I woke up in Jerusalem at around 8 a.m. on Shabbat and Simchat Torah to the sound of a prolonged siren and distant explosions. As I tore myself from sleep, I understood that this was yet another barrage of missiles from Gaza.
My immediate thoughts were for my children and their children, across the country, and for a close friend and her children in Ashkelon – and for all the residents of Israel’s South who have been living through missile attacks since the Palestinians voted for Hamas after the 2005 Israeli disengagement that evicted 9,000 Jews from their homes and passed control of the territory to the Palestinian Authority.
My friend in Ashkelon experienced two miracles in the early hours of the Saturday attack. First, her daughter’s apartment building was hit, but fortunately, just on the side, and no one was hurt. Shortly after, the mother found a piece of shrapnel on her own balcony from a missile that had landed in an open area across from her apartment and was on fire. I preferred to concentrate on those miracles rather than on the scarier side of things.
But I didn’t yet know about the really scary situation.
My family WhatsApp group was suddenly ablaze, with members who are fastidious in keeping Shabbat and those who are less so. This was not the time to have Halacha (Orthodox Jewish law) come between us. We needed to know that everyone was okay.
We understood that in addition to the missiles, terrorists had broken through the fence and were in the country.
Someone close to me, describing hearing an explosion in Tel Aviv and fearing terrorists on the loose, texted:
“I went into a panic. I was shaking (in the shelter) but tried to be calm and sang with an elderly woman “Anachnu Ma’aminim” (“We Believe”) and clapped our hands. It’s so surreal.”
Thinking about my family and everyone in the country while what turned out to be 4,500 rockets fired against us, I had to tackle the iron glove that was grabbing hold of my intestines and twisting them – and I tried singing hakafot songs by myself and dancing on what is supposed to be our most joyous holiday.
I began to understand that the rockets were not the worst of it. There was a hostage situation – there were more than one; there were 14 – and there were terrorists in 22 places in the South. Entire Gaza-area communities were massacred in their homes, and people were taken hostage to Gaza City. I could not understand how there were words that existed to tell these stories. I felt the shock and the fear, the paralysis, the loss, and the terror of us all. I remembered that we exchanged over 1,000 murderous Hamas prisoners for Gilad Schalit, kidnapped in 2006 and kept in Gaza city until his release on October 18, 2011.
I could hardly eat but forced myself because there was no point in starving.
I couldn’t shower. I made the effort to get dressed, wash my face, and brush my teeth, but I couldn’t fathom the luxury of hot water at such a time.
The northern city of Ma’alot kept coming to mind, where in 1974 some 115 Israelis, including children and teenagers, were held hostage for two days by three terrorists from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. On the second day of the attack, they were liberated by Israeli forces, but the terrorists killed had 25 hostages and wounded 68.
I had no idea that what we were going through now was so much worse.
A crisis that gets so much worse
THE NEXT morning, I awoke to a nightmare that was ongoing. I read up on the full extent of the party massacre, but only that afternoon did I learn how the attack had begun, with the demons of death flying down in hang gliders.
I kept thinking about the Holocaust.
I thought about the man who, through all the horrors, kept believing he would survive and who was miraculously pulled out of the gas chamber at the last moment because it was too full.
I kept telling myself that we must have hope, that this is one of those moments in Jewish history when we are facing annihilation but we will survive.
“Do not surrender to despair,” I said to myself; “we have to be strong and believe this will end.”
But the terrible day stayed with us even the next day, and I felt as if we would be in it forever: the thoughts of those young people at their party; the ongoing hostage situation; the terrorists running wild in the South (and the potential terrorists in the rest of the country), killing people in their cars as they drove on the highway; the photo of so many bodies in white bags in the back of a special vehicle; the videos I couldn’t bring myself to watch but couldn’t avoid altogether, hearing the cries of children pleading not to die.
Horror upon horror.
The messages from abroad from friends and family were comforting.
The BBC, CNN, and Sky News were reporting accurately this time, shocked out of their skin because the truth was so horrific that there was no way to dress it up or demonize us this time.
Messages of support from international leaders, speeches by US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, warmed my heart. On Monday night, Sunak spoke at a London synagogue; I shed tears of gratitude. Buildings were lit up with the Israeli flag in Madrid, London, Berlin, and Paris. This is not the Holocaust,
We are not alone.
There isn’t anyone among us who is not connected in some way, even indirectly, to one of the victims who was wounded, taken hostage, or murdered.
ON SUNDAY night, I read that soldiers found starving babies whose parents had been murdered around them. On Tuesday evening, we learned that 40 slaughtered babies were discovered.
None of us can stop thinking of those young people, those families, those children, those young men, those hostages, that older lady, the man calling his wife’s phone to find out it was in Khan Yunis. The raping and the defacing of the dead.
With terrorists on the loose, I slept with a spray bottle of bleach next to my bed, adding a small kitchen knife on the second night. I didn’t believe I would have to use them, but their presence brought some comfort. I did not leave the house until Monday; the streets were deserted at first, and each day a few more people ventured outdoors.
Using mindful breathing, I have worked to keep my fear and panic at a manageable level. Working for The Jerusalem Post – editing articles, even while some of the content has been excruciating to read– has kept me busy and motivated and has helped save my sanity.
Our brave soldiers are off to this new war, and we all pray in unity that each one will return home safely to his or her loved ones.TUESDAY’S HOME Front Command call to stock up on food, water, toilet paper, and flashlights for 72 hours sounded as if something major would happen imminently. I thought we had to move into a shelter for three. I tossed hastily filled bottles of water from the recycling pile into a case. I didn’t really know what I was doing, selecting books, toothbrush and toothpaste, face cream, my drumsticks and my castanets, a nightgown, a sheet, two memory foam pillows, and my prayer book. The bomb shelter was inside a synagogue. It was empty. I turned on the light and looked over at the Holy Ark, where the Torah is kept, and took a deep breath. I thanked God for those of us who were still alive and begged for all of our soldiers to come home safely.
Later, I watched a newscaster telling off the Home Command spokesperson for expressing himself in a way that threw the population into a panic.
There was not going to be an apocalypse after all.
That was, for me, another miracle. ■