This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives. 

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

Octo­ber 30. Day 24. Things keep spin­ning. The sun most­ly keeps shin­ing. Here and there, we have had droplets of rain. A bit of gray skies. But most­ly it is that awful dis­so­nance of beau­ty and pure pain, a dis­so­nance appar­ent­ly so pow­er­ful that still today, peo­ple remark about it when we remem­ber 9/11. Yes­ter­day, in the fourth week of this war, I did some ordi­nary things: I woke my child, gave her break­fast. We walked to the ortho­don­tist (all uphill). At the ortho­don­tist, no one was in a good mood. The line for this form of social­ized med­i­cine was long and tem­pers were very short. It seemed to me that every­one was try­ing to fig­ure out how to be both in utter emer­gency mode – shut­down of the unnec­es­sary sens­es, extreme­ly alert to dan­ger, focused on the task at hand – and also to be doing the ordi­nary things that need some social lubri­ca­tion and a lit­tle for­bear­ance. I couldn’t do it. I felt extreme­ly tempt­ed to scream at the recep­tion­ist who, even on good days, is high­ly unre­spon­sive. I felt extreme­ly tempt­ed to over­turn some­thing – a plant, a chair – to throw some­thing, to hit the tele­vi­sion. I felt both com­bat­ive with the recep­tion­ist and in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the oth­er unhap­py par­ents and chil­dren waiting. 

Mean­while, my daugh­ter in the army is answer­ing phone calls in eight hour shifts, from sim­i­lar­ly unhap­py, anx­ious, fright­ened Israelis. Where is the near­est shel­ter, can they take their chil­dren to school or nurs­ery, why is the shel­ter near their home locked, and so on. She looks up the answer on a com­put­er and tries to offer it to them. But most of them are not eas­i­ly bought off by infor­ma­tion. They want some­thing else. They called a three-dig­it num­ber. Emer­gency. Answer me.

And the mind goes back to Octo­ber 7 and all the peo­ple call­ing three-dig­it num­bers, and being told to hold out, to wait, help will be there soon. 

The day or two after that black shab­bat, that non-joy-of-the-Torah day, when some­how we were func­tion­ing so ear­ly on in this loss that I shrink from remem­ber­ing it, a friend of mine who is a Shoah edu­ca­tor said – before we were all say­ing this – that the day had been rem­i­nis­cent of the Shoah. I said, yes, peo­ple were beg­ging for help and no one came to help them, and this is the mod­ern State of Israel, this was sup­posed to be the thing that would nev­er hap­pen again. The help­less­ness, the alone­ness, the aban­don­ment to fate. 

She said, no, for her, it was the cru­el­ty and the savagery. 

Maybe I couldn’t look at that piece of it because it was too absolute­ly ter­ri­fy­ing. In gen­er­al, I gloss over some of that because it is too com­plete­ly hor­ri­fy­ing. An ene­my delight­ed to kill. To tor­ture and to take con­trol through ter­ror. A philoso­pher of war might say some­thing dif­fer­ent, and mil­lions of peo­ple around the world are say­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent, but to me, it is not the same to mur­der with your bare hands, to tie chil­dren togeth­er and then set fire to them, as it is to bomb from the air, to shoot from a tank. It’s not the same, though its end is also death. And it’s not because the tank or the bomb can’t be done with glee. They can. And their dis­tance is part of their obscene attrac­tion, the dis­em­bod­ied log­ic. If you kill some­one with a bomb or from a tank, you have still killed them. And what went on in your heart only you know. And God, if you believe. But I am guess­ing that many peo­ple who are capa­ble of killing from a dis­tance would not be capa­ble of killing up close, and that is one rea­son an army that depends on hun­dreds of thou­sands doesn’t go to war with knives. Most peo­ple I know – so many of whom are in uni­form right now – would not be capa­ble of repeat­ed­ly stab­bing or set­ting inno­cents on fire with their own hands. Of rap­ing corpses. Some would be. Yes. I don’t have illu­sions about who we” include. But most would throw up. Most would give up. 

