This is a guest post from my husband, Josh Sussman.
We have been blown away by people from all over the world reaching out to us over the last 6 days. Your thoughts, prayers and support are felt and are incredibly important. With two boys in active combat duty, we also share with them (when they can see their phones infrequently) so that they know that they, their comrades in arms and Israel are not alone. Romi and I have both posted a small number of things, but I’ve been formulating an update of sorts for a couple of days. The problem is, I can barely finish a thought and the situation keeps changing.
I’d like to share a day by day (when I can remember the day) quick overview of what we have experienced. Hold onto your hats, this may be a bit stream of consciousness, I apologize.
This past Shabbat was also Simchat Torah, one of the most joyous days on the Hebrew calendar. The day marks the annual completion of the reading of the Torah and is accompanied by much gleeful singing and dancing in synagogue.
We awoke to go to synagogue. On the way heard some ‘booms’ but didn’t think that much about it…fighter jets? Hamas shooting off a couple of missiles that landed pretty far away? Distant thunder? We continued on our way. Upon arrival someone mentioned that there were a lot of rockets in the center of the country. A bit less ok. Son #2 followed a bit behind and came in to tell me he needed to go home to get his phone as it seemed like the situation was escalating and he may get a call from the army. A bit more worrisome. A few minutes later in the we heard the first siren in the middle of prayers. We were singing aloud so not everyone heard it, but son #2 had returned and spread the word we needed to go to a safe area. A few closer booms and a few minutes later we had the all clear. Son #2 had checked his phone and had already been told that there were terrorist infiltrations in the South. A second siren and I was off to calm Romi who was home herself leaving son #2 in charge of the younger boys and leaving it to his decision on when/if to come home.
The infiltration….we had no idea how bad it was at the time, but within a few minutes Yehuda marched the boys home in double time and synagogue was over. The biggest issue for us at the time was that son number 4 was in a town called Sderot which is one of Hamas’ main targets in the South. He had gone there with about 70 guys from school to bring the holiday spirit to small synagogues in Sderot. This was the first time we couldn’t breath…
It was clear by this point that son #2 was going to be called to the army shortly. He was gone by well before noon. We spent that time feeding him, helping to get him packed and ensuring he had everything he needed. He was in touch with son #1 because he needed to know where some essential army things were. Oh yeah, son #1 was spending the holiday with high school friends in a place farther South where the sirens were more frequent. By the time they spoke, son #1 and all of the friends he was spending the holiday with were off to their respective units before even being called.
I drove son #2 to the gate of our community where he was getting picked up by guys from his unit who would travel together to their base to get geared up and ship out. While we were waiting car after car after car streamed out of the community with called up soldiers young and old departing to the unknown (note, we live in a community of Orthodox Jews who keep the Sabbath. We do not drive, use cell phones, cook, etc on the Sabbath…all restrictions are lifted for the concept of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (life saving measures). We tearfully gave son #2 a prayer for peace, big hugs and sent him off to the army.
At some point during the morning we heard from a mom of one of son #4’s friends who lives in Sderot and had been in touch with the boys. She assured the parents’ WhatsApp group that the boys were safe….the reassurance allowed us to vaguely breath the rest of the day as the entire country was asked to stay inside. Unfortunately, while I wouldn’t say this mom was ‘lying’ she definitely gave us more confidence than we should have had. We wouldn’t find out just how bad their situation was until said son was finally given permission by the army to get out of Sderot and come home. His experience was horrific. Bombs and terrorist shootings all day and very close to them. The building next door to where they were staying was destroyed by a bomb and they were being guarded by 2-5 soldiers who would leave to engage terrorists throughout the day and then return. They were squeezed into a safe room that was meant for 15-20 people with no facilities, limited food and very limited access to a bathroom for 30+ hours while hearing hell happening on the other side of their reinforced walls. These boys are very fortunate to have emerged from this physically unsathed.
Sunday evening one of the boys told us that there was a rumor that Shilo Rochberger, a close friend of our older boys) had been killed. Shilo’s death was confirmed on Monday morning while we were in synagogue as son #4 was saying the prayer for those who survive a near death experience. At that time, it was also when we heard from son #2 that he was ok (all within 4-5 minutes of each other). That was an emotional roller coaster.
Throughout the week, wherever we have needed to go (we are staying as close to home as possible, but had to get to funeral, to kid #1’s base, some local errands, etc) the roads are empty. Basically no traffic anywhere. There are lots of emergency vehicles and sirens on the roads, more or less constantly. There have been a few rockets in our area along with the air raid sirens and hurried trips to our bomb shelter. We have a couple of minutes of warning time, people in the south have seconds. There was a Molotov Cocktail thrown a bit outside the community’s gates, but that threat was shut down quickly.
