Yoni Alon
Makes a delicious schnitzel

My first war

In the Second Lebanon War (2006), I had just finished high school. In Operation Cast Lead (The 2009 Gaza War), I was a platoon commander in an IDF combat boot camp. In Operation Protective Edge (The 2014 Gaza War), I was a JAFI Shaliach at a Colorado Jewish summer camp. Here, finally, I also find myself in a war, my first war. I wonder if this will be the last, but my gut tells me: ‘No’.

I didn’t have my reserved service bag ready and waiting. I didn’t prepare for it. I didn’t have an ’emergency gear’ in the closet since the scenario where my unit is recruited in an emergency call-up seemed completely different, more like the ‘Third Lebanon War’ style with Hezbollah precision missiles dropping on the IDF Campus in Tel Aviv. Hence, when my commander called me at 11 a.m. on October 7th (knowing he is a Shabbat-observant person) and said, “Come!” – I sensed mixed feelings of surprise and anger, as is probably expected from someone who, in one moment, loses control of his life; a person whose life is suddenly diverted into another path, an unplanned one. At 11 a.m. that Saturday, I had no comprehension of the magnitude of the event. It took me a couple of days to understand that me and my fellow officers and soldiers were at a historic point, how historic? Time will tell.

The terrorist who does not stop to ask: “Excuse me, sir, are you FOR or AGAINST the Judiciary Reform?”. It blows my mind, time and time again, that only when seeing the river of blood and tears do we unite and put our differences aside. As a friend told me a few days into the war, “Our enemies in Gaza are not particularly smart, they didn’t coordinate it with Hezbollah, and they actually took us out of a state of disagreement into unity and a sense of togetherness. They should have consulted with someone first about it.” So, here we are again – in our unit, in uniform: right-wing and left-wing, religious and secular, Jews and non-Jews, with our brothers the Druze, fighting shoulder to shoulder without a trace of former controversies. What about the home front arena? Well, there is nothing more to write about this since it has been discussed, reviewed, and photographed from every angle. The unity and sense of togetherness surpasses all imagination. What will happen after the war? It is not clear. I’m afraid it won’t last long.

What one sees from here cannot be seen from there. I think it was on the eighth day of the war when a friend wrote me, “I’m afraid that terrorists would enter my home in Northern Tel Aviv and kidnap me and my family.” At first, I thought she was joking, but after a short while, I understood she was serious. Although I realized how serious she was, I could not understand how someone who lives in Northern Tel Aviv could fear for her life and the lives of her children like that. The thought seemed delusional and irrational to me. Why? Because here on the Northern border, in the IDF reservists’ spirited atmosphere, the thoughts and feelings are radically different from what is felt on the home front. How? Here, we feel the extraordinary strength of the IDF. The resilience, responsibility, talented commanders, high-quality gear, resources, and a robust system that functions like a nervous bear that someone has woken up. And the intelligence? The intelligence is simply extraordinary in quality, precision, and technological splendor. With this feeling of resilience, I read about a woman in Northern Tel Aviv who fears for her life and whose personal security has been compromised, which explains the strong dissonance I felt. On the one hand, this is the disassociation that exists between the battlefront and the home front. On the other hand, the home front’s security has been seriously compromised; the image of the IDF has been severely damaged. This is the fundamental agreement that the State has with its citizens – an agreement that went up in flames on October 7th and now must be re-arranged, which won’t be easy.

To succeed in spite of everything and to be able to look years forward. I’m not one to get attached to feelings of revenge, never have been. I constantly remind myself, after watching a video of a successful IDF strike, to also take a look at a Palestinian video and see how this military action is affecting the citizens of Gaza. I remind myself that the IDF, with its commitment to high values, at its core, has always placed a buffer between its moral principles and the moral principles of its enemies. A beautiful phrase I keep chanting to myself while in uniform, and I don’t remember where it came from, is: “On the battlefield, the moment you lower yourself to the moral level of your enemy – is the moment of the beginning of your loss”. We bear responsibility for the type of victory that will take place here; for the type of combat that will take place here. This responsibility is directed toward our children and, even more so, towards the other side’s children. In cruel and boundless combat, we actually create the next generation of terrorists who will rise up against our children – the soldiers who will fight 15-20 years from now. We owe it to our children, who are the soldiers of tomorrow, to withstand this moral obligation – for those who will be there on the future battlefield are not us – but them. This war should be powerful, right, precise, one that leaves behind it awe, but not revenge.

