Can there really be a war when the sky is cornflower blue and cloudless, and the sun beats down gently in what is supposed to be winter? Can a war be going on as young students dressed in their scout uniforms march through farm fields, laugh as they play games, do cartwheels, headstands, and roll merrily down a not- so- steep hill in a public park overlooking the Alexander stream? To one side of this boisterous outpouring of energy, is a soldier in uniform, pistol at his belt, one knee bent, holding the hand of a beautiful girl in black trousers and shirt, her straight golden blond hair glistening in the bright sunlight. Suddenly, her hands are around his neck, and bystander strangers yell out “Mazel Tov!” to the just engaged couple. Does it matter that no one knows them? They continue to kiss and hug. Not far off, a blanket has been spread to watch the youngsters at play. It is for a couple, the man in army uniform with officer markings on his epaulets as the young woman takes out a picnic lunch. They lie leisurely taking in the quiet that is a Friday afternoon. A little further off, another family gathers in the shade between two trees. A youngster, or, he looks like one, but with a machine gun casually slung across his shoulder, ties a thick rope between two trees, and then lifts his miniature brother ,helping him walk across the rope, circus style.
The park sits next to a verdant orchard. Walking through the grapefruit forest, the tree limbs are thick and heavy with enormous golden fruit. Rotting grapefruit lays strewn beneath the trees, which had been lovingly planted by their masters since 1933. Those trees are weighed down too. Their fruit lies in wait. There is none to pick them.
Shabbat will soon come upon the land of Israel. This quiet pastoral picture belies the heavy burden that each Israeli carries within his soul. Despite the array of delicious food and fresh fruit and delicacies that awaits families, there is no meal that does not discuss what has happened, what is happening, prayers for a swift victory, and of course, the release of the hostages. There is no meal where the words “ Hashem should keep and protect your son, your daughter, your son-in-law, your daughter-in-law, your nephew, your niece, your grandson, your granddaughter, your cousin, or your neighbor” are not said, and are deeply felt.
And then, there are others, gathered together, where empty seats remain. It may be for a family member who is in service, or, for one whose service we are forever indebted to, for their ultimate sacrifice, or, for those whose fate lies in the hand of unfathomable demons. There, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, and friends try to keep up good cheer, good spirits, despite the aching pain and sadness that lurks within the deep recesses of their hearts. And yet, what remains ? Vigilance, defiance, and determination, to continue on, and on… and on.
Happily, my beloved doctor will return to his office. He has been absent since day one of the war. I am so happy to go for a medical visit, yet, I know, that at any moment, once more, he may be called back again.
As I prepare to leave my beloved Israel for a short sojourn in America, it feels as if I am abandoning my country, my people. No matter that I am too old to be a soldier, and that my volunteering efforts are minimal compared to the enormous, gargantuan tasks at hand. But, I am home.
I wonder what it will be like to be among “ others” after the unfathomable tragedy of October 7? How do I explain what has transpired in our beleaguered little country? And our deniers ! Those who refuse us the right to live on the few grains of sand allotted to us by God’s biblical promise?
How alien will it feel not to see those beautiful youngsters in their wrinkled, worn khaki uniforms, their guns slung casually across their shoulders, coming and going, knowing they are responsible and willing patriots, there to protect not only me, but the entire land of Israel, and Jews all around the world. There is no pomp and circumstance here. There are no parades of tanks and missiles. There is no false bravado. There is only duty. And that duty will continue, on and on.