A recent trip to attend a wedding in Israel turned into a nightmare of unimaginable proportions for a pair of Boston lawyers.
Denise I. Murphy and her husband arrived in Israel on the evening of Friday, Oct. 6, for the wedding of a friend’s son. The next morning, the terrorist group Hamas launched a massive attack against towns, small farming communities, and other locations along the Gaza border in southern Israel.
“We were there for a wedding and ended up being in a war,” says Murphy, a partner at Rubin & Rudman in Boston where she chairs the labor and employment practice group.
Murphy is married to David W. White, a partner at the Boston personal injury firm White, Breakstone & Gluck. Both are past presidents of the Massachusetts Bar Association, with Murphy currently serving as an officer on the MBA’s Executive Management Board.
The wedding was scheduled for Oct. 12. Murphy and White were among a group of guests who had arrived early to take a tour of Israel arranged by the groom’s mother before the nuptials.
“Our friend had arranged this magnificent tour of Israel for us,” Murphy says. “We arrived at a hotel and were supposed to meet our tour guide at 8:30 the next morning.”
Saturday morning started out with a relaxing breakfast on the terrace of the hotel — but then the sirens went off.
“At first, we honestly thought we’re in Israel, this must happen all the time, no big deal. But then, all of a sudden, boom,” Murphy recalls.
With the sound of sirens blaring and explosions in the distance, the hotel staff took Murphy, White and other guests to a safe room. When the all-clear was sounded, the wedding guests came out of the safe room and met their tour guide.
While the wedding ultimately would be cancelled, Murphy says that since it appeared at the time that the terror attacks were concentrated in the southern parts of Israel, it was decided a tour northward was still possible as it presumably would take the guests out of harm’s way.
That night they arrived at their destination, a resort in the Golan Heights. Murphy says the wedding guests had the hotel pretty much to themselves because of the call-up of reservists by the Israel Defense Forces in response to the emergency.
“There were only five people there because the rest of the staff had been called up,” Murphy says. “We were the only guests because the [other] guests had also been called up. It was surreal.”
And then the war came to them.
“On Sunday and Monday, things started getting very bad,” Murphy says. “We started hearing artillery. We saw lots of artillery moving past us and going up north. We saw tanks. On Monday, we started hearing shelling, bombing and gunfire near us. Very close. It was terrifying.”
Amidst the chaos, the wedding guests discussed plans to get out of Israel. With tensions rising, Murphy says a thoughtful staff member stepped in to calm the waters — a moment she will never forget.
“I was talking to my friend about what we had to do to get out and how we needed to get out,” Murphy remembers. “This man came over and he pulled up a chair and said, ‘I think you need a moment of peace.’”
The staff member took out a shepherd’s pipe that his father had made for him and played “Amazing Grace.”
“I’d never heard such pure sound in my life,” she says. “That moment, that gift he gave us, really helped center me. I couldn’t stop crying.”
The 12 wedding guests were eventually able to make flight reservations to leave Israel, so they headed back to Tel Aviv.
“Traveling to Tel Aviv was terrifying,” Murphy says. “And it was surreal to see thousands and thousands of cars parked along the road that had been left by reservists who had to walk to the nearest military base to serve in the [IDF]. Thousands and thousands. Imagine that was I-93 North with thousands of cars parked along the road — tanks and artillery parked all along the way.”
The group finally reached Ben Gurion International Airport where, Murphy says, “it was chaos, absolute chaos.”
Murphy and White boarded a flight to Cyprus. From Cyprus, they were scheduled to take a direct flight to London, but it was canceled by yet another dark turn of events.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10, a fire broke out at a parking garage at London Luton Airport. According to The Associated Press, the blaze caused a partial collapse of the garage, destroying upwards of 1,400 vehicles. Although the fire was later determined to be accidental, all flights were canceled until the following day.
After an eight-hour layover in Cyprus, the couple managed to get on a flight that would start them on a circuitous trip to London.
“We did four countries in 24 hours,” Murphy says. “We went from Cyprus to Greece to Munich to the United Kingdom. I’ve never felt so tired in my life.”
The lawyers landed in Boston on the night of Friday, Oct. 13.
“I had been numb until we touched the ground,” Murphy says. “I burst into tears.”
For Murphy, the trauma of being caught in a war zone is not easily erased.
“I would never go back,” she says of one day returning to Israel. “I can’t tell you how terrified I was. And it’s too bad because the people who are getting married are wonderful people.”
The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas reportedly killed more than 1,400 men, women and children, including hundreds of young adults attending an open-air music festival. In response, Israel cut off supplies to the Gaza Strip and struck the territory with airstrikes and raids by ground forces in preparation for what is widely expected to be a ground invasion with the aim of destroying the terror group on its home ground. As of Oct. 29, more than 8,000 Palestinians had died in the retaliatory strikes.
Murphy says she’s still trying to process the experience and can’t think about the attack on the music festival without reflecting on her own family.
“That attack was at a peace festival on children my children’s age, young people. It was horrific,” she says.
And Murphy is profoundly saddened by the anti-Arab and anti-Semitic prejudice stoked at home and abroad by the renewed outbreak of conflict in the Middle East.
“That seems to be pervasive now,” Murphy says. “There’s very little support for Jews and Arabs. I have a friend who called me and said, ‘I’m embarrassed to be an Arab.’ I assured her that I don’t feel that way and no one should. This is Hamas. This is a terrorist group.”