I make out my 5 year old son’s high-pitched voice crackling over the phone.
“Yes my love, Abba’s a soldier now”, I respond – in disbelief at where I am and how much a 5 year old can mature in such a short time.
Week 4 following the Hamas invasion of Southern Israel, and I find myself once again back on base, in khaki greens, heavy military boots and a rifle draped over my shoulder, ready to do whatever it takes to defend my country.
I remember how it all began on October 7th.
On my way to shul I immediately felt something amiss: 2 men draped in tallitot – Jewish prayer shawls – holding phones (forbidden on the Sabbath) and speaking with the driver of a security vehicle on our empty street.
My neighbor quickly approached with a concerned look on his face: “My son got called up, he left to base an hour ago. Did you get called? Switch your phone on!”
I began to expect the worst – but nothing could prepare me for how bad it really was. The beautiful, sunny morning seemed to betray the severity of the situation.
Waiting for me was the fateful call up – as surreal as the idea of turning my phone on over Shabbat (Shabbat prohibitions can be temporarily broken in order to save a life).
Auto pilot mode: a hurried dash to find my dusty uniform, an extra pair of socks and a toothbrush – stuffed hastily into a bag.
Downstairs? Complete, utter normalcy.
The kids still playing obliviously. My wife making final preparations for a festive lunch meal that I won’t partake in.
On my way out the door I get a glimpse of the beautifully set Shabbat table: perfectly ordered plates, folded napkins and cutlery, wine and a Kiddush cup beside my seat.
“Abba, where are you going?”
“Abba has to go now. Abba is now a Chayal [a soldier].”
Kids always cut through the bulls*** to ask the most simple and straightforward questions.
How can I navigate the minefield of answering honestly while simultaneously shielding them from the evil of this world?
“When are you coming back home Abba?”
“Soon. Abba will be back home soon.”
By now the picture has become clearer.
A vicious and barbaric attack that spared neither women, children or the elderly.
The heartbreaking scenes of captives being paraded and hounded by animalistic mobs down the streets of Gaza are too much to bare.
Thousands of confirmed dead and wounded.
Our worst nightmare in real time.
On the 9th of Av we read from the Book of Lamentations – Eicha – describing the exile of the Jewish people following the destruction of the first Jewish state, 2,500 years ago:
“Her adversaries are at the head, her enemies at ease. The Lord has afflicted [Israel] for her transgressions. Her young children have gone into captivity before the adversary” (Lam. 1:5).
It always seemed so distant and irrelevant. Captives? In 2023?
And here it is, live and in color:
Palestinian social media triumphantly gloating over little Israeli kids snatched from their beds and left to the mercy of the mob on the streets of Gaza city. The cries of “Ima, ima, ima” from those Telegram tidbits haunt me as I type these words.
It was clear to me that world public opinion would turn against us once the tide of war turns in our favor.
It’s clear to me that we may not recover all our captives.
It’s clear to me that we’ve been dealt a blow that we haven’t known since the 1948 War of Independence – a war that ensnared civilians more than soldiers.
It’s clear to me that while we were busy bickering amongst ourselves this past year – a fracas over public prayer here, the need to rush a reasonableness law there – our enemies have been watching and preparing on the sidelines.
It’s clear to me that the most severe, dire problem facing Israel is and has always been internal division: that pesky, low-stakes, baseless hatred engendered by our stubbornness and pride.
When I got to base those optics changed.
Everyone that got called up showed up.
Those from the political left and political right. Old Miluimnikim with tales from the First Lebanon war and those that just got released. From the Kibbutzim, the Moshavim, the cities and the settlements. Kippah wearing and bare-headed. Religious and secular. Those that spent each week protesting against the Judicial Reform and those that spent each week protesting in favor.
Everyone showed up. Period.
Folks that didn’t get called up showed up anyway, asking how they can help.
Everyone embraced: Brought together by the unsaid understanding that we will fight alongside each other regardless of our divergent opinions and beliefs.
A full year of petty disputes and media fueled outrage dissipated before my eyes.
We all donned the same uniform. We will all fight this same war.
The greatest antidote to this year’s baseless hatred is now symbolized by the unity of a sea of green uniforms, the smell of sweat, everyone’s head held high.
I don’t know what the endgame of this battle will be.
Whether we retake Gaza, or topple Hamas.
Whether Hezbollah gets involved and opens up a front in the North.
Whether we directly engage Iran in frontal combat.
But I do know this:
We will win, because we are re-united.
We will win, because we are more determined, because we hold the high moral ground and ultimately – because we belong here and no place else.
In the words of Korin El Al’s famous song:
“Ein Li Eretz Acheret” – I have no other land.