Orna Raz

The Ghosts of 1973: Invisible Wounds

Two days after the end of Operation Protective Edge as a great  number of Israeli soldiers face a future laden with guilt and full of fears, and on the same day that a new book about the 1973 war (The Revenge Of The Triumph) is released, I feel that this is an opportunity to revisit  some of  consequences of the Yom Kippur  war.

At a family event I heard that my second cousin died recently. We were not in touch, he was quite a few years older than me. I remember the time when my parents took me to visit his family in the kibbutz. I was still a child, and he was already a good looking young man with a kind smile.

Like many other Kibbutizniks (people from a kibbutz) back then, he was, what we called, “the salt of the earth.” So naturally when he enlisted in the Israeli army, he gave his best to his country by becoming an officer.

Then came October 1973 and the Yom Kippur War. My cousin fought in the Golan Heights as a commanding officer. For his “courage, presence of mind, resourcefulness and leadership,” he received the highest Israeli military decoration. But later I heard that when he came back from the war, he was never the same.

My cousin was recognized as suffering from PTSD (post- traumatic stress disorder), but many other men who took part in the war were not diagnosed and did not get help. For most of us the war was about those who died and not about the lucky ones who survived. And since so many young men did not come back from the war it made sense.

In the mid 1990s an Israeli Sociologist, Edna Lomsky Feder, studied the way Israeli men perceived  the Yom Kippur War. At that time, the men who survived the war were already in their forties. She interviewed 63 men about the effect of the war on different aspects of their life: world view, family life, intimacy with the partners, work, social life and the medical and mental condition.

Lomsky Feder published her research in the book As Though There Was Never A War (1998), and shared the conclusions in a long  interview in Ha’aretz Magazine.  She reported that after conducting ten interviews she was amazed that “all but two said that there was no real drama, that life went on, and that I was just making a big deal about it.” 75% of the 63 men said  that the war wasn’t a traumatic event and that it hasn’t affected their personal, family and professional life but only their political world view.

I am a year younger than Lomsky Feder, she graduated from high school in 1971, the class that suffered the heaviest losses in the war. In her research she interviewed men her age, who came from a similar background to her own. She is, what Michael Walzer calls a “connected critic,” that is, a member of the community who chooses to observe and write critically about people who are largely like herself. Such a critic is neither emotionally nor intellectually detached from the group and holds principles similar to theirs.

Her findings, as detailed in the interview, were relevant to all of us, and for me they were the first clue to understanding one of the main problems of my generation.

Although, as was evident in Lomsky Feder’s study, most Israeli men did not acknowledge the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, often their lives told a different story. Our generation got married in the late 1970s and then had children. Throughout the years we observed as some of our most promising contemporaries did not live up to their potential. Others had real and unexpected challenges: they dropped out of university, couldn’t hold a job, had difficulties sleeping at night, and had short temper, among others. Moreover, we couldn’t understand why people, who we thought we knew well, became unreliable and unsatisfactory family member, or got divorced.,

These men and their families are the belated addition to the list of casualties of the Yom Kippur War, and their invisible wounds have remained untreated.

In Israel we have had our share of traumas, many Yom Kippur soldiers were children of Holocaust survivors. As always, the Holocaust is present here as well: we tend to measure every aspect of our life by comparing it to the Holocaust.Thus, it is only natural that  75% of the men in Lomsky Feder’s research down played the effects of the war on their lives.

Or in the words of one of the men in the interview: “each generation has its own war.” Sadly 40 years later the ghosts of ours are still here with us.


About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. .
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