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In Times of War

Israel is a small country and one family. Like every family, we have fights, but we pull together in times of crisis.
[additional-authors]
October 19, 2023
Funeral of Roi Chaim Weiser Photo courtesy Toby Klein Greenwald

I hear the sound of
Israeli fighter planes overhead
The sweetest lullaby.

That was one of my Facebook posts. 

It describes how I fell asleep the night of Sunday, Oct. 8th.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from waking up in the middle of the night (like every night since Simchat Torah) and going to the computer to check the news again. 

Israel is a small country and one family. Like every family, we have fights, but we pull together in times of crisis.

I know that sounds like a cliché. Because you have heard it before, especially about Israel.

But it’s not a cliché. The declarations from those reserve pilots angry with the current government’s judicial reform attempts – they all showed up. This, according to a senior air force officer interviewed Tuesday morning on the news.

Hundreds of Israelis abroad are returning home on special flights so they can fight in the war. This, while some people visiting from abroad are frantically trying to find an earlier flight out of the country. (I’m not judging. Just saying.)

A teacher of mine used to say, “Tell the story of just one person.”

So here is mine. Well, mine, and my family’s, and my friends. And all Am Yisrael are my friends.

Many reserve soldiers, men and women, have received what is called a “Tzav 8” – meaning that they are to report for duty, and it is open ended. 

Many reserve soldiers, men and women, have received what is called a “Tzav 8” – meaning that they are to report for duty, and it is open ended. The news reported that more than 350,000 reserve soldiers have shown up so far, and counting. 

One of our daughters is married to someone in the IDF Rabbinate. He had not been home since Simchat Torah morning. One of their main tasks is dealing with burials. 

Another daughter and her oldest son stood in line for hours waiting to donate blood – they have type O. Not quite as prestigious as mine (O-) but a friend in Magen David Adom, when I asked him if I could donate (over 60, with a challenging medical history), replied, “Not in this lifetime. Maybe in the next gilgul.”

Another daughter lives in the Retamim community in the Negev but not near the Gaza border. Friends of theirs from Sderot fled and came to stay with them in the middle of Shabbat. Her husband grew up in Ofakim, where he still has relatives. Thank God they were not attacked. She sent a photo to the family depicting the bar they have improvised to put against the door in their safe room to keep out intruders.

There are many heroic stories of soldiers and civilians; I’ll share two about civilian women.

The story of Rachel Edri of Ofakim went viral and she has become a legend. While terrorists held Rachel and her husband David hostage in their home for 20 hours, she recounted to Channel 13, all the time with a grenade on her head and Kalashnikov rifles pointed at them, rather than cowering in fear, she asked the elite police group outside, including her policeman son, who were negotiating with the terrorists, to bring coffee and cookies. She kept talking to them, asking about their families, eventually telling them to sit down and eat something, thinking they will be calmer if they’re not hungry, meanwhile signaling to the police that there were five of them. Then one went outside and was killed in a gun battle and there were four. She said to them, “We’re brothers, don’t do this…” and one answered, “No, I’m a martyr” and pointed his gun at her husband’s head. She said to her husband, “Come sit next to me, we’ll say Sh’ma Yisrael, and God is with us.”

The police eventually, with the help of a drone, following a map of the inside of the home, drawn by the couple’s son, came in through a rooftop window, killed all the terrorists, who were just a few feet away from the couple, and rescued them. Some people compared her to the biblical Yael, who lured the enemy General Sisera into her tent, gave him milk to drink and killed him with a tent peg.

 My daughter sent the notice to our family WhatsApp with the comment that her husband’s late mother could have done something like that. He chimed in, “Any Moroccan woman.” His father was Tunisian and wore a yellow star at the age of seven when the Nazis invaded North Africa. His mother was from Morocco. Both of them were from families that were among the more than 860,000 Jews who were expelled and forced out of Arab lands and Iran in the 20th century; his parents ended up in Ofakim, a Negev development town founded in 1955.

As soon as Lieberman received the news of the attacks on Shabbat, she prepared a work plan to protect the kibbutz, created ambushes for terrorists and placed armed men on the kibbutz’s fence. According to news reports, she killed five terrorists herself.

