just right next to the shelter, so anytime there’s a siren we just go in the shelter and wait there.”
How they are Coping
“The kids are handling it much better now,” she said. “Basically, by the end of the first day I think everybody was really scared and didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know the extent, and how far Hamas had come into Israel. This really hasn’t happened so it was all so new. We didn’t know how many rockets, and if other groups were also joining in very soon to attack as well. The first day definitely consumed all of our attention.
We tried our best, and we still try our best to not let the kids see any news. Starting two days later, they said not to let them see any social media, no news, nothing – for the kids because it’s been so traumatic. They’re actually very protected, for the most part. We took away any WhatsApp groups from them, everything so that they had no access.
So that they knew about the shelter, Israel had actually sent out videos explaining the iron dome, and why you rented a shelter, and when you hear the ‘boom’ what happens, and how long to wait, etc., but in very kid-friendly language. So that was good. They’ve had a lot of support. They immediately have had psychologists telling the parents how to deal with this and what kids ask, in Zoom groups – whole classes to give them support. Obviously, they know something is up. They know we’re in a war. They know that we don’t go outside of the gate of his parents’ house, but they’re pretty protected in the amount that they know.
I’m better than I was last week. When it first started, it was probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life because it was very intense, especially by the second and third day realizing the extent of what happened was very emotionally hard. Everybody here has somebody they know that is affected. It’s a small country and there were so many people that lost their lives, had their lives turned upside down, have a relative that is a captive in Gaza…Everybody knows somebody, so it’s been very emotionally challenging.”
“Also, the draft. They immediately called up the reserves,” she said. “In Israel, military service is mandatory. Pretty much everybody knows somebody that’s been called up and is now fighting for Israel. That’s also very challenging on top of everything else, is worrying about their safety. It’s just very emotional, in terms of safety-wise.”
Safer but Strange
“Now we’re so much safer,” Melanie said. “It’s kind of a strange, new normal. During most of the day, it’s calm especially where we are. It’s relatively calmer where we are. We feel very isolated. A lot of the day, everybody goes about their normal routine, especially where we are. They’ve evacuated a lot of areas in the south and in the north to keep all of the residents safe.
A lot of evacuees are in our area, so there are a lot of opportunities to volunteer cooking meals and houses. There is a lot of stuff going on. Other than that, it’s the normal day-to-day. The kids are doing distance-learning. It’s relatively very calm and quiet where we are right now, especially in the past few days. We’re not hearing nearly as much.”
“Any time the siren goes off, they are very accurate. It’s really amazing how accurate they are for your area. In the center of Tel Aviv, they have a whole, separate system than we do in the north of Tel Aviv,” she said. “When our siren goes off, we know and everybody knows, you run down to the basement. You stop what you’re doing, even if you’re playing out in the yard, you just run down to the basement and stay in the basement. You hear the boom of the iron dome intercepting the rockets and you wait ten minutes to make sure that all of the shrapnel has fallen, and there are no more concerns. Then, you just leave and go back to your routine. It’s a pretty strange, new normal. At least we feel safe where we are.”
“We had been in Australia for six years. We were just renting a home there. Ofer is a visiting professor at Tel Aviv University. He’s doing a visiting position because we thought it would be an amazing opportunity for the kids to experience and for us to all be around his family that we don’t get to see as often.
In the area we are in, is mainly English-speaking. Everybody speaks mainly Hebrew, but most of the people know English. That’s really helpful. I have attended 5 months of Hebrew classes to help me learn. It’s a slow process. I think it’s a very difficult language. I can at least talk on the phone now a little bit and go to the store and order so it’s coming along. It’s just a very slow process. It’s exciting to learn and be able to communicate better. And, especially we really wanted our kids to learn Hebrew since that’s my husband’s native language and his family’s native language so that was very important.
I was born in North Carolina and moved to Texas when I was a teenager. I was in TX until I graduated with my doctorate in physical therapy. We moved out to California to be with my husband, and we’ve moved around a few times since then. We were in CA, and then Louisiana, and Australia and now here.”
The Due Date
“The baby is due, the official due date is November 25th, but he’ll be arriving in 3 to 4 weeks,” Melanie said. “We found out yesterday (Monday, October 16th).”
Getting Back to Routine
“After the first few days, where they realized Hamas did not make it into Tel Aviv, they only made it into the south, and they worked extensively to make sure all of the areas were safe. There’s a ton of police patrols. The security is very intense everywhere. Right now, it’s actually normal. You can go to the grocery store. Every grocery store has a shelter.
We went to the doctor yesterday and there aren’t as many people out. Most people are working from home. There are people, like my brother-in-law, who are required to go into work still. There is not as much traffic out. The kids are at home schooling. You can go to the grocery and the doctor and the store if you need. I think most of the stuff is open now. Every place has a shelter. They’ve just been trained in what to do. As soon as you hear the siren, you pull off the road if you’re driving, you take shelter and there are a lot of community shelters everywhere too. Next to the big parks, there are always community shelters.”
“It is, unfortunately, something a lot of people here have grown up with,” she said. “It’s very sad that it has come to that. That’s part of life for people here. Not everything that has happened recently…The rockets were, but the other is definitely something new for Israel and for the rest of the world. It’s beyond words how devastating it is, and how many people lost their lives, the condition they lost their lives in, all of the hostages that have been taken to Gaza. That part is very, very tough. Since Hamas came into power in 2005, most people would never go to Gaza. You don’t go there. From here (where they live) to the border, it’s 80 kilometers.
The main thing is that Israel has just gone through something that is, basically, indescribable – the way people lost their lives, the amount of people that lost their lives, the amount of people that are hostages, is pretty emotionally unbearable.”
“Most every single Israeli wants peace,” she said. “I think that Israelis are very friendly. They have good hearts. I think most everybody wants peace, they just kind of want to be left alone. It’s a very volatile area and a very volatile situation. It’s a very tough situation, and I think also for the Palestinians – there are a lot of people that don’t agree with Hamas. Unfortunately, they are stuck in a very bad situation there too because of Hamas.
I think that’s the main thing, is that most people here would love to have peace. We have to be safe. You have to take care of yourselves and make sure that you’re safe and your kids are safe, and not be put in situations like this where suddenly, unexpectedly, 100s of civilians are captured and killed.”
Melanie has a PhD in Physical Therapy with a concentration in Pediatrics. Her brother, Christopher, works in computer sciences, and her sister, Kimberly, is a genetic counselor. Their parents, Richard & Marilyn Nugent, are retired and live in Lubbock, Texas.
Melanie’s husband, Ofer, is a visiting Associate Professor of Marketing in the Coller School of Management at Tel Aviv University. He was Associate Professor of Marketing in the UTS Business School at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. He is a globally recognized expert, and among his many achievements, his solo-authored book – The Post-Pandemic Business Playbook: Customer Centric Solutions to Help Your Firm Grow, was featured in the World Economic Forum and designated as a key title, only bestowed on 5 percent of its publications.
By Jennifer Wimmer