For us living in Jerusalem it started as a rare air raid siren at 8:15 in the morning yesterday, as we were gathered in the synagogue for shabbat services which overlapped with the holiday of simchat torah as well, the celebration of the end of the annual Torah reading cycle and the immediate beginning again of a new one all packed into one day.
While it is rare to hear sirens in Jerusalem, it was not the first time that we had experienced this and everyone went downstairs to the shelter on the ground level to wait 10 minutes. If there was not another siren it was safe to leave, and so we did so after that time and returned to the sanctuary to continue the prayers. But ten minutes later it happened again and 20 minutes after that again, and then we knew this was not an ordinary sequence of events. For sure something very serious was going on in the country. But it was the sabbath, so nobody had phones with them, yet it was clear that the standard order of services could not be continued.
Finally, someone went to their home across the street, retrieved a phone and we heard the news that Israel had been attacked yet again, “yet again” as I commented in an op ed last week. The decision was then made that those people who were physically challenged and could not easily go up and down the stairs constantly within the 90 second time frame allotted to get safely to the shelter, should go home. In addition, those who lived close enough to get home before the next potential siren should also leave. Those who remained in the shelter did their best to complete the service, albeit foreshortened and eliminating the joyous dancing with the Torah that is part and parcel of this particular holiday observance.
Mercifully for us living here in Jerusalem, the last alert was at 11:30 in the morning and since then, we have heard nothing further. When the sabbath ended just before 7 PM, we began to learn the awful truth.
Israel had been attacked once again by Hamas operatives in Gaza. Over 3,000 rockets were lobbed at Israel from Gaza, enough to make it impossible for the Iron Dome protective system to neutralize each of them. Thus, many of them landed in populated areas setting buildings on fire, causing serious damage and putting people in danger of both life and limb.
But that was not the worst of it. Hamas had mounted a well-planned calibrated attack by land, sea and air to successfully penetrate Israel’s south. Using heavy equipment, they were able to bulldoze an opening in the border fence that separates Israel from Gaza so that hundreds of terrorists could simply walk into Israel as well as enter the country with vehicles that quickly put them in the center of dozens of communities in the south. In preparation for the attack advanced troops had disabled a police station near the border and virtually neutralized an army base allowing the terrorist unfettered access to the populated areas in what is called the Gaza envelope.
Others entered Israel by air on motorized paragliders that allowed Hamas troops to land in populated areas of the south as well. The third leg of the attack was by sea where some of their ships were able to discharge troops on the shore close to Israeli communities in the south. But the most serious attack was by land over the border.
They then went on a shooting spree firing at everything in sight. Dozens of Israeli young adults had planned a Friday night nature event in a field near the border. They were unprotected and awoke to masked terrorists running at them and firing with automatic rifles. Many of these young people made up a large number of the casualties. A family I know from Chicago had a son in the group whom they have not heard from since 8 AM Saturday. We hope he is ok. One of the facts of life in a country this small when the damage is this great is that we always personally know people who are directly affected.
Other terrorists took their vehicles into the towns near the border and began a killing spree, mowing people down execution style. They went house to house killing people in their own beds. One youngster hiding under a bed called emergency services to report that her parents had been killed and she needed help to survive. Other victims were captured on the streets of the local cities and forced into waiting vehicles, after they were beaten and subdued, and then taken to Gaza as hostages.
As of this writing on Sunday afternoon in Israel, the reports from the government talk about more than 600 dead, over 2,000 wounded (many in critical condition) and 100 or more hostages taken, both civilian and military. No doubt some of those numbers will grow. Many of the people hospitalized are seriously wounded. There are also people still unaccounted for. And as of this writing fighting is still going on inside Israel as the IDF works to take back control of all of the cities, kibbutzim and moshavim in the south. That work is still under way.
No question people are understandably worried. We have close friends who have seven grandchildren in the military right now and the grandmother can hardly speak she is so distraught. We have another friend, a native Israeli, with five grandchildren in the military who plainly says this is worse than anything she has ever seen.
We will prevail. Most of us have no doubt about that. Nevertheless, we also know that the price will be high, we will bury many of our children, husbands, fathers, siblings, and friends. The pain will often be too much to bear. However, we have no other country, no other place to go, nor do we want to be in any other place. As in the past, war unites our people and the differences that played out so dramatically over the last nine months are now all suspended. Unity is the name of the game, singularity of purpose is the watchword and victory is the only choice.
We pray, as well, that the good Lord will watch over us and over our military and government so that we may remain here in the land we prayed for over the last 2,000 years and which we have developed so capably over the last 75. May our prayers be answered and may our children return home safely.