Dr. Cory Harow was wrapping a family vacation in Israel when Hamas terrorists attacked. Sending his wife and children home to Florida, he stayed to provide emergency medical care — weeks later, he's still there helping
Florida-based Dr. Cory Harow was vacationing in Israel with his family when war abruptly broke out on Oct. 7. His wife and children flew home the next day — he stayed in Israel to help.
“As an emergency physician, my entire professional life has been about a sense of a duty to preserve life to the best of my ability,” says Cory, 51, medical director of the emergency department at West Boca Medical Center in Boca Raton, Florida. “This is an extension of that in a different context, in a different language, but still just as essential.”
Cory, who grew up in Boston, was conducting chemistry research through Tel Aviv University at the age of 19 when he joined the Israel Defense Forces. He served a year in the IDF before returning to the United States for medical school, and — with dual U.S.-Israel citizenship — he later became a captain in the IDF Reserves. Every year, he spends a week in Israel training with a unit designed to treat emergency medical casualties in combat “to try to save lives.”
This fall, Cory and his wife, Rachel, brought their four children to Israel for vacation. They visited friends and family for almost three weeks, from Yom Kippur until Sukkot. But the day before they were scheduled to fly home to south Florida, Hamas militants from Gaza launched a surprise terrorist attack on Israel, killing roughly 1,400 people and taking more than 200 others hostage.
The Harows were staying in a Jerusalem hotel when they were awoken Saturday, Oct. 7, by an air raid siren.
“We went outside to the hallway in our socks and pajamas like all the other guests,” Cory tells PEOPLE. As hotel guests were ushered to a bomb shelter, he looked through the windows of the hotel gym and saw a news report on the TV detailing a strike on Israel’s southern border, where his family had just been days before.
“It was terrifying,” remembers Rachel, 50. “It was scary and sad and heartbreaking.”
Cory got a message from the commander of his IDF Reserve unit asking if he was still in the country. He confirmed he had not gone home yet. He was told to pack a bag and be ready, as Israel had declared a war in response to the attack.
“There was a day of uncertainty, as the news trickled in,” Cory says. “We were hearing about Hamas mowing down hundreds of teenagers at a peace concert, kidnapping whole families and massacring entire communities.”
The couple of 22 years stayed up talking all night. In the morning, Cory was told it was time to leave. Rachel walked him to the lobby and told him goodbye, be safe, and that she loved him.
“It was really difficult not to get caught up in all the disbelief and pain,” Rachel says. “Cory is a huge force of strength and optimism in our family. He always is the one to keep us from getting overwhelmed by negativity or fear. So with everything that's going on, and what we were reading, and what we were seeing, and what we were hearing, leaving him and separating from him was difficult, scary, and overwhelming.”
Cory went to a military base that evening, and Rachel flew home with three of their four children. One of their sons is taking a gap year to study in Israel; when Rachel asked if he wanted to come home with them, he said he wanted to stay.
Cory — who says it's a "tremendous blessing" to be in a position where he can help — tries to call home every morning while he's away. On the family group chat, everyone shares photos and uplifting moments of hope throughout the day.
“We are so proud,” says Rachel. “Cory's there to help protect and heal those who are protecting the people of Israel. He's sacrificing a lot because he feels like it's the right thing to do to show his support and be there to help.”
She hopes for peace, she says, but she's happy her husband is there to help provide medical care for those they know serving in the IDF.
“These are our nephews, our cousins. These are our friends, these are kids of our friends," Rachel says. "These are all people who would rather be doing anything in the world than be fighting this war."
She continues: "I feel better, in some ways, knowing he's there for those people that we know and love. But obviously, the unknown is always terrifying, and we're very anxious about what's happening and what's going to happen.”
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