Osama Bin Laden was killed four months and two days before I married my husband. Matt was still in the United States Army then, but his six years were almost up, and a condition of our marriage was that he would not re-enlist. Only a year had passed since Matt had served as an infantry soldier in the mountains of Afghanistan, just across the Pakistani border. I met Matt soon after he arrived back home, a combat veteran now. Matt’s experiences in combat had changed him, mainly for the better. But they also changed him in ways that someone who has never had that experience could never fully understand.
Matt returned home from war ready for all the things he chose next: marriage to me, a complicated woman with ghosts and passions of my own; an unwavering devotion to the craft and rigor of fatherhood, even as all of our children developed much higher medical needs than either of us could have anticipated; a high-impact career as a bank executive; and a remarkable level of communal engagement, including his recent volunteer role as the executive vice president of our shul, following his post as the head of the shul’s security committee. It is simply impossible to overstate how demanding that position became last October: the sleepless nights, the endless meetings, the strategizing, the impossibly sober risk analyses, ones he made somehow unclouded by fear or high emotion. But Matt is a man who rises to every occasion, over and over and over again.
Matt may be quiet, but his principles are loud. In early May of 2011, when Bin Laden was killed, Matt said nothing. At one point, I saw that he had commented on a Facebook post of a close family friend, someone Matt loves and respects dearly. Her post expressed jubilation over the news, and Matt commented, a rarity for him, that he refused to celebrate Bin Laden’s death. Matt’s comment seemed rude to me, stern and judgmental. I asked him why he wrote it. “I will never celebrate anyone’s death,” he told me. “That is the difference between me and Osama Bin Laden.”
I am not the entirely same person that I was before October 7th. My sense of peoplehood, of belonging, of stewardship, of shared pain, of love and of hate are beautiful weeds that have taken over a prior garden. I will not pull them out.
But Matt is the same. Evil is real to him. Violence is real to him. Duty is real to him. He once made a commitment to die by violence for America if necessary; that was his job. Matt knows a lot about the weapons of modern war. He has held many of those weapons and they were, at one time, his friends.
Because evil, violence, danger and duty were already a part of Matt’s known world on October 6th, little changed on October 7th — with one exception. If you were to ask Matt, he would say that this new war is different. This new war was not waged against his country; this war has been waged against his nation, his people, his family, his wife, his children and his heart. Another distinction is that this war has not been waged (and we hope it never will be) against Matt’s body. In fact, Matt’s greatest heartbreak right now is that he is not able to put on a uniform and head straight to Gaza. Matt desperately wants to fight, but because of every single other commitment he has made at this time his life, he cannot. It is a source of profound sadness for him.
This war will end, and we will win it. I asked Matt if this time he will allow himself to celebrate the moment that Yahya Sinwar, the sadistic mastermind behind the October 7th massacre, leaves existence. “No,” Matt told me, his voice markedly strained. “I will never celebrate death. Not even Sinwar.”
This is what makes Matt a Jew. This is what makes Matt a victor. And this is precisely what makes Matt my home.
On the day Sinwar is gone, I suspect you will find Matt doing puzzles and boardgames with his daughters. He will break up their daily spats as he always has. He will review the family calendar with me far too late at night and fall asleep mid-sentence, already tired tomorrow. When this war ends, you will find Matt, and me, and our children, living our lives. It might not look much different, but it will be our victory lap. We’ll know we have won.