What has happened to us in the last few months?
We ended the Jewish year with divisions so deep and so vicious I often wondered if the country would survive. There were daily reminders of sectarian hatred: strangers dissing haredim on public transportation, just because…Road rage fights that erupted out of nowhere after weeks of demonstrations and counter demonstrations that had finally descended into a national madness.
Our streets were filled with homes sporting large banners proclaiming their disgust, hatred, opposition to one thing or another. Even flags had some propaganda or other defacing them. There was this terrible feeling that we weren’t one country any more, one people. That we had more dividing us than uniting us.
I remember the zenith of this when a public prayer was set up in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square for Yom Kippur and someone – some deranged woman– interrupted the Kol Nidre prayer because she didn’t like the seating arrangements, they weren’t feminist enough, or something! So she TOOK IT UPON HERSELF TO DESECRATE the most awesome prayer, on the most awesome day in the Jewish calendar.
I remember the sinking feeling I had when I heard about that, the feeling that this wasn’t going to end well.
It was only a few days later when the country was overrun by blood-thirsty terrorists.
We will be in mourning for the events that unfolded during those heart stopping twenty-four hours of madness on October 7, Simchat Torah – one of the most joyous holidays of the Jewish year, a day normally filled with dancing and singing and eating and happiness – for the rest of Jewish history. We are only now just beginning to scratch the surface of what happened to our country and our people during that sudden, barbaric, incursion in which we faced the savages of Hamas with none of the safeguards we in Israel have always trusted to protect us.
But now, only a short time later, the bodies of Hamas terrorists, the same ones who planned to murder us all, pile up. Thousands upon thousands. We have killed more of our enemies than in any other war. Yet – and I speak for most of us in Israel – the earth of Gaza, strewn with their now destroyed weaponry and cowardly billion-dollar tunnels where they hide like scared rabbits, their bravado gone now that they face armed soldiers and not defenseless women and children, has plenty of room for thousands more if they will not release our hostages and surrender. No ceasefire. No negotiations. No two-state solution. Surrender or die.
Now when I walk around my neighborhood, most of the divisive signs have been taken down, replaced by slogans of unity: Together We Will Win. Now the images that fill our social media and news broadcasts are photos of soldiers – those who have fallen and those still fighting – each one from a different tribe: kibbutznikim, haredim with payot, knitted kippot settlers, high tech entrepreneurs from Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba, lone soldiers from France and Russia and Canada, and America. Our hearts, once filled with so much anger towards one another, have drained of their poison, replenished by unconditional love. We just want everyone to come home safe.
Finally, we seem to know who our real enemies are, and it’s not our brothers and sisters who disagree with us politically. It’s become so clear who loves us, and whom we love; who is willing to give their life, the lives of their children and fathers and husbands and grandchildren, to save us from another Holocaust. It is so incredibly moving that we are living among lions and heroes and people of endless courage, endless self-sacrifice, and bottomless love, who will stop at absolutely nothing to save us and our precious, beautiful, beloved little country, our Israel.
How could we have ever doubted it? How could we have forgotten how isolated and under siege the Jewish people are, and who alone we can depend upon? It makes it feel like what was going on here only a few months ago was a bad dream.
This past Friday, two things happened. I went to the kibbutz bakery to buy my usual challot for Shabbat, and to devour with my eyes – as I always do – the amazing French pastries they sell on Friday, because no one can eat them, it’s calorically impossible.
And as I was standing in line to pay, behind me was a mother and her son in uniform. A soldier who had been given leave for Shabbat. I saw her put her box of cakes on the counter, peeking as she opened it to show her son what it contained: luscious lemon meringue and cream-filled croissants. I saw her touch him, and I saw them both smile. I wondered when last he had been home, and how many nights she had not slept, praying and worrying?
And now he was there, beside her, and she had been able to buy these delicious treats for him, her son, the soldier, finally home on leave.
And when I got home with my challot, I got a call from my grandson, a combat engineer newly released from reserve duty. He and his wife were at her parents for Shabbat, a few blocks from us, and they wanted to come to see us Friday night! I was sorry then, I hadn’t bought those luscious cakes and croissants. And so, I baked my own, a vegetarian chocolate cake, because they are both vegetarians. And I waited until after dinner for them to knock on the door, and for my soldier grandson, over whom I had said so many, many prayers, and had so many sleepless nights, to walk in with his lovely bride, a doctor doing her internship in Soroka Hospital where so many injured soldiers have been treated. And then the door opened and they were really there. My husband and I hugged them, and then we sat down around the Shabbat table, and ate cake, and drank tea, and talked about all we had been through and counted our blessings gratefully, with full hearts, blessing the God of Israel for His mercies.