War Diary – Homefront

For over a month now, I've wanted to share my experiences with you.
December 7, 2023
Soldiers near the Gaza border on December 07, 2023 in Southern Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Though I experienced the Yom Kippur War as a baby, I still vividly recall my classmates whose fathers were killed in the war. We looked at them with a mixture of awe and deep respect for their courage. Today, in this war, for over a month now, I’ve wanted to share my experiences with you. Just recently, I returned from my annual trip across the United States, where I was privileged to meet with the members of many communities and schools before returning home to Israel. But now nothing seems to come out of the keyboard; it’s stuck. We, as Israelis, are working on autopilot and doing the best we can, and perhaps that’s the central point.

The sirens sounded just as the “Yizkor” prayer began

On the day of the “Black Shabbat”, we started our day extremely early, when we prayed Vatikin (during which morning prayers begin before sunrise). Of course, I just returned to Jerusalem from a month in the U.S., so the jet lag woke me up much earlier than usual. “It’s just noise to scare away pigeons”, said one of our friends. We had no inkling about the impending disaster when we heard noises coming from the South. The sirens sounded just as the “Yizkor” prayer began. We picked up our small children and entered the bomb shelter in our synagogue. My daughter Noa, who had just been released from military service in the Gaza Brigade, was already prepared with her army pack. She understood that she needed to leave immediately. Our neighbor, who usually only informs us about the victory of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Friday night basketball game, shouted, ‘You don’t understand!” what we all now know. The only thing I asked Noa was, “Don’t go straight to the base…go to the Southern Command in Be’er Sheva or anywhere else.” Some of Noa’s friends from the army traveled directly to the base and were injured by the terrorists who had infiltrated the area. 

Noa: “The rumors are that there are terrorists everywhere”

Noa summed up the first day of the war in a letter she sent to her students at the Tzahali Academy, a military preparatory academy for girls:

My dear ones, after three weeks of continuous fighting and working without a break, I want to tell you a bit about what I’ve been through during this time. On Shabbat, a joyous Simchat Torah morning, the cursed day of October 7th, I wake up to the sound of the siren in Jerusalem and immediately understand – there is a war, and they need me. I quickly pack everything I see in front of me and go out. Where to? The rumors are that there are terrorists everywhere. On my WhatsApp group for reservists, two of my friends call for medical attention. My commander tells me on the phone that he is in the middle of a battle and tells us not to come to the base because it’s overrun by terrorists. An order comes in – we’re going to the Mishmar Hanegev base. We travel South, and the roads are empty of civilian vehicles. We see smoke columns on the horizon from rocket strikes, and we hear sirens the entire time. We arrive at the base and make Kiddush over cupcakes that one of the men brought. The y enter the base wearing Shabbat clothes and come out of the hangar as full-fledged soldiers, all armed and ready for any scenario, which looks like a scene from a bad movie. After several hours, we receive an order to head to a base named ‘Julis,’ where a temporary command had been established. Upon arrival at Julis, we join forces with the reservists of the division as well as the regular soldiers who had been on weekend leave, and we commence our work, primarily to grasp the current situation. The situation is surreal; we are striking nests of hundreds of terrorists within Israel, realizing there are numerous breaches in the security fence. We never anticipated such an occurrence in our worst nightmares. The horrifying scenarios we practiced as a unit for takeover operations did not come close to the reality on the ground. Our mission is to locate those terrorists and to neutralize them. 

