The awkward question Israelis have been asking each other ever since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks is “How are you doing?” This phrase is usually a perfunctory greeting. It isn’t any longer. Israelis are genuinely concerned with how their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers are coping with the stress of war.
However, it is an awkward question because no one knows how to answer it. The standard, “Fine, thank you,” is obviously useless because no one is fine. The Israeli people are grieving and frustrated. Most of all, they are confused and unsure of what they should be feeling. Thus, most people answer the question with a shrug or an uncomfortable smile.
But one shouldn’t confuse Israel’s grief and frustration with despair. Israelis aren’t overwhelmed by this horrific tragedy. They are aware of the magnitude of their loss and the monstrous nature of the attack against their people. Yet the despair that can paralyze a nation simply isn’t there.
The exact opposite is true. The people of Israel have been galvanized into action and are experiencing a sense of unity not felt for decades. If you drive down any highway or street in Israel, you will see banners and billboards proclaiming, “Together We Will Succeed!”
Israel’s reaction to its own “9/11” is very different from America’s reaction back in 2001. America flew its flags at half-mast in public mourning. Israelis immediately flew their flags high in support of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers called up for reserve duty. Israeli soldiers, police and first responders didn’t put black bands on their arms in memory of their fallen comrades. Israel hasn’t declared a public day of mourning, and other than funerals and shivas, there have been no public displays of bereavement at all.
Masses of Israeli reservists have answered the call. While exact statistics aren’t publicly available, press reports have suggested a 130% call-up response. This means that Israelis who have “aged out” of serving, have official exemptions or were out of the country have volunteered to serve. IDF units have ballooned. One report claimed that over 150,000 Israelis returned from overseas to serve. Israelis are committed to turning this tragedy around and winning the war.
Israelis aren’t just uniting around the military. From teenagers to the elderly, Israelis from all over the country have begun volunteering in all manner of ways. With grandfathers, fathers and husbands called to military service, mothers are bearing the burden of taking care of their children alone. Enter the teen brigades, who babysit, clean and help cook for these mothers free of charge. The same teenagers took down tens of thousands of sukkahs when no one else was available to do so.
One of the most impressive and inspirational signs of Israeli unity surrounds any army base or temporary encampment of reservists and active-duty soldiers. From hundreds of pizza boxes, tens of thousands of socks and “laundry brigades” of people who take soldiers’ clothes, wash them at home and return them, the Israeli people’s support for their soldiers has demonstrated their pledge to always ensure that their warriors are taken care of.
Israelis aren’t depressed, they’re determined. When you hear Israelis talk about the war, they are resolute. They believe that no matter how bad it gets—and they expect the situation to get worse—the IDF should not stop fighting until it has won a resounding victory against Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups that participated in the attack. Israelis will not give in to feelings of sorrow and gloom. There will be a time to mourn and introspect, but now is the time for war. And Israelis are determined to win it.
Where does this determination come from? The early Zionists who imagined a Jewish state did so during a time of rising antisemitism. They were motivated by the fear of what the next antisemitic persecution might do to the Jewish people. The founders of the State of Israel did so from the ashes of the Holocaust and the fear of another Holocaust perpetrated by the surrounding Arab armies. After 2,000 years of being the victims of more powerful forces, Zionists decided to create a state where Jews would take charge of their own destiny, including their safety and security. Today’s Israelis are determined to realize that vision once again.
Many communities in Israel have added the recital of a chapter of Psalms to the end of their communal prayers, followed by the words, “Our brothers and sisters; the whole house of Israel, who are in distress and captivity, who wander over sea and over land—may God have mercy on them and bring them from distress to comfort, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption, now, swiftly and soon. And let us say: Amen.”
With God’s providence and the Jewish people’s commitment and determination, the State of Israel and her people will experience redemption.