The Be'eri kibbutz after the October 7 attack (Ansa-Dpa/Ilia Yefimovich)

The war in Israel and Tamara's heart

A Ukrainian refugee in Italy, she turned 21 on October 7, the day of the Hamas attacks. She had planned to celebrate with friends, but in the face of so much horror, amidst tears, she could not pretend that nothing had happened...

Tamara is a Ukrainian girl who had to leave her country because of the war. She lived in Kharkiv, in one of the Emmaus houses, because she had a difficult childhood: when she was a child, her father stabbed her mother to death in front of her eyes, forcing her and her little brother Artur to clean up the blood from the crime scene. They both became orphans, and from then on a story of encounters brought them to us. Now Tamara is a freshman at the Catholic University of Milan and lives in a big house together with many other Ukrainian kids, myself and some older Emmaus friends.

On Saturday, October 7, Tamara turned 21. When she woke up, Ali unexpectedly gave her flowers and we were all ready to live that day tense to communicate the love we have for her and to prepare for the evening to which she had invited her closest friends. On October 7, Putin turned 71. But that morning, when she watched the news Tamara did not see the horrors of her Ukraine, she saw what was happening in Israel and burst into tears. She asked herself: how can I party with friends knowing all that is happening there?

For me, the humanity of her reaction and the intelligence of that question, which she had the courage and simplicity to ask, were already a shock. The day before in Kharkiv, a Russian missile had destroyed a building that was exactly halfway - a five-minute walk - between the house she lived in and mine. There were deaths. We certainly do not need to look far for evil, it is always there before our eyes and in our hearts and we experience all its tragedy. Yet you immediately felt the pain of others as if it were your own, so much so that you weep and wonder how you can be happy and celebrate while other human beings are being brutally slaughtered. Who among us has felt as she has? Who among us has trembled not because of the fear that war might touch us and our loved ones in the future, but has wept at the suffering and death that now touches strangers?

Tamara wanted to recount what had happened to her that days to her guests at the end of the party. She told us: “It seemed unfair and impossible to celebrate, but at a certain point in a dialogue I realised that I am very lucky, because I am here, because I have each one of you, because you love me. And then I realised that I cannot afford not to experience gratitude, and that I have the responsibility of gratitude for all that I have received, which I must take to the world and share at least a little of this joy with others.”

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These days, when horrors do not stop multiply on all fronts, I keep thinking back to her words and begging that I too might be so simple and certain that I too have the task of living the responsibility of gratitude for the faith I have received and for the companionship that sustains and nourishes it. Because the good in my life, as in Tamara's, always manifests itself through a presence that loves me enough to give its life for me. And because in my experience it is evident that only this real and measureless love has the strength to make sprouts of peace germinate even among the rubble of hearts so battered – like that of a girl who can never get the atrocious 'childhood memory' out of her head – that it is surprising that they can even beat again.

Elena Mazzola