Avi Ganz

The War Chronicles: It’s been a week….

Updates.  Just updates…..

Thursday was a new day….aren’t they all?  But I must say that these days have been running one into the next and from my angle, Thursday seemed like a continuation of Wednesday.  Woke up.  Checked news (what did I miss in the three hours since I finally passed out?).  Checked on the kids (2 have taken to sleeping late during all this and another 2 have been waking up as early or earlier as they had been before the Sukkos break).  Shacharis.  We’ve been saying a somewhat abridged version of Avinu Malkeinu at Shacharis and Mincha in addition to extra Tehillim and prayers for the wounded, the captured, and the soldiers.  Breakfast.  And then the day begins.  Of course, with the kids out of school and my wife and eldest child putting in long hours trying to offer some comfort to the displaced residents of The South ™, the day seems to be a hazy version of human ping pong but with many balls in the air at once.  Many of the regular activities are limited or impossible altogether as there is no security at our favorite Maayanot (cool springs) and no bomb shelter….many stores are closed…..the parks aren’t as full as usual.  It seems that this is the nature of being at war:  no matter how many optimistic videos, memes or pictures, we are still at war.  We have still engaged the enemy as a result of the brutal massacre they perpetrated and they are still focused on wreaking havoc.  We attempt as much normal as possible but still have to contend with how much is NOT normal.  Not at all.  It’s also not a “new normal”.  It is the absence of normal and that is where we are and what we do.  On Thursday I spoke with a dear friend – actually, spoke with is an exaggeration.  I texted him to check in……and he told me that he had spent the last five days working with the ZAKA organization as they needed to mobilize tremendous manpower to respectfully transport and ID the murder victims in The South.  Given the media coverage and appalling images, do the math.  How does one bounce back from that?

In the afternoon, I asked my daughter (the one who has been volunteering to run a “command center” of sorts as they make and take calls in order to find comfortable and suitable housing for the hundreds of families who have been displaced) if we could arrange to play some music for these families and she was excited by the idea.  So I made a few calls and we were set to play a musical Kabbalat Shabbat in Yerushalayim the next day.  I must be honest.  Other than hearing that the grocery stores were now finally running at at least 60% capacity, I do not recall much more of Thursday.  But I do remember Friday.  The 7th day of the war…..

In war, it seems, everyone does something.  While the focus is, of course, on the soldiers, their families, and those geographically closest to the front, everyone is affected:  The supply chain has been hit as employees have been either drafted or are filling in other roles in the family.  Kids are not in school so another parent or a sibling is filling in with a supervisory role that is often not the standard one.  Shopkeepers are doing their part to fill critical orders (whether food or tactical gear, or anything else) and emergency draft orders don’t pay much attention to one’s regular job.  In an effort to do his part, my friend Gilad asked for anyone to steer him in the direction of families from The South who may benefit from some of Gilad’s music.  He explained that finding these opportunities allowed him to contribute to the war effort since, as a musician, he would not be called up for active combat in the reserves. Everyone wants to do their part.  We’re all in this together.  We are all affected by this together.  It is not about him or her or them, but about us and we.  Every single one of us.  So we sent out a flyer and invited the recently and temporarily relocated families from The South and kugel was ordered and plans were made.  Meanwhile, in the local supermarket, I was surprised to meet may of my peers helping with stocking the shelves or manning the checkout counter.  Mind you, many of these people are gainfully employed and/or business owners.  But let’s face it: if you can’t get the eggs from the truck to the storage room to the shelf, no one will have eggs.  And if there was no one to man the checkout counter, the lines would be longer and kids would be stressed so their parents would also be stressed and that is NOT pleasant.  Everyone takes a part.

Friday afternoon our musical Kabbalat Shabbat took place: another friend picked up the kugel and some snacks, I connected with someone I’d met in an entirely different context who now opted to stay in Jerusalem (he was visiting for the Chag) and help a few families with housing and….well….life.  He is a Tzaddik.

