I was on leave from what were to be my final few weeks of mandatory military service. My Golani Brigade commanders had given me the honor of building the infrastructure of the Golani Brigade convention that was to be held late October 1973 in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park.
Just before noon, Friday October 5th 1973, the master sergeants in charge of that project sent us home. It was the eve of Yom Kippur, and they, along with so many other commanders, wanted to make sure that we were able to make it back to our homes before “moon up”.
At that time, 1973, no one on the kibbutz that I called home had a telephone. No one had a private telephone, never mind a cell phone. There were two or three central phones in the offices of the kibbutz, and a token pay phone just outside of the communal dining hall. No one had a private television, and the two or three sets that were housed in communal bomb shelters were black and white televisions. There was very little to see on TV back then. Especially on Yom Kippur. The Israeli broadcasts of television and radio simply shut down, and there was silence on the airwaves.
I awoke early Saturday morning, October 6th 1973. Yom Kippur on this socialist communal farm meant very little in the traditional sense of the holiday. There was no fasting. Breakfast was readied in the dining hall as on any other Shabbat. During prior years, the cotton was harvested, and the red flags of socialism fluttered from the farm’s machinery and flagpoles.
It was a completely silent and calm morning, and we spent the time with others who were on leave from the military. A topic of discussion was why some of the young men of the kibbutz had been called back to their units the night before. Some of us, myself included, talked about the massive buildup of troops, tanks and artillery, all along the Syrian border.
I had seen it. I had reported it. Time and again I had received the same answer, that the information was noted, and that it was passed on to those in the government who needed to know such things. What we did not know, and what we would not know for another forty years, was that Golda Meir’s government, afraid to undertake another pre-emptive strike against Syria and Egypt, similar to the one of June 1967, had also been pressured by the United States not to strike first.
I had lunch in the communal dining hall.
Years later, and only because of the events of that fateful Yom Kippur of 1973, many of the secular and socialist kibbutzim would dedicate Yom HaKippurim to reflection and seminars on Jewish thought, philosophy and art. Some began to offer their members the option of fasting, to commemorate the Day of Atonement.
I returned to my small room and turned the radio on. There was nothing on the air, and I began to fiddle with the dial. Switching from one Arabic language station to the next, I paused when I heard the BBC identify itself at the sound of 2 p.m.
What happened next would forever remain engraved in my memory. I heard the announcer state very clearly that large masses of Syrian and Egyptian troops had launched a simultaneous attack on Israel and then the sirens sounded. The sirens sounded across the nation of Israel, a call to arms.
Along with everyone else, I hurried to the communal dining hall where the members in charge of security announced in the most serious of tones that all reservists and regular soldiers, like me, were to rejoin their units. Israel was under attack and the very existence of Israel was hanging in the balance.
I ran back to my room.
My girlfriend helped me to pack a few changes of clothing, extra socks, and a few extra work uniforms. I had no weapon, having returned it to the armory of my 13th Battalion armory only a few days earlier, along with all of my other equipment. I swung my backpack over my shoulder and rushed through the kibbutz towards the main highway.
Moments later I was in a car that headed north, past Tel Aviv. In a matter of a few hours I was in Pardes Hanna, and in the armory of my unit. I signed the necessary papers for my weapon, ammunition, webbing and other equipment, stuffed it all into a large duffel bag, and hitched a ride north, to the small town where the rest of my platoon gathered. Many troops of the various units that were posted along Israel’s borders with Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan had been sent home to be with their families for Yom Kippur.
This fact enabled the almost miraculous mobilization of the reserves and regular units at a time when cell phones and social media were figments of the imagination. Most were called up from the various synagogues in Israel, where they spent Yom Kippur in prayer and atonement.
As more and more of my platoon brothers gathered in Rosh-Pina, dusk turned to night, and we found ourselves wondering how we would be able to rejoin our brothers up on the Syrian border, in fortress 104.
Needless to say, none of us slept that night. It was as if we had front row seats to a horror movie that unfolded before our eyes. We witnessed massive bombardments and the flashes of explosions along the entire Golan.
We felt the thunderous reverberations of those explosions and we feared for the lives of those we knew were facing the inferno of the Syrian onslaught in fortress 104. Our brothers of the 13th Battalion were spread along the Syrian front from Mount Hermon to Tel Fahar, to Rafid and El Al, in a series of fortresses similar to ours, 104.
Those of us in Rosh Pina who waited for a means to rejoin them feared for all of their lives, uncertain if ever we would see our homes again.