In the early hours of Shabbat and Simchat Torah morning, Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel via ground, air and sea, and attacked villages and kibbutzim in the South of Israel. Coordinated with a barrage of thousands of rocket attacks—more than 4,000 missiles in just one day—the terrorists aimed to kill innocent women and children, and kidnap soldiers and civilians, and transfer them to Gaza.
We were caught by complete surprise for the second time in 50 years. The first time was the Yom Kippur War on the morning of Oct. 6, 1973, while Jews were observing our holiest day. And now, the second time, 50 years later on Oct. 7, 2023, just as Jews were getting ready to dance and celebrate with our Torah scrolls across the country.
In an instant, Hamas terrorists bolted into Israel with a manic barbarism as they hunted and trapped innocent civilians with a savage blood lust. Homes were set on fire to force civilians to flee from hiding spots only to be shot or captured. Executions of women and children in the street. Hostages violently abducted and tortured. Bodies mutilated in the streets of Gaza. Mainstream news reports do not dare show the horrific scenes witnessed in these villages.
The nightmare is still unfolding, but Oct. 7 will be seared in the minds and memories for history. In one bloody and horrific day, more than 700 Israelis were brutally slaughtered in their homes and on the streets—the worst day of casualties in Israel’s history. To comprehend the magnitude of this in relative population terms, that is the equivalent of eight times the number of victims in the 9/11 terror attacks or nine times the number of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor.
Beyond the tragic loss of life, this is a deep psychological blow to Israel’s invincibility, our military deterrence and the morale of the country, already at a low due to deep internal conflicts. To compound the psychological damage, the images of Israeli women and children being dragged away as hostages into the hands of savages with no morality is devastating. Painfully, this saga will play out for weeks, months and God forbid, years.
While the Israel Defense Forces mobilized with a delayed response to this surprise attack, our soldiers have regained control of towns and kibbutzim in the South of Israel. In what has been dubbed “Operation Iron Swords,” the IDF will focus on regaining control inside Israel and will conduct extensive military operations against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. This will not be a quick retaliatory strike. The defense minister has already mobilized tens of thousands of reservists, and Israel will likely enter Gaza with ground troops to eradicate the Hamas terror cells.
For our enemies, near and far, who may have been confused by the internal debates and protests that have roiled Israel over the past several months, you have misjudged our country and our resolve. When faced with an attack on our people, all who are required to stand up for the defense of Israel will do so without hesitation and with vigor. Right now, there is no debate; the most important focus is the safety of our country’s citizens and the return of our hostages.
The resilience of our nation is measured by our cohesion in difficult times. Despite differences of opinion, we are strong because we are fundamentally together. Surprisingly, someone contacted me this morning and asked if we are considering leaving the country until the situation calms down. I did not even hesitate in responding.
As someone who served as a lone soldier in a combat unit in the IDF and led a program called “Operation Torah Shield” to fly 400 students to Israel during the Gulf War, my position is quite clear: There is only one Jewish state, and we are one people. We yearned for 2,000 years to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in our land and I will stay here with my dying breath. What happens in Israel has reverberations around the Jewish world.
For those who are visiting Israel during the holidays, make the decision to stay. You are at home in the only Jewish country in the world. For you and for my fellow Israelis, during the coming weeks, follow the directions of the Home Front Command and find meaningful opportunities to volunteer. There are several groups and organizations that have mobilized civilians. (If you want to be connected and find ways to engage and make a difference, email: email@example.com).
For those outside of Israel, this conflict will likely continue for some time, and Israel will soon come under attack for simply defending her right to exist. While we cannot bring back those who were killed, we can ensure that the whole truth is reported. We can raise awareness about those taken hostage and enlist global support. We can engage in social media to share relevant news. We can write to political leaders to ensure broad support for Israel. And we can hold journalists accountable for honest reporting and for providing the context for what has transpired.
Please do not sit on the sidelines. Join your voices on social media and mobilize to support organizations in Israel and around the world who are defending Israel and need your support, including HaShomer HaChadash, the Jewish Agency, IsraAID, StandWithUs, Lev Echad and Friends of the IDF to help our soldiers defend our country.
I did not dance with our Torah scrolls (as I do every year for Hakafot Shniyot—literally, “Second Dances”). Instead, I joined an impromptu operations room set up by Lev Echad to help provide support to reserve duty soldiers and to deliver meals to reservists entering Gaza. In the face of such horror, there was no celebrating this Simchat Torah. In an instant, we shifted from dancing to celebrate our heritage and traditions to witnessing disaster before our eyes to defending our values and way of life.
This battle has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even territorial disputes. This terror attack was an attack on humanity and on the freedom-loving world. It was orchestrated by Iran, and is intended to disrupt the path to peace and to spread darkness. It is a battle between those who value and cherish human life versus those who worship death and destruction. Like World War II, this is a classic battle between good and evil. No matter where you live (the United States, United Arab Emirates, India, Brazil, etc.), this assault should serve as a wake-up call. When human beings are dragged through the streets, bodies mutilated, and hostages taken and tortured, this now must become your fight. It may have happened this week in Israel, but as we have seen in 2001 in New York, 2008 in Mumbai, 2015 in Paris and in many other terror attacks around the world, this poisonous ideology will soon make it to theaters near you.
There must be no place for this senseless violence and no safe haven for terrorists. We call upon the world and our Christian and Muslim friends and neighbors to condemn these heinous attacks and return the hostages taken. Our country will surely and rightly pursue justice and will do whatever it takes to end this madness. This horrific murderous assault will not go unanswered. As we take measures to secure our borders, defend our people, return our citizens who have been taken hostage and destroy the poisonous Hamas terror infrastructure, stand with Israel and stand for freedom.
For right now, I pray for the peace of our friends in southern towns, and for the health and safety of the victims and hostages. Past the shock and surprise, our country is now in deep mourning for those who we lost and for the horrors that have befallen our people.
Together, we will root out the evil of Hamas from the world, restore peace in our land and despite this setback, push forward to extend peace throughout the region. That must be the legacy we give to our children.