They told friends in Sydney they were safe. Then this entire family was massacred.
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As Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov and her husband Johny huddled inside their safe room with their three young children, they had faith that their cocoon of concrete would shield them from whatever horrors lay outside.
Tamar sent a WhatsApp message from the bunker inside her home in the Nir Oz kibbutz, in southern Israel, reassuring her close friends in Sydney that the family was unharmed as their village came under missile attack.
Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov along with her husband, Johny, and their three children: Shahar, 6, Arbel, 6, and Omer, 4. Posting this picture to Instagram three weeks ago, Tamar wrote: “It should be a good year for all of us.” Credit: Instagram
“Hi guys, we got into the shelter in our house, we’re all going okay,” the message at 2.45pm on Saturday (AEST) read.
An hour later, Tamar had stopped responding to messages. Her friends in Sydney, Yishai and Mor Lacob, began to panic.
“It started to get really scary,” Mor Lacob recalled. “We’re trying to call her, message her.
“We were trying to speak with people there … people we might know in this area, we were harassing everyone.”
Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov, along with her husband Johny and their three children: Shahar, Arbel and Omer. The entire family is believed to have been murdered in their home in Nir Oz kibbutz, Israel. Credit: Instagram
The deafening silence was followed by the unthinkable. The Lacobs received word that the safe room had been breached and the entire family had been murdered by militants belonging to Hamas during its bloody rampage across southern Israel.
The Herald has not been able to independently verify the Tov family’s deaths, but they have been reported in Israeli media and tributes have flooded social media.
A community leader and activist for women’s rights, Tamar was recently campaigning to become head of Eshkol Regional Council.
Only three weeks ago, she posted a family photo to social media with the caption: “It should be a good year for all of us”.
Tamar grew close to the Lacobs when she mentored Yishai in a university program he undertook in 2022. He was too distraught to speak about her on Monday.
Mor Lacob said Tamar would be remembered for her loving nature and a strong sense of social justice.
“She was such a special woman,” Mor said.
Budding politician Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov, left, with friend Yishai Lacob, a Sydneysider.
“She always cared about the poor people, always made sure that people less fortunate will have the same opportunities.
“She was a living example to these values.”
Another friend of Tamar’s posted a tribute on social media: “How much we have been through together. Growing up. Youth. Falling in love. Pregnancy. Children. What a great time we had together. How much love was in this relationship.”
Tamar’s husband, Yonathan “Johny” Siman Tov was an operations manager and wheat grower in the small farming hamlet of Nir Oz, which has a population of around 400 people. The couple had two six-year-old daughters and a son.
Nir Oz is just three kilometres from the border with Gaza, and there were multiple reports of terrorists storming homes in the besieged town on Saturday.
Mor Lacob said the kibbutz had always seemed a peaceful place to raise a family despite its proximity to the Gaza border.
“They wouldn’t have thought such a thing can happen,” she said of the Tov family.
The Lacobs are from southern Israel but relocated to Australia to work at Moriah College, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. They are representatives of Bnei Akiva, a worldwide Zionist youth movement.
Mor Lacob said her male relatives in Israel had been forced to leave behind their wives and children as hundreds of thousands of army reservists were mobilised for duty on Monday.
She said one of her brothers was in an elite unit and had to hurriedly drop his pregnant wife at his parents’ house before his departure.
Over Facetime, their mother begged him to look at her, so she could see his face before they said goodbye.
Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov with her husband Johny and 6-year-old daughters, Shahar and Arbel. Credit: Instagram
Mor said she was heartbroken imagining her 89-year-old grandfather having just 10 seconds to reach a shelter when warning sirens sounded.
“I have a toddler, I cannot imagine running to a shelter and only have 10 seconds to get there – that’s the reality in Israel,” she said.
Yishai Lacob said the couple’s message was one of hope and resilience despite their sorrow at the loss of their friends.
“Even though it’s one of the hardest times … we will overcome it,” he said. “We are fighting barbaric terrorists who are killing innocent people, kids, ladies, grandparents.”
Yishai implored the Australian people for their support.
“It’s not a question of a conflict,” he said.
“It’s a question of being a nation who wants to live in peace with our neighbours, the Palestinians, against a bunch of barbaric terrorists who just want to kill Jews.
“We need Australians to be beside us.”
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