Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: The Emotional Side of Things

Bet Shemesh at night (October 12, 2023)
Bet Shemesh at night, subdued (October 12, 2023) (Photocredits: Author)

Today is the eleventh day of war. It’s hard to believe that we are already eleven days in. Harder, still, to believe that we are only eleven days in. This war, this horror, this nightmare, has been consuming all of our thoughts and every second of our waking hours and sleeping hours (if you can even get any of sleep, that is) since it began, a mere eleven days ago. As it should. It still feels totally surreal. This is our world right now, this is our life right now, and yet I still cannot fathom that this is our reality right now. And, by the way, that’s with my talking regularly with soldiers who have been called up to defend our land and our people. I hear directly from them, I know that they’re fighting a war, I know where they are even if I don’t know where they are, and yet I am still having trouble integrating this fact of life. And I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot.

It’s too huge. It’s too hard. It’s too much. It’s too jarring, too unbelievable, too insane to really, truly comprehend this new reality. Did you know that there are still hundreds of martyrs (and yes, that is what the victims are: martyrs) who have not yet been identified? That there are hundreds of families that are just waiting in dread for the phone call that will plunge them into mourning? I didn’t. I learned that earlier today. The graves are being filled faster than we can dig them. Everyone—everyone—is in mourning.

If you’ve been following along with me from the beginning, you’ll know that I’ve been blogging about what’s been going on here, what we’re seeing and hearing and feeling and living. I said in my first post that every single member of the Jewish people has a role to play in this war, that it was just a matter of figuring out what you were being called upon to do, which would be determined by where you are and who you are and what you can contribute. Me, well, I’m an American (even if I’m embarrassed to admit it) who was blessed enough to be here in Israel for Sukkot, which meant that my role in this battle was going to be based here in Israel, at least to begin with.

Figuring out that role was kind of a no-brainer. You see, I’m a writer. And even though I’m here in Israel (and believe me when I say that I am beyond grateful to have already been here when the war broke out and to still be here, and that it absolutely breaks my heart to have to leave), I am still American, with American connections and American friends and American family and American coworkers and American students who are almost all, unsurprisingly enough, in America. Which meant that I had an obligation to share with them—you—the truth of our new reality. Truth be told, I’m not the only writer who is publishing from here in Israel. Not by a long shot. Nor am I the only American who is publishing from here in Israel. Again, not by a long shot. But I, personally, can communicate directly and effectively with my people across the pond for them—again, you—to get my perspective, which makes this that much more real and that much more personal.

So I’ve been blogging. I’ve been writing. If you’ve been reading since the beginning, this is number eight already. (If you haven’t been reading since the beginning, this is still number eight. Oddly enough, the number doesn’t change whether you’ve read all of them or not.) I’ve been posting and sharing and many of you have been reposting and sharing further. And for that, I am grateful, because my word only goes as far as it is spread, and my reach is only so far. I have gotten a lot of feedback from many of you through the various channels in which you read these posts. And for that, I am also grateful, because it means that I am, at least to an extent, rising to the role that I was asked to play, and it gives me encouragement to continue to do my best in trying to fill that role.

The thing is, though, that one of the most common pieces of feedback that I’ve gotten has confused me. Readers seem to be blown away by the emotion in my writing, by the fact that I’m writing directly from the heart:
“It’s so raw, real, and emotional.”
“So real, wow.”
“Such heartfelt words.”
“You can tell it comes from the heart.”
“It’s so raw.”
“It’s so raw.”
“It’s so raw.”
Guys. I don’t know any other way to be right now. My writing is raw because I’m raw. My writing is emotional because I’m emotional. My writing is heartfelt because I’m writing from the heart. Believe me when I say I know how to write formally. I can do expository writing. I’m fairly decent at it, too, if I may be so bold as to say so myself.

But I’m not there right now. I can’t be. The wounds are still too fresh, the pain is still too new, for me to sterilize my writing and strip it of emotion. Strip it of my humanity. Strip it of me. And if I take out the emotional component, if I simply report facts on the ground, then I’ve missed half the task that has been laid before me. Moreover, if I were to focus only on the good—and there has been plenty of good, don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly inspiring to witness and to hear about and to be able to partake—and I were to report only on the positive and inspirational and uplifting components of our newly-shaped life, then I would be disingenuous. I would be misrepresenting this new reality in which we find ourselves.

So I am baring my soul. I am writing with emotion and feeling and passion and fear and anger and tears all at once because I am trying to process. I don’t know any other way to process than to confront those emotions, than to acknowledge the pain and grief and fear and be willing to meet them head on to try and integrate them into my person to plug up the hole that is in my chest where my heart used to be. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if we never confront those emotions, if we never face those fears, then we aren’t really living. And even though, yes, we will never move forward, because we can never, will never, forget the atrocities of what has been forced upon us, if we are never able to express ourselves and to really, truly feel, then we will also never heal.

I’m not up to healing. Not even close. Not when this war has barely begun. Not when my friends and family are fighting for their lives, our lives, the future of the Jewish people and the future of the State of Israel. Not when over 200 of our brothers and sisters and grandparents and children—God help us, children!—are still in Gaza. Not when there are still families waiting to find out where their loved one is. Not when there are still families holding funerals day in, day out. Not when there are still families sitting shiva for someone who was killed for the sake of their being Jewish. Not when my beloved land still bleeds with the unfathomable pain of its people so brutally massacred. Not when we are still reeling because the death toll and number of casualties climbs ever higher. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.

I’m still in pain. I’m still hurting. I’m still heartbroken. I’m still scared. We all are. But we need to feel it. Lean into the pain, lean into the hurt, the heartache, the fear. Acknowledge it. Cry. Scream. But feel it. Really, really feel it. Because if not now, when? If we never feel it, if we never acknowledge it, if we never confront it, then how can we live? How can we ever heal?

This is my trying to process. You’re watching it in realtime. I’m still very raw, and that’s okay. But I am writing from the heart because that is the only way that I know how to be right now. And I hope that in my confronting our shared grief and rage and shock and horror and fear and pain, you will one day be able to process, too, and then we can together begin to find some small measure of comfort.

We’re not there yet. Not by a long shot. Our soldiers need to come home, first, before we can even begin to think about it. But if we are willing to feel it, then we’ll get there. One day. One day.

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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