Chaya Kasse Valier

‘How are you?’ Top factors affecting Israelis during this war

As a culture, we ask, “How are you?” As with any mid-trauma or mourning, there isn’t a succinct answer. To get a grasp on how Israelis are affected – how “we are” – at this moment, here are the major factors at play.

  1. Proximity to the hot spots. People run for shelter as often as a rocket siren sounds. They go to the closest option, which is either a neighborhood bomb shelter, an apartment’s fortified “safe room,” the windowless center-of-the-building, or a stairwell. The wailing siren is itself traumatic to hear, and by extension, any similar sound becomes a trigger: The motorcycle, electric scooter or Segway riding uphill, a cat in heat, or a four-year old belting out a cartoon theme song out loud. The ambulances even changed their sirens so we can distinguish them from war sirens. If you live on or near a hotspot, you may be one of the approximately 200,000 Israelis evacuated to hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs in quieter areas around the country. While you’re thankful to be alive, it’s unsettling to not be at home. Not to mention hundreds of people’s homes were destroyed in the pogroms – they no longer have a home.
  2. How many people you’re close with who were murdered or kidnapped. Jewish Geography means almost everyone knows someone who was murdered or kidnapped. It might make a difference if it’s 3rd degree, 2nd, or 1st. No matter the degree of separation, these are collective tragedies for Jews everywhere. Non-Jews were also murdered – Bedouins, Druze, Thai workers, and others. As for the hostages, it’s utter desperation, hoping and praying they are still alive and healthy. One mother isn’t sleeping well because after she wakes up to change her baby’s diaper in the middle of the night, she can’t get back to sleep since she keeps wondering who’s changing the diapers of the babies Hamas kidnapped to Gaza.
  3. How many funerals and shivas you’ve attended. One funeral or shiva for non-war reasons can be traumatic, and now even more so. At a funeral of an American-Israeli who was killed along with hundreds at a nature dance party, his surviving, shot-in-the-hip girlfriend – who was found alive among a pile of dead bodies – was brought in by stretcher. Friends who attended recalled a level of wailing they’d never witnessed at any funeral.
  4. How many people you’re close with who are on the frontlines. There are hundreds of thousands of both mandatory-draft and reservist soldiers. Their loved ones’ level of stress is usually proportional to the soldier’s role. Fathers, sons, grandsons, and great grandsons, and some mothers, daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters are also on the front lines. each one with family and friends with them in spirit. For security reasons, some can’t say where they are stationed, and/or can’t take their phones on missions.
  5. The media you consume. We’re cautioned not to watch any of the personal videos from the massacres, filmed by Hamas or by Israelis. One woman sent out her own video crying in desperation about how her friend found out her son was murdered because the Hamas murderer took his phone, videoed him after he killed him, and sent it to “Imah (Mom)” on his Contacts. These videos are too horrific to put on mainstream media, so they remain on social media or shared by individuals. I have not watched them. Still, I’ll read the news every couple of hours which includes two lists: “Those We Mourn,” and “Those We Are Missing,” with a loving snippet about each person. And the social media feeds are all about the war. It’s inescapable.
  6. How much you realize there are Hamas supporters worldwide. The scope of this topic is more than I can cover in this blog. Suffice it to say that the Gazans are at Hamas’ mercy, but Israel gets blamed nonetheless. This has been the double standard for decades with the Arab-Israeli conflict. For this war, Hamas inflicted murder-cult pogrom massacres, murdering over 1,400 people and taking 200 captives hostage of all ages if they didn’t rape, maim or burn them alive beforehand. Yet when hundreds of thousands go out on the streets in support of Hamas in London, Morocco, Berlin and US college campuses, this means antisemitism is rearing its ugly head. People equate Hamas with freedom fighters because they have no other leadership in Gaza. If they would say “Free Gaza from Hamas,” you might have an argument. But “Free Gaza” implies “from Israel.” It’s a lie accepted as truth. The fallout is that Jews are afraid of attacks everywhere now. That having been said, thankfully there’s also an outpouring of support worldwide from governments, on social media, and people going out into the streets on Israel’s behalf. “How we’re doing” can be measured by who’s on our side.
  7. The level of online school your kids have. School was canceled the first two days of the war, and then it was back to Covid with the online learning. Many schools have gone back at least part time, some splitting up into several buildings so that all can fit in the building’s bomb shelter, fortified safe room, or stairwell. As of now, the nurseries for babies through three years old still haven’t gone back, which is the hardest age for parents to handle all day at home. And what about a guard for the school? So many people are called up on reserves that there aren’t enough to go around. And what about the transportation? Parents are afraid Arab drivers might be an enemy within, and G-d forbid emulate Hamas. This isn’t racist. It is because Hamas killers had intel from the Gazan Arabs who cross the border every day to work in Israel. There aren’t replacements for these drivers in part because so many people are called up. So if there is school, parents might have to bring their own kids back and forth. Within the context of war, this might sound trivial, however this kind of worry and added carpooling impacts family’s day-to-day stress levels.
