Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Lean on Each Other

Waxing crescent hanging in a twilight sky over Bet Shemesh, Israel (October 18, 2023)
A waxing crescent hangs in the twilight sky over Bet Shemesh, Israel, October 18, 2023 (Photocredits: Author)

I got together with a friend last night. Not to volunteer. Not to pray. Not to do anything but just get together. You see, this friend made aliyah about a month and a half ago, and she is currently living maybe a mile from where I’ve been staying. (Interestingly, though, she’s on the other side of the mountain, and we compared notes and found that it’s extremely quiet where she is. Relative, anyway, to where I am.) We got together over chag, spending a day traipsing around Jerusalem together, and we had talked about doing something together in the three extra days that I was supposed to have right after chag before I was scheduled to fly back. (Three days has now turned into ten. And counting.) But our plans were changed for us when, as I’m quite sure you’ve heard by now, this thing called war broke out on Simchat Torah (you have heard about it, right?). So instead of, perhaps, going to the beach or going for a hike or who knows what we might have done, we went together to help pack sandwiches for soldiers. Because it’s war. And plans change. And we wanted to do something useful.

But this past Monday I realized that we’re both here in this same city right now, so maybe we should also just get together, no? So I texted her and asked her if she wanted to take a walk down to the merkaz with me to get some food later that day, for the express purpose of hanging out but also—and this is the honest to goodness truth—because I was straight up in the mood of falafel. And I could have gone myself, but everything is always better with a friend by your side. In the end, Monday didn’t work for us (for a couple of reasons, but the Red Alert in the middle of the afternoon was certainly a factor), and we arranged to go instead on Tuesday evening for dinner. (I still wanted that falafel.)

It was so good. Not the falafel, although it was indeed delicious and I was indeed a happy camper, but our getting together. It was so, so good, and so, so necessary. I did not realize how much I needed to just hang out with a friend until we did. We didn’t even do anything noteworthy. We walked down through the city streets, because I like to have my boots on the ground whenever I’m in Israel. We talked about the shape of life right now, what we’ve been living and experiencing and feeling. We got ourselves dinner and genuinely enjoyed our conversations, laughing and smiling with ease in a way that we hadn’t been able to in a while. On the way out, we stopped in a couple of stores because she needed to pick up a few things. In fact, while we were in the produce store I found the tomatoes I’d been looking for to make matbucha properly (I’d made it already over chag but it was the wrong tomatoes, so the whole flavor profile was off and I promised a redo). On our walk back home, we watched a serious catfight go down (a literal catfight. Between cats. Not teenage girls. Gotta love Israel). We stopped at the top of a street with a beautiful view of the city, with a gorgeous crescent moon hanging over the cityscape spread out before us. We didn’t do anything notable. We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. But that was what made it so good. We just got together. We just talked. We just enjoyed.

The thing about grief is that it can be very isolating. Pain and fear are the same way. And those feelings can be very quickly intensified when living within the shadow of war with all the added stressors that come along with it. Like the rocket attacks. Or the worry for your loved ones who are off fighting. Little things like that, you know? Because it’s your fear. It’s your worry. And someone else might be afraid and worried, too, but it’s different because, well, it just is. And it’s easy to get stuck in that isolating loop, it’s easy to forget that right now we’re all experiencing the same thing. (I found it funny, actually: At some point while we were out, there was a barrage of rockets sent over from Gaza into Israel, including a few directed at an area not too far from here, which meant some very loud explosions in very close proximity. And with each explosion, we—and everyone else who was out—would pause for a second, look in the direction of the sound, which was the sound of the Iron Dome in action, wait a heartbeat to see if we were about to have a Red Alert siren, and then go back to whatever conversation was happening before.) So the particular details of everyone’s specific circumstances may look different, like the fact that my friend hears so many less sounds than we do, but our living experience right now is the same, and the burden of what we are feeling becomes that much easier to bear when we don’t shoulder it ourselves.

So it wasn’t just an enjoyable evening. It was an important reminder for me, and so I share it with you: Lean on your people. Let them help you. And more than that: Keep them close. Cherish them for who they are and how they enrich your life. The lives that were so suddenly and horrifically taken from us remind us of the fragility of life, but they should not lead us to despair. They should lead us to keeping our people that much closer. To tightening the connections that bind us. To keeping our friends close and our families closer, to using our support systems, to remembering that we all belong to the greater family of the Jewish people and that we, as a people, are in this together.

It makes me think—painfully so, because it hits so close to home right now—of the value and wisdom in Jewish mourning rites. During the week of shiva, there is a constant stream of visitors coming to share, as much as possible, in the grief and the pain of the family. The mourners are not left alone to their grief. And here in Israel, in the last week and a half, there are messages that are constantly sent out with the information of families that are sitting shiva, followed by messages that the place is packed, even with strangers, because people are coming just to make sure that the family is not alone. Because even those of us who are fortunate enough to not have buried a loved one this week are still in mourning, because we have buried hundreds of loved ones and there are so many more that are still waiting to be accompanied to their final rest and we are all in a state of national shock and grief and the only way—the only way—to make sure we are not crushed under that burden is to share it with the people around us and to lean on each other as one nation with one broken, shattered heart.

My friend and I are going to try to get together again this week. And I’m going to do my best to get her some of this matbucha (which, by the way, tastes right this time, and if anyone else wants some—I’m looking at you—then you’re going to have to come get for yourself). And I’m going to continue to lean on the people around me for support, because I can’t do this alone. You can’t do this alone. But we’re not alone. We belong to an entity that is greater than any of us ourselves. That entity is suffering. That entity is in pain. That entity is afraid. That entity is angry. That entity is grieving. But that entity is one.

עם אחד.
לב אחד.
אין לנו ארץ אחרת.

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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