Nothing is as it was. Nothing is normal. Nothing is routine. And Jewish columnists can and will write of nothing but the war. How can we not? Everything we do lies in its tremendous and fearsome shadow. Who among us does not have one, or more than one, to worry about? And who among us does not have an entire nation we love, for whom we have bought bonds, donated to innumerable funds, traveled on missions, and sent our children on pilgrimages or gap year programs or aliyah.
Our hearts are in the reality we know as Israel, not as a dream, but our exciting, dynamic and beautiful homeland. A dream fulfilled, growing stronger by the day.
I have lived through war before, that Yom Kippur day in our holy city; that day when our family was there, shocked, and even disbelieving, as the sirens roared and announced that fasting and praying were to be irrevocably challenged in the most abrupt and unforgettable way. That was the day we were invaded, from our peaceful neighborhoods into the depths of our hearts and souls, by armies who sought, for unfathomable and fabricated reasons, to destroy us. The loss of lives was huge and tragic. A family friend lost her young husband that day, and then, as an element of further unspeakable torture, their child’s new pet puppy fell through the rungs of the hallway stairwell and was killed instantly. How could you explain this to a small child, 4 years old, when the young mother was incapable of understanding how a routine, annual commemoration of our holiest day could twist and turn and kill, and kill, and maim, and kill.
That was then, half a century ago. But surely it was a turning point for our land and our people. Surely our clever country that had defied them all during the Six Day War would now understand that enemies do not celebrate your victories. Enemies celebrate your destruction. There is no holiday called Six Days in the lands of those who seek your annihilation.
Yes, we always knew that, but Yom Kippur 1973 was the ultimate proof.
But yet, I suppose some of those we trust to protect us have short memories. As you know too well, it happened again a few short days ago, and there were grotesque, merciless killings of our people, our men and women, our children, our infants, our aged and our chayalim, each totally precious and loved and pursuing their own peaceful lives. Another monumental tragedy wreaked upon our people.
October 7, 2023, a day of celebration, rejoicing, dancing with our Torahs, a day which will for the next thousand years be remembered not for flags stuck into jelly apples but for flags flown unexpectedly on the armored tanks of warriors and the cars and motorcycles rushing to the front, and from apartment windows, from sukkot not yet disassembled, draped onto skyscrapers, and on the reeling streets of our cities and towns and on the peaceful lanes of tranquil kibbutzim. And then there were those other kibbutzim from which the stench of death brought on by Hamas terrorists invaded the lovely pastoral and peaceful countryside that the members had created, with plants and trees and flowers and charming pathways. With their gans plastered with the colorful paintings done by innocent, happy children.
Perhaps one day they will rebuild. No one would blame them if they don’t. Truly a day that will live in infamy.
We Jews have so much to be proud about. If only the world would let us live.
The cycle of this war is so predictable. At first we had universal sympathy, shock, and pretty speeches. But then quickly, as always, it reverted to the “other side,” and more nuanced opinions. Are there not two sides to every story, they proclaim? If Israel had only done aleph, bet, or gimmel. And then, the completed circle. The bombing of the hospital was done by Israel. (It wasn’t.) The refugees are starving and have no place to turn. (True, of course, but it wasn’t Israel that started the cycle of war, and it is Egypt that, until today at least, has not allowed the refugees to escape Gaza). And this I ask you, Mandy Patinkin, a former favorite of our people, did you expect us to stand without resistance while they stabbed unborn babies still in their mothers’ wombs and beheaded children?
Truly, not everyone has become an “other sider,” and we Jews must thank those with the compassion and willingness to view the truth, those who have not invented the oxymoron known as new facts. Thank you, friends!
I await the songs of this war that probably are already being written. I remember the haunting song “Ha Milchama Ha Acharona,” the last of the wars, a promise to a little girl, composed during the Yom Kippur War. Will we ever regain our invulnerability, our innocence, and be able to sing such a song? I pray the answer is yes. This war really must be the last of all the wars.
I despair at the options for regaining our lives. Much of the leadership of Hamas sits safely in Qatar, out of reach. I know erasing them will be an overwhelming task. I have no solutions. While I wish I were a brilliant general, a military strategist, in truth I’m an old woman with fear in her heart.