I remem­ber 9/11. I remem­ber the imme­di­ate thought that bright morn­ing, that hos­pi­tals would be over­whelmed, that mas­sive num­bers of doc­tors would need to vol­un­teer, that blood dri­ves would need to run non­stop. But then it turned out that the mass casu­al­ties weren’t embod­ied in that way. Thou­sands of peo­ple died but their bod­ies had not been attacked, one by one, nor could they be attend­ed to one by one. A plane brought their build­ing down in fire and brim­stone. No one hacked at them. No one could save them by atten­tion to detail. 

Maybe the dis­tinc­tion real­ly doesn’t mat­ter, and dead is dead. Maybe this is my blind spot, right here, front and cen­ter. But I stand by this: the trau­ma is a dif­fer­ent trau­ma. The night­mares are dif­fer­ent nightmares. 

Peo­ple here have been very, very busy for the last three weeks. For twen­ty days or so, I have sat with my phone, adding scores of unfa­mil­iar num­bers to my con­tacts, call­ing most­ly women and some men whose spous­es put on uni­forms and took up arms and left home, some by choice, most because they were called up. I offered them hot meals, cooked by some­one else; some oth­er hands chopped pars­ley, some oth­er mind decid­ed what went with what, some oth­er legs went to a store (maybe just to the cor­ner so as not to get caught some­where scary with not enough time) and then the meal arrived. Some­times, a babysit­ter arrived. Help arrived. It warms the heart,” is an expres­sion you hear a lot here. And it does. It warms the heart.

Oth­er peo­ple did a lot of dri­ving, and fer­ry­ing things back and forth. Oth­er peo­ple did a lot of sort­ing, of dona­tions and goods: foods, toi­letries, cloth­ing. Oth­er peo­ple gave blood: yes, in this war, there is a need for blood. There are dam­aged bod­ies. There will be more. Oth­ers sat by hos­pi­tal beds. My friend Vera took shifts so that a Nepalese stu­dent would not find him­self alone at any point with his trau­mat­ic mem­o­ries of an attack whose geopol­i­tics he has not spent a life­time absorb­ing which left him immo­bi­lized. He man­aged to stay alive over fif­teen hours of hid­ing, wound­ed in both legs and in sear­ing pain, because he remem­bered cer­tain pro­to­cols from the tele­vi­sion show E.R.

Oth­ers raced around the coun­try and the world in order to say, Our chil­dren are hostages! This hasn’t end­ed yet. It is not end­ing. We can’t wake up. It is still that very dark night­mare. Help us wake up. Bring us our chil­dren and par­ents and sib­lings and loves.” 

Oth­ers sat in their homes, dark­ened in all ways, and wait­ed for oth­ers to come to them. To sit with them for sev­en days of mourn­ing. They talked. They clucked. They crooned. They screamed and wailed. They curled up in their beds at night and slept or didn’t. They held their oth­er chil­dren and tried to approx­i­mate being rea­son­able people.

Some peo­ple, unable to sit still, and absolute­ly unable to wait pas­sive­ly, began PR cam­paigns: pro­duc­ing slo­gans and web­sites and posters of the more than 200 hostages. 

Some peo­ple – many peo­ple – iden­ti­fied bod­ies and body parts. Their days did not end at night and their nights did not end at day. 

Many, many peo­ple from the south of Israel found them­selves away from home, in hotels of vary­ing degrees of util­i­ty and lux­u­ry. In land­scapes unknown. So this is Jerusalem. So this is Eilat. The Dead Sea. So this is what Israelis across the coun­try live like. My son and I swore we could iden­ti­fy the non-Jerusalemites on the streets with their chil­dren in the last two weeks. Non-Jerusalemites at the sud­den­ly crowd­ed parks, after mor­tal fear sub­sided enough that hotel rooms had to be burst out of. To the out­side. To spaces with grass and trees and but­ter­flies. And yelling and soc­cer balls and fight­ing over swings.

Some peo­ple said, we have to be in this togeth­er. Let’s get behind our lead­er­ship. Yachad n’natzeah.” Togeth­er we win. Oth­ers said, that approach is what got us here. Our lead­er­ship needs to go.

