It’s been 68 days, and I’m still struggling to recover from October 7th.
Actually, I don’t think I’ve woken up yet from the sleep the night of October 6th.
I remember that evening so clearly, because it was the last time life felt real. It was Simchat Torah, and as we do every year, we celebrated the holiday at my in-laws. It’s our kids’ favorite day to go to shul, because every child receives a wrapped giftbag filled with sweets, and they get to run wild as we parade the Torahs through the streets.
I remember smiling at neighbors in their doorsteps as they clapped along, waving to us as we sang and called out “Chag sameach!”, making our slow pilgrimage through the back roads and the playgrounds and circling back to the synagogue. It was a beautiful, warm night. We were happy; we were light-hearted; life was ordinary. Our kids went to sleep late that night, as we only got home from the big family dinner around 11 P.M. As one mother of a hostage called it, “The sleep of the ‘before’”. That’s exactly what it was. Of course, I could never compare my sleep to her sleep, but I know what she means – none of us sleep the sleep of the ‘before’. Life for Israelis will never be what it was pre-October 7th.
One could argue whether Tel Aviv qualifies as having a winter – yet nights here can get down to the low 50s. It’s mid-December, but we sleep with our bedroom windows open, just to be sure we don’t sleep through a rocket siren. Some days we don’t have any sirens; some days we have two. Some days I just hear booms from a distance; some days the booms aren’t even bombs, it’s simply thunder or construction.
I’m not so worried about the rocket sirens when I’m by myself, because I know I can sprint to a shelter, if needed, in the allotted 90 seconds. It’s when I’m alone with my kids, outside, that I’m anxious. Sprinting with them isn’t really feasible, so I always have to know where the nearest shelter is. To that end I’ve compiled a list of the entry codes of several buildings around our neighborhood. We pretty much don’t leave the neighborhood.
I’ve become hypersensitive to sound. Aside from the booms there are the rumblings and buzzings of military aircraft and helicopters overhead, and other sounds I can’t identify. We have a new code of conduct in our building that anyone who wants to make a noise, whether drilling or pounding or what have you, has to alert the neighbors in advance. Even our seven-year-old asks, “What’s that?” every time there’s a sudden noise.
I try to exude calmness and nonchalance for the kids’ sakes, so that they’ll feel calm too. As if everything is normal, in the sense of what normal means to them. I know how much my emotion affects them. That’s actually one of the things I recall most vividly about the morning of October 7th: struggling to relay normalcy to our children, who in their minds had simply woken up on a Saturday morning and wanted breakfast as usual, while my brain was attempting to process the slaughter unfolding so close by, in real time, in whispered phone calls of desperation on live TV.
It’s been 68 days, so I should be in a different place emotionally by now. But here’s the thing. It’s not like 9/11, which essentially started and ended all on the same day. 9/11 was tragic and terrifying and heartbreaking. But October 7th hasn’t ended yet; there are still 138 hostages in Gaza. The female hostages who have been released have testified to both being sexually abused themselves as well as being told by other hostages, still in captivity, that they were sexually assaulted. Some of them may be getting raped even as I write these lines—if they’re still alive. So how do we go about our daily routine, taking kids to swim class and birthday parties and playdates, and eating in restaurants and meeting friends and drinking wine, when 138 Israeli men, women, and children are literally being tortured a mere couple hours away from us?
I can lose myself in despair whenever I think of the young Bibas boys. But then my mind flip-flops – if they’re the ones in hell, trying to survive and find a way to be strong, how can I let myself despair? Maybe I have a moral obligation to live and love and be positive, so that their sacrifice isn’t in vain. So then I feel guilty for being depressed. But if I try to have fun, I feel guilty too – how could I possibly feel happiness with all this pain around? And that’s not even to mention the terrible daily losses of our soldiers, our incredible, brave, good men. We know so many men in Gaza. Every morning I turn on my phone and read the names of the newly fallen with a sick feeling in my stomach, terrified that I’m going to recognize one of the names. I dread that day.
We fled Israel on October 7th, and returned on December 1st. After a short hiatus in Athens, we spent 52 days hosted by my sister and brother-in-law in Boston, which is no small amount of time. Yet looking back on it now, as my sister aptly described, it feels like it was almost a dream. That our kids and their cousins were taking their nightly baths together, riding off to school together, fighting over toys and mixing up toothbrushes and wearing each other’s clothes. The incredible Boston community that embraced us and brought us endless bags of clothes and toys and winter gear – giving us free memberships to the Jewish Community Center and free acceptance to the Jewish Day Schools. Did all of that really happen? Did I really up and leave my beloved Israel for nearly two months? Did our army intelligence really screw up so utterly, so unbelievably, so unforgiveably – how is any of this real?
