How does one tell a story that in retrospect seems like fiction? How does one shake the strange feeling that if the story is true, then why am I here to tell it?
Shortly after leaving Tel Abu-Nida my squad and I moved a few kilometers up the road into fortress 104 to assume different duties. It was one of several such fortresses that dotted the Israeli border with Syria in the Golan Heights.
Many members of my platoon were in good spirits. The Hebrew month of Elul would soon be over, and in 1973 Elul ended on the eve of September 26.
That night would bring a new year, 5734, and I was summoned to meet with my commanding officers.
Starting October 1st, 1973, I was to begin my release from mandatory service, and as a “prize” my orders were to present myself in the Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv, to assist with the setting up for the Golani Brigade’s “convention” there. The work involved pounding the stakes that would hold huge tents up, into the ground. The work was setting up these meeting tents. The work was whitewashing the borders along all of the walkways. The “prize” was that at the end of every workday I could hitch a ride to my Kibbutz, shower and sleep in a real bed. I would have to be back in Tel Aviv the next morning by 6 a.m. but it was worth it.
Friday October 5th 1973 was Yom Kippur Eve. We were dismissed early that day, before noon, expected back Sunday, October 7th, at 6 a.m. without fail.
I hitched back to my Kibbutz, a farming community about a mile and a half north of the Gaza Strip, and I sensed a hush, a silence, descending upon the land. There were hardly any vehicles on the road. People began to prepare themselves for this day of fasting, this day of prayer and reflection. The radio played quiet Israeli tunes, some that were sad, and others that belied an atmosphere of calm.
I lived in a secular community. The members of the Kibbutz did not fast, nor did they attend prayers in the synagogue. There was no synagogue. That Friday evening we headed towards the communal dining room. A few of the young soldiers I had seen earlier, out of uniform, relaxing and having coffee with friends had put their uniforms back on. They had their backpacks over their shoulders, and they were saying goodbye to others in the dining room. “It’s only a minor state of alert,” came the reply to my question. Another, in an elite reconnaissance unit said, “My unit is just playing it safe.”
My phone call, the one telling me to return to my unit, never arrived. Somehow, because I had been sent to set up the Golani Brigade convention, my 13th Battalion platoon commanders failed to reach me, and I spent the night of Friday October 5th 1973 unaware that this would be my very last quiet night for a long, long time to come.