A word about Diaspora Jews. Their support? Unprecedented. In the scope of their donations, in statements, the arrival of more than 30 emergency delegations, and the relentless backing. In the first week of the war, I was assigned to the night shifts in our ‘war-room’ and found myself during my coffee breaks on the phone with South Africa, California, New York, Colorado, and England – dear Jews who simply had to hear what was happening to me and how my family was doing. This war also flooded the gaps regarding the way non-Israeli Jews view what happened here and the way they think about Israel in general. Those who were here in Israel and had a significant experience with Israelis or met Israelis for significant, long encounters in summer camps or other settings – these are Jews who hold us dear in their hearts, and for whom Israel is not an abstract thing. For them, Israel is “Yoni Alon”; it is “Roy, whom I met in the camp”; it is “Dafna, who sat next to me on the Birthright bus.” For those who never spent significant time in Israel nor had any significant relationships with Israelis – for them, Israel is an occupier, a foreign colonialist force, an entity, and a collection of betrayed ideas that were sold to them under the guise of a “Zionist dream wrapped in Hummus and camels,” but in fact, it is a negative and unacceptable product – and it’s time to push it to the sidelines and even protest against it. There is, of course, a large group that is silent, either out of shame, confusion, or indifference.

Some might leave and others will come. I foresee, at the end of this war, as happened after the Yom Kippur War, a considerable trend of Israelis who will migrate (or relocate, as it is commonly named) elsewhere, mostly to North America and Western Europe. Alongside them, I expect a significant wave of new immigrants, of Olim, coming into Israel. Those who relocate? Secular Jewish Israelis, people with means, that will say to themselves: “I’m fed up with the Jewish story and I choose my personal safety and that of my family first. I choose to put the Jewish story aside, hence I am now moving to North America or Portugal. I’m done for the time being with the Israeli story.” The new immigrants? Tens of thousands of Jews for whom this war significantly affected their personal safety in their places of residence and reminded them that at the end of the day, they are ‘Jews in the Diaspora’, anti-Semitism does not belong in the past of classical Europe, but in this day and era. These newcomers are not troubled by the statistical fact that shows how Israel is actually the most dangerous place in the world for Jews (if you take a cold look at the numbers), since they are starting to realize that it is the only place in the world today where a person can celebrate with 100% wonder and pride the fact of him or her being Jewish. This is the place where one can raise a Jewish family most optimally, from a spiritual and cultural point of view. So it’s true, it is dangerous here, but many will argue it is the place where the Jewish soul reaches maximum prosperity.

That’s it for now, as I’m marking the 50th day of this war and 72 days of me being on uniform this year, serving in the IDF reserved system – when will it end? How many more days? Time will tell.

To the memory of my friend Shachar Izz Kadman, a former JCC Ranch Camp Shaliach, who lived his last day on October 7th, 2023, and left us with beautiful memories and stories.

About the Author
Yoni Alon is an Israeli consultant and educator who has been building bridges between Israelis and non-Israelis for over a decade. He began his journey as an Israeli JAFI Shaliach/Emissary in Denver. During his seven years in the IDF (Maj res.), he supported the comprehensive cooperation between the IDF and the U.S. military and served in the border region of Gaza and Egypt. In the last eight years, he has been leading educational projects in the fields of Jewish and Israel education for NGOs and government organizations, including Masa, JAFI, ANU Museum, WZO, Momentum Unlimited, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Kaleidoscope and more. Yoni is the creator of David Cards - A thought-provoking toolkit for Jewish and Israel educators seeking to inspire meaningful discussions about Jewish identity, Israel, and Jewish Peoplehood.