Like tens of thousands of other Jews in Jerusalem preparing to go to synagogue to celebrate Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah this past weekend, the screaming of the siren in my neighborhood at about 8 a.m. was jarring. We’ve heard the siren before; it’s one of the tools used to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance. But that morning was different. After the siren ceased, we heard the boom sound of an Iron Dome rocket exploding followed in a second by the sound of an incoming rocket exploding.
I resisted the urge to turn on the TV or radio, knowing that I would be hearing the news in a few minutes from someone at the backyard minyan I attend. Off, I went after giving my wife Rosalyn instructions to knock on the next-door neighbor’s door if the siren went off again and ask her how to get into the miklat (“shelter”) in our apartment building’s basement.
I passed others on my street, Emek Refaim, including children in strollers, who were heading to synagogues to celebrate Shabbat and the holiday. No wishes of Shabbat Shalom/Chag Sameach were exchanged. Everyone had a somber look on their face. There were fewer cars than usual. Noticeably absent were the driving-instruction cars usually populated by Israeli Arabs.
At the prayer service, we heard the first reports that Sderot had been invaded. Strangely, I thought, I and the others did not dismiss the report as a rumor; and the calling-up of a couple of young reservists in the neighborhood canceled any thoughts we may have had that the sirens and rockets were one-off events.
The second siren of the day sounded at about 9 a.m. After we emerged from our host’s basement, I decided I would check on my daughter Francine and her family, who were in Jerusalem for the holidays, to see how they were doing; they live a two-minute walk from the minyan. As I expected because it was Shabbat, the doors to her apartment complex and building were open. And, also as usual, the door to her apartment was slightly ajar.
All the lights were on when I walked in and shouted several times: “Is anyone home?” Out Francine came with two of her daughters from the apartment miklat. She explained that my son-in-law and grandson were davening next door at the Orient Hotel and that my recently married granddaughter’s husband had gone to a minyan for “two-day observers” at the Inbal Hotel. After assuring me they were fine, Francine walked me back and then proceeded down the street to check on Roz.
A few minutes later, Francine stopped by to tell me she found her mother on our balcony, calmly having a cup of hot chocolate and a croissant. Roz assured Francine that she would do what I told her to do if the siren went off again. (She didn’t.)
Davening had just begun, and others started to trickle in when the siren sounded again at about 9:30 a.m. So into our host’s basement we went, again. Now, I think it’s a given that we’re all pundits in Israel, and one of the guests said that these rockets are an attempt to interrupt relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. I not-so-gently disabused him of that notion. My daughter Alisa was murdered at the height of the Israeli love affair with the Oslo Accords in 1995 and was called a “casualty of the peace” when, in fact, she was murdered in cold blood by Islamic terrorists who wanted to kill Jews and wipe Israel off the map. Today’s events, I said, are more of the same.
We continued at prayer despite three more siren alerts, but we no longer went down to the basement; the first floor was now good enough for us. We left nothing out of the special davening marking the chag. All the men got their aliyah at the Torah as is the custom (Simchat Torah here in Israel is joined with Shemini Atzeret). We said Yizkor, did the last set of hakafot, prayed for rain and prepared for a festive kiddish. (No, I didn’t stay while Roz was home by herself. I left so I could fill her in on what we’d heard and waited for our daughter Gail and her family, also here in Jerusalem for the chag, to arrive for lunch.)
I haven’t tuned in my TV or radio to the English channels and am doing my best to stay off social media. (Let’s say the news triggers my PTSD caused by Alisa’s murder.) But information still seeps in. The attacks are being equated by many with the events of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel, when the country’s leadership was caught flat-footed and everyone knew someone who was a victim of the war.
I do know that many Israelis have been captured and dragged across the border into the Gaza Strip, where they have been paraded as spectacles. Their fate is unknown. You cannot hide from hearing the news that victims of the Hamas death squads in several towns were raped, then murdered and their bodies mutilated.
So, where do we go from here?
I have no doubt in my mind that U.S. President Joe Biden’s strong statements in support of Israel (despite the initial silly comments by U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and the Office of Palestinian Affairs about the “cycle of violence” that were quickly removed from social media) will give way to calls for a ceasefire as casualties in Gaza mount. And we’ll have calls, again, for the implementation of a two-state solution as the cure for a war of this type.
I hope those calls are ignored by Israel. Whether you live in Sderot, Ofakim or the German Colony, this war demonstrates, again, that our enemy does not want to live in peace in a state next to Israel, but instead wants Israel and every one of its citizens to disappear from the map of the Mideast by any and all means possible.
Hamas has been coddled by the United States and by Israel as well, to an extent. Yes, coddled. Americans urging for a two-state solution has created a sense among Palestinians that their cause is just; it is not. The Jew-hatred of Palestinian leadership is palpable. Hamas knows how to use its citizens, including children, as shields from Israeli attacks and then parade the injured “victims” in order to garner U.S. support for a ceasefire.
For its part, over the last few years, Israel has permitted the transfer of millions of dollars from Qatar to Gaza. How much of that money made it into the hands of Gaza’s residents? Foodstuffs and other goods flow through Israel into Gaza, but not every embargoed item can be stopped at the border, despite Israel’s best efforts. Every attempt to pacify Hamas has resulted in a slap in the face—and now war.
How this all ends, I do not know. But I am praying that this time, the end includes the clear destruction of Hamas. Time will tell.