With­in a week – or was it two? – the war seemed to be glossy. Posters pro­duced by the Jerusalem munic­i­pal­i­ty fea­tur­ing the Israeli flag hung every­where. They looked good, you had to give them that. There were still home­made signs affixed to build­ings and street cross­ings by kids whose par­ents had been try­ing to find some­thing for them to do in the absence of school and the pres­ence of high anx­i­ety. Home­made signs that said, Am Yis­rael Hai,” the peo­ple of Israel live, or Am Hanet­zah Lo Mefa­hed,” the eter­nal peo­ple do not fear. But they looked a bit worn now. Like our fear. In place of the cray­oned posters, glossy posters appeared on the backs of bus­es. The bus­es were still few­er and slow to arrive, but back on the roads. Cor­po­ra­tions were also promis­ing we would win. Super­mar­kets, too. 

A glossy war. Is. A. Mistake. 

As some­one I know sug­gest­ed, the munic­i­pal­i­ty should have tak­en that bud­get and reduced the prop­er­ty tax­es of reservists for the month. My son, six­teen-years-old, laughed when I told him that, as we were dri­ving down a Jerusalem boule­vard and he count­ed twen­ty-sev­en large posters on just the right side of the road. Who needs it, I said. You think we need posters to go to war? He said, Ashkara,” which means a lot to a mom of a teen. It means, Actu­al­ly, mom, you’ve got a point.”

Ashkara. My Israeli son will some­times con­cede the point to me.

Not my Israeli daugh­ter. She is serv­ing in this army, and loss, fail­ure, Shoah imagery, and poet­ry: none of that is for her right now. And I can respect that. 

I ask her to send me a pho­to of her­self because it has been two weeks since I have seen her and the casu­al pho­to she sends me is so beau­ti­ful that I catch my breath. I know we have many friends who would feel bet­ter about life if I shared her pho­to with them. But the last thing I will do right now is put the pho­to of this nine­teen-year-old on face­book. On my feed, for more than three weeks now, such pho­tos have one mean­ing only: this per­son is now dead. Or miss­ing. Liv­ing nine­teen-year-olds we cher­ish privately. 

What about oth­ers of us? I have done very lit­tle imag­in­ing of the peo­ple, res­i­dents of the south, who suf­fered that unimag­in­able break­down of every­thing they believed to be real on Octo­ber 7. I don’t think I can get that close to them. I have been to none of their funer­als. A friend of mine from a small What­sApp activist group was one of the first to know her child, Hay­im Kats­man, had died in that mini-war of Octo­ber 7. On Octo­ber 7, at night, she post­ed that she believed he was in Gaza, but already on the morn­ing of Octo­ber 8, she had been informed he was dead in his kib­butz, Kib­butz Holit. It was days before his funer­al. But at least she knew she was in mourn­ing. That he was dead. (A prob­lem, because his name, Hay­im,” means life.”) She took imme­di­ate­ly to post­ing every­thing she could about him on face­book. Pho­tos. Papers. All the mes­sages and sto­ries and descrip­tions that came pour­ing in from peo­ple who had known him in Israel and around the world. His dis­ser­ta­tion. A chap­ter that was about to come out in a book. I felt I got to know this curly-haired free spir­it of a man. Lanky legs. Prin­ci­pled. Musi­cal. Con­tent in a very, very small kib­butz. That’s a cer­tain kind of per­son. A very, very small world. But clear­ly a very, very big mind. No lack of curios­i­ty. Just an abil­i­ty to cen­ter him­self in a spot of the world he loved. To com­mit. His moth­er keeps post­ing and I keep being grateful. 

