Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: The Opening Act

Bik'at Hayarden, as viewed from Maaleh Gilboah, October 2, 2023
Credit: Author
Bikat Hayarden, as viewed from Maaleh Gilboah (Oct 2, 2023)

״שָׁבַת מְשׂוֹשׂ לִבֵּנוּ נֶהְפַּךְ לְאֵבֶל מְחֹלֵנוּ.״ (איכה ה:טו)

As I sit down to write this, it’s Monday morning here in Israel, and we are entering the third day of war. Not a special military exercise. Not an isolated terror incident. War. The streets are quiet. The schools behind me that should be bustling lay silent. Instead, the sounds we hear are of explosions, near and far, punctuated by fighter jets and helicopters overhead, the same soundtrack we’ve had for the last three days.

At 6:30 in the morning on שבת, which, here in Israel, was also שמחת תורה, I was woken by my aunt knocking frantically on my bedroom door that there is a siren in the area and to come quickly to the ממ״ד. As it turned out, that siren was not for this area specifically, but was close enough to wake her and for her to—rightfully—wake the rest of us. We piled in to the ממ״ד (which happens to be my cousin’s bedroom) in our pajamas, stayed in there for about 10 minutes until it felt safe to go out again, and then walked out of the house to see if we could figure out what was going on. And that’s when we heard it. And felt it. The barrage of rockets. Coming out of Gaza. Heading anywhere and everywhere. Just nonstop. For 10 minutes. 20. 30. An hour. Two.

All told, the barrage lasted nearly six hours, with approximately a 10 minute reprieve somewhere in there. I watched three Iron Dome defense missiles go up to intercept rockets. Thank God. I watched another two Iron Dome missiles find their targets in the air. Thank God. In total, we had six אזעקות in the span of three hours, which is completely unheard of for this area. And as all this is happening, all we know is that Israel is under attack, that it’s bad, but we don’t know anything else. Because it’s still שבת. And it’s still שמחת תורה. So the men went to shul, because that’s what you do, and many רבנים told the women and children to stay home, because that’s what you do, and rumors started trickling in because that’s what happens and suddenly we start piecing together the bigger picture of what’s going on and you don’t want to believe it because you can’t believe that there is fighting in the streets in Israel and that people have been taken captive and that even more are dead and that cities are overtaken but then you watch religious people driving through the streets on שבת and others running home from shul on their phones and you know that whatever you’ve heard isn’t anywhere near the worst of it.

By now, we all know what happened. A highly sophisticated, coordinated attack, on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, catching us by surprise as we were heading out to celebrate our annual finishing of the תורה cycle. Instead of celebration, there was mourning. Instead of joy, fear. But even in the midst of it all, there are moments that stand out for their beauty, even on that horrific first morning. As the first waves of reserve-duty soldiers were being called up, there was a group that was standing on the corner of our block, changing from their בגדי שבת to their מדים, because they were called up in the middle of הקפות, and packing themselves up to leave. People were bringing them food and drink, because everyone is watching as their sons and brothers and husbands and cousins are heading off to war and all we want to do is contribute in any way we can. And as this group of six soldiers is getting themselves ready, an impromptu הקפה breaks out, with Jews of every stripe joining in to dance on the street corner with these soldiers who are on their way out to defend Israel and the Jewish people.

There are more moments of beauty, of course. Like the constant stream of donations of food and dry goods to the soldiers who are on the front lines. Or the hours-long lines to donate blood. Or the canceling of בין הזמנים so that the spiritual fight can be waged with the same ferocity as the physical fight. Or the nonstop notifications of volunteer opportunities to do anything and everything imaginable. But the beauty is bittersweet, because at the end of the day, we are at war. And the soldiers who are out there fighting are ones who have lives. And families. One who had a baby 11 days ago. Another two who are newlyweds. One who missed the ברית of his newborn son. Another soldier who was supposed to be getting married now. Still another who simply had plans to hang out with a friend for the evening. All of them, like all 300,000 soldiers who were called up, yanked from their lives, and everyone in their lives suddenly finding themselves without their fathers, their brothers, their grandfathers, their friends, saying goodbye and not knowing when they will see them again. And that’s not to mention the hundreds—hundreds!—who were already killed, the thousands wounded, the incomprehensible number of those taken captive in Gaza.

Everyone has a role to play in this war. Everyone has their job. For the soldiers, that’s fighting. For the rest of us, that’s making sure they can fight that fight, whether here in Israel or anywhere in the Diaspora. Give, however you can. Spread the truth about what’s going on here. Daven, daven, daven. Have extra כוונה by the ברכה for שלום in שמונה עשרה, and say as much תהלים as you can. This is a war that will be fought on every front, and it needs every foot-soldier of the Jewish people to help fight it.

The soundtrack to my world right now is still the sounds of war. I’m still scared for my family and friends who are on the front. I’m still shattered by the staggering numbers of casualties. And I am still comforted by the Jewish people coming together as an עם אחד בלב אחד, כי אין לנו ארץ אחרת.

Please continue to daven 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

“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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