Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Cognitive Dissonance

Sunset over Bet Shemesh, Israel, 15 October 2023
The setting sun lighting up the distant clouds, both natural and remnants of the Iron Dome missiles, October 15, 2023 (Photocredit: Author)

Fun fact: There is a constant haze that hangs over the horizon here, even on the clearest days.
Fun fact: I walked out of the house this morning and the first sound I heard, even before the birds, was gunfire.
Fun fact: Among the clouds that were glowing as the sun set last night were streaks from the Iron Dome.
Fun fact: As I wrote that previous sentence, there were three explosions in the distance.
Fun fact: And as I wrote that last sentence, fighter jets passed over my head on their way to somewhere.

In case you can’t tell, I say fun fact rather tongue in cheek. They’re not fun facts. They are facts, though. Facts of our life right now. Facts of our reality. To anyone here in Israel, I haven’t shared anything new. Or shocking. This is what life looks like right now. You’re never too far from your phone. You’re never too far from a sealed room, and if you are, you check around to see where the safest location is away from the windows. You’re hyper alert to every sound that you hear, including children riding their bimbas down the street or car doors closing in the distance. You see balloons drifting in the sky and your immediate thought is not that it’s an innocent balloon and you want to know what that is in the sky before you realize that some poor child is probably crying right now because they lost their balloon. You don’t even think twice when the neighbor answers the phone on Shabbat, besides for the fact that your heart is aching for them because why is their phone ringing on Shabbat? (Turns out it was the army calling up another one of their sons. Which makes your heart ache for them even more.) The sound of the dove cooing on the tree nearby as rockets are launched in the distance makes you shake your head wryly, because, well, you get it.

This is our reality. This is what we are living every day. And that’s nothing compared to what those who are closer to the front are experiencing. I was on the phone last week with a friend who is much closer to the fighting than I am, and the conversation was punctuated by the sounds of very, very, very loud explosions that I heard from my location a second or two later. (Newsflash: sound travels faster through the phone than it does through the air. Much faster.) There are funerals every day. There are notices going out every day of this family sitting shiva and they need people or that family sitting shiva so everyone should come. A friend of mine spent the day on Friday digging graves on Har Hertzl (volunteering, of course), which is Israel’s military cemetery, because they need the manpower. This is what life is like right now. This is what we are experiencing. This is what we are going through. And here in Israel, there is no distinction between who you are or what your religious affiliation is or how you practice or even if you practice or how you lean politically or if you stay out of politics entirely because who wants to be involved in that kind of toxicity. Right now, there’s none of that. We’re in this together. Every last one of us. Because when you’re living it, you can’t forget that there’s a war going on. When you’re living it, you can’t forget the near-1,500 Jewish souls murdered for the sake of their being Jewish. When you’re living it, you can’t forget the close to 300 (!) soldiers who have fallen while protecting the rest of us. When you’re living it, you can’t forget the nearly 200—two hundred!!—people who were taken captive. When you’re living it, you can’t forget the gaping hole in your heart that right now you can’t see past and you don’t know how it will ever heal. When you’re living it, you can’t forget it. We live, but the shape of life is different. Necessarily so, of course, but also rightly so.

What concerns me is that as we move further in time from the calamitous events of October 7, our day which will live in infamy, those in the Diaspora are going to start to forget. Within those first couple of days, and within the first week as a whole, there was a sense of urgency from across the Jewish world to be in solidarity with Israel. And it was incredibly heartwarming to see that people just cared. I was hearing from people I haven’t spoken to in years who were just checking in to make sure I’m okay. I had people reach out to me to ask what they can do from overseas and to see how they can help because there has to be something they can do to help because there’s no way that their Jewish brothers and sisters could be suffering so deeply and they sit idly by. And there has been so, so much aid coming in from the Diaspora, in the form of supplies and volunteers and food and clothing and anything and everything imaginable, to the point that we’ve all seen the videos of soldiers saying they have enough snacks, thank you very much. One of my people actually said that they have so much food, they’ll be coming back from the army fat. He was obviously joking, but there’s a heartwarming truth to it.

