Whatever remained of my ‘new immigrant’ feelings about Israel have gone completely.Directly in front of my seat in shul (our neighborhood synagogue) is a plaque commemorating two local boys who fell in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. When we read Psalms and other prayers for the soldiers now fighting on the Lebanese front lines, one can’t help but stare at it and think of the sacrifice that all Israelis make in every generation; our price for freedom.
Yet because I never served in the IDF (I got here already too old), I have been susceptible to the feeling that somehow I was less connected to this primal, most basic Israeli experience of shared combat. I was always envious of my immigrant friends who did manage to get real army experience – they had somehow entered a state of ‘Israeliness’ that would forever elude me.
This feeling began to change for me during Israel’s War Against Terror (Intifada) between 2000-2004 when the frontlines were suddenly on the streets of Jerusalem, and we lost too many friends in the terror that struck too close to home, way too close. Israel’s civilians played an unfortunately major role in that conflict granting real combatant status on everyone who sent their kids to school on a bus or had coffee at Caffit or Café Hillel.
And now with Israel’s second Lebanese War entering its fourth week, whatever remained of my new immigrant feelings has gone completely. We are literally again fighting for our homes, with over 5000 Israeli homes damaged by missiles and hundreds of civilian casualties taken while sitting at home.
While it may seem strange to feel at war while living in the eerily peaceful atmosphere of Jerusalem, seemingly far removed from the daily barrage of murderous missiles raining down on Israel’s north not more than a 90 minute drive from here, all it takes is a quick glance around our neighborhood shul to know that yes, our families are fighting for their very lives. With so many of our shul’s sons and daughters in the thick of the fight: this war is our war.
In front of me, Bob’s two boys are missing from their regular shul seats and are sitting instead inside their tanks. Steve’s son is a commando, Asher’s son is in Field Intelligence, David’s daughter is training soldiers, and Howie’s son Eli has emerged as one of this War’s first heroes. Eli, a lieutenant in the Paratroopers, managed to pick up a hand grenade that was thrown at him and a wounded comrade, and then throw it back at two Hizbullah terrorists killing them both.
Maybe I am more affected by all of this because I am the father of three teenaged boys (and a daughter) with my oldest son Momo due to be inducted into the IDF in a matter of weeks. He and all of his friends (Aaron, Zacki, Chanan, and dozens more) will soon be giving precious years for the defense of this country. My second son Yossi just got his first call up notice, and my third son Itamar will not be far behind. I am filled with love for all of these soldiers and potential soldiers. They are all our children.
And herein lies a great secret of why we fight, why we have gone to war after the kidnappings of Gilad Shalit in Gaza, and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on the Lebanese border. Why the Israeli public completely backs this war with approval ratings of over 90%. Because our army is our kids, and Jewish kids will not be kidnapped and slaughtered ever again without having hell to pay.
Because we will no longer sit idly by while our enemies openly call for our destruction and amass the means to carry out their threats. Because we refuse to accept as normal, a life where we must be afraid of a missile landing on our porch while we drink our morning coffee.
Everyday’s paper brings new pictures of fallen soldiers – their smiles, their backgrounds, their unbelievable stories. Major Benji Hillman, 27, an English immigrant, who died leading his troops into Ras A Maroun, only three weeks after his wedding. Major Roi Klein, 31, died by jumping on a hand grenade, thereby shielding his soldiers from certain death – he leaves a wife and two young sons. Sergeant Michael Levin, 22, a new immigrant from Pennsylvania, rushed back to his unit after visiting his family in the states, to fall while fighting Hizbullah in Ayta A-Shab. These heroes will not be forgotten nor will their deaths be turned into mere casualty statistics of a war viewed by cynics as ‘disproportionate’.
On the 9th of Av, we fasted and we read the Book of Lamentations as we mourned the destruction of our Temples and other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people on this day. Sitting in the moonlight on a hill across from the Temple Mount, hundreds of our neighbors and friends read together the scary verses about the tragedy that has followed our people for generations. Yet there was a quiet determination which is palpable among the mourners – a feeling that this war, our war, will ultimately be won, that redemption is finally on the way, and that our families will prevail.