columnIsrael at War

‘I am as my people are’

How—and what—can we celebrate in the wake of Oct. 7?

An Israeli soldier places flowers and flags on graves at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shmona on May 12, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day on May 13, 2024. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
An Israeli soldier places flowers and flags on graves at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shmona on May 12, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day on May 13, 2024. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One lesson Israelis should have internalized by now is that things can always get worse. As we moved on Monday night from mourning to celebration—when Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism abruptly transitioned into Independence Day—we’d have done well to remember what we were complaining about last year at this time.

In the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre, it’s impossible to believe that Israelis of all walks of life were treating judicial reform like a matter of life and death. Though it’s an issue that warrants serious debate under normal circumstances (whatever that means in the ever-besieged Jewish state), retrospect has a way of rendering previous concerns ridiculous.

While duking it out over the selection of judges and the power of the Supreme Court, Hamas was deep in the throes of the genocidal plan it would carry out a mere few months later. Breaking down the border fence, the Iranian-backed terrorists, joined by gleeful Gazan civilians, committed atrocities impossible for any human being with half a soul to fathom.

Initially, the shock and horror of the that Black Sabbath—families snuffed out; babies burned; women and girls raped; young men beheaded; bodies left mutilated beyond recognition; and 250 people of all ages violently abducted to tunnel dungeons in Gaza—brought the nation together in grief and anger.

How, we asked, could the authorities have allowed this to happen? Where was the attention of the security services and government while Hamas was carefully plotting and training for its mass assault? Why did it take the Israel Defense Forces hours upon hours to come to the rescue of the victims, so many of whom perished while waiting?

Our shared pain at the carnage, and common conviction that Hamas had to be defeated once and for all, soon became the source of a split. Given the degree of the trauma and character of Israeli discourse, the schism was inevitable.

This is literally and figuratively a crying shame. We’re a country at war on multiple fronts, desperate to secure the release of the remaining 132 hostages in the hands of Hamas.

That we can’t afford the luxury of political discord at this juncture should be as obvious to us as it is to the Oct. 7 massacre mastermind, Yahya Sinwar, and his patrons in Tehran. But we’re the same stiff-necked people we’ve always been; and even more anxiety-ridden.

Such a state of affairs makes marking Israel’s 76th birthday with any gusto especially difficult. After all, cheering while our friends and family members are in Gaza—either wasting away as hostages or risking their lives in uniform—doesn’t seem appropriate.

On the other hand, despondency isn’t conducive to victory. Nor is pessimism about the future beneficial.

Thanks to an interview on Saturday night with Eliasaf Peretz, I regained a lot of my own wavering confidence in the country. He is the son of Miriam Peretz, the recipient of the 2018 Israel Prize for lifetime achievement. After the death of two of her sons during their IDF service, she became a symbol of resilience and Zionist unity.

Eliasaf worked through his personal loss by establishing the “Our Brothers” initiative for bereaved siblings, to promote the values and love of homeland that their brothers and sisters possessed.  What he told Channel 14 was both comforting and eye-opening.

Asked by “The Patriots” host Yinon Magal how he’s feeling with the approach of Memorial Day, Eliasaf quoted the late poet Haim Gouri. “I am as my people are,” he replied.

He pointed to the paradoxical mixture of sadness and joy Israelis are accustomed to experiencing during this period: pride in the soldiers holding their heads high on the battlefield and simultaneous devastation at the news of those killed.

“It’s a pendulum of emotions, swinging from one extreme to the other,” he said, proceeding to recount a metaphor he had used an hour earlier when addressing a group of religious girls about to enter the IDF. Likening Israel’s situation today to a house undergoing renovations, he said, “When you look at such a structure, you see everything broken and dirty, and that causes irritability.”

He went on, “After 76 years, Israel can’t contain all that it’s achieved without adding another floor. That’s what we’re doing—building another level of spirit, of resolution and of choosing life.”

That, he explained, is the message he believes we’re receiving. “We witness despair and rage all over the place, leading us to wonder what’s going on and what lies ahead.”

Well, he concluded, “I think the answer is that it’s going to be good. For thousands of years, one thing our people never lost, no matter where we were, was the aspiration to return to this land. Every day, we prove that we know how to fight and die as brothers. Our great challenge is learning how to live as brothers.”

It’s a tall order. At this point, we might want to aim a bit lower. Suffice it for us in the meantime not to take what we’ve accomplished since 1948 for granted. It’s the envy of all the enemies bent on our annihilation.

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