In the evening, it gets dark, and Shabbat ends. The army updates us that they cleared the base of terrorists and informs us that there is a convoy leaving and our section is accompanying them. We get into the vehicle, and it’s quiet in the car; we don’t know what to expect, what to feel. We drive on side roads through dozens of police and army roadblocks, arrive at the ‘Orim’ gas station, and see dozens of civilians who fled their homes, and soldiers trying to reassure them. We continue driving, and we can’t believe our eyes: the level of destruction, a real battlefield scene, things that are hard to describe. Finally, at 11:00 pm, we arrive in ‘Re’im.” We enter the command center, and I immediately hug my friends who went through hell when they hid under the table for hours while there were terrorists on the base. We continue working. We divide the work into shifts, with a night shiftcontinuing to work the next day, resulting in a 24-hour work cycle. We go to sleep until suddenly the phone rings; it’s the Home Front Command. There’s concern about a possible infiltration of terrorists, and everyone needs to come to the command center. From there, for another two or three days, the command center becomes our entire world. We eat, sleep, work, and shower, all at the command center. Within a week, we stabilize the situation in the area and shiftfrom hunting terrorists to defense and attack. Our work is to thwart additional attacks and safeguard the civilians in our sector. In the midst of all the chaos, I see your actions and volunteering efforts, and I am filled with pride. You are doing holy work, and it’s amazing to see you volunteering and doing good; it’s not taken for granted at all. I’m looking forward to seeing you at the academy once things have gone back to normal. I love you all so much, and I miss you a lot. Of course, I’m here for anything and everything. Have a Shabbat Shalom. Noa Katzburg 

What am I doing in this war?

Noa, along with her older siblings, Ariel, Yafit, and Yonatan, who are also currently serving in the IDF as reservists, are scattered all over the country doing what is asked of them. In the quiet that remains, as thoughts are formed in the night, I ask myself: What am I doing in this war? The reserves released me when our sixth child, Aviad, was born, approximately 16 years ago. I saw other people immediately mobilizing to volunteer, opening emergency supply centers, lining up in front of the Home Front Command, and trying to enlist. But I was looking for something else, somewhere I could feel that this was my place, which I only understood later on. Out of instinct, I reported on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. to the local supermarket and said to the store owner, “Michael, here I am to help!” Michael was embarrassed, and said, “No, Mickey, it’s not suitable.” But reality slaps you in the face. There are no employees. The employees have stayed home with their kids since school has been canceled. A worker from East Jerusalem was advised to stay at home for a few days. And let’s not talk about truck drivers who are all recruited to transport tanks to the North and South. As for me…I started arranging shelves; I put newer products in the back and those with upcoming expiration dates in front. Everything needs to stand upright like our soldiers at the front. The shock came when the Home Front Command issued a message on Monday night that each family should have enough food in their home to last 72 hours. The announcement created great anxiety, and thousands came to empty the shelves. It reminded me of CNN reports of bare supermarket shelves during hurricane season in Florida. I understood that the shelves in our local supermarket cannot be allowed to look like that. The shelves had to be filled, no matter what! On Tuesday morning, Michael and I went shopping, only this time, we shopped for the entire neighborhood. We collected seven pallets of food and drinks, item by item, from a warehouse in Northern Jerusalem. Angel’s bakery in Jerusalem graciously gave us all the baked goods and bread we needed. You should have seen the residents’ reaction when they discovered that the shelves were almost full at 7:00 pm. It’s not a time for joy, but it was possible to see a bit of light in their eyes. And so, over the next ten days, I continued to organize shelf by shelf as needed. Suddenly, the obvious took on a different look.

We are in a land of “rounds”

Questions of identity, faith, and difficult thoughts gnaw away during your spare time. You build several “channels” in your soul: a war channel, a channel for the kidnapped, a channel for worrying about your kids in the army. There is also a channel for business, even though it is not the most important one and is not a question of life and death. We are in a land of “rounds”, as the politically correct call terror attacks and incidents. During the war, projects that have been worked on for months and sometimes years collapse like a house of cards, as if we haven’t been through Covid-19, Omicron, and a few more small “rounds.” It is very difficult to get up in the morning and go back to a routine workday. I know, I promised to submit plans and to send thank-you letters to donors. I know, I also promised to send the new course for teaching Hebrew to schools. After all, the Jewish schools outside of Israel continue to teach. But who can write at all? How can one concentrate? And what about the guests for October, November, and December and who knows how much farther on? Our projects once more went down the drain. For example, a wonderful couple from London, to whom it was clear that they should have their wedding in Israel and invited more than 250 family and friends, as well as three women from the Philippines who saved dollar by dollar just to come and see the Holy Land, all canceled their planned trips to Israel due to the war. And then we get a message that the family that was supposed to arrive in December…would not be coming because a family member, who was the president of a synagogue, was brutally murdered. In the supermarket, as in many workplaces, things are more or less back to normal. Occasionally, I check in and straighten the hummus in the refrigerator by myself, but not much more is needed at this point. Around me, people are busy running around, many of whom are doing wonderful things, such as establishing emergency supply centers that provide food, equipment, children’s drawings and more. Our youth and many others go to the kibbutz in our neighborhood where it is clear there is a lot to do. They go from shelter to shelter and clean them, and when the Home Front 

