Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at war: Shouldering the burden

Solidarity (Photocredits: Author)


It hits like a gut-punch. Fourteen soldiers killed over Shabbat. I believe that marks the deadliest day of this war since day one (which, it needs to be said, was nearly a thousand times deadlier than this one). And do you know something? The pain hasn’t dulled. At all. It’s been months of war at this point. There are so many families that are bereaved. And yet, with each new name that’s publicized, with each new family that joins those ignominious ranks, we are once again shattered.

I didn’t personally know any of those soldiers, nor, frankly, any of the other 139 soldiers who have fallen since that first, fatal day. But one of my soldiers is tangentially connected to one of the soldiers who fell over Shabbat. And another one of my soldiers is tangentially connected to a lot of the soldiers who have fallen. So I’m on a tangent of a tangent, but it still makes their deaths hit so much closer to home.

Pause. Another name was just released. This is absolutely crushing.

How do we process something of this magnitude? How did we process it two months ago? Or did we not process so much as integrate, absorb, and learn to live with the gaping hole that exists within our hearts? Are we slowly, slowly developing scar tissue over this wound so that it is not quite as raw as it once was, even if it’s still extremely tender and sensitive, and will reopen all too easily? A couple of weeks ago, I found myself trying to read a personal response to the war that was written (not by me) in the first week or two, back in October, and I just couldn’t do it. Emotionally, I couldn’t go back there. Because it was still too raw. It is still too raw. And with every name that is publicized, and every time it’s more than one, and with the horror that is now fifteen men in their primes since Shabbat began, that wound begins to bleed once again.

It makes me think about the families that have buried loved ones. And the families who still have loved ones held captive inside Gaza. I think of the mother who sat shiva last week, holding her newborn baby who would never know her father. I think of the parents who sent their sons off as lone soldiers, and now their sons won’t be coming home. I think of the brothers and sisters who will never again be teased, or have their hair tousled, or wrestle, or hug their brother because they did that one last time but they didn’t realize it was the last time. I think of the girlfriends who wanted nothing more than to build a life and now their hopes and dreams have been snatched from them in the cruelty of a moment. I think of the smiles on the faces of the pictures that are publicized with those two awful, awful words, “הותר לפרסום,” and how those smiles will never again light up the lives of their loved ones.

I think of all of this, and my heart breaks. It’s heavy. Really heavy. Even for someone like me, who is only a tangent of a tangent. And it’s easy – really easy – to allow that heaviness to sink into despair.

But the challenge, as I’ve said before, is to live in the face of that despair. Our moments of utter darkness are the ones where we are called on to find the light, where we are asked to rise above that despair, to find the good, the true, the beautiful: the human. It is when we least feel like forging forward that we are asked to find cause to continue to live.

And so I think about the hundreds of people who go to pay shiva calls to bereaved families that they don’t know but whom they join in their grief because we are one family and the soldiers are all our sons. I think about the people who are not fighting on the physical front but are still doing everything they can to support the soldiers and pick up the slack. I think about the civilians who donate of their time and money to make barbecues for the soldiers on base because, well, who doesn’t love a good barbecue and if that’s what we can do, then that’s what we can do. I think about the boxes and boxes of energy bars that the reservists who have been sent back from the front take home with them because there were simply too many for them to consume while they were in Gaza because everyone kept sending.

I think, too, about the poem that’s been going around recently. You’ve probably seen it, either in the original Hebrew or translated to English. It’s called כתונת פסים, A Coat of Many Colors, written by one Racheli Moshkovitz. I could summarize it for you, but that wouldn’t do it justice. It’s worth reading, in whichever language you can:

כתונת פסים

בני חזר מהמערכה, ותרמילו מתפקע
.מכל מה שלא אני ארזתי לו

גרביים שתרמה קהילה מארגנטינה
.שׂמיכה משֻׁבצת בריח בית אחר
.מגבת כחולה ממשפחה מהמושב
.ציצית מירושלים
.פליז מתנת חברת היטק
.צעיף שסרגה קשׁישׁה
.גופיות שנקנו מקבוצת פיבוקס
.סדין שנתן לו חבר
.כפפות שקנו נערות
.מעיל מארון של מישהו שבא וביקש לתת

פורסת את כל האריגים
.ורוקמת כתונת פסים חדשה
.ראה, יוסף, ערבו לך אחיך

A Coat of Many Colors

My son returned from battle, his duffel bursting
with things that I had not packed for him.

Socks donated by a community in Argentina‫.
A quilted blanked smelling like someone else’s home‫.
A blue towel from a family from the moshav‫.
Tzitzit from Jerusalem.
A fleece gifted by a high-tech company.
A scarf knitted by an elderly lady.
Undershirts purchased by a Paybox group.
A sheet given to him by a friend.
Gloves bought by teenage girls.
A jacket from the closet of someone who came and requested to give.

I spread out all of these garments
and weave together a new coat of many colors.
See, Yosef, your brothers were there for you‫.

For those unfamiliar, in the title, and in the final two lines, the poet alludes to the story of Joseph and his brothers from the Torah portion a few weeks back, in which their jealousy of him and his special coat was so great that they got together and sold him. And this Racheli Moshkovitz, in the beauty of poetry, turns the story on its head and proves, to ourselves and to the world, that we learned from our mistakes. This time, we did better.

We are a family. And families sometimes fight. It’s true. But when push comes to shove, with our backs to the wall, when the rest of the world turns against us and all we have is each other, we put aside our differences, shoulder each other’s pain, share in our nationally personal sorrow, and weave ourselves that coat of many colors.

How do we process this? Honestly, I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t think we do process it. I think we learn to live with the pain of it. But I think the only way we can do that – the same way we did it, the same way we have continued to do it – is by doing it together. It’s the only way can live with it. The burden is too huge, the grief too heavy, for each of us to carry on our own. Fifteen soldiers fallen in less than two days. 154 since the ground offensive began. That’s too much for me. It’s too heavy. It’s too overwhelming. But to paraphrase those old English philosophers, the Beatles, we get by with a little help from our family.

We’ll learn to live with it. Together.

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
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
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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