December 31, 2023
Headline on Times of Israel: As world rings in 2024, IDF says fighting in Gaza to go on all year, with adjustments
I made a mistake. The same kind of mistake people make when they feel better after starting antibiotics (so they stop early). The same kind that people make when they feel better with antidepressants (so they stop).
I was ‘feeling better’ so I read a few accounts of what Hamas did to women on October 7.
I was feeling better because we went out last night. We celebrated New Years early so we could go to sleep on time tonight. We went to Pitmaster in Petach Tikva and had a fantastic time. Amazing food, as usual. Great connection with our pitmaster. Fantastic company.
The evening started with us standing outside in the cold, waiting for Johnny to open the doors for the 9:15pm show. He came out, introduced himself, and let us know that we were in Petach Tikva. This was important information because missiles are still occasionally coming down and we needed to know how much time we had (ninety seconds) and where the secured area is (through the back door to the left, or downstairs, or wherever it was).
We came in, sat down, and met our seatmates (if you’re not familiar with Pitmaster, you get seated at a long table and encouraged to chat with your neighbors – it adds to the fun). On our left, a cute young couple together for two years. She is an officer in the IDF and he is in miluim. To our right was someone who vaguely looked familiar, but, in Israel, you never know.
We then met our pitmaster (the head chef), who introduced himself and raised a toast to two fallen team members who had died on October 7. One who had kept going back and forth into the fray to save people, until the third time, when he didn’t succeed. He saved about fifteen people before being murdered himself.
We all took some breaths and I wiped away quite a few tears.
The evening began. The food was excellent, as usual, and we started chatting with our neighbors. They were good people, kind hearts, funny. One of the volunteers that was called up to help cut the meats was an IDF soldier who was on break from Gaza.
We kept talking to our new friends, sharing our ‘expertise’ on the place, when suddenly I knew who the woman was sitting across from me, the one who ‘looked familiar.’
It was Major Ella Waweya.
Now if you’ve never heard of her, stop. Look her up right now. Take a solid ten minutes to read all about her and then come back. Learn how she has excelled in everything she has done. How she has chosen her path in life and followed it with the utmost dedication, passion, and heart. How proud she is to be a Muslim IDF officer and Head of the Arabic Media Desk in the IDF spokesperson unit. Watch her videos. Listen to her.
Then imagine how profound it is to meet her in person.
I’ve met a lot of cool people in my life, thanks to work. But nothing has compared to this moment, and nothing prepared me for this moment of meeting this singularly incredible woman who decided to do her part in changing this world.
I was so taken aback that I literally stood up, pushing my chair back with my knees, walked over to her, and hugged her with a fierceness I didn’t know I still had, with emotions I didn’t know were still inside. I held her. Not for her, so much, but for me.
For all the thoughts I’ve had about how, and if, we can truly live together.
For all the doubts I harbor.
For my appreciation of all IDF soldiers who stand up for all of us Israelis.
For all those who cannot stand up anymore.
For the three months of war that she, and we, have endured.
Then I found myself again. I stepped back, thanked her, returned to my seat, and unsuccessfully fought back tears for the second time that night.
Even now, I am truly blown away by this brand of people, who plant their feet in the ever-shifting sands of reality, twisting this way and that, just to remain strong, pointing in the direction of righteousness. Those who are a beacon of light and hope for those of us who believe in humanity, but sometimes doubt human behavior and choices.
It’s not often I am at a loss for words. Last night, I sat in my chair, dumb. People spoke to me, and I could not respond. My mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. The only thing that escaped my body were my slowly falling tears of relief, love, belief, and ferocity, which expelled my refusal to be further bound by the evil, hatred, and antisemitism in the world.
And then today, I read accounts that I never should have read.
Too late, I stopped. And decided to think instead of people like Ella, who are changing the world and creating glimmers in the darkness that is our reality right now.
I welcome 2024 with the hope that more people learn of her, learn of her personal mission, learn that she is not alone. That there are many more Muslims who proudly serve in the IDF. Druzim serve proudly. Most Jews are not Ashkenazim. We are not a homogeneous group of people.
If you want to know more, learn. Read (not Al Jazeera or BBC). Don’t categorize us unless you’re calling us proud Israelis and human beings. We all believe in justice, equality, fairness, and life. And where we see injustice and inequality, we do what we can to fight, even if it’s within, but especially if it’s from without.
Because nobody picks on our family. Ella, and all others Israelis, are my brothers and sisters. And we all feel the same way so our enemies had better watch their step.
Happy New Year 2024.