Sunday, April 21, 2024

Widow of Israeli bus driver speaks after husband killed himself following bloody Oct. 7 attack: ‘Hamas took his soul’

Haim Ben Arye was a father of eight children.

When Jews around the world gather for Passover Monday night, Irit Ben Arye will have an empty seat at the head of her family’s table.

Her school-bus driver husband, Haim, 56, shot himself in the head in his own bus about two weeks after the Hamas massacre on Oct. 7, when he rushed to evacuate shell-shocked victims from the devastated Kibbutz Be’eri.

He returned to his wife of 30 years a changed man after that bloody day, she told The Post.

“He kept everybody safe but himself. He kept it silent. . . . Hamas took his soul, his happiness.

“If not for what he saw, none of this would have happened,” Irit, 50, said.

“He’d be alive now and expecting our first grandchild together, making plans, planning weddings for children.”

The family’s favorite holiday comes Monday, just days after a survivor of the Nova music festival told the Israeli Knesset that nearly 50 attendees have killed themselves since.

The country’s Ministry of Health has denied the claim.

The father of eight kids aged 14 to 29 answered his boss’s call in the waning hours of Oct. 7, hopping into his bus to rescue those stranded at the battered kibbutz 25 miles away, where about 100 people were killed.

“I don’t think anyone imagined what he would see or meet,” Irit said.

Haim loaded the bus with babies, children, and wheelchair-bound elderly and drove two hours to safety in the Dead Sea region.

” ‘I just couldn’t help them,’ ” he said through tears upon returning home at 5 a.m. the next day.

“’The smell of blood and death came from them,’ ” he later told Irit.

“‘I saw from the kids’ eyes that they saw their parents getting killed – they were in a state of shock.’ “

The “always smiling” dad was especially devastated by the children.

“‘They were alive but they were dead,’” he told his wife.

No one spoke during the drive, he said, calling it, “deafening silence. Even the babies didn’t cry.”

While the number of suicides related to the massacre is in dispute, advocates have pushed for more mental health resources for survivors.

Daniel and Neria Sharabi, two 20–something Nova survivor brothers who visited New York in February to help fundraise for victims, claimed a number of young people have taken their lives in the aftermath.

“It’s trauma on trauma on trauma. No one takes responsibility for these people,” said Neria.

“No one even talks about it – the families don’t want to publish it. The situation is very terrible and sensitive.”

Nova co-founder Ofir Amir, 41, who is in New York for Sunday’s opening of the new Nova Music Festival Exhibition downtown, said he knew of three suicides, adding, “nothing’s really verified.”

With school canceled and no work, Haim became fixated on every news development.

“He was in front of the TV all the time to see what’s happening,” said Irit.

Three days before he killed himself, school resumed and Haim was called back to work, using the same bus that transported the living dead.

“I think that was some sort of trigger for him – it wasn’t his happy bus anymore, but sort of a haunted bus,” she said.

The morning of Oct. 25 was typical, with Haim giving his wife a kiss before going to synagogue and work. Later that morning, the veteran bus driver, who used to triumphantly mount his beloved 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzles in the living room, got into a minor accident.

“He parked his bus outside, and he shot himself in the head,” said Irit.

“I felt as if somebody punched me in the stomach.”

The pair met when Irit was just 19, and had knocked on the side of the bus Haim was driving as it pulled away.

He stopped and they chatted as he let her sit on the steps while he drove.

They married six months later.

She wants Haim to be recognized by the state as a terror victim.

“He saw those children and babies . . . and his heart bled slowly,” she said.

“It’s not just the people who immediately got murdered by Hamas – there was a second wave of death.”

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to


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