Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Picking Up the Slack

Flowers blooming in Israel, October 20, 2023 (Photocredits: Author)

Did you know that war used to be a seasonal thing? I learned that when I was in college. Apparently, war only happened during the warm months. Not only that, but at night, the two armies would retreat from the front and wait until the sun rose to pick up their arms again. They didn’t have night vision back in the day. Or sweatshirts. But technology has advanced, and warfare has gotten a lot more sophisticated, and war now stops for nothing and no one.

That means, for example, that the soldiers don’t get to tuck themselves in at night and rest up for the next day, for those of you at home who were wondering. War doesn’t stop just because the sun sets. And no, they don’t get to set up a tent. If they’re lucky, they get to sleep under a bush. If they’re lucky. And when they’re back on base, they’re out in a parking lot, or something. All of them. All together. And they’re lucky if they get some sort of shade so that the sun isn’t in their eyes the second it rises. If they’re lucky.

They don’t get to live anywhere near normally. The life that they’re living right now is hardly a life. Their focus is on the mission at hand, their focus is on survival, their focus is on emerging victorious. They don’t have the luxury to focus on anything else. That means that things that would normally be important to them just fall by the wayside. Like normal showers, for example. (Soldiers smell. To be precise, they smell sour. I would know, because I was corrected after I wrongfully declared that they smell gross.) And they can’t always change their socks, sometimes for two weeks straight. But those, frankly, are the least of their concerns.

Because they also sometimes don’t get to do things that are really important to them. Like put on tefillin. They don’t all have that option right now, because they need to be focused elsewhere. Or praying. There are beautiful pictures going around of the tefillot of the soldiers, making a minyan wherever they can, including in Gaza itself. But that doesn’t happen for all of the soldiers. Some of them do not have time for that. Some of them do not have the mental capacity to be able to do that right now. Every ounce of their strength, every ounce of themselves, has to be focused on what is right in front of them, which is the mission at hand.

But that’s where we come in. I’ve talked before about our strength, about how those of us who are sitting on the sidelines are being asked to live with our fear, our anguish, our desperation as we wait in silence, and the courage it takes to do so. Believe me when I say there is nothing easy about that task. I know it. I get it. But that’s not our only job. That’s not the only strength we are being asked to pull out. The other thing that we are asked to do, the other thing that we have to do, is pick up the slack that our soldiers cannot. We have to do what they currently cannot. They don’t have the time to pray right now? Okay, but I do. They can’t put on tefillin at the moment? Granted, that one is a little more complicated for me, but there’s someone else who can do that. They can’t spend their time learning or engaging in philosophical and theological discourse? That’s something I can definitely do for them. I can pick up that slack that they currently cannot because they need to be focused elsewhere, and I will support them in their mission by giving them the peace of mind to know that someone has their backs. And it even becomes easier to do that, in a sense, when I’m doing it for them, because it’s so much harder to motivate myself for me. But to do it for them? It becomes that much more important, and it’s that much more doable because it’s not about me. It’s about them.

The first Friday of this war, which is already three weeks ago now as we close in on four weeks since this nightmare began, I sent a message to one of my soldiers. I had been texting him periodically just to let him know that I’m thinking about him, for whatever comfort that is. (I still do so, by the way, and, for the record, it is a comfort to them. I’ve heard from multiple soldiers that it means the world to them to hear from those of us who aren’t fighting, because it means we haven’t forgotten them. If you messaged a soldier regularly in the first week or so and then fell off the wagon, this is your sign to get back on that wagon, because they want to hear from you. They need to hear from you.) But that first Friday, as we headed into Shabbat and I knew that he would have to put that aside and what that would mean to him, I said, “Thinking of you as we head into Shabbat. We’re keeping Shabbat for you, because you have more important things to do right now. Be safe.” And I most certainly didn’t expect a response, because I never expect them to reply because they have more important things to focus on and the goal in my messaging them is not in the response, it’s in their knowing that I’m thinking about them. So I sent the message, and I left it at that.

He actually replied to that message. It was a hilarious response that made me laugh in a way that I hadn’t laughed in days, and it still makes me smile, weeks later, but more importantly, when I spoke with him later on, he told me how much that message meant to him, and that he’s been sharing it with many, many others because it means that much to them. Because for them to do their jobs, we need to do ours. For them to be able to focus on the right here right now, we need to pick up the slack that they’ve let fall. And they’ve let it fall for good reason, because this right now is what God and the Jewish people demand of them. But the flip side is what God and the Jewish people demand of us. Right here, right now, we also have a job to do. We’re part of this war, too. So yes, I will hold to my promise to live with the fullness of what it means to be human, which includes the fear and the pain of what it takes to live. And yes, I will sacrifice for Shabbat and turn my phone off when that’s the last thing I want to do right now, especially as I’m so, so far away and I’m sitting on tenterhooks waiting to know that our guys are safe. Because that is how I can help.

Our soldiers? They haven’t had time to grieve. Some of them haven’t even had time to cry. They didn’t have time to process before they were asked to put on the green to represent the blue and white. And they certainly don’t have time for Shabbat. But we can give them that. We can give them the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they should think about nothing beyond what is right in front of them, that they can focus on surviving, on winning, on the task at hand, because we’ve got their backs.

Because that’s what we can do. That’s our job.

Let’s make sure we do it. For them.

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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