Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: There Is No Moving Forward

Jerusalem, Israel (4 October 2023)
Jerusalem, Israel (4 October 2023) (Photocredits: Author)

We need to talk. We need to have that conversation that everyone shies away from. We need to talk about the pain, the grief, the loss, the heartache. Because I don’t know about you, but I find it overwhelming and consuming and utterly devastating every time I stop moving. We’re talking over 1,200 Israelis killed, and that number will keep climbing, not just because we’re at war, but because we haven’t been able to get to everyone yet. Do we realize what that means? Adjusted proportionately, that’s the equivalent of over 44,000 Americans. I’ll say it again, in case you missed it: Forty. Four. Thousand. Just take a second to try and process that. It’s staggering.

Okay, but now we need to put that into perspective, because Israel isn’t the United States. Not by a long shot. For one thing, the entire country is smaller than the state of New Jersey in terms of square mileage. For another, we’re a family here. Sure, we have a tendency to bicker. And granted, standing in line is a figment of some poor, innocent foreigner’s imagination. Until, that is, it comes to time to stand in hours-long lines to donate blood in times of war because it’s your father, your brother, your cousin, your husband, your friend who has been sent off to fight or who lives down south and you don’t know where they are or who went to a party and now they won’t be coming back.

It’s a small country. And there is no one here who is not somehow closely linked to someone directly involved. As a friend of mine said, “I’ve never been this affected by so many people in my close circles. It’s insane.” It’s not just insane. It’s staggering. You try to process, and you can’t, because your mind is reeling at this person you know and that person you met and the other one who you were acquainted with for, like, five minutes but now you want to reach out even though it’s been seven years because you just can’t process and right now you need to hold on to as many of your people as you possibly can. And you take comfort in your people, because what else can you do, but you’re simultaneously terrified that they’ll be caught up in the ravages of war but what else are you supposed to do but hold your people close because where else do you find comfort in times of anguish than with your family?

In short: We’re in pain. Deep, deep pain. The kind of pain that is impossible to understand if someone isn’t personally experiencing it. And we’re not okay. We’re going through some of the motions of life, because to give up is to let them win and there is zero chance—zero—that we will ever let them win, but it’s like we’re sleepwalking right now. The grief is tangible. The heartache is palpable. You can feel it in the air as you walk through the streets, as everyone puts their heads down and quietly goes about their business, a little bit more tense than usual, but that tension manifests in a little extra kindness to the stranger who isn’t really a stranger because we’re one extended family going through the same grief and loss and heartache.

The thing is, though, that the one who has never experienced this simply doesn’t get it. Late Monday night, I found myself in a Zoom session with a group mostly composed of American Catholics from throughout the US (don’t ask, long story). They took some time to pray for me, for us, for Israel before getting into the content of the meeting, and I was extremely touched that they cared enough to ask and to pray. After the two minutes of silent prayer and reflection were completed, many of the participants wrote messages of comfort in the chat, reinforcing how much they care. One well-meaning individual, who simply doesn’t know any better, commended me for “moving forward even in this difficult time.” When I saw that comment, I had to scrape my chin off the floor because my jaw had dropped so low. Moving forward? Moving forward? Do you think I can ever move forward? Do you think I can ever forget this sort of heartache? Do you think that we can simply wipe our hands clean of this horror, as if the victims weren’t all our brothers and sisters? Do you know how it feels to have a hole in your heart so enormous that it feels like your cousin can drive his tank straight through it?

You don’t move forward from something like this. You don’t move on. It cuts too deep. Instead, you develop scar tissue. The wound closes, and the incessant bleeding eventually stops, so it’s not quite as raw as it once was. But it stays as a scar. Forever. The pain won’t be quite as acute one day. And that’s a good thing. But we’ll always have a reminder of it in the form of that scar tissue that will form over that gaping hole in our hearts. And we’re not there yet. We’re still bleeding. It’s still as raw as it can get.

We’re still in pain. Rightly so. And there is no moving forward. Rightly so. One day we’ll develop scar tissue and be able to live with the wound. But we’re not there yet. And that’s okay. It’s okay that we’re hurting. It’s okay that we’re not okay. It’s okay that we’re in pain. And it’s okay that there is no moving forward. It’s okay that we will never forget our brothers and sisters and friends and cousins.

We’re in pain. We’re in pain. And it’s okay.

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

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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