  8. Your work life or lack thereof. Wars bring loss of employment. The tourist industry of course is on hold. In the service, construction, agricultural and other industries, Arabs are hesitant to come to work or prevented from coming, so businesses might not have enough employees to function. Office employees by and large work remotely because who wants to be stuck in traffic when a siren goes off? This can present challenges especially when trying to work when kids are home.
  9. How much you worry about being attacked. The attacks happened in Israel near Gaza, so they could happen anywhere because Arabs live in close proximity all over Israel. In Jerusalem, where I live, about 300,000 of the 800,000 city residents are Arabs living on the eastern side and working throughout the city. What if they act like Hamas does? G-d forbid. That fear shakes me and my friends. That’s one of the goals of terrorists: To get in your head and make you live in fear. I still go out, but less. Because if I stay in, I’ll lose it mentally. This is my country. I’ll live my life. There’s a rise in gun license applications, setting up neighborhood watches, and the local household supplies store started stocking pepper spray. Everyone wonders what they’d do if Hamas comes to their home. Where will we hide? I ponder keeping a filled-to-the-brim boiled water urn plugged in on a high shelf at the entrance to topple on the terrorists if they break in.
  10. How much you worry about the future. It’s an existential war we’re fighting. The US is poised with aircraft carriers in case Iran gets involved directly. So will it be WWIII? Will Jews be safe anywhere? What will Gaza be after this war — will Hamas rise again like every other round since Israel’s 2005 Gaza pullout? Is this the war of Gog and Magog and Mashiach is coming, or just a war with an unknown consequence?
  11. Your anger at the government. Everyone wonders how such a massacre was so easily implemented, but right now we need to fight the fight and ask questions later. Nonetheless, those in power are being blamed. People say we don’t have leaders — we have politicians.
  12. Your level of self-care and support. Everyone is in funeral, shiva, or shloshim mode. Everyone needs to keep mental health in check, and that varies per individual. Personally, I exercise regularly, eat healthily, talk out my fears, and maintain a fairly regular work-from-home schedule. My manager instituted a daily team check-in which functions as a support group and a means of hearing others’ experiences. Meanwhile, a neighbor I’ve known for years — who’s usually extremely nice and respectful — started yelling at other neighbors, including young girls coming home from a youth group event. (Youth groups are meeting because anyway they meet in bomb shelters:). I spoke with her, and she admitted she’d had a nervous breakdown when the war started. She has frequent panic attacks. She felt horrible — even “sinful” — about how she yelled at the girls and other neighbors. Thankfully, she’s taking advantage of the free psychological services offered by the city during the war.
  13. Spiritual connection. People who aren’t so observant are lighting Shabbat candles, donning tefillin, and saying Tehilim (Psalms). Soldiers wear kippot/tzitzit who don’t usually. As a case in point, a woman in my daughter’s Army Course, who identifies as secular, kept the two Shabbats since the war started. She said all her friends did. I try to keep the faith and praying, especially as I don’t understand how and why the massacres happened. This ain’t easy. A personal vignette on spiritual support: There’s a monthly women’s musical Hallel for Rosh Chodesh run by the talented and lively Ricka Van Leeuwen (nee Razel) and daughters. This month, a week into the war, they put it live on YouTube, so I figured most people would stay in their homes to watch online because they were hesitant to leave because again – who wants to leave if there might be a siren??? I live a five-minute walk from its venue, so I decided I would go and to support them in person. I walked in – it was packed. This place has no shelter in the building, and over a hundred women showed up. I started crying immediately. It was the first time I cried since the war broke out. Seeing all these women come in person for Am Yisrael, singing the praises of Hallel in unison was an unmatched shot of chizuk (spiritual strength). I was talking and crying with a friend when another woman in her 20s came up to us, looked us resolvedly in the eye and insisted, “Nenatzeach!” (We’ll win!) Another shot of chizuk.
  14. The level of giving. One of the most precious responses to this war is our people’s unity and consequent volunteerism. It’s so prevalent that a common positive complaint is that when you respond to a call for volunteers, it’s already filled.  For those managing to get a volunteer opportunity, here are some examples: People raise money for soldier supplies and then volunteers pack and deliver them. This might be ceramic bullet proof vests, thousands of boxed restaurant meals, hundreds of one woman’s homemade granola squares, and handwritten and colored greeting cards from all ages. People help a displaced family by bringing clothing and games or giving a 15-minute free massage. Teen girls babysit or entertain young children whose fathers have been called up, or they’re displaced to a hostel room, and the mother needs a break. Neighbors attend a shiva for someone they don’t even know who’s sitting alone, mourning her elderly mother, murdered by Hamas on her kibbutz in one of their massacres.
  15. How your kids are doing, unrelated to school. When I was putting our 8-year-old to sleep yesterday, he asked me, “Imah (Mom), who’s winning this war right now?” I told him it was a good question, and I thanked him for asking me, and reminded him he can always ask us anything. And then I answered his question. I said we are winning. Hopefully that is the best answer to how I am.
About the Author
Chaya Kasse Valier lives in the most Jewishly-eclectic place on earth - Nachlaot, Jerusalem - with her husband and their blessed four daughters and a son. She works primarily as a copywriter as well as a masseuse and childbirth educator. Connect with Chaya on LinkedIn.
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