Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Thank God I’m Here

Sunset over Bet Shemesh, Israel, October 10, 2023. (courtesy)
Sunset over Bet Shemesh (10 October 2023)

For those of you who don’t know me, please allow me to introduce myself: Hi. I’m Rachel. And, as embarrassed as I always am to admit it when I’m in Israel, I am American. (If you’ve never been on the receiving end of the condescending Israeli look when you admit to being an American, lucky you. It is next level.) What you have to understand is that I look Israeli. I even speak Hebrew well enough that one of my born-and-bred Israeli friends said it sounds like I made aliyah when I was young. But at the end of the day, my passport is American. And when I stand in line at Ben Gurion airport and they ask where my Israeli passport is, I sheepishly admit, every time, that I don’t have one.

I share all this to say that as we find ourselves unexpectedly in a state of war (and if you haven’t read about my experiences that first day, you can find the article HERE), I do not, in fact, live here. I came to Israel for Sukkot, as did so many others, and I actually had plans to stay for an extra couple of days after the holiday to squeeze in some more time in my favorite place in the entire world. I had made plans to meet up with some people I haven’t seen in a while, perhaps go hiking and rappelling, do a little bit of climbing, spend some quality time with God at the Kotel, hit up a falafel store that my brother has been yelling at me about—you know, just soak up as much of Israel as I could before I had to go back to the States. And on Shabbat afternoon, amid all the tension of the day, my cousin and I had a good laugh when we realized that my plans had been blown to as many pieces as a Hamas missile that dared cross paths with the Iron Dome. I was still staying, of course, because I’d never dream of leaving early, but my plans would just look a tad different.

As more and more news trickled through on Shabbat, and then once we were able to get a clear picture of what was actually going on, the one dissonant feeling that I had, through all the heartache and tension and fear, was relief. Relieved that as the hammer is coming down on Israel, I am here. Relieved that I am living through this with her. Relieved that I am not 6,000 miles away, watching from a distance as Israel is under attack. And above all that, grateful to God for the circumstances that led to my being right here, right now, with Israel in her time of need.

Because, you see, there is nowhere in the world that I would rather be right now. Since Sunday night, I’ve been talking with my friends and family in the States, and I cannot fathom being in their place, finding out from a distance, on the holiday, that Israel is at war, not knowing who, what, where, how, and still now, days later, being so far away from the focal point of their attention, itching to come to Israel to be with her but can’t because they have responsibilities tying them down in the States. Because Israel is suffering right now. And rather than, like the last times she suffered when I went crazy to try and be here, this time I found myself standing at her side from that very first moment when we didn’t know what was going on but we just knew that it was bad because we felt our entire world shaking with the thunder of rocket fire. And I thank God that I am here.

I thank God, too, that the Diaspora cares so deeply about those of us who are here. Everyone has been reaching out to ask if I’m okay. (I am.) Everyone has been reaching out to ask if I have a flight out. (I don’t.) Everyone has been reaching out to ask what they can do to help. (Pray, give, and spread the truth.) But I have to admit, it bothers me when friends and family abroad ask me if I have a flight home, or if I’m trying to get out of here. Questions phrased like that miss the basic point: I am home. There is no getting out of here. You don’t escape from home. Home is where you come to find comfort in times of anguish. Home is where you escape to. Yes, it’s a war zone. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, we still hear and feel explosions all the time, and no, we’re not really sleeping. But this is home. I may not have an Israeli passport, and I may have to fill out the US State Department form so that they know how many citizens they have in the country, but I have never been more at home in my life.

So no, I don’t have a flight back yet. But I’m not looking to get out. I’m not looking to get home. I am home. I am exactly where I want to be. And I thank God for it every day. I do have to go back, yes, because I do have responsibilities, and I am working on it (hey, boss), because that is what I have to do. But Israel, I promise you, I will be back. For good. Because you’re home. I’m home. We’re home.

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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