Maricopa residents John and Elizabeth Martinez were flying over Israel Oct. 7, about to fulfill a longtime dream of touring the Holy Land.
Their dream abruptly shifted to a living nightmare once on the ground.
Only after the plane’s wheels touched down did the Martinez couple learn from reconnected cell phones that Hamas terrorists ruthlessly attacked the country in which they’d just arrived.
Missiles launched by the Gaza-based terrorists had been raining down upon Tel Aviv. Entire families were massacred as Hamas soldiers unleashed the full force of their violence.
“We didn’t think we were going to make it,” John Martinez said of the nine-day tour plans, his voice cracking with trauma and emotion. “We just said, ‘We love you’ to our very concerned family when they contacted us.”
After going through Israeli Customs, the couple’s tour group loaded onto a bus where guides briefed them about the possible dangers and threats ahead should they decide to travel forward.
The next day, John Martinez said, the tour guides agreed to take the group on a three-day tour of safe locations including the Sea of Galilee. That slashed the family trip by six days.
“The choice was to stay there and finish the tour or get air fares and return,” said the retiree, who along with wife are devout parishioners at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Maricopa. “We were told we would be on our own after that. We were told things were getting bad.”
The Martinezes’ abbreviated terror-torn weekend in Israel did have its moments of peace with a visit to Nazareth and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus Christ walked on its water.
Even the flight home, Martinez said, was darkened with fear of the unknown. The flight included stops in Jordan and Turkey, countries also under terrorist threat in a region brought to a boil by the Gaza War.
The couple spent a sleepless night in Jordan before flying home, he said.
Since the Martinezes’ tense and frightening trip, things have gotten much worse in the Middle East.
Israeli forces launched unbridled war against Gaza. Israeli jets are bombing Palestinians out of their Gaza homes in retaliation, the New York Times reported. Hamas’ cross-border attack on Israel left thousands dead. Israel ordered 1.1 million northern Gaza residents to abandon their homes in advance of an expected Israeli military ground invasion, the Times reported.
At home in Pinal County, the Jewish community’s thoughts are focused on Israel, said Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin with Chabad of Casa Grande. Some of the temple’s members come from Maricopa.
“People in Casa Grande had a cousin killed” by Hamas, Sasonkin said.
Referring to the area Jewish community’s connection to Israelis slain or seriously injured, the rabbi said, “Everyone has someone that they know, or a friend of a friend, everyone.”
The attack that led to the Gaza war has united Jewish people in Arizona, including those in Maricopa and Casa Grande. The Jewish community has shared support, uniting with Israel through prayers for the Holy Land, practice of faith and donations.
Sasonkin encouraged people to donate to the Israel Emergency Relief Fund through the chabadcasagrande.org website.