Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: The Sound and Fury of Everything

The eternal nation (Photocredits: Author)

Okay. It’s time to come clean. They say the first step to solving an issue is admitting that you have one, right? So I am here to admit it: I have a problem. This is one of those problems, though, that I have absolutely no idea how to go about solving.

You see, it’s a problem with time. Not time management, although heaven knows I have the time management skills of a potato. How I’ve ever managed to accomplish anything is beyond me. No, this is just straight up an issue with following along as time marches forward and keeping up with it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

For example:

  1. This past Thursday, in one of my classes, I put the date up on the board, and one of my students respectfully informed me that I had gotten the date wrong. And I was absolutely shocked—shocked, I tell you—when she pointed that out, not because I had made a mistake, because I do that all the time, but because I had been laboring under that delusion the entire day with complete certitude. And it’s not like I had to know the date, for any good reason, or like I regularly know the date in general. It just happened to be that on Thursday morning I randomly knew, well and certain, that it was November 24, and then my world was rocked when I was informed, many hours into my day, that it was November 23.
  2. For the last five weeks, like clockwork, I have discovered at some point during the day on Tuesday that it is, in fact, Tuesday. Because every single Tuesday I spend a good portion of the day thinking it’s Wednesday. Do you know how brutal it is to have to do Wednesday again? Imagine going to the dentist to get your tooth pulled, and then you wake up the next morning and discover that you have to do it again. And then the next week, you’ll be doing that again. I’m basically out of teeth by now.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about whatever it was that was going on that day, where the event in question was a weekly occurrence. And I confidently said, “Well yeah, that’s what happens on Wednesdays,” and began moving on to my next thought before I was yanked back, like a fish on a hook, with a quiet laugh and a reply: “It’s Thursday.” (At least with that one I was a day behind. That joy of jumping one day closer to Shabbat is unparalleled.)

I’m laughing at myself as I write all of this, wondering if perhaps I shouldn’t publish it, because I sound like the world’s biggest airhead. I will grant that, in the best of times, I don’t necessarily always know the date or the day of the week off the top of my head, simply because it doesn’t matter  when I have routine to ground me, so I just don’t necessarily pay attention because I have more important things to focus on, and time will march on and take me with it regardless of my knowing exactly where we currently fall in the year. (Although I always know full well where we are in relation to summer. We teachers most certainly earn our summer break.) But I promise, and my friends can testify, I am actually a decently intelligent human being and I am fairly with it, even if I do have my moments of utter hilarity because, well, sometimes I am an airhead (self-deprecating humor ftw).

This inability to keep track of time, though, has ballooned since October 7. Exponentially. Time, which is a fixed construct, is clearly not fixed at all, because our experiences with time is entirely subjective and changes based on what is happening on a day to day experience. When your days are packed and you are focused in and living moment by moment, time expands and you cannot believe that the day you are ending is the same one that you started because the day has been months long already. And that’s how it’s been for the last more-than-seven weeks now, where I can only live for each day because there’s no thinking ahead of what is right here, right now, and I can’t even live for each day but I can only live for each moment because to think beyond this very moment is to think into an unknowable and unfathomable and sometimes really, really scary-looking future. So my world has been shrunk down to the moment, to a series of ever-evolving presents because the past is gone and the future is not yet but I will get there because it will come to me. (So much so, by the way, that routine now with one of my soldiers is I’ll message him to let him know I’m thinking of him, he asks how I am, I respond with the Hebrew, “יום יום, day by day,” then, when I ask how he’s doing, he replies with the inevitable, “שעה שעה, hour by hour.”)

When I get so caught up in the moment, though, I’m startled by the passage of time. I’m startled to look up and discover that it’s been more than seven weeks since this war started. I’m startled to look up and it’s been over a month since I got back to the States. I’m startled to look up and it’s less than two weeks until I’m back in Israel. And on the one hand, it’s healthy to stay in the moment and to not get too far ahead of ourselves and when we focus in on the here and now then we can accomplish in ways we never thought we could. But on the other hand, hyper-focusing carries with it the danger of losing sight of the bigger picture. Where, yes, I can be severely startled to look up and discover that it’s only the 23rd, and not the 24th, or that it is, in fact, not the day of the week I was thoroughly confident it was. (Maybe I’m just overconfident. A dose of humility could be the antidote here.)

What’s making me really think about this right now (outside of the fact that I really do have a problem) is the hostages who are, thank God, coming home. (As an aside: I’m so confused by the word I’ve been seeing used in relation to the hostages. All over, I keep seeing them referred to as abductees. Can we just call them as they are? Hostages? Prisoners of war? Where did this abductees come from? Are we trying to sterilize the situation?) As I write this, it is Sunday night, November 26 (I double checked), and there have been three groups of hostages that have come home. With each group that has been released, there have been pictures and videos of families reuniting that move me to tears with captions that include how many days it’s been since they saw each other. How many days that these hostages were languishing in Gaza. How many days it’s been since they were stolen from their beds. How many days it had been since they tasted freedom.

And what about the ones who are still in that darkness? How much longer will it be before they come home? How many more tomorrows will creep in this petty pace from day to day before the last syllable of their recorded time in captivity sounds? How many more moments of the present will they have to endure before they can begin thinking about living with a future? And my heart breaks for them, because time is marching forward but they are stuck because they have been forcibly yanked outside the stream of time and nobody knows how long it will be until they can make it back and join us, once again. And I worry about them.

But you know what goes along with time? Memory. And we Jews have a long memory. We do not forget that 85 years ago this past month marked the beginning of the end for European Jewry with the shattering of windows of businesses and homes, with the burning of synagogues and Torah scrolls, with the systematic arrest of Jewish men, with stars of David painted to mark this location as belonging to, well, less than a PNG, because to be a persona non grata, you’d have to first be a persona. We did not forget what it meant when that star was forced upon us, and so on October 28, 1948, we took that symbol and forever made it our own. We did not forget, when we said never again, about the tattoos on our grandparents’ arms, some of those grandparents who found themselves living through the very same nightmare that saw them tattooed in the first place.

The thing about time, though, is that a nation of eternity will not be defeated by time. We live in and with time, yes, because we are still human, but on a national level, we transcend time. I’ve had a line from a song stuck in my head for the last couple of days that captures this sentiment exactly. It’s six simple words, but they say so much: עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה. The eternal nation is not afraid of the long road. Because we’re not. We’re fighters. We’re tenacious. We are victorious. And we are eternal. We are afraid for our brothers and sisters whose tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow are full of sound and fury, because they do not belong languishing in the dark night of captivity, but they should be marching forward with us, shoulder to shoulder, carrying the torch of the nation that has ever risen from the ashes of despair. And although I can’t really think too far into the future because the only way I can live right now is moment to moment, I hope and believe that they will come home in the very, very, very near future, and that we can follow in their lead as they bring us to better times.

This sound and fury, though? That noise that you hear now? That’s the sound of a nation that will not go gentle into that good night. That’s the sound of a nation that, time and again, has raged, raged against the dying of the light to the point that they—we—have rekindled that light from a few dying embers. It’s the sound of our soldiers rattling around all day and all night in their gear. It’s the sound of our civilians marching to raise awareness to the plight of the hostages, to demand that they be brought home. It’s the sounds of joy as children run into their parents’ arms, where they rightfully belong.

Shakespeare was wrong. It’s the sound and fury that signifies everything.

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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