I arrived in the Golan Heights on Monday, in the middle of the day. Suddenly, a Syrian bombardment. I laid on the ground like all the other soldiers near the El Al junction. One bomb came close and threw some dirt over me.
When the bombardment was over, people started evacuating the wounded. I helped and stayed with a medical unit. Not being a medical person, I helped carry people and stretchers from vehicles or from the ground to the doctors; and to ambulances and helicopters that took the casualties farther back from the front after they received emergency treatment.
I was still wearing civilian clothes. I had not been drafted.
It all began on Yom Kippur, Saturday, October 6, 1973.
I had decided to spend the holiday with a Chassidic friend in Bnei Brak and to go to the Vijnits synagogue.
Every once in awhile someone would enter the synagogue, ask for someone and that someone would leave with them. It took me awhile to understand that these were people being called to the army. One of the people who left, I heard, was a doctor.
As I didn’t know of any military emergency in the country, I assumed it was an exercise. Perhaps the army wanted to check its readiness, especially on this day.
Not many people were called. After all, this was Bnei Brak. Not that many soldiers here…
The holiday and the services continued normally and at the end of the day we returned to my friend’s house. They turned on the radio for the 20.00 news and… shock! The country is at war! Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria at 14.00!
We had not seen anything unusual… we had not heard any sirens…
I was already after my military service in Nachal and the paratroopers. But having been released recently, I did not belong to any miluim (reserves) unit yet. So I spent the next day trying to enlist. I went to the bakum at Tel Hashomer (the military base where they do the enlisting), I went to the ktsin hair in Jerusalem where I lived. I tried to volunteer… Nothing. Go home, wait till you’re called up.
I heard in the news that the Syrians had entered the Golan Heights and were already being pushed back. I knew the area and the kibutsim mentioned in the news so I decided to go there. Quickly, before the war ends. If in 1967 the war was won in six days, certainly this war will end in two days! That is what everybody thought…
So it happened that on Monday, the third day of the war, I ran into this bombardment. Eventually they accepted me into this medical unit and I spent the war, which lasted 23 days, with them, receiving and treating casualties.
I remember two experiences especially:
We were in kibuts Ramat Magshimim sitting around and talking, right next to an underground bunker, when Syrian bombs started exploding, closer and closer to us. That is how artillery works. One cannon starts to shoot at a target, calculating direction and distance. When he hits the target, he passes on the data to the others and all cannons open fire.
Quickly we started to enter the bunker. We barely entered and closed the big heavy door when many shells started hitting us, shaking the ground and filling the bunker with dust.
And then the unit commander, a doctor who had only one arm, having lost the other to a war wound, gets up and starts talking about fear. I was terrified, afraid that the bunker will crash on top of us. But he spoke calmly, as though we were sitting in his living room and his wife was preparing refreshments… He says that it is normal to be afraid, that everybody is afraid. But that the important thing is to continue functioning, to do what one has to do, in spite of the fear…
I was very impressed by this man. If I could find him today, I would tell him how much he calmed me…
And another powerful memory was from the day I joined that unit, the day of that first bombardment.
Besides the ambulances and helicopters, a bus also arrived. Curious, I went to look at it. Perhaps he is bringing more wounded? Perhaps there is work for me here, to take the wounded to the doctors? Or perhaps the bus is here to evacuate the wounded who were already treated?
I entered by the door in the middle of the bus. The bus had been transformed into an ambulance. There were no seats, only stretchers along the sides of the bus, in several layers, like bunk beds.
It took a few seconds for me to grasp what I was seeing… stretchers with bodies of dead Israeli soldiers, covered with blankets. But their feet, with boots, are sticking out of the blankets. I don’t see bodies, I don’t see faces… only feet with boots… There was nobody there that I could talk to, that I could ask if they want help…
I had entered a morgue… I walked out quickly, shocked…
If before this war only the religious people paid attention to Yom Kippur, after the war Yom Kippur became a very important day for everybody. It is the day in which everybody thinks of the great miracle, that Israel won the war and was not destroyed. That was a very real possibility. It is said that Moshe Dayan, the great Israeli hero who was the minister of defense at the time, said that he was afraid of the destruction of the third temple (referring to the 2 temples of Jerusalem that were destroyed and calling our modern state the Third Temple or Third House).
Yom Kippur is the day in which everybody remembers the casualties of that war and tells and re-tells stories. Everybody. Those who participated in the battles and those who were far away from the front; those who had close relatives or close friends amongst the dead or wounded; the children who were born in that year and never knew their fathers; the children who were born soon after…
Yom Kippur has become a day of remembrance and mourning for all.
And in Israel, such a day is a Holy Day.
P.S. A song about that war:
We are the children of the winter of ’73.