But I didn’t go to his funer­al even though there was a bus from Jerusalem. I know that many peo­ple went who had not known him or his fam­i­ly per­son­al­ly. To hug” the fam­i­ly, as they say here. I under­stand it. I respect it. But to me it felt inap­pro­pri­ate. To me, funer­als are less pub­lic events, more inti­mate gath­er­ings, even if there are hun­dreds. The inten­si­ty of feel­ing seems a lux­u­ry in the case of some­one who is not deeply con­nect­ed. I know I would have wept at his funer­al. With gen­uine loss. I think it was for this rea­son that I pre­ferred to weep as I looked at his pho­tos on the small screen of my com­put­er. A screen clear­ly too small for such a man. Such a soul. His moth­er keeps post­ing. And I won­der: she raised a per­son so small and so big – able to put his feet down in Kib­butz Holit but also able to con­nect to peo­ple around the world in pro­found ways. What is it like to have brought that into the world? What is it like to out­live it? 

What chil­dren have I raised? It makes you ask the question. 

Chil­dren. Wars and chil­dren. Lit­tle bun­dles buried. Is it bet­ter for a whole fam­i­ly to dis­ap­pear than for one life to be saved?

The dis­loy­al­ty that death impos­es on us. We will go on liv­ing. Even in the absence of peo­ple we loved unbear­ably much.

I hate that. I hate that dis­loy­al­ty. And it does not seem to me sil­ly or roman­tic or just youth­ful to want to throw one­self into a plot of earth with some­one you love. Because you know there will be moments lat­er you do not and can­not think of them. I thought this at the funer­al of a man who was twen­ty-three, whose girl­friend could not believe she wouldn’t see his face again. 

Young wid­ows and wid­ow­ers will like­ly remar­ry. Young women and men will like­ly meet oth­ers. Par­ents even bear more chil­dren. Every­thing changes. Time pass­es, as Vir­ginia Woolf said. 

Why is health wrapped up with ward­ing off pain? I under­stand that it is and I believe that it is right to do vital things – to plant flow­ers and water them, rather than watch them shriv­el up and die. To learn a new skill, to prac­tice an art. To walk along the sea. To cook some­thing rich. To make a sal­ad with the fresh­est ingre­di­ents. To wear a new piece of cloth­ing and to give away an old one. All of this is a way of affirm­ing alive­ness. But it hurts. 

The dead and the liv­ing are mixed up in my mind right now; the bor­ders between them are weak. I have been email­ing with a for­mer stu­dent of mine, now a friend. She is Pales­tin­ian and an Israeli cit­i­zen. This young woman is at her wits’ end. All looks very dark to her. The world seems full of hatred. I write to her, I have a small idea, and maybe it’s stu­pid. Do you want to exchange names of peo­ple whose safe­ty we are wor­ried about?” She says it’s not stu­pid. She gives me two names of Gazans she hopes are still alive (and the name of a hostage, a Jew­ish Israeli peace activist she has heard of but does not know per­son­al­ly), and the name of one per­son, a female nov­el­ist, Heba Abu Nada, who is already dead. I give her the names of two Israelis held hostage in Gaza, and tell her about Hay­im from Holit. It all hurts, she tells me. 

And some of us, in these last three weeks, have just been prepar­ing food non­stop. My friend Yael made 240 liters of sal­ad yes­ter­day. As I said to her, no one can take that away from you. 

But under­neath that truth there is also the ques­tion: does it mat­ter? What would have changed if you had stayed in your bed and drawn the cur­tains. The bed is soft. The blan­ket is heavy. The pil­low forms to your head. Close the door.

And oth­ers, still, have writ­ten. I write because it’s easy. It comes nat­u­ral­ly. The words spill out, one lead­ing to the next to the next to the next. It’s the eas­i­est thing I know. Then it is plea­sure. Because once the words have spilled out, I can read them and work with them. And because this is one thing I have spent my life doing, when I do it now I feel alive and time goes by so quick­ly. I don’t know hours have passed. Writ­ing is the only thing I have done for weeks in which time has flown. Every sin­gle oth­er thing has been the most elon­gat­ed expe­ri­ence. Except for a few dri­ves in the city when there was still absolute­ly no traf­fic and I noticed how quick­ly a desert­ed, fright­ened city can be navigated.

