Israel at War
Israel at War: Last week, Jews around the world celebrated the holiday of Sukkot. For seven days, we left our houses and spent the week in a “sukkah,” a hut in which we commemorated G-d’s protection of the Jewish People during their forty-year sojourn in the desert after the Egyptian Exodus, more than three thousand years ago. Sukkot is immediately followed by the holiday of “Simchat Torah” – “Rejoicing in the Torah” in which Jews celebrate the Torah. We spend most of the day in the synagogue, singing, dancing, and eating copious amounts of food. Simchat Torah is a festival in which orthodox Jews do not do any kind of labor. We do not drive cars, turn on lights, listen to the radio, watch television, or even surf the internet on our mobile phones.
Yesterday, October 7, 2023, we observed Simchat Torah. Our day began with an alert, actually, with a long series of alerts. While I usually turn off my mobile phone on holidays and Shabbat, I must have forgotten to do so on Friday and so my phone was still on. On Saturday morning, my “Red Alert” application woke us from our sleep. “Red Alert” emits an alert whenever a rocket is fired on the State of Israel. It gives the estimated location of impact so that citizens can run for cover. Yesterday morning, “Red Alert” was going off incessantly, and something was clearly wrong. I looked over at my phone. Hamas, a terrorist organization that rules over Gaza, was firing rockets all over the country: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheba, and all around the Gaza Strip. My home town of Moreshet is far enough from the Gaza Strip that their arsenal of rockets cannot reach us. All was quiet other than the incessant buzzing of my phone.
My wife and I were surprised but unfazed. This kind of rocket fire had occurred fairly often in the past. Iron Dome intercepts most of the rockets such that Gazan rocket fire has been reduced to nuisance-level. What we did not know was that the Hamas had used the rocket fire as a diversion. While Israelis were running for cover from the rockets, Hamas had broken five openings in the security fence that surrounds Gaza. At the same time, hundreds of terrorists were crossing into Israel from the air – on paraplanes – and from the sea. They had one mission: to murder as many Israelis as they could. They entered twenty-two towns and slaughtered anyone in their path. They overran army bases and tanks. They came across a “Peace Party” in which people spend a day listening to music, dancing, and getting high, and they opened fire at anything that moved. It took the IDF nearly 24 hours to take back all that Hamas had captured. The numbers of dead and wounded are staggering. More than 600 dead and 2000 wounded and the numbers are still rising. More than 100 Israelis – mostly women and children – were dragged back over the border into Gaza to serve as bargaining chips.
With our phones now on, the rumors began trickling in. Some of the rumors were true, others were patently false. All of them were grotesque. We were told that 40 people had been killed in a synagogue in Tel Aviv (false). We were told that the Hamas had infiltrated dozens of towns (True) and that they had taken out a police station (True). We were told that only 45 Israelis had been killed (Sadly, false).
And then Moreshet slowly began emptying out as most people under the age of 40 began to make their way to reserve duty. Cars, usually not seen on shabbat or a holiday, were regularly entering and exiting the town to take reservists to their bases. My son got called up in the early afternoon, and he took his car to the base. My daughter got called back to her base in Tel Aviv. Fortunately, we found a bus heading south so that I did not need to drive her back to her base. The reason this was fortunate was because my older son also got called up later that evening and I had to drive him to his base because he needed to leave his car with his wife and their four children.
At nightfall, when Simchat Torah was over, at about a quarter to seven, 12 hours after the fighting had begun, we were too scared to open our phones. The pictures, stories, and numbers hit us full force in the gut. I still am not able to breathe, but there was no time to waste. I had to run to pick up my older son. He lives in Acco, a town with a large Arab population, a population that in May 2021 rioted, attacking Jews, burning businesses, and murdering the father of RAFAEL’s CEO. My son’s family will be moving in with us, not that the security by us is any better. On the way back from dropping off my son, I received a WhatsApp message from the head of security in my town. We were told to use only one of the three roads into town and even then, to travel in convoys. I met up with a small convoy, and thankfully the trip up was uneventful.
This morning, my son-in-law was called up. My other son-in-law is waiting to be called up. My daughter is beside herself. Meanwhile, earlier this morning the Lebanese Hezbollah started shelling Israeli outposts on the Lebanese border and the IDF has returned artillery fire. The army has now advised people living near the Lebanese border to evacuate to the relative safety of the center of the country, the same center of the country that took nearly 1000 rockets yesterday. I just received an email on our internal network with a short video reviewing the rules of conduct should Hezbollah fire some of their 150,000 rockets – some of them with precision guidance – at RAFAEL. Go to the bomb shelter, if you can’t make it to the bomb shelter go to the stairwell, stay away from windows, you know the drill…
We will bury our dead and grieve, and then we will do something we should have done many years ago. We had convinced ourselves that we could live next to a terrorist organization whose sole purpose was to destroy Israel. All we had to do was build a really tall fence. Unsurprisingly, like the Maginot Line in World War I and like the Bar Lev Line in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, our fortresses were found to be woefully ineffective. We will have to enter Gaza and destroy the Hamas and its Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) allies. Gaza will more than likely be divided into multiple parts, with each part given to a local clan to manage. There will likely be many dead and wounded, the vast majority on the Gazan side. One can assume that there will be an exodus of refugees, assuming Hamas lets them leave. Over the next few days, things here will become extremely, as we Israelis like to say, “complex”, and that’s assuming that the Hezbollah decides to stay out of this one.
Perhaps there is one very thin silver lining in this cloud. Since January, Israelis have been embroiled in turmoil over the government’s passing legislation reducing the power of the courts. Some Israelis, notably Air Force pilots, went so far as to state that they would no longer serve in the reserves because this was no longer “their country.” My younger son is an officer, and he was responsible for phoning his soldiers and telling them that “their country” needed them to serve. Exactly 100% of them showed up.
When I dropped off my older son at the base last night, there were cars as far as the eye could see. Soldiers of every shape and size were making their way from the parking lot to the base. Some were religious, and some were not. Some had the sidelocks of the ultra-orthodox, and some had the trademarks shaved heads and tattoos of progressive Israelis. All were going to the same place for the same reason – to save their country and their families from those who crave their destruction. Motivation was through the roof. It is sad that we have been galvanized by an external force of repulsion and not by an internal force of attraction, but galvanized we are.
We will do what we need to do – what we have needed to do for a very long time – and with the help of G-d, we will emerge victorious.
Wishing you a safe week,