(JTA) — When Hamas terrorists broke into her home early Saturday morning, Rachel Edri didn’t have any guns.
But she had another kind of weapon: cookies, which she offered to the men who held her and her husband captive for the next 15 hours, as her city of Ofakim and dozens of other towns in southern Israel faced a brutal invasion by Hamas from Gaza.
“I could see they were angry,” Edri told Israel’s Channel 12. “I asked them if they were hungry. I prepared them coffee and cookies.”
“She drove them crazy,” her husband David said. “She kept asking them if they want something.”
The snacks helped buy the couple enough time for their sons, both police officers, to join an operation that resulted in their liberation, a rare moment of rescue on a day marked primarily by loss.
Her insistence on snacks — archetypal Jewish mother behavior deployed at a dissonant moment — has also turned Rachel Edri into something of a national hero, one of several to emerge in the wake of the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.
As the country mobilizes a military response and reckons with the unanswered questions about how such a breach could have happened in the first place, stories of individual people’s bravery and pluck in the face of unimaginable danger have provided a welcome counterpoint.
In addition to Edri, there is Noam Tibon, a retired general who was already well known for his military leadership, which included commanding the Israel Defense Forces in the north, and his participation in this year’s pro-democracy protests.
On Saturday, Tibon learned that his son, the journalist Amir Tibon, was trapped with his family in their home on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, a short distance from the Gaza border. He grabbed his single pistol and, with his wife, drove from Tel Aviv toward Nahal Oz.
Their journey — the stuff of action movies — has been thoroughly documented in Israeli media, including in an account by Amir Tibon. First, Tibon encountered survivors of Hamas’ attack on a rave and drove them north, away from his son. Then, he ran into soldiers with no apparent mission and convinced one of them to join him. Before getting to his son’s kibbutz, they met injured soldiers and, once again, drove the opposite direction to take them to safety. Finally, Tibon arrived at Nahal Oz and, with a handful of soldiers, killed the Hamas attackers outside his son’s home.
Then he knocked on the window. Inside, Amir Tibon’s 3-year-old daughter responded using the Hebrew word for grandfather: “Saba is here.”
Noam Tibon is not the only retired general to burst into action without receiving orders. Yair Golan, who was previously also a left-wing lawmaker, has drawn attention for making multiple heroic rescues. First, Golan retrieved a journalist trapped in his home after his father posted on social media that the army and police were not acting to save him, according to a report on the Israeli news site Walla.
Later, Golan learned about three young men who were in hiding after running from Hamas attackers at the nature party at Kibbutz Re’im where 260 Israelis died and others were taken hostage. There, too, the army had not attempted a rescue, according to an account from Rani Gaon, the father of one of the young men, that the family posted on Facebook.
“Suddenly, out of nowhere, the angel arrives at the location of my son and his friends, calls my son, calls him by name, tells him ‘Hello, Major Yair Golan is speaking, come to me,’” Gaon wrote.
He said his son told him, “‘Golan came to collect us. He will bring us all the way to you’ and so it was. This person, this hero, this angel, came and rescued them from the area, simply unbelievable. I have no words to thank and salute you, Yair Golan.”
On Monday, a new name entered the pantheon of last weekend’s heroes: Inbal Rabin-Lieberman, a 25-year-old woman who is being credited for the survival of everyone on her kibbutz even as many of the neighboring kibbutzes suffered heavy losses.
According to viral social posts, Rabin-Lieberman noticed early on that someone was trying to infiltrate Kibbutz Nir-Am and ran from house to house to raise the alarm, becoming sort of an Israeli Paul Revere who mustered a strong enough defense that dozens of Hamas attackers were killed before they could do any damage.
“When it’s all over, this woman will receive the Israel Prize,” one post said. “The story of her heroism is a story that will enter the Israeli myth for generations.”
In Ofakim, the Edri home has become something of a pilgrimage site for Israelis who want to connect with a story of survival. (The family’s Hebrew name has also appeared as Adari.) Several people stopped by with their own deliveries of sweets, although the Adaris are staying with their son because their home is too damaged to be habitable, according to a report in the Times of Israel.
Her neighbors say they are unsurprised by her heroism. “If there’s one person in Ofakim who could charm even Hamas terrorists, then it’s Rachel,” one told the Israeli news site. “She told me she’d fed them because she knows a hungry man is more dangerous than a recently fed one. She also knew these young men believed they would die and were probably missing their mothers. It was not a bad idea to become that person.”