Rachel Gottlieb

Israel at War: Whatever It Takes

Jerusalem, Israel, October 22, 2023 (Photocredits: Author)

Okay. So. Deep breath. We’re in. Our soldiers have gone into Gaza. (Are you breathing? Because I’m not.) And I know it’s been a couple of days already but there’s something so heavy about verbalizing it, you know? Like if I don’t say it out loud then it’s not really real?

Yeah. It’s real. It’s real in the pictures that are coming out of Gaza. It’s real in the videos of our tanks trundling up against the Mediterranean Sea. It’s real in my messages that haven’t been delivered for a couple of days already and won’t be delivered for who knows how long. It’s real. It’s really, really real.

And it’s scary. Really scary. And I think it’s critically important for those of us on the sidelines to acknowledge that it’s scary for us. The fact that our boys are off fighting and they’re the ones who are dealing with the battle on the ground—literally—does not mitigate the fact that it is scary for us. The fact that they are experiencing more scary does not negate our scary. So if you, like me, are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for your messages to go through because that means that your guys have made it back out and are safe and sound for the time being and if for you, like me, that sitting and waiting is scaring you, then you, like me, are human. And you, like me, get to be scared, because this is our lived experience in this war and we need to acknowledge it and face it in order to be able to live with it.

Because we have to live. Please do not misunderstand me: I do not, God forbid, mean that we should go on with our lives as if everything is normal. Everything is not normal. Everything is far from normal. As I’ve said before, if we are living our lives as if everything is normal, then we are doing something wrong. We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable right now, especially those of us in the Diaspora, because we can never be satisfied “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” and our boys and our captives are home and we are all, as one people, on the other side of this nightmare. That does not, however, mean, that we are to put our lives on hold. That does not mean that we should become paralyzed by fear.

And I do not say this from myself. I say this from some of the guys that I’ve spoken to, some of the ones who are off fighting, who all gave the same message: They need to know that we are okay for them to be able to do what they have to do. They are fighting the fight of their lives right now. Actually, no: They are fighting the fight of our lives right now. But for them to be able to fight that fight, for them to do be able to do what has to be done, to focus on survival, to focus on winning, to focus on coming home, they need to be secure in the knowledge that those of us who are sitting on the sidelines are living. That we are okay. And that we are doing our small part in ensuring that their sacrifice, that their willingness to risk their lives, is meaningful. Because, remember: They are fighting for the future. They are fighting for us to be able to live. They are fighting, as one of my friends wrote on his grenade, to be חופשי בארצנו, free in our land, a sovereign people in our own state that, for all its faults and foibles, is beautiful and is ours.

If we don’t live, we are undermining our soldiers. If we allow ourselves to become paralyzed, if we don’t get out of bed in the morning, if we do not go through the motions of life, if we forget to take care of ourselves, then we have lost our half of the battle. Our job, for those of us sitting on the sidelines, is to support our soldiers in every way that we can. That support comes in many forms, yes, like the sandwiches or the snacks or the socks or the gear that we’ve all gathered and donated, and in the prayers that we offer up day in, day out. But it also comes in the form of giving our soldiers the peace of mind to know that they can focus totally and completely on the task in front of them because they do not have to worry about us. Because we will not forget them. That much I can promise. But we will live. Because that much we can also promise.

I want to be clear, though: When I say that we need to live, I do not mean that we cannot be afraid. I do not mean that we cannot cry. I do not mean that we need to be stoic and emotionless. Not at all. In fact, I mean the exact opposite. You see, strength takes many forms. It takes very clear form when it puts on a green uniform, straps on its gear, takes a deep breath, and marches into danger. It takes a very clear form when it volunteers to come from the Diaspora to Israel because this is war and Israel needs more medics. It takes a very clear form when it drives around the country, picking up soldiers who need to get to various places, or delivering packages to various army bases for the guys who need a little extra something.

But strength also takes its shape in the quieter form of those of us who embrace what it means to be human, who live with the fear and the anguish and the pain and the desperation of sitting on the sidelines, waiting. Strength takes its shape in our humanity, and in our choosing to live not in spite of that fear, but because of it. Strength takes its shape in our waking up in the morning, terrified for what today will bring, but getting out of bed anyway (however reluctantly) because we made a promise that we would fight our half of the battle so that our soldiers can fight theirs. Strength takes its shape when every second of every day we choose to live. Strength takes its shape in our doing whatever it takes to make sure that we do not become paralyzed by our fear, but we embrace it because it is part of what it means to be human, and because we are fighting for our humanity.

I’m still not breathing. I’m still terrified. My heart still hurts like it’s nobody’s business because I left my beloved Israel and I find myself so, so far away when all I want to do right now is be there for her and with her. But none of that contradicts the fact that I am still living. None of that stands in the way of my being alive. It is when I refuse to feel it, when I shut down that part of me, that I have lost my humanity. It is then that I have lost my fight. And I can’t do that, because I made a promise that I would support my soldiers and do my part to ensure that they can do theirs.

I will continue to feel that fear. I will continue to embrace that anguish. I will continue to live with the pain and the worry and the silence and I will feel it all because I refuse to go numb, because to go numb is to forget to live. And I made a promise. And I intend to hold to that promise.

And I ask you join me. Live with your fear. Live with your pain. Live with your worry. But don’t just live in spite of it. Live because of it. Embrace it for the sake of your soldier who is out there giving everything he’s got so that we can live, and if you don’t have a soldier of your own, then do it for one of mine. Embrace what it means to be human. Face the fear of sitting on the sidelines, waiting for our messages to go through. Acknowledge that it’s scary for us and that it’s okay that it’s scary for us.

But make sure you live. Our soldiers need to know that you’re living. Our soldiers need to know that you’re okay. Not okay-okay, because we cannot be okay until they come home. But okay enough because we have the strength to do whatever it takes to support them in this fight of our lives. In this fight for our future. In this fight for our humanity.

Embrace our fear. Embrace our pain. Embrace our strength.


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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