Another woman, Inbal Lieberman, 25, a member of Kibbutz Nir Am, is the head of the kibbutz emergency squad. Nir Am was founded in 1943 by immigrants from Bessarabia. According to newspaper Israel Hayom, as soon as Lieberman received the news of the attacks on Shabbat, she “prepared a work plan to protect the kibbutz, created ambushes for terrorists and placed armed men on the kibbutz’s fence.” According to news reports, she killed five terrorists herself and another 20 were killed by others in the squad and other soldiers in a four-hour battle.

Another of our daughters lives in a small yishuv in the Binyamin area. All the men have been mobilized.

Another of our daughters lives in a small yishuv in the Binyamin area. All the men have been mobilized. Her husband is a reserve officer in a combat unit, their base located somewhere else in the Binyamin area. I asked her if she wants to come with their four children to stay with us in Efrat, and she said no, that all the women are alone with the children so they are organizing activities, some are eating meals together, some are even sleeping in the same homes. 

She sent a photograph of their four kids curled up together on their parents’ beds, probably feeling safer together near Ima, since Abba is not home. A neighbor of theirs, mobilized, sent me a voice message asking if I could look over the translation of something he wrote that would be soliciting supplies for his unit, and he added, “Your daughter is a champion.” “What did she do differently from the other women?” I messaged back. He replied, “Nothing different. They are all champions.”

Viral clips

One viral clip showed a reserve soldier in full battle gear with his phone open, answering “Amen” to the Zoom broadcast of his son’s brit milah.

Another clip showed a couple in simple clothing getting married in a park, by Rabbi David Stav, head of the Tzohar rabbinical group, before the groom would be going away to battle.

A senior officer who was interviewed on TV described his soldiers as “lions.” When asked by the newscaster if any of them asked him, “How did this happen?” (the failure in intelligence), he replied, “No one asked me that question. They are just here to fight.”

A senior officer who was interviewed on TV described his soldiers as “lions.” When asked by the newscaster if any of them asked him, “How did this happen?” (the failure in intelligence), he replied, “No one asked me that question. They are just here to fight.”

A clip of several hundred soldiers are standing in a large group singing “Hatikva,” followed by “Ani Maamin” (“I Believe”).

There is a clip of people lining a highway where tanks and buses filled with reservists are passing on their way to the front, with children and adults (of every age, across the religious spectrum) giving out sandwiches, drinks, snacks, and Israeli flags. One little girl holds up a white board with the words, “Together we will be victorious.” Whoever created the clip put in the background music of the iconic song by Ehud Manor, with music by Corinne Allal, “I have no other country, even with my land is on fire, here is my home.” One soldier responds by making a heart with his fingers.

A still photograph of a female officer giving a kiss to her baby daughter, with the caption: “This soldier just gave birth two weeks ago and on Shabbat was called up to duty, running the war room. She is pumping her milk and a military driver brings it home to her baby!”

A rabbi and a journalist

My husband and I stop by to visit Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. We discuss the situation, and children and grandchildren. I ask him at some point if he has any words of wisdom. I am thinking of the war. But he answers, “Grandchildren are netzach [eternity].” I realize he is talking about more than the war, and more than our families. He is saying that Am Yisrael will continue.

I hear that word again that night, on the news. Veteran newscaster Ayala Hasson, who has a daily evening show where she hosts experts, proudly pointed out that she is wearing a Magen David around her neck, and said several times during the week, “This is my mantra. I want to remind everyone that during the Yom Kippur war we thought it was the end. And we are still here, to continue to build the country.” She ended one of her programs with the words, “Netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker”—“Israel’s Eternal will not betray.”

Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is this: In 2005, which Israel destroyed Gush Katif and the homes and livelihoods of more than 8,500 people and handed it over, along with the rest of Gaza, to the Arabs living there, Ariel Sharon did it unilaterally, with no peace agreement. 

The Gazan Arabs were handed a gift on a silver platter. They were given, through the years, billions of dollars of foreign aid. They could have created a paradise on earth. They could have built schools, hospitals, tourist areas, improved the quality of living of their residents.

Instead, they burnt the Gush Katif synagogues, plundered the greenhouses, which had been left standing, and when Hamas was voted in two years later, they turned the entire Gaza area into a hell on earth, not just as a threat to Israel, but for their own residents, all of them human shields. 

In spite of that, Israel continued to allow Gaza residents to enter Israel to have jobs that would earn money for their families.

The failure in intelligence was not the only shock to Israelis. The bigger shock, I believe, was the level of bestial and barbaric acts perpetrated by the terrorists. 