I know we must gather our strength and bravely commit ourselves to victory, to that holy task. I just don’t know how! My grandson the paratrooper tries to calm me. He assures me that we outnumber the enemy, and that we will prevail. I struggle to believe him, and then ultimately I do. He has never ever lied to me. Never! He quiets my doubts, a man I trust and believe. Thank you, Aaron.
Once again I must sit in amazement at the miracle of Facetime. We just disconnected from a call with our chayal. We expect that very soon he will enter Gaza with his fellow soldiers, but, this morning in New Jersey and New York and Massachusetts, this evening in New Delhi, and this afternoon in Jerusalem and Herzliya, the places of our family, he was able to be blessed by each of us, simultaneously, each of us on a little box on the computer screen, some rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from their eyes and some, many time zones away, preparing for their evening, but all wishing him and the chayalim who are now, after two years of living and training together, a family unit of its own, success and safety. We are so totally proud of him. How did a peaceful yeshiva boy from New Jersey transition, transform, into a brave soldier?! How did a boy become a man? This was a phenomenon unrelated to the legendary bar mitzvah, which, as meaningful a ceremony as it is, creates a teenager, not a man. This growth is learned from Tzva Haganah le-Yisrael. The Israel Defense Forces. Yes!
We, here in Galut, however, are not totally impotent. Money is needed. Newspaper op-eds can be written or challenged. We can put signs on our lawns and flags on our cars. We can and must speak up to our neighbors, friends, and yes, our enemies as well. We can, as some in our family are now doing, wear red kippot, symbolizing the paratrooper unit with its red berets, to which our grandson, their son, their brother, their uncle, their friend belongs.
We cannot live our own lives as if our Israeli brothers and sisters are peacefully living theirs. We are responsible for one another and we must do whatever we, ourselves, possibly can. We care for each other zeh le zeh! We are brothers, achim! How good it is when brothers and sisters sit together.
The stories resonate, from the battlefield, from the kibbutzim, and from the tunnels in Gaza where we surmise hostages are imprisoned. They are wrenching and devastating and believable. There was the elderly sick man who sat in his living room in solitude, knowingly sacrificing himself while his family hid in their safe room. He pretended that he was home alone. The terrorists from Hamas entered, saw a single old man sipping tea at a table, and shot him to death, believing that they had wiped out his household. They hadn’t.
There was the father of a 6-year-old who smiled when he heard that his only child had been killed. He felt relief that she had not been captured. Who knew how she would have suffered, he thought.
There was the young couple at the concert, pretending to be dead, lying under a mound of leaves. Their supposedly lifeless bodies were shot, but not fatally. The leaves deflected the bullets. They survived. Why waste bullets on those already dead? thought the Hamas terrorists.
There is the Shabbat dinner table for the hostages, a complete table set for all of them, more than 200 of them, at the Tel Aviv Art Museum, with high chairs for the babies, challot and kiddush cups, white tablecloths and napkins, all ready it seems for singing Shalom Aleichem, hearing the kiddush and motzi. So far, the seats remain empty. No baby is squirming, reaching for the challah. No ayshet chayal sits peacefully. This is a table set in a nightmare.
It must, in answer to our wills and our prayers and our efforts, become a reality, fulfilled only when the hostages are returned. This has been replicated in Rome and in Tenafly and other places as well. It is beautiful and poignant. Tragic and powerful. We await the filling of those chairs. All of them.
What about life in Israel now? The streets and malls are quieter. Many schools are closed due to this latest scourge, not the pandemic of covid-19 which, while clearly not benign, does not have the same hateful, criminal, murderous impact this war has.
And there are the endless questions from civilians. Is it safe to go into a taxi with an Arab driver? The mall is almost empty. Should I shop? Can I send my children out to play with their friends? Is the Arab maintenance man who has worked in my building for years no longer to be trusted?
Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank have been ubiquitous in Israel for years. In many industries they comprise most of the workers. They are drivers and waiters and construction crews. They are trusted house cleaners, left alone, often given keys or codes. They are doctors in hospitals, and nurses as well. When I broke my pelvis in Jerusalem a few years ago, both of my orthopedists at Shaare Tzedek Hospital were named Mohammed. I trusted them. What now?
What now indeed? No living person is capable of answering that simple question. We don’t even know what to wish for. Do we want a quick resolution? Will that ensure a lasting solution? Your writer quite simply knows nothing.
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Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!