Like most other people in Jerusalem, I was walking to synagogue on Saturday morning October 7th. Modi and I had finished our “Comedy For Koby” shows over Sukkot and I was staying a few days for our usual post tour meetings.
The sirens went off and having done shows in Afghanistan for the troops, I had been through missile attacks before. I didn’t panic, but simply went into the stairwell of a building. I knew the drill, and honestly thought that, as usual, Hamas was launching rockets, trying to kill as many innocent civilians as they could. Israel’s Iron Dome would protect us, and that would be the worst of it. God forbid some rockets might get through but I knew the odds were slim that mass casualties would occur.
By the time I got to synagogue the sirens were constantly going off and rumors began to spread about breaches in the south with a lot of casualties. None of us were sure what that meant. By the fourth time we went up and down the stairs, we sped through the service fairly quickly and everyone left.
I dropped by a house where a large neighborhood lunch was being held and the host’s two sons — both in elite combat units — had already been alerted to return to their bases. There was a clearly Orthodox young man checking his phone. Being religious, normally he would not have his phone out on the Sabbath and a holiday, but he was active in the army and keeps his phone close for emergencies. People kept asking him to check for news and he asked everyone to hold on one sec; he was texting with his commander. He then simply said, “I have to go.” After a quick prayer over the food he had just eaten, he rushed out. As he was leaving, a few people said, “May God watch over you!”
I obviously don’t need to go into the details of what happened that day, but when my flight out of Israel was canceled for the third time, I decided to stay and not really make an effort to leave. It didn’t take long for the horrors of October 7th to come to light, but it didn’t take long for Israel to rally and come together, either. Friends put me up until I could figure out where I was going to stay. People began sending me money to distribute to various charities on the ground here in Israel, and I’ve never seen Israel change more.
Israel will now divide time into before Oct 7th and the after. The staggering loss of life has forever changed this country, but the resilience of this nation has also brought it together.
When I think about what Israel was fighting over before, a mechitzah in Tel Aviv for an outdoor service on Yom Kippur, judicial reform, and whatever else was tearing the country apart, it puts into perspective what’s really worth fighting over and what’s worth coming together over.
I’ve never seen religious and secular, young and old, wealthy and poor come together more than I have now.
I’ve never seen religious and secular, young and old, wealthy and poor come together more than I have now. I was invited to a Shabbat dinner and asked if I would do a show in the upcoming week for people who just needed a break from all of the awful news. I immediately agreed. In Tel Aviv, restrictions limited gatherings to 50 people and within two days, two girls I know, Danielle and Zina, had arranged a show in an apartment, charged 60 shekels per person (around $15) and raised close to $1,000 for widows and orphans of the FIDF. I have done a few shows for soldiers on bases since, and the first one I attended had ultra-Orthodox Jews BBQing for secular soldiers.
Yes, Israel has a before and after. The after is stronger and will win, as it always does … and always will.
Avi Liberman is a stand-up comic who was born in Israel, raised in Texas and now lives in Los Angeles. Avi founded Comedy for Koby, a bi-annual tour of Israel featuring some of America’s top stand-up comedians.