Most of us who were born in this country have no idea what war really looks or sounds or smells like.
We’ve seen movies. We’ve read books. If we’re particularly naïve, and we’ve seen particularly realistic-seeming films, we think we know. But we don’t.
Nor do most of us know the fear of a parent for a child shipped out specifically to be put in danger, certainly for a noble cause, but does that always matter when it’s your child and you open the closet or the drawer or the jewelry box just to see if any smells of your baby remain?
The American Civil War was a bloody nightmare, but it was the only full-scale war this country has fought on its own territory, rather than an ocean away, since then. Most of us come from a social class whose children generally do not enlist, and it’s been just over half a century since we had a draft.
Israelis don’t have that luxury. They were invaded right after the country was created, and the violent loathing of its enemies has never ended, although it ebbs and flows.
Those of us who did not live through October 7 cannot imagine what it was like, even though many of us think about it often. Even if you’ve seen the soul-scarring videos from the massacre, you don’t know what it felt like. Even Israelis from other parts of the country cannot exactly imagine the terror, although they can come closer than we do.
The war in Gaza has brought much — most, maybe — of the Jewish community closer together, as have the outbreaks of antisemitism that shock us deeply, even though maybe we shouldn’t be shocked.
But now, as it drags on, without clear victory, with about 140 hostages still being held — we don’t know how many of them have been murdered, either outright or through deprivation — and with the stories of rape and torture that the released hostages have brought back with them — the consensus is starting to rupture. Should the goal be the release of the hostages or the annihilation of Hamas? It’s all about violent death, now or later. Both releasing the hostages and demolishing Hamas are Jewish values, and part of the Israeli promise of a country that offers safe haven. What should the Israelis do now?
This week brings the horrifying story of the deaths of 21 IDF soldiers, blown up in a building in Gaza. Each one was a person — each one was a world, each one had a story — and the promise of each one of them — one a Filipino, one a Bedouin, no one of them more or less valuable or sacred than any other of them, each as valuable and as sacred as an entire world — has died with him.
May each one of them be a blessing. And may this end soon, with the release of all the hostages, the destruction of Hamas, and the resumption of sanity, love, and joy in this world.