Yesterday, when I was writing the post about the benefits of enjoying life again, I wasn’t yet aware of the tragedy that had happened in Gaza the previous day. Twenty-one reserve duty soldiers were killed in one incident, and three officers had been killed a short time beforehand. Twenty-four soldiers were killed within twenty-four hours. This was the worst calamity we suffered since October 7th. It’s impossible to think of anything else, and I noticed that different kinds of activities, even those aimed at cheering up the soldiers, were canceled.
In the restaurant where I volunteer, most of the food orders were canceled yesterday. My boss, the owner of the restaurant, did not take the food truck to the Gaza border to make food for the soldiers, he felt it was inappropriate to try and cheer them up at this moment.
One of my rowing partners, a doctor who is at least 40 years older than the rest of the soldiers, has been on reserve duty since the beginning of the war. He is stationed in the place where the disaster happened as a volunteer doctor. When I wrote to inquire how he was, he answered that indeed he was there, and was supposed to go home to his family for 24 hours, but that, of course, did not happen.
How do you write to console a man who has just suffered such a terrible loss? It’s hard to know. At least from my experience and that of others, I would like to think that I know what not to say. There is a long list of things that I would never say, the only thing I could write, after the initial shock of finding out that he was actually there at the time of the tragedy, was to let him know that he and the other soldiers were in my thoughts. I know that it is almost nothing, but I have to acknowledge the fact that indeed there is nothing meaningful that I can say or do.
The physical pain I experienced when I heard about the bombing and the collapse of the two buildings yesterday immediately brought back flashbacks from the tragic accident on February 4th, 1997, when two Israeli helicopters carrying soldiers into the security zone in southern Lebanon collided in mid-air, killing all 73 soldiers aboard the two helicopters. I remember the exact moment when I heard about it on the dreary evening of February 4th. It is quite eerie how the body stores memories of national traumas. When I checked my memory regarding the helicopters’ tragedy on Wikipedia, I saw that the national mourning following the disaster is considered a leading factor in the decision to withdraw from southern Lebanon. I could only hope that this current tragedy in Gaza will expedite the release of the hostages and find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.
The words that Israelis dread the most during times of war are “cleared for publication,” signifying that the names of the soldiers who were killed can now be publicized, as their families have been notified. The wonderful artist Zeev Engelmayer, who documents the war with insightful and sensitive postcards on a daily basis, kindly allowed me to use the one he created about the killing of the soldiers. He titled it “Cleared For Publication.”