On our way home, we handed out more Kugel to the combat-ready soldiers all along the route and then prepared for Shabbos at home…..but with the Homefront command app downloaded and my phone on me for the first time ever:  As a medical first-responder for more than a decade, I’ve never felt that I was terribly necessary on Shabbos as our community is home to dozens of EMTs and doctors.  But now that most of those have been called up, I was advised to keep mine with me.

Shabbos was nice.  Quiet.  But almost too quiet….we’ve grown accustomed to knowing what is happening as it happens and 25 hours without a news report was somewhat nerve-wracking.

Sunday was the start of a new week and a new month.  Late on Saturday night, friends of ours reached out to inform us that they had made the decision to celebrate the occasion of their son’s Hanachat Tfilin (the first time he put on Tfilin) at the Kotel the following morning.  While celebrating with friends would normally be enough of a reason to attend, under the circumstances, the main reason we went (they know this) was to get the kids out of the house for a change of scenery and a slightly broader group of friends with whom to hang out – if only for an hour.

The davening was lovely, the Kotel almost empty, and the parking lot at Zion Gate almost full…..which meant we got a spot.  After Davening, the small group went out for breakfast and a fight broke out at the bagel shop: a customer wanted a product they couldn’t provide and within 2 minutes, the customer, her son, and one of the store’s employees were crying.  Shouting, accusations, name-calling, threats of physical violence, and the ever-popular intangible spiritual threats (“You’ll wish you were redeemable!  Just wait until Moshiach comes!”  – I wish I was kidding) were all present.  Kids were scared, it was terrible.  And that’s another thing about war.  Tensions are high.  Logic or at least logical behavior can take a back seat and so many people are suffering even if their wounds are not the sort directly inflicted by terrorists.  For every beautiful story or optimistic anecdote (I’ve seen several that were entirely misinterpreted and others that quoted soundbites from 15 years ago as if they were said yesterday) there is someone out there who is at their wit’s end.  They are worried about lost income, having a hard time with restless and anxious kids, are spending too much time in close proximity to the neighbors, and so much more.  Fear is most often an expression of discomfort related to dissonance: we are afraid of what we don’t know and this is a whole lot of unknown.  Stay optimistic…..and also stay sensitive.  The common problems don’t usually make the news…

Speaking of news, the fact that Israel is now on the offensive is not something to be taken for granted – the fact that we are able to be on the offensive isn’t either.  But it ain’t over yet.

Yesterday morning, my friend’s son called his father.  The boy (Can I still call him a boy?) and his unit have been given a 2 day reprieve after a week of active combat in The South.  They will be doing some training exercises about 30 minutes from home and will also be allowed to air out a little.  He asked his father if he could arrange Barbecue for 90 paratroopers who have been in the field for a week.  I said I’d spread the word and we set a goal to raise funds for the feast.

Donations poured in and as of this writing, Barbecue with all the fixings is being prepped for these young holy warriors.  Like the contributions to the Mishkan, we received more than enough so I am headed to a local supplier in a few minutes to purchase fresh undergarments for these guys.

This morning, at the bakery, I asked several troops from the local special forces division if I could pay for their breakfast.  They all smiled and one of them patted me on the back.  “You are too kind”, he said.  “We don’t need money and we’ve already paid.  But if you are offering…..(and here he reached inside his shirt and started to pull on something….) we could really use drifit Tzitzis but with a Black begged.  The ones from the army are green and we have to be all in black”.  These guys, without anything on their heads, had one request: proper Tzitzis.  I took his number and said I would do my best.

I guess that’s it for now.

Just figured I would share.

About the Author
Avi Ganz is the program Director of Ohr Torah Stone's Yeshivat Darkaynu. He lives with his wife and five children in Gush Etzion where he plays the blues on his Hohner, and reminisces fondly of his days playing tackle football with the IFL.