The collective spirit and soul of my brothers-in-arms of the 13th Battalion (G’DUD GID’ON) of the Golani Brigade, still lives within me. It will live within me until my last breath. It is no surprise then that as Yom Kippur approaches, as it does every year, and as it has for me for the past 44 years now, that memories wash over me like a waterfall.
The quiet. I remember the quiet and the tranquility that preceded that fateful day, also a Friday. It was October 5th 1973. A warm day that was about to blend into a warm Friday evening. I had come home to my Kibbutz, a collective farm just north of the Gaza Strip. I had another week or so to complete my mandatory military service. My friends, my brothers remained in Fortress 104 on the Syrian border. I had left them there, saying my farewells to them.
Little did I know that I would see them again under very different circumstances.
The Kibbutz was part of a socialist movement called Shomer HaTzair. There would be no fasting on Yom Kippur. The late afternoon turned to evening, as people began to gather in the communal dining room for the Friday evening meal. There was some conversation about a few young men who had been summoned back to their units. They were “Special Forces” members, and it was not unusual for them to be called back for whatever a particular state of preparedness demanded. No one paid any attention to that.
Saturday morning arrived with warmth and sunshine. October 6th 1973 was Yom Kippur throughout Israel and the Jewish world. There was no radio broadcast, no music, no news on the hour every hour. It was silent.
There was no television, as the only one or two television stations also observed silence in honor of the serious nature of this holy day. Perhaps the atmosphere was different at Command Central and in the Northern and Southern Command Centers. I certainly felt no anxiety.
I had been on the front line, the Syrian border for many months. I had observed and reported my observations. I had been sent from Fortress 104 to Tel About Neida and along with some Intel Corps guys we had seen the massive build up of Syrian troops right in front of us. Thousands of troops. Hundreds of tanks. Trucks bringing supplies and personnel. I left that behind because my mandatory service was about to end.
The calm and the warmth of that calm was soothing. I sat in front of my little room, reading, drinking coffee, whiling away the morning before heading to the communal dining room for lunch. There was no fasting on Yom Kippur…
I don’t know what prompted me to turn on the little radio in my small room and turn the dial to look for any kind of broadcast at all. It was almost 2 in the afternoon, and then I found a BBC radio station that identified itself with several beeps. “Egyptian and Syrian troops have mounted a massive offensive against Israel. Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal attacking all along the Israeli defenses. Syrian troops have crossed into Israeli held territory on the Golan Heights.”
A siren ripped through the air as I rushed, along with many other members of the kibbutz to the communal dining hall. The head of the defense committee made a somber announcement that all soldiers, reservists or regulars, should rejoin their units immediately.
I ran back to my room. I changed into my uniform, threw some basic toiletries and change of clothing into a duffel and headed for the road. I had to get back to the base where just a few days ago I had signed out my weapon, my ammunition and all of the gear I had while on the Syrian border, while serving in Fortress 104.
The air was no longer tranquil. It was charged with an anxious electricity and a growing sense of dread. Within literal minutes of my reaching the highway I got a ride, and then another and yet another. I entered the base that housed the logistics of the 13th Battalion. The quartermaster filled my duffel and I signed my name to my weapon and my ammunition belt and all of the necessary gear to get back to my platoon.
The quartermaster said that everyone that had been sent on leave was meeting up in Rosh Pina, and that I would find members of my platoon there.
Again, there was no waiting for a ride. As soon as I stood by the highway the next vehicle stopped and as I exited it, another came and then another. I reached Rosh Pina, found the members of my platoon and began together we realized that we would have to find some way to join our brothers fighting for their lives in Fortress 104.
No one slept. As night fell on Rosh Pina we had a clear view of the fires and explosions that raged in the Golan Heights. With the greatest uncertainty, trepidation and yes, I dare to say it, fear of the unknown, we knew that for those of us who would live through the next days, weeks and months, our lives would never be the same.