Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Find the Sunrise

Morning coffee with a view, Rimon Farm, Israel, October 5, 2023 (Photocredits: Author)

I’ve always been a sucker for sunrise. It’s my favorite time of day. I’m a morning person, as it is, and in recent years (okay, I just realized it’s been seven years already, so a little most than just recent), I’ve taken “morning person” to the next level. I get up very early in the morning. Very, very early. Some might even go so far as to say that when I get up it’s still night. I’m one of those. Truth is, I started getting up at early o’clock when I had an hour and a half commute every day (yes, it was miserable, thank God that’s long over) and I didn’t want to give up my daily workout, but if I worked out in the evenings then I didn’t have a life. So I shifted my schedule by necessity, but then I became addicted.

To the uninitiated, let me explain: There is absolutely nothing in the world like the feeling of watching the world wake up. It starts with getting the world to yourself for a glorious half hour, hour, two hours, depending on just how crazy you are (yes, talking to myself here), accomplishing something during that time, whether it’s work or working out or even just sitting with a cup of coffee and a book, and then playing witness to the dawn of a new day. The sky begins to lighten. The birds start waking up. Mist begins to rise. The clouds glow from the underside. And then the sun peeks out over the horizon and light begins to fall on you, on the trees, on the grass, on the world. And slowly, slowly, the rest of the world starts waking up, too. People begin to stir in their homes, sleepily shuffling out of bed to greet the day that you already own. Cars start hitting the road as the beat-the-traffic commuters get started. The sky changes colors, from glorious hues of fire into clear, beautiful blues. It’s the start of a new day. And it’s yours for the taking.

So I like sunrise, in case you can’t tell. I find comfort in it, in the beauty of it, the serenity of it, in the newness of it. I like sunrise so much, in fact, that I have a tendency to chase it. When I’m on vacation, I’m one of those people who gets up to watch the sunrise (especially if I’m on a beach. There’s little that I love quite as much). And when I’m not on vacation, when I’m parked (temporarily) here in New York, I actually have a spot that I frequent to catch the sunrise on a somewhat regular basis. It’s about a 25-minute drive from my house and it involves a 12-18 minute hike up to the top of a hill for some of the most breathtaking sunrises I’ve ever been privileged to see. I go there for the beauty of it, but I also go to find comfort and inner peace when I need it. I’m often alone up at the top of that hill, which gives me peace and quiet and time to be at one with myself and nature and God. It gives me space to breathe. Or cry. Or even scream. And then to find serenity as the sun breaks over the horizon, bringing with it the promise, the hope, of a beautiful day that is yet to come. The promise of the future.

It shouldn’t surprise you, then, to learn that I write this right now from the top of that hill. It’s been a hard week. A hard few weeks, to be clear, but this week was especially hard because I left my Israel and found myself so, so far away. (Different hard, I guess. War isn’t exactly a walk in the park, even for those of us who aren’t on the front lines.) I did catch quite a few sunrises when I was in Israel (more than one after having been up all night, which was ridiculous) (not by choice, to be clear), including one exceptionally serene one over chag (pictured above). Most notably, though, was sunrise on October 7. Because it was beautiful. And that beauty was so jarring when juxtaposed with what I could tell was going on right then and there, and then even more jarring when we later learned what was actually happening. It was a beautiful sunrise. It should have been the promise of a beautiful day. Instead, it was punctuated by the incessant sound of rockets coupled with the Iron Dome, becoming the herald of the massacre that was that day.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to dissociate sunrise from that morning. But I refuse to allow that morning to redefine sunrise for me, so I sit here right now, taking it back. Because sunrise is not, cannot, and will not be about death and destruction. It is hope. It is promise. (It is beautiful.)

It is what our soldiers are fighting for.

A future.

Earlier this week, I was talking with one of my friends who has been called up for duty, who told me that there was a surprise henna party one night at base. One of the guys had proposed to his girlfriend the morning that they were all called up, three weeks ago now, and this week, the unit decided to put together this surprise for him. It started with their coming back to base and the kallah was there, waiting for her fiancé, and was followed by a party that was fully sponsored, simply to celebrate the couple. And on the one hand, there’s a massive dissonance between a party atmosphere and the fact that the party was being held on a military base. With reservists. In uniform. Who have been yanked away from their lives. To go and fight for their people and homeland. But on the other hand, as my friend said, “That’s what we’re here for. That’s why we’re doing it.” These soldiers? Who have been yanked from their lives? They’re out there right now fighting for our people and our homeland and our future as a people in our homeland. They’re fighting to make sure we live on. This couple? They are the very symbol of what these soldiers are fighting for.

And this couple, as you all know, is one of many. There are countless pictures and videos going around of couples getting married on base, or of guys proposing as they’re getting called up. And we all soak up these pictures and we love them so much, but many of us are soaking them up without being able to articulate the why of it. But it’s because we see these pictures, and we see hope. We see these videos, and we see the future. We see this, and we see why we are fighting.

We see this, and we see the sun rise.

And to be clear, that beauty doesn’t negate the heartbreak. That hope for a future doesn’t erase the overwhelming grief of what happened. Because there are a lot of couple, families, and futures that were shattered on October 7. One soldier, for example, wanted to propose to his girlfriend, and he had to do so at her graveside. And this war is not yet over, not by a long shot, and I will be very honest when I say that I am terrified at the very real possibility of more futures being destroyed. But I refuse to live in that. I refuse to allow Hamas to hijack my sunrise.

They have killed us. They have captured us. They have shattered us. But we can see the sun rise again. We can see that promise. We can see that hope. We can see that future. We can see the sun break over the horizon, with its light spilling over into the world to herald a new day.

This is what our soldiers are fighting for. This is what we are fighting for. We just have to be willing to believe in it fully and completely, to know with every fiber of our being that the future of the Jewish people is a future that is worth fighting for. Because it is. It contains you and me and him and them and all of us and all of the days that we have not yet lived but are coming for us to own and shape into a beautiful life in our beautiful land.

We just have to be willing to find the sunrise.

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
שמחה בן הינדא 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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