I recently returned from nearly five months in Israel. My experience there studying at a yeshiva, traveling the country, and later, volunteering in the war effort, was incredibly valuable. It was also filled with ups and downs. The hardest day in Israel for me was undoubtedly October 7th. I remember the confusion and fear that struck my yeshiva as we were celebrating Simchat Torah. I remember bringing the Torah down to the bomb shelter, singing and dancing so loudly that we could drown out the explosions of Iron Dome interceptions. And I remember breaking down aside friends as the holiday ended and we turned on our phones, seeing the horrible violence and destruction which occurred that day. Much has been said about October 7th, and I will never forget that day. However, I would like to focus on another important day: October 8th.
After a sleepless night, I arose on the morning of October 8th not knowing what to do, but knowing I had to do something. I was not yet in the Israeli WhatsApp and Facebook groups which would soon be used to coordinate volunteering. I knew that there was a Magen David Adom (MDA) building near the Jerusalem Central Station, so I decided I would go there and try to give blood, not knowing whether MDA would be open or not.
When I arrived to the area, I saw a massive line snaking down the street with hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people. They came from all backgrounds and sectors of Israeli society: Haredim in suits and black hats lined up next to datim in kippah srugas and secular people in shorts and t-shirts. As I took my place in line and waited, the heat began to bear down on everyone. Before blood donation, it is important to be hydrated, so the piercing sun was a problem. However, our concerns were alleviated when random people arrived to hand out popsicles, waters, and candies to people waiting in line. Apparently, these people saw the long lines and raced to the store and back, spending their own money to help out.
After waiting in line over four hours, I donated blood and was on my way. But I had not just left MDA with a little less blood; I had left with a little less despair and little more hope. Seeing how a country which had been deeply divided over judicial reform on October 6th could suddenly come together – how total strangers were helping one another – gave me a sense of optimism which has remained with me since. I could see clearly on that day that all the Jewish people were brothers and sisters who would look after one another when the going got tough: This was the spirit of October 8th.
The spirit of October 8th would stay with me as I volunteered throughout Israel. It was with me in repurposed warehouses and theatres, on farms and an army base, and even when I went to Mount Herzl cemetery or paid shiva calls. Everywhere I went, I could see people cast away their time and money to help the war effort and the families displaced from the north and south. I could see people working together across political and religious lines. In my yeshiva, students also had a greater sense of looking after one another and became more emotionally available than before.
Today on buses in Israel, one will hear, “Anachnu chazakim b’yachad,” which means, “together we are strong.” Indeed, Israel is strong when it is united. That is why for the Jews’ success as a people and Israel’s progress as a nation, the spirit of October 8th must endure even after the war is over. Amidst the terror and pain of war, there is so much to be said about October 7th. But let us not forget the importance of October 8th, which brought a hope for a future where there is less mudslinging and more bridge-building between different sectors of Israeli society.