Reuvenations - Thoughts and Feelings Living Through War in Israel - Week 4

Blog image - Reuvenations - Thoughts and Feelings Living Through War in Israel - Week 4

Part 1

So… what is going on here, in Shilo, with my family…. 

Lev came home again on Thursday for 24-hour leave. Hanoch (he’s at the same base) called to say that he had organized a hotplate for Shabbat, but he had nothing to put on it. He said if I made a cholent, Lev could bring it back with him on Friday. It would make his unit happy.

"How big should I make it? How many are going to be eating from it?"

"Between 10 and 100," he said.  

Because I distill whiskey in my spare time, I happen to have some hare pots hanging around. We bought 2 large sacks of potatoes, 2 bags of carrots, got some monstrously large sweet potatoes, countless onions, and got to work. I was thinking to put only some of a hot red pepper in, and my daughter said, "Abba, it’s a large pot". So it all went in, along with a dose of date honey. 

To be honest, cholent is not the best dish that comes out of our house, and it is vegetarian cholent to boot, but this was a monstrously good cholent and it took two strong people to carry. Hanoch said it was the thing that made Shabbat for many, many soldiers!   

We also have a group of four reserve soldiers stationed not far from my house, but down the hill a little ways. They have a fancy high-resolution scope with which to keep an eye on the Arab village across the valley. Many of this village spend most of their year in Dearborn, Michigan and only come back here in the summer for weddings and vacation. But there are poorer folk down there as well, and though there are not many problems between us, I think we’ve learned not to place our security in the hands of our enemies, trusting them not to attack us.   

In any case, we made sure they had Shabbat food and now we try to keep them happy with snacks. The principle is:  Treat the soldiers like you’d want others to treat the soldiers in your family. 

Hanoch came back yesterday for a couple days of R&R. I think he is helping to guard the base and has taken upon himself the role of keeping other people happy. It's a good thing to see. I told him if he could find transportation, I’d send down another Shabbat cholent. I may just have to deliver it myself. 

I asked him how Lev was doing and he said great. They are doing dry exercises, he and his buddies. That means, a training exercise with rifles and no bullets.   

The hospital in Gaza episode:  If you did not hear, the NYT and other “legacy newspapers” came out with a story that Israel had bombed a hospital in Gaza City resulting in the death of over 500 Palestinians, mostly women and children.  They ran with this story without checking facts, using the largest headline font. Except…it turns out that the missile was actually fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was shot from a cemetery next to the hospital (no ne seems to mention this), and landed in a parking lot next to the hospital.  When it became clear that Israel was not the source of the missile, casualty numbers went down to about 20.  

The NYT eventually fessed up to its error and printed a correction, then moaned about how difficult it is to provide accurate and timely information during a war situation. I suppose that’s an excuse for making up news stories. If, one could note, their errors in reporting went more or less equally against Israel and Israel’s enemies, you’d probably just tell them they should try a different profession, like teaching — where one gets paid to lie. But for some odd reason, their inaccuracies also seem to show a bias in one direction. I won’t tell you what it is, but casting the accusation of a blood libel against the Jewish state might give you a hint. 

On Friday night, an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon killed an Israel soldier, Omer Balva. Omer attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel with the JDS program in 2019. He was in the States visiting family and friends when the war started, and he hurried back to join his unit. I posted his obituary on my feed.  YZ”B. 

Still waiting for the government - or Joe - to decide when we enter Gaza. I’m not anxious for us to do it, but we can’t maintain this general call-up indefinitely. Hamas will draw out negotiations for American hostages as long as it can - and if Israel interrupts the negotiations by beginning an operation, we will be blamed by America and everyone else.   

Part 2  

No matter where you live, in a country this small, the war will get to you eventually. 

A person I work with who lives in Kiryat Gat, down in the south of the country and not too far from Gaza, recently mentioned that there were times that Hamas would be firing missiles at Sderot and Ashkelon and Ashdod and Kiryat Gat, but it was fairly localized, like a patchy low-pressure system that brings scattered showers. Tel Aviv and areas further north stayed “dry,” without sirens, and people went about their business: Work, restaurants, bars, friends… while down close to Gaza, people were spending much of the evening in bomb shelters.   

This war is different.  From the very first day, the entire country was touched. Everyone knew someone who was murdered, fell in defending a kibbutz, was kidnapped and being held in Gaza.   

The war gets closer still when your sons or daughters get drafted, when you see them putting on their uniforms and heading out to the front, south or north.  Will this be the last time I see him, hug him, bless him…. As a friend of mine said when he saw me distractedly looking at the news: "Calm down, you’ll either get a phone call or you won’t."

It sounds so stoic as to almost be cruel, but in truth I learn nothing from the papers, from the radio. Either I will get a phone call or I won’t. Focus on life. 

Friday, just before Shabbat, our neighbors got a phone call. Their son, 21 years old, a young man who would sit next to me in shul, had fallen in Gaza. I’m not going to eulogize him - that’s for others who knew him better. I wasn’t at the funeral. I was sitting guard duty last night when he was buried.

I wrote to a friend of mine: Yes, and this is war, and war against evil, which makes the sacrifices for winning no easier to bear - if only we could see the faces of the children who will be saved, if only we could imagine a situation where this will not again be necessary... 

Both those things are equally impossible. Antisemitism is immutable. Inexplicable. A human stain. We will always have to be prepared for that, cognizant of our vulnerability and our potential strength when we unite. But we in no case can excuse those who hate us and would do us evil, under the mistaken impression that dialogue can change their mind, that we are strong enough to suffer without response. 

“We were unprepared. Not because of cowardliness, but because we did not see clearly the moral implication of self-defense; we never understood how wrong it was to tolerate evil when it was directed towards ourselves. We were insufficiently prepared to reconcile the Jewish teachings of anti-militarism and respect for all life with the resistance to evil demanded by the circumstances... [A] strategy is needed; not a political strategy, but a moral one, based on the principle that to tolerate evil against oneself, in however mild a form, makes one an accomplice to the act. It is a man’s moral obligation to refuse to obey the commands of injustice…” That’s Dr. Eliezer Berkovitz, my rabbi’s father.   

When we make excuses for the evil of others, we become partners in perpetuating evil. It takes great strength for Jews to recognize that kind of evil and to rise up against it. We empathize too much; we believe, in the most unsupported and self-deceiving way, that all people are in fact good at heart. Our national anthem is Hatikva - the hope - but it is not the hope for universal goodness and peace; it is the hope for national restoration in our ancestral homeland. Creating a state of Israel has (obviously) not cured antisemitism, and does not (just as obviously) prevent pogroms. But it does allow us to defend ourselves, to take vengeance upon unrepentant evil, to unite together in strength, to build and rebuild, to be responsible for using power linked to together with mercy, to be students and even soldiers for justice and peace. 

More oaths next time, maybe. If I remember.