But what about as time moves on, and this war is still not finished? What about now, when kids in the States are back in school and adults are back at their jobs and weddings are taking place as planned with as many people as originally planned and in the same venues as originally planned? What happens when the urgency of the moment becomes less urgent because we have moved further from the moment, and those who are not living it don’t have it at the forefronts of their minds any longer? What then? Does the aid dry up? Do the supplies begin to run out? Do the tefillot slowly take on less meaning and less import and slowly, slowly, fade to the background? Does the Diaspora, God forbid, simply move on?

I’m not accusing anyone. God forbid. I know the feeling of being far away and struggling to maintain that sense of urgency. And it’s hard. Really hard. But it’s also important. Critically important. Because when the horror of the moment has passed, when October 7 moves further and further away in time, when it’s hard to still be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, that’s when it’s that much more important to maintain that solidarity. To paraphrase a great orator, the world will little note nor long remember the plight of the Jews, because the Jew always stands alone, but we can never forget what happened here, and it is for us, wherever we stand in the world, to be dedicated to that great task remaining before us, which is making sure that Israel can continue to fight and live and see another day to build a beautiful future.

So no, I’m not accusing anyone. In fact, if anything, I’m scared for myself of what will be when I go back to the States, because right now I’m living it. Right now, I feel the explosions. (Literally, by the way. Like right this very second.) Right now, I can’t forget it. But when I go back, I have to make sure that I still can’t forget it. When I go back, I have to live, yes, but I have to also make sure that my life doesn’t simply return to normal, because if it does, I’m doing something wrong. I’ll say it again: If we live life as if everything is normal, we are doing something wrong. It doesn’t matter where we find ourselves in the world, we cannot forget what has happened here and what is still happening here. We have soldiers on the front lines. As of writing, all reports point to the fact that they’re about to go into Gaza, where it becomes a thousand times more dangerous. As of writing, things are extremely hairy on the northern border shared with Lebanon. As of writing, Israel has targeted the airport in Syria a couple of times to warn them not to get in on the action, too. We’re not nearly done. And every single soldier out there is someone’s someone. Every single person living in Israel is someone’s someone. More than that: Every single one of them is my someone. And they should be yours, too.

So again. I’m not accusing anyone. Instead, I challenge you. Especially those of you living in the Diaspora, but everyone, really. What will you do to make sure that your life doesn’t just slip back into normal? What will you do make sure that you remember, every single day, that our brothers and sisters are fighting for their lives? I don’t care what stripe of Jew you are, I don’t care whether you believe in the State or don’t, whether you believe in army service or not, whether you are Orthodox or Conservative or Reform or whatever other brand of Judaism you may practice, if you practice at all. You are a Jew. And as a Jew, it is incumbent on you to make sure that you stand as one with your people. Your people are suffering. My people are suffering. Our people are suffering.

I don’t yet know what I will do to carry that sense of urgency with me when I am no longer living it. I just know that I can’t forget it. And so I will find something in my daily life to make sure that I do not forget my people—our people—who are here in Israel, living life that looks very different not because we want to, not because we asked to, but because it was forced on us by animals who chose to slaughter us in our homes on our holiday.

And I ask: What will you do?

Please continue to pray for us, and the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה

כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם. ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם

About the Author
As a combination logophile and Israel-o-phile, Rachel's fingers itch whenever something needs to be shared about Israel, particularly as it relates to the Diaspora. Her credentials include a Master's in English and many years experience as a high-school English teacher, which covers the writing part, and being a card-carrying member of the Jewish nation, which covers the Israel part. Although she currently resides in Suffern, NY, her heart has long since been stolen by Israel herself, and her mind is constantly preoccupied with the capital of the Jewish people.
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