Sitting here now in Tel Aviv, I must say, despite everything, it feels incredible to be home. Walking through our apartment door that first day back, being greeted by the happy purrs of our cats, getting reacquainted with the tiny details that you forget when you’re away for so long…it was so surreal I felt like I was on drugs (although that could have just been the jetlag). After two months in the cold Boston weather, my skin was starting to dry out and crack – I forgot how good the Tel Aviv sun feels, down to my bones. Even the sky felt somehow brighter, closer, as if I could reach out and touch it.
Our wonderful neighbors dropped by one by one, welcoming us home with homemade cake and pizza and challah. The backyard birds were chirping as they usually do; the blooming crocuses and irises filled the air with their sweet fragrance; our things were back in their rightful places; and it felt all too familiar—oh right, this is what our life looks like. There really is no place like home. And if this is the harsh reality we must face – I would rather face it from here.
People on both sides of the ocean have asked me why we left Boston, and it surprises me every time they do. Our intention was never to permanently move to the US. We left Israel because we were escaping danger; and when we saw that it was safe enough to do so, we naturally came home.
There are some things that still feel surreal, like the soldiers patrolling the neighborhood. Soldiers with their massive Tavor rifles guarding outside my kids’ preschool and elementary schools, and every school across the country. Ambulances have changed the tone of their siren, to make it more instantly distinguishable from rocket sirens. Security patrols are making local rounds, everywhere you look. The men out and about are, by and large, either over 40, teenagers, or in a uniform of some sort. The other day I walked past a young woman dressed to the nines, in heels and a sexy dress, her hair and face made up as if she was going to a red carpet event – with a huge machine gun slung over her back. So yeah, there are many moments that don’t feel entirely real.
One of the things I was most nervous about when returning to Israel after being away since the 7th was how life would feel now – how to reconcile daily mundane routine with the facts of what transpired. How to reconcile the country I love so much—the wonderful 14 years I’ve spent building beautiful memories here—with the brutal massacre that took place in our own homeland. How could all these things have taken place, in the same place? It’s the biggest mindf#ck I’ve ever had to wrap my head around. And I’m struggling with it.
I’m struggling with trying to envision how we move forward from here. How we keep ourselves safe, and protect future generations. Where to invest our efforts; and which sacrifices we must be willing to make. Here is the thing that Israel-haters fail to understand: we Jews love life, and love peace. Anyone who has ever been willing to make peace with us, gets it gladly: Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan (and Saudi Arabia, sortof). But when you have death-worshipping terrorists on a mission to destroy us, we are left with no choice but war. And that breaks our hearts.
I saw a photo that I haven’t been able to forget – of a man in Gaza mourning beside the bodies of his dead daughters. He could have been any dad I know; those girls could have been any girls we play with. Images like this break everyone’s hearts—all children are created equal, and all children deserve a good life. But what the anti-Semites like to conveniently forget is who started October 7th. Who brought on all this pain.
We have a son. I know our daughter will go to the army too; but I don’t begin to fathom accepting my son being a combat soldier one day. But why should my friend’s and neighbor’s sons go into combat, and not mine? Why should any of these moms have to make that ultimate sacrifice? And if none of us are willing to – then who will protect the Jews? What we saw on October 7th was nothing less than a picture of what happens to the Jewish People when our army is dysfunctional for four hours. That is exactly what we witnessed.
Which of course brings me to my next black hole – are we Jews destined to be hated, persecuted, and slaughtered forever and ever and ever? And if so – why? Is there nothing we can do to change that birthright? If I’m being totally honest, about the bottomless pit my thoughts can take me to in the middle of the night – in the face of this inescapable truth, is it even worth it to still be Jewish?
I know what my answer to that question is in the bright light of a beautiful sunny day in Tel Aviv, when my kids are riding their bikes down the boardwalk, the Mediterranean glistening beside us, while a street band plays “Am Yisrael Chai!” and I am reminded, as I am so many times by so many Hebrew melodies that touch my heart, how much I love this place. Almost illogically so – I love this land and this people and this life here, so much. We all do.
But what do we do with all the pain?