“How are you?”
“We’re thinking about you.”
“We hope you are safe.”
These are the messages that Israelis with family and friends outside of the country are receiving daily for the past week. And many of us are actually trying to respond accurately and thoughtfully, rather than with a dismissive “all good; we’re fine: crazy times.”
In reality it is impossible to answer these questions properly because there is nothing comparable to the Israeli experience outside of Israel. People outside of Israel – Jews and non-Jews – have no reference base from which to understand this.
This past Shabbat we were awoken early with an incoming missile siren. It was approximately six in the morning and most people needed a few minutes to wake up, clear their heads and realize what was happening. Since it was Saturday morning, which is normally Shabbat and as observant Jews there are not many electricity supported events that occur that day; our day of rest.
Although there were no further sirens, we really did not comprehend the full implications of the siren because we don’t use electricity on Shabbat. It was only when we went outside to attend synagogue, that we started to get the first inkling that something was happening.
It soon became very apparent that something really serious was happening in Gaza. Again, it wasn’t the first time so there was no collective increase in anxiety levels. However the first cracks were starting to appear. Men who normally don’t drive on the Sabbath were in their cars wearing their army uniforms and racing towards the highway. Hmmm.
By lunchtime everything was upside down. Rumours were everywhere. My normally Sabbath-observant son turned on his phone and saw there was a message to get to his base ASAP. And within minutes my second son was getting the same message. The time for speculation was over.
Within moments uniforms and boots were retrieved from the bottom of cupboards, Shabbat lunch was packed into plastic containers and placed in knapsacks. It was soon clear that most of the young men and some women were headed to the bases they had left behind before going off to travel or to study. “We’ll probably be back tomorrow,” were the last words we heard before the door closed behind them.
We were still in DEFCON 3 and we cautiously carried on with the day.
That all changed early Sunday morning. Most people wake up and check their phones. It’s standard operating procedure in 2023. However most people do not check their messages and yell “OH NO” first thing. Another two seconds of scrolling, reading and the message was clear. A young man we have known for the past 21 years had been killed in action. Shock, denial, numbness all hit at pretty much the same instant. This isn’t just any soldier. It is a young man we have known since he was five and watched him grow into a remarkable – actually extraordinary – man. No, this was not possible; yet it was. He died helping one of the soldiers under his command who had been shot first. He bent down to help and he was literally a sitting duck.
Aryeh Ziering z”l, was a captain in the elite canine unit. He was a sweet little boy who loved to build with blocks. He ignored his nursery school teacher when she called him to come sit in the circle. He was busy. He was an excellent athlete and a good friend to many. He was a loving son and brother and a strong and compassionate leader of men.
The worst part was that he was only one of the many people who died a horrific death that one day. He was killed by angry men who tell themselves absurd lies to justify their barbaric actions. Instead of building up their own society into something they could be proud of, they choose to tear down others. They do not value life and they definitely do not value progress. They keep their own people down and feed them lies about their enemies. They kill babies, women, and holocaust survivors. And as if that wasn’t enough they decapitated those babies, raped the women, carried a naked dead woman through the streets of Gaza.
It is now seven days since the war began. We hear sirens and we regularly hear the Iron Dome hitting incoming missiles. On some level life goes on. We go to the dentist and the grocery store. Many families have joined together to provide food, clothing and shelter for the people running for their lives. We also make extra food for soldiers. Most important, in the name of all the brave people who have sacrificed their lives for this country, we have come together as we have not been for at least the last 39 weeks.
So, how are we? We’re fine. The nation of Israel lives.