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We Will Never Be the Same

All through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I had been filled with a sense of dread from the nonstop protests that had set us against each other—religious against secular, right versus left, culminating in the shocking interruption of Kol Nidre prayers in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center by people who disapproved of its separate seating for men and women. For Jews to desecrate the most revered and awesome moment in the Jewish calendar indicated something had truly gone off the rails, I thought, tearing us apart and actualizing the ugly raised fist that was the symbol of the protests against the government’s judicial reform proposals. 

One of my most heartfelt prayers was for God to bring us together again. But I never dreamed how that was going to be accomplished.

The first indication of the events that would change Israel forever came on the morning of Simchat Torah. As I walked to the synagogue, my 13-year-old grandson came running toward me. “There’s a war!” he said, his face red with exertion. He was going home to warn his mother.

I was skeptical. When I got to shul, however, I heard it repeated. Then someone whispered, “Hundreds are dead.”

It was impossible. Rockets kill one, two. Even exploding buses killed “only” dozens.  Hundreds? Only after Shabbat when we turned on our phones did we find out the truth, an unimaginable scenario of invasion from Gaza of carloads of heavily armed, bloodthirsty Hamas terrorists who had blasted through our border defenses as if they were papier-mâché.

We sat in stunned silence as the Holocaust-like scenario slowly spread through our unwilling consciousness, forced by the incontestable, nightmarish evidence: a paradigm change of all we had depended on and believed about our security.

How could this have happened? Where was our army when people were beheaded and burnt alive? Where was our vaunted Mossad with its sophisticated electronic surveillance devices? Why did the terrorists encounter no resistance to its abductions?

Israelis have long been aware they are a lamb surrounded by wolves. What allowed us to build and nurture our families, create and flourish in our economy has always been the solid wall at our back: IDF. And now the unthinkable had happened. That wall, however briefly, had collapsed, allowing the barbarians next door to flood inside. We knew they were hate-filled, but even we were stunned by the depths of their depravity, their targeting of babies and children, the sick and elderly. 

Their behavior was deliberate, not impulsive. Directives from a Hamas leader in Gaza, Sinwar, found on dead terrorists, laid it all out plainly. Their mission was to commit atrocities so terrible that Israeli society would collapse, and the Jews would all flee in fear. That is why they filmed and broadcast their atrocities, something even the Nazis were reluctant to do. The whole point for Hamas was to let us know what they’d done, even going so far as to use the iPhones of the murdered to film the killings and forward them to victims’ families.

By Monday and Tuesday, after the fog of horror and shock had partially lifted, we realized two things: One, that our people had been killed in the hundreds, or more, in the largest massacre since the Holocaust; and two, that were it not for the heroic, self-sacrificing efforts of many Israelis who put themselves on the firing line to help save their fellow citizens, the deaths would have been in the many thousands. The stockpile of devastating weaponry left behind by the terrorists leaves no doubt of that.  

But if the purpose of the Hamas attack was to destroy Israeli society, it has accomplished the very opposite. From a warring and divided nation, they have managed to unite us as never before.

The stories we are hearing bear witness to the heroes all around us. Former General Noam Tibon holstering his pistol and jumping into his jeep along with Grandma Gali to rescue their surrounded son and grandchildren in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The two sons of Rabbi Shmuel Slutzky,  Noam and Yishai, young fathers and devoted husbands, who went straight from the synagogue to overrun Kibbutz Alumim to fight, who saved so many lives and lost their own.

Paramedic Amit Mann, 22, from Kibbutz Be’eri, who bravely faced down terrorists to care for the wounded, unwilling to leave, found murdered still wearing her sterile gloves. And new national heroine Rachel Edri, 65, held hostage by five terrorists for 17 hours, who charmed them into keeping her alive with cookies and tea, all the while communicating information to rescuers outside with hand signals, until she was rescued and the terrorists shot dead.

Less dramatic, but equally uplifting, is the new spirit of giving that has infused all of Israel. Calls for supplies for soldiers for everything from snacks to ceramic helmets and bulletproof vests have been answered in record time and in abundance. My grandson, Eilon, in uniform on the border, told us, “There is so much Bamba [a popular peanut snack] we can’t find our equipment.” Sergeant Amit Sharet, in charge of logistics for Platoon 98, says there isn’t any shortage of equipment in the IDF. “We had everything we needed, but we got a 130 percent response rate to our call up.”

Equally heartwarming has been the tremendous volunteerism to help displaced Israelis ousted from home by war. Everything from a place to live, to clothing, toys, baby equipment and food, Xboxes and computer equipment is on offer. Volunteers have also answered the call to help the milk cows of the shattered dairy farms in the kibbutzim in the “Gaza envelope”—as the area near the border is called—that have been left without food or milking machines. Elderly retirees from Ma’agan Michael, who haven’t milked a cow in 24 years, have come to the rescue, caring for the animals and saving the businesses for the return of their owners.

ZAKA, an organization made up mostly of volunteers from the haredi community, who pick up the dead and help prepare them for burial, has worked nonstop at the hardest job imaginable. And since the war began, 3,000 yeshiva students have asked to join the army.

