Another guest post from Josh Sussman:
Checking back in with another update from a week of war; granted this week was not quite as dramatic as last week, but the sense is that this is the (relative) calm before the storm.
Last Shabbat was calm and quiet. We reverted back to our small Corona minyan (the requisite 10 men for a prayer quorum) at the home of our good friends as large gatherings are limited. The rules for gatherings have loosened a bit since, so hopefully we will go back to a more normal Shabbat routine this week. We were required to keep phones on in the event of an emergency, something that I’m sure will be in effect this week as well.
As I was up in the middle of the night on Saturday night I got messages from both soldiers….soldier 1, ‘we are going to be doing a training closer to home…I need some of my army stuff from home, can you bring it to me? But we will only be here for 3 hours so as soon as we finish we are out of here. It will be a very short window, I’ll give you a 30 minutes heads up of when to come.’ (The place he was doing this training is 24 minutes away.) We take the list of gear he needs, rummage around through his drawers, army duffle bags etc and successfully pull everything together. Soldier 2, ‘we are on our way back to base (it is 2:35am at the time). I left the house so fast there are things that I need, can you bring them to the base? I’m not sure I can see you, but I will do my best. It is best for you to arrive around 9:30 or 10pm on Sunday night.’ (This base is about an hour and 40 minutes from the house.) We take his list and again go through drawers, duffle bags, etc before pulling everything together.
Long and short we had the very good fortune of seeing both kids for a total of about 3 minutes combined and it was 1000% worth it.
Due to the high state of alert around the country, the roads are relatively empty with more police, army and other security vehicles all over. One thing that is weird is that at various points GPS stops working so Waze/Google Maps goes haywire for a bit due to the army blocking signals.
Sunday also brought me on a visit to the local shooting range for a three hour refresher session. The community has organized a number of different mechanisms to up the security in the community including coordinating all licensed gun owners, increasing the guarding capacity, etc. As I mentioned last week, we had sign ups to participate in guard duty. To date I have done 4 shifts and am scheduled to do 4-5 more over the coming week. I also participated in a 4 hour tactical handgun session which was helpful and interesting.
There really is nothing normal in Israel these days. In a vague attempt at normalcy some of the schools have been allowed to go back on a shortened, modified schedule so the two youngest boys had about 4 hours of school the last 2 days. It is nice for them to see their friends in school, but not sure the educational value. There are basically no male teachers under the age of 40 or 45 available to teach as they have all been called up to the army. Many of the female teachers are home alone with their kids while their husbands have been called to the army.
Wednesday brought a visit from President Biden whose steadfast support for Israel during this most difficult time has been noticed and appreciated. His initial public speech last week brought tears to our eyes…I don’t believe there has been a stronger speech given in support of Israel and the Jewish people by a non-Israeli in decades, and maybe ever. Whoever his advance team is was brilliant in arranging a meeting between the President and ‘Rachel from Ofakim’ who has become a national hero after successfully wooing a number of terrorists who had invaded her home in the South with cookies and coffee until the rapid response team was able to get there and eliminate the terrorists. This most Israeli and ‘Jewish mom’ thing ever is the stuff of legend and has already been the catalyst for memes, murals and cookie recipes all over the country. Rachel will live on in Israeli lore for years to come!
This week also brought the predictable international condemnation of Israel after the explosion at a Gaza hospital. Hamas immediately blamed Israel and claimed hundreds had lost their lives when, in fact, the number was far, far smaller and the deaths were the result of a misfired terrorist rocket. Israel does not target hospitals and schools despite the terrorist slander so easily regurgitated by much of the media. This fact is proven by the fact that Gazans themselves seek sanctuary at hospitals and schools knowing that Israel will not target them. Have there been accidents on occasion, yes, but that happens in the fog of war. Thank you again to President Biden, other US elected officials and many leaders throughout world who took the time to see the evidence and speak the truth.
Our kids have continued apace with their efforts to assist those in need…evacuees from the South who are living in our area, moms who are home without their husbands, families with active duty soldiers serving, etc. They haven been cooking, baking, delivering, serving food, making sandbags and who-knows-what-else in their constant efforts to feel like they are contributing to the cause and simultaneously keeping themselves productively busy.
Over the course of the week the news and social media have been flooded with obituaries of those who have been killed (over 1400) and bios of those who have taken hostage (at this count 203). It is excruciatingly hard to see, but we owe it to them to hear their stories. We are an incredibly resilient and strong people. We introduced you to our boys’ good friend Shilo Rochberger last week who was tragically killed as he heroically saved others. One of the boys just sent us a message 5 minutes ago saying that now that shiva was over (the 7 day mourning period) all three of Shilo’s brothers are back with their units and preparing for war. They didn’t have to go back, but it is obvious to everyone in Israel that they would. This is just one example of the kind of people we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by.
After spending the first 8-9 days of this war down south, both boys’ units were pulled back a bit over the course of the week to participate in special trainings as they prepare for the inevitable. The good news is that this gave us a little mental reprieve and we heard from both of them. One in particular had 2-3 amazing experiences. After finishing a training in a very large, multi-story building in a large city in the South they all went outside to go back to their base only to be greeted by 50 families from the neighborhood who had brought pizza for all of them. They ate, sang and danced together and we got to see some special pictures and videos. The next day, after training in a different place, we received a picture from the same son of a picture of a plate of delicious looking humus with the simple note ‘more good people’. Late that night a famous Israel singer came to the base to put on a concert for the soldiers accompanied by a huge barbeque sponsored by a community in the center of the country. The people of Israel are just amazing (our politicians are awful, but the people are making up for it).
That is our wrap up…we continue to appreciate hearing from friends and family. Your words of support, thoughts and prayers are appreciated more than we can possibly tell you.
Shabbat Shalom from our blessed homeland!