Command approves it, activities are started for the younger children throughout the whole neighborhood. Idit, my wife, as well as others, collects laundry from the displaced residents staying at the hotel nearby: washing, hanging and folding their clothes. They are also supporting women whose husbands were called up as reservists and are home alone with their children.

“Families Take a Breather”

And what about me, what do I need to do? My gut feeling says that we must maintain normalcy. The house must be even more organized and be able to provide a hot meal every day for the younger children as well as for the teenagers who return home after an exhausting day of volunteering. I don’t give up and find the best recipes to make for them. And what do I need to do to help the people of Israel? It took me a few more days to come to a realization because that’s how it is when the canons are booming. I need to do what I do in normal times: characterize and identify the need…It takes some more time, and suddenly I understand – this is the point, we need to do what is needed and what we are good at! The war undermines our existential foundations, and it doesn’t matter if they’re arranged in a pyramid or in another way. The demand to restore personal security, to ensure that the basic needs of food, housing, community and society is fundamental. Many people know how to do those things. My team and I, however, are called to strengthen the Israeli home front and bring forces to assist in the effort to reestablish stability and resilience. Even during “normal” days, the projects that we choose to develop are related to this basic point in Jewish education , employment and even tourism. Just like we’ve done with previous projects, also with this project, “Families Take a Breather”, we make sure we are accurate in assessing the needs for it, the methods in which we operate, and the advantage that this project brings with it. We are committed to ensuring that 100% of donations will go towards the project. “Families Take a Breather” started when we met with emotionally focused therapists who work with children in a hospital in the Center of Israel. The therapists use a variety of tools to reduce stress and anxiety, foremost among them an application called “Kinor Lev”. Over the course of the years during which they’ve been using Kinor Lev, they heard numerous testimonies regarding the great influence it had on both the patient and those close to them in reducing stress. Kinor Lev is a musical biofeedback application that is easy to use and many people are able to utilize it to relieve stress and relax without professional assistance. You are welcome to take a look at our home page, which includes an explanation about the project, a link to studies in the field including an article written by Dr. Gadi Lissak, a psychologist, as well as a recommendation by Dr. Michael Abulafia, a psychiatrist, regarding using the Kinor Lev tool.

“putting the soul on the shelf”

I began experiencing the benefits of the Kinor Lev system first-hand during the Covid-19 pandemic, and my children and I, including the younger ones, continue to enjoy using it. Our organization’s advisory committee includes a social worker with an MSW from Hebrew University and a therapist with a Master’s from Haifa University, among others. All of our therapists have recognized degrees. The month of Kislev is meant to remove darkness by bringing light. Join me in “putting the soul on the shelf”, to help organize, arrange, and stand it upright in its place. Now, more than ever, the people in Israel need a reinforcement of their mental resilience and the tools to reduce tension and anxiety. I decided that I would turn to you. And this is my volunteering effort. I didn’t hesitate (perhaps a little bit) to arrange shelves in the supermarket because that’s what was needed at the time. I’m reaching out to you now to give you the opportunity to help the people of Israel even from a distance. You can sponsor a family, a community, or a Kinor Lev training course for therapists. This can be done with the click of a button: https://jewisheducation.net/winning-together-en/ .

A strong Home Front – wins.

Mickey Katzburg is engaged in entrepreneurship, branding and project management and is the founder and director of the World Center for Jewish Education . 

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