OpinionIsrael at War

A snapshot of life during wartime

There’s more patience in the air. There’s a strong feeling that we are all family, going through this together.

Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv pack donations of food and other necessities for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and citizens in the south on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv pack donations of food and other necessities for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and citizens in the south on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Akiva Gersh
Akiva Gersh, originally from New York,  has been working in the field of Jewish and Israel education for more than 20 years. He lives with his wife, Tamar, and their four kids in Pardes Hanna.

It’s very difficult for people outside of Israel to understand what’s taking place inside of Israel right now. In the 19 years that I have lived here, I’ve never experienced anything like it—both in terms of the depth of the pain, sadness and tragedy, but also in terms of the strength, unity and resilience of the Jewish people in the Jewish homeland.

Nonetheless, I want to try to share a glimpse into what it looks like here and what it feels like here. Because what’s happening here is historical on many levels and in many ways, and I want to explain it to the extent that I can.

The following is a collection of moments and reflections from the past week and a half.

Before the war, we always heard the sound of a single helicopter flying over our house each evening during its routine security check of our area. Since the war began, we constantly hear the sounds of fighter jets and helicopters flying above throughout the day, every day. The sound is both unsettling and comforting. I often wonder if the pilots are on their way to or on their back from carrying out a mission in the Gaza Strip.

My family and I live in a “safe” area of the country—45 minutes north of Tel Aviv—but the other day we heard our first boom. A rocket landed in an open field about 10 kilometers away from us. Our bomb shelter is stocked with food, water and other supplies just in case we need to be there for long periods of time. With the possibility of war with Lebanon, I know that “just in case” might become a reality.

Schools are still closed here for our older kids, so they, like many teenagers here, are going to and from volunteer opportunities of all kinds. When our older kids now say “I’m going out,” we know they’re going to help in one way or another—for instance, collecting and packing food for soldiers, clearing out public bomb shelters, helping families who have moved here from the south. It’s absolutely amazing to see the spirit of the youth burst forth, eager to do what they can to help in this situation. On some level, they’re growing and learning so much more than they would from being in school.

I was talking to my parents, who live in the United States, the other day and then handed the phone to my 7-year-old son to speak with them. They asked, “Are you still playing soccer?” He nonchalantly replied: “Not right now because there’s a war, and there’s no safe room near our soccer field.” I never said anything nearly as intense and sad as that when I was his age.

Many, many women are without their husbands, and kids are without their fathers, as hundreds of thousands of men have left their homes to report to reserve duty. That leaves mothers at home on their own with their kids—from one child to five children and more. I’ve spoken with some of these women and they are just floored with the amount of requests they are receiving from friends, neighbors and even strangers, to help in any way that they can: fold laundry, cook, clean, babysit, food shop. Anything.

I went to two funerals this week. Both young women were at the music festival in the south attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Both of their bodies were only found more than a week later. It’s heartbreaking beyond belief. The cries, the screams and the wailing of the parents and siblings; I’ll never forget this. At the same time, I was blown away by my people as I looked around at the thousands who came out—most of them who, like me, never knew these women. But knew they had to be there at their funerals to support their families and mourn with them in this darkest of times.

My community, Pardes Hanna, had the huge merit of hosting the bar mitzvah of a boy who, along with his entire family, survived the Hamas attack on his community Netiv Ha’Asarah. Many of his friends and neighbors were murdered, and his family wasn’t sure they would even celebrate his bar mitzvah. But then the famous Israeli singer, Hanah Ben-Ari, who lives in Pardes Hanna, got in touch with them, invited them to celebrate here with us and facilitated the service with his beautiful, heavenly voice. Tons of people came out with tons of spirit and brought tons of food. Once again, we have been blown away by the kindness of people and the Jewish ability to celebrate life in such a strong way even in the midst of such pain and brokenness.

Israelis are infamously known for being impatient, and, yes, sometimes pushy and rude. You barely feel that these days, if at all. The normal sound of cars honking at each other has disappeared from the roads. People are being nicer to each other in the stores and on the streets, and there’s more patience in the air. There’s a strong feeling that we are all family, going through this together.

One of the greatest signs of the incredible unity in the country right now is that on the bridges above major highways, where throughout this past year hung signs of protest, of “my side” vs. “your side,” of right-wing versus left-wing, there now are banners of love and support and togetherness. It’s incredibly fascinating and beautiful to see.

Some people have asked me if we might leave Israel to go somewhere “safer” during this time. The answer is and always will be: absolutely not. This is our home. There’s no other place we want to be or will be, no matter what is happening here.

Am Yisrael Chai. “The nation of Israel lives.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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