By Sunday midday it was becoming more and more clear just how horrific the attack had been.
Warning, this next part will not be pleasant, but I think it is important for people to know. Please skip the following paragraph if you feel you need to. (Romi, by the way, hasn’t even read this although it’s sitting on her blog! We all make choices about what we can handle and what we can’t – so know yourself before reading.)
We were hearing from more and more people who had heard from the soldier kids, family they had in the South, etc just what had transpired. The death toll and the number of captives continued to rise by the hour. 22 dead…100 dead…300 dead…600 dead…over the next few days the number of dead grew to over 1,300 and injured into the thousands. The vile, bloodthirsty terrorists had slaughtered civilian men, women and children; grandparents; Holocaust survivors; anyone they could get their hands on. People murdered in bed, shot at point blank range with reports of terrorists smiling as they pulled the trigger between their blood thirsty cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’. Women and young girls raped; people of all ages beheaded (including babies). Civilians and soldiers alike fought heroically to protect their families and the country from the onslaught. Over 1500 terrorists were killed in the fighting over the course of the last week and who knows how many escaped back to Gaza. The scope of the attack is beyond comprehension. The physical damage in the communities in the South in some places is complete and utter destruction through rockets, grenades and houses purposely set afire to burn alive the people cowering inside. Every person in Israel is directly impacted by this. Everyone knows someone or at least knows of someone who has lost their lives or has been taken hostage or been injured.
FOR THOSE WHO SKIPPED it is safe to come back now.
EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. in Israel knows people who are currently serving in the military in active duty or called up in the reserves. 360,000 reservists have arrived at their bases, many thousands having returned from abroad to serve with their brothers. Special flights from all over the world have been organized to help get people back to Israel. One man, who preferred to remain anonymous, stood at JFK airport with $500,000 on his credit card and paid for the ticket of anyone who was returning to serve. He paid for well over 200 people.
Some of our family put together a campaign to send supplies for our kids and quickly brought in $12,000 (you know who you are and know how meaningful this was for us) everything we have been able to purchase so far has been distributed to the unit and is in use!
We have heard from old friends who we haven’t heard from in years. We’ve heard from people in the States we are in contact with regularly. Jews and non-Jews alike all of whom are just reaching out to send their thoughts, prayers and support. We pass this along to the kids so that they know they aren’t alone (and they pass it along to their fellow soldiers most of whom don’t have access to a network of their parents old friends and family abroad). THIS IS SO VERY IMPORTANT. We love hearing from you, it means so, so much. Apologies if anyone reached out and we haven’t personally responded…we are trying.
Continuing with the positive. The four younger kids who are home with us have thrown themselves into the national effort. They are busy with their friends from morning until late into the night doing amazing things. They have cooked meals for hundreds of people from the South who have temporarily relocated to our area. Baked Gd only knows how many cakes, cookies and brownies and delivered them. Raised tons of money for army supplies and arranged shipment of 30,000 lbs of supplies from the States (including raising the funds for a private jet to transport it)… $1.3 million in total!!! They also went to the local vineyards to save the grape harvest as all of the employees are currently serving in the army. The list goes on and on.
The things that are happening throughout the country are amazing. Food for the soldiers; supplies for the soldiers; gifts for families who have dad’s serving; some adorable girls just dropped of a small plant and a bar of chocolate at our door as a way for our community to say we are thinking of those who have sons/daughters/fathers/mothers who are currently serving. Flags have popped up all over the neighborhood (and the country) like mushrooms after a rain.
The community has asked all gun owners to register and be prepared to supplement the regular guards. I just received notice that I will be serving a shift tonight from 3-5am; it is a little thing, but I am proud to play my part.
Both of our boys in the army are currently in the South. They have both lost friends. But they, and everyone serving with them are laser focused on the mission at hand.
The country is shaken, a bit scared but resolute and 100% united. We are happy with the formation of a unity government and hopefully the security decisions are in good hands.
These are difficult times…there have been many tears; times when it is hard to breath; it is hard to focus; But, But…we still feel fortunate to be able to live in our homeland. We are fortunate to have an army that the defends the Jewish people for the first time in 2,000 years. One of the kids wrote this:
‘Thank you for bringing here and making me part of this’
I can’t imagine being on the frontline of a war and thanking your parents for picking you up as a young boy from what would have certainly been a nice, quiet life in the US and dropping you into this situation. But our kids are true Israelis. My response to him was:
I have no response to this…we knew when we came 19 years ago this is one reason why. We wanted you guys to become exactly what you have become. But we also pray every day that you wouldn’t have to.
Thank you all again for your thoughts, prayers, offers of support and for letting us know you are out there.
Please continue to reach out, we love hearing from you.