Nili Bresler
Teach Peace!

Hearts full of bullet holes: 8 Months On

Despair, elation, hope, rage, tears of joy, and tears of agony. What is it like to be Israeli in 2024? It’s like riding a roller coaster with a heart full of bullet holes.

Today is day 252: 8 months since October 7th.

The words ‘roller coaster’ have now replaced the previous words of the day: incomprehensible, inconceivable. Everyone seems to be uttering the words roller coaster these days.

This past week has been tumultuous. We Israelis have been on a roller coaster ride from hell for the past 8 months. But now it seems we’ve been upgraded to an even more extreme version. This week the jaw-clenching climbs and dips reached new highs and lows. Nowhere is it felt more than at Hostage Square, where I spend most of my days. Last Saturday started out slowly. The square was empty most of the morning as the summer heat kept people away. Then a bit before noon, the rumors started. Social Media, WhatsApp, Telegram – messages about ‘something big’ happening in Gaza, rumors of a rescue attempt. People appeared, asking unanswerable questions. Whispers spread. Hearts fluttered. Do we dare to hope this time? Previous rescue attempts did not go well… Then at last the army spokesman comes on screen making it official: 4 Israeli hostages have been rescued alive.

Ecstatic about the rescue of 4 hostages. Fearful for those left behind. Devastated about the casualties: so many Gazan civilians, and the brave IDF team commander, Arnon Zmora. The rescued hostages are all familiar faces in our Nova Tent at Hostage Square. We tell their stories every day. Almog, Shlomi, Andrey and Noa… Noa, the girl on the motorcycle. Noa, the girlfriend of my student, Avinatan Or. Avinatan is one of the 120 Israeli hostages still in Gaza. He and Noa have been separated since their capture, which was broadcast to the world.

We don’t know how many of the hostages are still alive. We do know that the only hope to bring them home safely is through a hostage deal. No heroic rescue efforts can get 120 people out of Hamas tunnels deep underground. Since October, only 7 hostages have been rescued by military operations. 105 were released through the prisoner exchange agreement in November. There is a deal on the table. We must sign the deal now. We march and shout, “Hostage Deal Now.”

The Israel I live in today is not the same country that greeted me when I arrived, 56 years ago. Sometimes it seems that I am on a different planet. Yet, some things have not changed: It’s still hot. It’s still filled with people cheerfully minding each other’s business. It’s still filled with loving families and laughing children and people sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés. It still feels like home. But it’s a home that’s had a wrecking ball rammed through it. Broken, vulnerable … The roof torn off, exposed to the elements.

In 1968 I came to Israel full of expectation and wonder, ready for adventure. I would not be disappointed. My half-century in Israel has been anything but boring. Sometimes exciting and fun; sometimes agonizing. I seem to be living out that Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

Being Israeli in 2024 is like riding a roller coaster with a heart full of bullet holes. The wind whips through us as we are spun around the track.

Riddled by gunfire, our hearts are exposed, porous as a sieve; pain leaking out; fragile; broken; still in shock. June 2024: eight months since the brutal attacks of October 7th and we still struggle to function. We are not getting past this. We are not going back to where we were. Even when the last of our hostages come home, we will not be whole. Certainly not calm or content. Our souls are still in hell… our hearts are heavy. The happy little lives we lived before October 7 seem to be gone forever.

And yet, even in our brokenness, we find comfort in each other. Besides the tears and anger at Hostage Square, the most prevalent commodities are hugs. Strangers hug each other constantly. People sing songs of hope and longing. These are days of immense pain and immense love. We find ourselves suddenly united with people we would never have met before: secular and orthodox, right and left, settlers and peaceniks. These new friends are a gift somehow unearthed beneath the piles of pain of our lives since October 7th.

I have two new best friends these days. One is Tanya, a recent immigrant from Belarus who lost someone dear to her at Nova. We sit together at the Nova Tent in Hostage Square. We stand together at the weekly rally. We cry and laugh and mutter about little annoyances, as we skirt around the huge gaping holes in our hearts. We are now sisters. Tanya is a dee-jay. She is tall and blond, exquisitely manicured, elegantly dressed. I am short and scruffy. I have been wearing the same “bring them home” tee shirt and dingy jeans since October. We are nothing alike. But we are sisters.

And I have another new sister; another new best friend. She is the mother of my hostage, my student, Avinatan. This is Ditza Or. Ditza means joy. Or is light. And Ditza is both a source of joy and light for me. She is stalwart and steady and incredibly composed, despite the horrific situation: 8 months with her son trapped in Gaza. We have heard nothing of Avinatan since October 7th. Yet Ditza functions. Ditza prays. Ditza visits wounded soldiers. She speaks to groups and she appears regularly at the evening vigils at the gate of Israeli Army Headquarters, holding a poster with Avinatan’s beautiful face. Ditza and I have vastly different lives. We have different opinions, different beliefs, and our beliefs are strong! Yet, Ditza Or is my sister. One of the gifts I have received since October 7th. We fight together: for Avinatan. For all of them. 120 hostages must come home.


About the Author
Nili Bresler is a member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. Nili volunteers with the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives in Ramat Gan.
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