World War II was very long. Years long. Peo­ple lived in it. Through it. With it. Also with bomb­ings. With the crush of impos­si­bly bad news and more death than any­one could imag­ine. Peo­ple came out of it. Read­just­ed to life after the fact in the absence of war. Yael says this to me when we meet out­side the kitchen where she is mak­ing her famous 240 liters of sal­ad for dis­placed fam­i­lies and sol­diers, and we talk about how we will man­age the time of this war. The way in which it could be very long. A war in which you do lots of ordi­nary things and also take on new habits that are obvi­ous­ly wartime habits. And they get sewn in along­side the things that you would do one way or the other.

Maybe I will begin to ride a bike.

At the begin­ning, any­thing you do is worth­while. It is. You bring toi­letries to a street cor­ner because peo­ple evac­u­at­ed from the south need them and you know you have done some­thing. You donate mon­ey and you believe it is going to an imme­di­ate need. You match up a vol­un­teer with a des­per­ate fam­i­ly and you can sleep eas­i­er at night. But then these things become less suf­fi­cient. Being a cog in a machine – the machine of great need, of not enough time, of staunch­ing the blood – that yields a bit.

Then sud­den­ly you real­ize that this war looks a lot dif­fer­ent across the world. And things that seem whol­ly sym­bol­ic – let­ters, state­ments, even protests – are actu­al­ly oth­er people’s lives. They still seem real­ly dis­tant but you begin to have the band­width to get it that these sym­bol­ic struc­tures are result­ing in mate­r­i­al inse­cu­ri­ty in oth­er places. That Jews are at risk in a new and dif­fer­ent way than in the last sev­en­ty-five years. So some peo­ple, includ­ing myself, ded­i­cate our­selves to try­ing to explain from where we sit why we need to do what we do. Who the ene­my is. Who the ene­my is not. 

I hate the name some­one gave this war. Har­avot Barzel. Swords of Steel. A mis­take on every pos­si­ble level. 

I make one major break­through in my own think­ing. I come to under­stand that for me, the ulti­mate aim of my life is to increase human flour­ish­ing. It is a phrase I encoun­tered in the book A Sec­u­lar Age by the philoso­pher Charles Tay­lor. And he used it to describe a cer­tain mode of sec­u­lar, as opposed to reli­gious, think­ing. What it means to me is that my his­tor­i­cal com­mit­ments and my ide­o­log­i­cal pro­grams don’t deter­mine as much as they might. I belong to a peo­ple, the Jew­ish peo­ple. That belong­ing is very impor­tant to me. I won’t aban­don it. I live in Israel where peo­ple of my faith have locat­ed their ideals and oblig­a­tions since the faith began. But at the end of the day, what I want is not an idea. It is also not a bour­geois cap­i­tal­ist soap bub­ble of mid­dle-class secu­ri­ty. What I want is more and more human flour­ish­ing

I don’t want to prove a point. I don’t want to shut peo­ple out. I don’t want to police peo­ple. I don’t want to be us and them. I want to be able to express my reli­gion and cel­e­brate my peo­ple­hood and have access to the foods I eat and mark my hol­i­days. But I want to live on Kib­butz Holit, so to speak, and to imag­ine oth­er human beings as human. And to build some­thing sus­tain­able. In the deep­est sense of that term. To raise a child like my friend did. A child who turns into a man who is small and big. In one beloved place, but also ready to embrace a world that he doesn’t find threat­en­ing, that he doesn’t per­ceive as need­ing to be sub­dued. I want to have cof­fee with him (prob­a­bly tea, made from herbs from the gar­den), with very, very hot water. Lie back in a chair that is not new and not old. Music. Maybe choco­late. Maybe sal­ad. Neigh­bors. Some old friends. Some new. All the time in the world. 

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Ilana M. Blum­berg is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and past direc­tor of the Shaindy Rud­off Grad­u­ate Pro­gram in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of Open Your Hand: Teach­ing as a Jew, Teach­ing as an Amer­i­can, Vic­to­ri­an Sac­ri­fice: Ethics and Eco­nom­ics in Mid-Cen­tu­ry Nov­els, and the Sami Rohr Choice Award-win­ning mem­oir Hous­es of Study: a Jew­ish Woman Among Books.