I was all of nineteen, and had been back from my “gap year” in Israel for a little over a month and a half – which meant that I was still missing my friends from an extraordinarily intense year. On top of the very human aspect of missing people, I missed pretty much everything else about that year: my comfort in Hebrew (very different after those ten months), the ease with which I moved about the country, the familiarity with Jerusalem.
It was the morning of October 6, and I was heading to the shul a block and a half from my parents’ house, where I was going to lead Yom Kippur “Junior Congregation” with my former Jerusalem roommate. As I was literally opening the door to walk the seven minutes to Ramat Zion, my father – not observant though intensely committed to his people and our history – stopped me. He had seen the coverage of the beginning of the war on the news, and shared what he knew with me.
It was surreal in any number of ways. There was no lead-up (years later, in graduate school, I’d learn that there were indeed plenty of signs), so it came as a complete shock. I had just stood on the streets a few months prior during Israel’s 25th anniversary celebration, with jets overhead and military equipment – tanks, halftracks, missile carriers – parading through the streets of Jerusalem, met by cheering and flag-waving Israelis. The parade was a tangible show of pride – and arrogance – in Israel’s ability to stave off all enemies. After ’67, even after the notorious “three noes” (no peace, no negotiation, no recognition), Israelis believed that they were invincible – and that sooner or later, their neighbors would come to the same conclusion and agree to a peaceful co-existence.
The 1973 War (while our community uses The Yom Kippur War, most Arabs refer to it as The Ramadan War – it’s all about perspective) changed things in Israel even more profoundly than the war in 1967. The euphoria experienced after The Six Day War turned into a resignation that a state of war and of non-recognition might go on indefinitely. The Bar Lev Line that was supposed to be impregnable was trampled by the Egyptian troops overrunning the Sinai, and the Syrians came to striking distance of vulnerable citizens in the North. That the eventual military victory was astounding – in its way, more miraculous than ‘67’s tripling in size – did not mitigate the bitterness that so many Israelis felt in the aftermath of the war.
Every year, there are anniversaries. Of births and weddings, of graduations and the moments when our children became b’nai mitzvah. There are also the challenging anniversaries – of the days when loved ones died, of natural disasters, of manmade disasters, like 9/11. In a very brief time as a modern nation, Israel has given us more than its share of anniversaries – some to celebrate, some to observe, some to mourn. When the siren sounds in Israel signifying the abrupt change from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut – from “Memorial Day” to Independence Day – it’s a reminder of our fragility (as people and as nations). Just as the sound of the shofar is the prodding we all need to shake off our spiritual lethargy, these dates on the calendar are – can be – reminders to appreciate what we have, to recognize our responsibilities and to embrace what is truly important.
I look forward to helping our students to develop their own, profoundly personal relationship with the State, People and Land of Israel. We live in a miraculous time, when we can see the flourishing of the Third Jewish Commonwealth during our lifetime. Our parents or grandparents or great grandparents could only dream and sing and pray for this day. How astounding that we get to see it in person!
I wish you all a wonderful, meaningful Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
שבת שלום – Shabbat shalom,