This was the week that shocked our tiny nation of Israel. This was the week that was unanticipated. We didn’t dread it, because we never even contemplated it. This was the week when three escaping hostages held by the terrorists of Hamas were killed in cold blood by their own compatriots, by the soldiers of the IDF. Investigations ultimately will reveal just what happened. Now we are all struck by the tragedy of it all.
In Israel soldiers are an older version of the young idealistic boys, and yes, girls too, who grow up eager and anxious to serve their country. These are the children of the Land. They ache to preserve their nation, their always-challenged nation, and to be a part of its army, known for its heroism and honor; this is the “follow me” army. The enormous death tolls on the bloody fields and neighborhoods of Gaza include many officers, and their own children. These are officers who lead from the front of the line, who do not sit in an office and send directions to the troops. This is a family army, and those who do not serve because of a disability argue and try to negotiate their status, so that they may be included. The army in Israel is the fount of adult life. Most of Israel’s most successful citizens are former soldiers. And likewise, those who refuse to serve, seeking religious exemptions for example, are scorned. That’s just the way it is.
Thus, one day a few short days ago, that nation, Israel, heard the terrible news. Three hostages whom Hamas had captured on October 7 had been killed in what certainly is the most agonizing instance of friendly fire that Israel has ever witnessed.
And we who heard it in shock and horror cannot eliminate it from our minds. The story is so profoundly awful that all thoughts are synchronized. We imagine, in slow motion, the three prisoners, two Jews, one Bedouin, plotting a brilliant escape from their more than 70 days as hostages. They grew up, like we all did, in a culture of prison escapes from impossible places that we shared on our televisions and movies and in books, fictional or not. Escaping from prison is a supreme challenge, rife with deadly alternatives, but there are those who can think of nothing else when they find themselves in jail. So they work and connive and strategize and come up with a plan, and then they bravely execute their plan. Nothing is impossible, they think. They can do this, and they surely will.
None of us yet know what their scheme included. We only know the final chapter, that devastating conclusion to their hopes and prayers. We do know that they collaborated and cooperated despite their religious differences. And we can assume that their final steps to the freedom, which was grievously denied to them, were accompanied by pounding hearts and great optimism. They were nearly there. They were nearly free. And they had really thought of everything.
Don’t wear shirts to show the soldiers that you are not a terrorist concealing a weapon. Fashion a white flag, signaling surrender and peace, and carry it high. Speak in Hebrew and call out that you are hostages. Raise your hands so they can see you bear no weapons. What more could they possibly do?
Their euphoria must have been profound. They were almost there, almost home, and the entire country would rejoice with them.
It failed. We all know that. They were thwarted and killed. We do not yet know why. We do know that the entirety of the nation felt the agonizing blow as if it had happened to each citizen himself.
And still, we need to mourn for the other destroyed lives, the young soldiers who shot the hostages. Will they ever assuage themselves of the guilt? Will they ever, no matter how long they live, be able to forget what happened, even for a moment? I do not know!
I have never seen Israel as moved, as dramatically invested in a war, as they are in this one. The killing of the hostages is the peak of the despair that encircles the nation. The abrupt transition from normalcy to nightmare has grasped every citizen. The disdain for the government is rampant. So many horribly murdered, almost all young and vital.
And so just a few days ago we embarked on a little journey to the square outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where the families and friends of the kidnapped gather every day to remind everyone of what happened. They started with the huge Shabbat table, set up with a place for each hostage, including highchairs, white tablecloths, and all the accouterments for Shabbat. This brings reality to all onlookers. These empty places are the sacred seats for their fellow Israelis. The entire nation can rejoice only when the hostages return to their rightful places.
But the exhibit has expanded. There are decorated booths with artwork of both children and adults, there are numerous photos, there are people who know the hostages who speak of them, and there is music and slogans and engraved ribbons saying let them go, and bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets, dogtags, anything to keep their lives alive! We Jews are hearing never again — again!
This hallowed place, in the heart of the vibrant city, is an ongoing reminder that the hostages must be returned, safely, immediately. We will not be silenced.
We’ve all seen the pictures. We agonize about Hersh, who lost part of his arm the day the war began and was captured. Do we imagine that he has up-to-date medical care? His mother is unrelenting in her campaign to bring him home.
We’ve seen the two little red-haired boys, one an infant. Their precious beauty deserves to thrive until they are soldiers in the IDF. Will we see them, and their terrified mother, alive, enjoying her children in a park or playground? How can we know?
We are going to remember all of them, in their huge numbers. It’s the very least that we can do. And for those many who will soon travel to Israel, Eretz ha Kodesh, please do not even think about not going to the grounds of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. It is just not to be missed.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of four. 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! She welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org.