Israel at war: This is my sacrifice

Sunset over Bet Shemesh, Israel (11 October 2023)
Sunset over Beit Shemesh, Israel, October 11, 2023. (courtesy)

I’m not sure if you’ve heard the news recently, but we’re kind of in the middle of a war here. (If that came as a surprise to you, what rock are you living under and can the rest of us join you there in peaceful oblivion for a minute’s rest.) Now, this is my first experience with war, at least firsthand. I’ve read a lot about war. Historical accounts, primary sources, secondary sources; I even followed the news with bated breath in realtime when Russia invaded Ukraine a year and a half ago. But I’ve never before lived it myself. I’ve never before felt the ground shake under my feet for hours on end as wave after wave after wave of rockets bombarded us for no reason other than to wipe out our very existence. I’ve never before watched a country mobilize as hundreds of thousands of reservists pulled out their green uniforms and went off to defend our land. I’ve never before felt such pride as the entire country pulled itself together to fight the fight of our lives, with everyone doing their part in whatever way they can.

To be clear, I’ve been here in Israel before when there were things happening. This was not my first experience with rocket attacks, so the sirens didn’t shake me as they may have done for other foreigners. I know how it feels to hear that first wail start up and make your way to the safe room. I’ve experienced the tension of living with that uncertainty, with the streets comparatively quiet as nobody goes anywhere unnecessary. I know the undercurrent of quiet fear that permeates the country that subdues everyone, even in joyous moments as people continue to make weddings because life—and the Jewish people—march ever forward. I know what it means to have trivial matters put into perspective because there are much larger things at stake. But I’ve never experienced war.

The thing about war is that it demands sacrifice. It’s easy to see what that sacrifice is in the thousands of soldiers who have pulled on their uniforms, strapped on their gear, loaded their guns, and gone off to fight. It’s easy to see what that sacrifice is in the mothers and fathers and spouses and children living on the edge of fear that is intermingled with a fierce pride for their soldier who is out there. It’s easy to see the sacrifice in those who have opened their homes to complete strangers coming in to help them pack up food for the soldiers. It’s easy to see the sacrifice in those who are part of convoys running between cities down south, running between the rockets, to make sure that those who are fighting are taken care of and get the things that they need. That sacrifice is easy to see.

The rest of us, though, are still called on to sacrifice in some way. I may not have sent my son or husband off to war (mostly because I don’t have a son or husband. Minor details), but that doesn’t mean that it is not also incumbent upon me to give up something of myself for the sake of the Jewish people. When your family calls on you, you don’t simply sit back and live life as though nothing is going on. When your family is in pain, you answer the call. The question that we have to ask ourselves, though, is how do we answer that call? For me, part of answering that call is the fact that I am still here in Israel rather than running away to the perceived safety of the States, to stay here with my people because you don’t set yourself apart from the nation, especially not in times of need. (To be clear: There is nowhere in the world that is safer for a Jew than Israel. Ever.) But frankly, that’s not really much of a sacrifice, because, as I mentioned, I want to be here. It’s hard to say I’m sacrificing when the sacrifice dovetails perfectly with what I would want anyway, because all I ever want is to be in Israel.

The real sacrifice, for me, will come with Shabbat. To put my phone down, to not see the news, to not be able to check in with my people on the front? That is my sacrifice. And I know from experience: As the resident non-Israeli, I was keeping two days of chag when the rest of Israel kept one. Under normal circumstances, it’s a little annoying, but it’s worth it because it means being in Israel for whatever holiday it is, plus I know that it’s only temporary until such time as I make aliyah. But this past weekend? When war broke out? That was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Because as night fell and Shabbat and chag ended, and the rest of the household pulled out their phones first to confirm our worst fears and then to find out who else was called up for duty, I sat on my hands. Literally. And as they made havdalah to usher in the new week, I made kiddush, taking a cup of wine and using it as a conduit to thank and praise God for giving me this holiday that in that moment I so desperately did not want to have because all I wanted to do was pull out my phone and check on my people who I knew in my bones had been called up but couldn’t confirm anything more than that because I couldn’t be on my phone. And I spent the next day alternating between pacing around the back porch, pacing around the living room, and pacing up and down the driveway, trying to work through the terror and anxiety of the not knowing and that I can’t do anything until the holiday ends and counting down the hours until such time as I could make havdalah so that I could then pull out my phone to confirm that they were still alive, because when all you can do is pace and worry, your mind jumps to the worst. And as night fell and chag ended for me, I made that havdalah that I couldn’t wait to make all day, and I sat down to drink the grape juice, and I almost spilled because my hands were shaking so hard, and I turned to my aunt and I whispered, “I’m terrified to turn my phone on.”

I turned my phone on. And I spoke to my people. But as we head into Shabbat again now, a week into this horrific nightmare, I’m terrified to go off the grid for 25 hours. Terrified. We have systems set up in the house to make sure that we’ll get any critical, life-saving information (silent radio stations ftw). But that’s not anywhere near knowing what’s really going on. That’s not anywhere near keeping up with what this explosion was or what that explosion was (although I have become oddly skilled in identifying the various explosions for what they are. It’s a rather niche ability, to say the least). And it’s certainly not anywhere near staying in touch with my people and knowing that they’re okay.

But this is my sacrifice. This is war. We are all called on to sacrifice in some way. And this is what I can do. I will make this personal sacrifice for God and the Jewish people, because that is what I am called on to do. I did it once. I will do it again. And, if necessary, again and again and again and again until this nightmare is ended, because that is what God is asking of me. As I said to one of my friends who is out fighting, I will keep Shabbat because he can’t right now, because there are thousands upon thousands of soldiers who are being asked to put aside Shabbat to defend Israel and the Jewish people. So I will keep Shabbat for them. I will make their sacrifice meaningful by sacrificing, as well.

I don’t know how the events of Shabbat will play out. I don’t know what will be. But I know that I won’t be getting anything that’s not in my immediate vicinity in real-time because I will go off the grid. As worried as I am. As terrified as I am. As anxious as I am. This is what I have been called upon to give. This is what God and the Jewish people demand of me.

This is my sacrifice.

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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