Rabbi Shmuel Slutzky, who lost his two sons, perhaps said it best: “We have passed a very difficult year socially. The actions of my sons and many others willing to risk their lives to save their fellow Israelis shows we are one people. The way to restore our security, pride and national resilience is to accept devoted mutual responsibility for one another. I hope all of us will remember that mission.”

This article was originally published in Moment Magazine.

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11 comments on “We Will Never Be the Same”

  1. Dalya

    Beautiful article. I echo the comments here that hamas will never destroy the Jewish people. But there is no alternative to destroying hamas. What is gut wrenching is so many people just believe whatever hamas tells them and the antisemitism that was thinly veiled under the surface and has now come out, especially on college campuses. We stand strong with Israel and our people – we will not remove our American/Israeli flag, our “We Stand With Israel” sign. We attend whatever rallies and prayer vigils we can. Last Sunday, 12,000 lbs of medical supplies, clothing, etc was collected and privately flown to Israel by our Chabad congregations in the Chicago area. We are proud to do anything we can to help. But most of all, we are proud of our Israeli brothers and sisters who have so bravely sacrificed for each other and shown we are really Am Echad. AM ISRAEL HAI!!!

  2. Chaim Phillips

    Beautifully said.
    The worst of times can bring out the best in people. Or rather, it can REMIND people of their best selves.

  3. Glenn Miller

    Toda rabba Naomi for another well written account of what happened on October 7, 2023. I first remember reading a personal story from you during the Oslo War/2nd Intifada where you survived an horrific bombing at a Pesach/Passover Seder Gathering in the Park Hotel in Netanya Israel. May Master יהוה Eloheinu comfort all of those family members, friends, loved ones, countrymen, and all Israeli citizens and their worldwide friends and family, as we mourn for those fallen comrades. His mercies endure forever.

  4. Pingback: Must-hear: Triggernometry special edition with Bari Weiss on the Israel-Gaza war | Spin, strangeness, and charm

  5. Susan L Rosenbluth

    We sit here in the United States, and our hearts are in Israel. Despite our rabbis’ and physicians’ exhortations, we can’t pry our eyes and ears away from the news. We pray, rally, donate money, write letters, and sign petitions–and still, we feel we are not doing enough. My family, physicians all, have signed up to serve as volunteers, ready to be called for duty in Israel’s hospitals if they are needed, if the medical centers’ regular docs are needed elsewhere for the war effort. A month ago, it didn’t take more than a few minutes’ drive on Israel’s highways to see how divided the country was–over whether or not the Knesset should have a voice in selecting judges (just like the US Senate has in confirming them here) or if people should have the right to erect a temporary mechitza in Tel Aviv, where separation of men and women in public areas is forbidden; today, here, in Israel, and abroad, we’re the picture of unity, no one asking whether or not you wear a kippah or voted for Biden or Trump. No one caring which shul you attend or, indeed, if you don’t go to one at all. No one giving a thought to which restaurant you will or won’t eat in. Today, we are one. Will we always need this kind of wake-up call, or, this time, will we have, dear G-d, learned our lesson?

  6. Harry

    The only solution to this massacre is the unconditional surrender of Hamas. Israel must do whatever it takes to achieve this goal. Learn from the U.S. goal in WW2 when fighting the evil of Germany and Japan.

    • Susan L Rosenbluth

      De-Nazification worked, Harry. While the Russians had their own “methods,” there were US military monitors everywhere in West Germany, especially in schools to make sure a new generation was spared any trace of the ideology responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews and 50 million others (it always starts with the Jews; it never ends with us). Of course, it wasn’t 100 percent effective; Nazism still managed to survive, albeit with nowhere near the same spread or virulence. Maybe de-Hamasization would work in this latest iteration of mass Jew-hatred.

      • Harry

        You have to have unconditional surrender first. The population must believe there is no chance the Nazis (Hamas) can return to power. Then you can have the process of changing the mindset of the civilian population.

  7. Carrin

    I love you Naomi Ragen. I have read every book you have written. A wonderful article I sit here in the USA as my husband flew back to his homeland Israel last week to help with any thing he can do Any Mitvot he can do. So glad to hear how everyone has united together and hope that can happen here in the US. I am praying for Israel and sending prayers to you and your family

  8. Rachmiel ben Berel

    We are reminded in the Haftorah (1 Samuel Chapter 15) for Parashat Zachor that Saul ha Melech was commanded by HaShem to completely destroy the Amalekites:

    “2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts: I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt.
    3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass

    He did not completely fulfill this command. As a result, we are still paying for it.

    May the IDF with the help of HaShem completely eradicate the Amalekites wherever they may be found–and may Israel totally ignore the pressure for a cease fire from the United Nations and its collection of Jew hating nations.

    Dedicated to the memory of Varda Harmaty, murdered in Kibbutz Reim by Arab scum.

  9. Edward Schneid

    Dear Naomi,
    Words can’t describe what you must be feeling. My heart, my thoughts and my prayers go out to you and the people of Israel.
    Cousin Eddie

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