Before Oct. 7, living in Israel could leave you battered, bruised and in need of a stiff drink. Sky-high housing prices, exorbitant childcare costs, heavy regulations, relatively low median wages that translate into a lack of purchasing power and an over-dependence on imports for food and other essentials are facts of life here.
When you combine all that with rising interest rates and inflation, you get a giant pressure cooker from the river to the sea.
Israel is now at war. Life’s daily challenges have been magnified by the terrible realization that all the talk about shrinking the conflict with the Palestinians until peace becomes possible turned out to be a dangerous delusion.
Since Hamas’s massacre, the news coming out of Israel has been focused on the war. Our attention has been monopolized by the IDF’s fight to topple Gaza’s rulers, the plight of the 200,000 internally displaced Israelis who have lost everything, negotiations to secure the release of Israeli hostages, diplomatic kabuki between Jerusalem and other world capitals, and now the ceasefire, hostage releases and the question of when the fighting will resume.
Under the international media’s radar, however, a massive number of ordinary Israeli citizens are mobilizing in support of their country.
Close to half the Israeli population has volunteered in some way, an unprecedented response catalyzed by the call-up of over 300,000 army reservists and the evacuation of citizens living around Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon.
Since the outbreak of war, more than 200,000 Israelis who were overseas returned home. People from Athens to Los Angeles dropped whatever they were doing at a moment’s notice. While some of these people were called up by the IDF, many others volunteered.
In Israel, university students whose academic year was put on hold rushed to the aid of southern farmers whose agricultural workforce vanished overnight, leaving crops to rot in the fields and livestock to fend for themselves.
The war with Hamas may go on for months and could well affect every part of the country. With that in mind, parents are making the time to develop new skills that are suddenly in demand. They are enrolling in hastily organized firefighter training and rescue courses, learning first aid and CPR, and attending lectures on mental resilience to assist people directly impacted by Hamas’s atrocities and those who may need help soon.
This spirit of solidarity has spread like a brushfire. In particular, two minority groups that have traditionally isolated themselves from the wider Israeli society, the haredim and Arab Israelis, are stepping up.
While thousands of Arab Israelis showed their support for Palestinian Arabs in 2021 by rioting and looting, the same community today opposes Hamas, supports Israel’s right to defend itself and has shown a willingness to volunteer to help civilians who were harmed on Oct. 7.
Then there are the new Israelis. Despite language and cultural barriers, this group is also stepping up in the country’s darkest hour.
Immigrants from France have set up their own Facebook groups, through which they organize army base visits to feed Israel’s fighting men and women. A professional colleague of mine who recently moved to Israel from the Czech Republic launched a website on which he and other designers are selling shirts and coffee mugs, with all the proceeds going to aid Israel’s internal refugees.
Here in Haifa, English and Russian social-media groups are multiplying. New childcare and tutoring initiatives for young evacuees forced to flee their homes, neighborhood drives for clearing out bomb shelters and much more are popping up every day.
The common thread running through these different communities is the belief that Oct. 7 was a watershed moment in Israel’s history. For a few horrifying hours, as Hamas rampaged across the country’s south while launching thousands of rockets towards Israel, people here got a glimpse of what their lives would be like without a sovereign Jewish state: Hell on earth.
Newcomers and native Israelis, Jews and Arabs, the religious and non-religious now share a common destiny: They know they have nowhere else to go.
Israelis are now looking at their country with fresh eyes. They have discovered a profound appreciation for what this tiny country has given them. They have become Israeli again.