On the afternoon of October 7, while Hamas was torturing, killing and kidnapping Israelis near Gaza, dozens of women in my city east of Jerusalem gathered for a “slam” celebrating the holiday of Simchat Torah and the beginning of a new annual Torah-reading cycle.
Many of those who’d signed up to present one-minute synopses of the 54 weekly readings had already sent husbands and sons off to war in the previous hours.
In addition to soldiers currently in mandatory service, more than 360,000 reservists in their 20s and 30s answered the call to arms. They pulled their IDF uniforms out of the back of the closet and left families and jobs to help defend their country on two fronts.
One woman raced in late to our event. Standing before us holding her short speech in shaking hands, she managed a smile.
“I was helping my son pack up and he had no clean undies,” she explained to the crowd, providing the opportunity for some tension-busting laughter.
Many of us know her son. These soldiers aren’t faceless strangers. We’ve hosted them at our Shabbat table. We’ve showered them with candy at their bar mitzvahs. We’ve danced at their weddings and gift-wrapped presents to welcome their first babies.
Our neighborhood is filled with men and women half paralyzed by fear for their spouse or their grown child – in many cases, two or three or four children from the same family – serving on the frontlines or in support positions.
On November 5, the woman who had helped her son pack up a month before was standing across the street from me, directly outside the synagogue where we’d gathered that afternoon.
She and I gripped Israeli flags, as did people as far as the eye could see, lining both sides of the road leading out of our neighborhood, and into the next, and the next, and the next, until the junction where the main road from Ma’aleh Adumim meets the highway to Jerusalem.
I looked at her and wondered what she was thinking as the funeral cortege passed through, carrying the widowed woman whose 23-year-old son, Yonadav Raz Levinstein, got married only two months before falling in battle.
I wondered what went through her head as the vehicles wound their way up the hill and we stood at attention and sang “Hatikvah” and songs of solidarity, unity and hope. I can imagine how much she needed to hug that precious boy of hers who went off to war without clean undies.
Here’s what I was thinking: Please let Yonadav be the last one. Please let us never have to stand here again in grim witness to tragic loss and unbearable heartbreak.
As much as we had fervently hoped and prayed this scene wouldn’t happen, deep down we feared it was inevitable for the calamity of a fallen soldier to reach our little corner of Ma’aleh Adumim as it has reached so many others.
And later in the afternoon, we received the bitter news of the son-in-law of another neighbor succumbing to wounds suffered in a tank accident in the north the previous week. The two bereaved families live on the same block.
Like Israelis always do, residents of my neighborhood have tirelessly organized various forms of support for spouses and young children of reservists – many of them housed here temporarily with grandparents — and for refugee families from the south staying in Ma’aleh Adumim.
Most of the volunteers spearheading these initiatives are busy young parents working outside the home. Don’t ask me how they do it. They just do.
They’ve formed committees and subcommittees of volunteers to address emerging needs: babysitting, shopping and household help; activities for lone mothers and their kids; monetary donations; food preparation.
There’s even a subcommittee I’ve joined that is dedicated to making and delivering weekly pots of hearty soup, by popular demand of many reservists’ wives.
Photo by JRJfin via Shutterstock.com
When I received a picture of a little girl sinking her spoon into a bowl of my carrot soup last week, I felt that in some small way I’d helped a family get through another day of waiting for their beloved man in uniform to walk back in the door.
Please, please may all the rest of them come home safely, whole of body and soul.