But the world’s horror is disingenuous. This is not the first time that Hamas and other Arab terrorists have slit the throats of babies and children, men and women, in attacks that were almost never reported in the western media. Several thousand Israelis have lost their lives to terrorism in the decades since the existence of the State of Israel, and before.

It is the magnitude that is so shocking – so many on one day. And such mass barbarity, not the action of one evil man, but of many.

I published a cover story some years ago about the massacre of the Jews in Hebron in 1929. The massacre. Something that lives in infamy. Sixty-nine Jews were murdered then.

Sixty-nine.

Now – more than 1200, most of those civilians. Digest that.Babies and women and men and the elderly. The Gaza terrorists came in death squads. The only thing that compares is the Nazis.

According to one report, when the number was “only” 800 it was reportedly parallel to seven times more the number of lives lost in 9/11. Digest that.

Relatives in America with whom I am seldom in contact kindly reached out to me. I’ve heard the same from other friends. Lesson: We need to be in touch with each other not just in times of tragedy.

In true Israeli spirit, black humor 

Memes of Rachel from Ofakim have her face attached to bodies of flying super heroes, and a parody on coffee shop reviews describes her coffee shop thus: “10 out of 10. Wonderful attitude. Excellent coffee. Hot and gentle cakes. A warm and friendly lady.”

Due to the hurried and huge numbers of reserve soldiers called up (more than 300,000) Israelis have been answering requests for various items and overwhelming soldiers and army bases with hygiene items, underwear, sheets and towels, snacks, leading to soldiers posting funny clips showing the amount of things donated and facetiously asking for more; one soldier sent a voice message pleading with people to come and take all those things off his bed so he can find it and go to sleep.

How do we cope?

I responded to a post on the Facebook page of IWEN Israeli Women Entrepreneurs’ Network asking how we are all coping. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

 “The hardest part is not staying glued to the news. About 38 years ago I took a session with a friend who had studied the EMETT (Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah) method under Miriam Adahan. The only thing I remember was that there was a rule that in times of crisis, ‘Take positive physical action.’

“… I’m trying to finish writing a column but it’s a struggle. I am battling severe writers’ bloc … I know I have to do this because it’s one of my professions and we need to do what we can.

“I also volunteered to be part of the Playback theater community who will go out to communities who have been evacuated from down south to perform … I think I need to rejuvenate the 50 posts I put up during corona called ‘Creative writing through corona’ because maybe that will help people.’

“I offered to help moms in our area whose husbands were called up, if they need a ride somewhere or need someone to watch their kids for an hour or two…”

A funeral

I attend the funeral of Roi Chaim Weiser, an Israeli from Efrat with American grandparents, all of whom are friends of mine. Roi, a member of the Golani Brigade, was stationed at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. It is said that Roi diverted terrorists who attacked them, thus saving the lives of 12 of his fellow soldiers before he was killed.

At his funeral in the military section of the Kfar Etzion cemetery, he was eulogized by family and friends, and by the army, described by all as creative, dedicated, a leader. 

The first army officer to speak, from the IDF Rabbinate, read Chapter 83 in Tehilim – 

“…O God, do not be silent; do not hold aloof; do not be quiet, O God! For Your enemies rage, Your foes assert themselves … They say, ‘Let us wipe them out as a nation; Israel’s name will be mentioned no more.’… Deal with them as You did with Midian, with Sisera, with Jabin, at the brook Kishon … O my God, make them like thistledown, like stubble driven by the wind. As a fire burns a forest, as flames scorch the hills, pursue them with Your tempest, terrify them with Your storm. Cover their faces with shame so that they seek Your name, O LORD. May they be frustrated and terrified, disgraced and doomed forever. May they know that Your name, Yours alone, is the LORD, supreme over all the earth.”

Before leaving for the funeral, I was about to grab one of the t-shirts of my Raise Your Spirits shows to wear. The one I chose was from the show, “In Search of Courage.” The title and tag line are in bright gold: “Hashem oz l’amo yiten” – “God will give his people courage.”

This was echoed by the last person to speak at Roi’s funeral, one of his commanders. He shouted out, ‘This war will not be won by planes and tanks … it is a war of spirit and consciousness … The spirit and courage of Am Yisrael … with this will Am Yisrael be victorious. With courage and greatness of the soul. May Hashem avenge your blood. May your soul be bound up in eternal life.”


Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist and theater director and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.

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