Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Far From Home

Jerusalem String Bridge at night, October 4, 2023 (Photocredits: Author)

Do you know how it feels to be torn in two? To have your heart and soul six thousand miles away from where you find your body? To have a knife twisted in your gut every time you get a notification about the war because you’re so far away?

I do.

I landed. Back in New York. And all I want to do is turn around and come home. I really, really understand the story with Rabbi Akiva, where he was away from home for twelve years and then when he heard his wife saying she would gladly give another twelve, turned around without even stepping inside. If I had the opportunity to turn straight around and get right back on a plane to Israel, I would do it in a heartbeat.

It feels very strange to be back. Like I landed on a different planet. And my body is here but my mind and my heart are not and when I get this notification or that notification or I speak to someone in Israel and I just feel so far away and I miss the sounds of war not because I like the war but because they kept me focused that life was not okay and life cannot be normal right now. I have no idea where the nearest sealed room is. I don’t need to know. I’d be shocked if there even is one in this area. Sirens are so jarring right now. So, so jarring. To be honest, so is the simple sound of someone slamming the car door shut. I have to remind myself that it’s not an incoming rocket. Even just seeing streaks in the sky. That’s not the remnants of the Iron Dome. It’s just…an airplane. And that bothers me. It bothers me that it’s so mundane that I don’t need to think about it. I don’t want to not think about it.

It hurts to feel so far away.

It hurts to feel so far from home.

It hurts to feel so distant from my brothers and sisters who are actively living this war in the way that I was up until yesterday until I had to tear myself away.

It hurts to have left Israel.

It hurts.

And I’m afraid, too. Afraid that I will easily fall into a rhythm of daily life that is removed from immediate danger and that I will forget the hurt and the pain and the fear. Afraid that I will lose the urgency of the moment. I’ve taken steps to help make sure that I don’t forget and that I don’t lose that urgency, but I’m still scared.

(And folks, if anyone is looking to actively do something right this very moment, I met someone on the plane on the way to New York who told me that he had begged to be put back into service but his commander said there’s no room for him so he’s here in the States now, fundraising and gathering vital equipment for multiple units. He showed me the lists he has of things they desperately need right now. If you want to do something, if you want to make a real, tangible difference, I’ll get you in touch with him and he’ll tell you how you can help. The soldiers need this stuff now. And you can help them get it.)

There’s such a massive dissonance right now between what I’m feeling and thinking and living and breathing versus the motions that I’m going through. Everything looks wrong. Everything feels wrong. It’s too comfortable. It’s too painless. It’s too easy. I know why I came back. I know that I didn’t run away. But every fiber of my being is hurting right now because all, all, all I want to do is go home. And I can’t. Because God called on me to do more and to be more but, God? This. Hurts. And I know You know it. You wouldn’t have asked it of me if it were easy. And I will do what You ask of me, and I will feel the pain all the way through it because to do anything less is to be less than human, and I refuse to be less than human even when it hurts so much.

This, too, is my sacrifice.

I miss the little things, you know. It’s the little things that add up and make it really hard. Like the neighbor’s soccer ball that would randomly fly over the fence, somehow coming close to grazing my head each time, which would then be my job to throw back over. Or falling asleep on the swing on the back porch because it was just that comfortable (or I was just that tired. One of the two). Or the nightly weddings that I could hear from my spot on the back porch. Or going for walks at night with my aunt (including the time that she all but put me on a leash to take me for a walk because I was going stir crazy as I was desperately trying to finish an assignment and she—rightly—decided I needed to let off some steam). Or the fresh pitot that were always on the counter. Or hummus. (There’s nothing like real, Israeli hummus with a fresh pita. Yum.)

The bigger things, too, to be honest. Like the nightly fireworks show. Or the occasional window rattling with a nearby Iron Dome missile doing its job. Or the front door slamming when I was in the shower and not knowing immediately if that was the front door or if we’re about to have a siren and I need to bust a move so that I don’t go to the safe room with shampoo in my hair (spoiler alert: It was the front door). Or the fact that I was living there for so long that the neighbor and I, who did not know each other beforehand, recognized each other and laughingly said hello when we passed each other in the street. Or, yes, even heading to the sealed room when the siren did go off, but also opening up the front door to check and make sure that there weren’t people outside who needed somewhere safe to be.

I miss it all. I’m too far away. Too removed.

And it hurts.

I won’t pretend to be okay, because I’m not. Some moments are more okay than others. Some moments are less okay. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with all of that. I will live with the pain. I will live with the fear. I will do what I can to live with the focus, even as I shoulder the responsibilities that accompany my accepting this mission on behalf of God and the Jewish people (and that’s in addition to shouldering the shared burden of pain with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and that’s all on my pretty small shoulders, too). (And for those of you who are asking, I don’t know how often I will be able to write now that I’m back in the States. It’ll just be as often as I can, I guess.)

As Rabbi Yehuda Halevi so eloquently said, my heart is in the east even though I’m all the way in the west. And Israel will take care of my heart for me, so long as I am away, provided that I do my part to embed her in the hearts of everyone here. (We have a great relationship built on mutual trust and understanding and concern and care for each other, Israel and I.) And I’ll live with the pain.

Because Israel? Israel is worth it. כי אין לי ארץ אחרת.

Please continue to pray for us, and for 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
חובב בן דבורה אסתר

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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