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Day 129: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

Coming Home |  הביתה| Habaita

One of my favorite words in the Hebrew language is הביתה | habaita—going or coming home. One word that says it all—longing to return to what we are most familiar with, getting an anticipated hug from loved ones, the end of a journey, safety, family. A place we can be ourselves, at ease. So simple, yet so much.

As we count the days in which 134 hostages are still held captive by Hamas in Gaza, we woke up in Israel this morning to great news: Israeli security forces in a combined heroic operation of special forces with the assistance of the Air Force rescued two hostages who had been held in Gaza. Today, a nation once again breathed a bit more lightly.

Despite an unusually wintery month and blessed rains that cleared the dust, the air in Israel these days is compressed and heavy. The war that has been going on for 129 days, coupled with two more deaths—Major Adi Eldor, who was killed alongside his unit mate, Major Alon Kleinman—and the serious injury of two soldiers in yesterday’s battles, envelops us in the weight of the routine of war and the constant presence of grief and sorrow.

Two families could resume their breathing, while two others had the air sucked out of them. A day in Israel’s reality.

Tension hovers over everything—Fear for our own safety, concern for the safety of our soldiers, enormous pain in the face of the growing number of bereaved families, continuous frustration with the old politics that refuses to rise above its smallness in the face of the needs of the hour, and, above all, the cries of the families. The families of the 134 hostages don’t count the days like we do but rather the minutes and seconds. The families for whom the void and lack of loved ones kidnapped and still left behind in Gaza, cannot be quantified. Neither days nor passing hours can begin to quantify the intensity of their pain.

They protest, they rally, they gather in front of Israel’s parliament with blood-like stains on their clothes. They write, they lobby, and travel across the globe to meet with renowned leaders. They pray, they beg and cry and cry and beg: Bring them back home now, knowing that with each passing day, the chances that the hostages will be returned alive grow ever slimmer.

But for a few hours, we breathed more deeply. For a few hours, the smiles returned, and with them enormous appreciation for our heroic soldiers who managed to free two exhausted hostages from the teeth of the monster.

How comforting to see these hugs, how heart-warming to witness the smiles, to see the longing in their eyes—a longing that has finally been answered and only increases the heartbreak for the families of the other 134 left behind.

Seventy-year-old Fernando Marman and 60-year old Louis Har from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak

Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, located in Israel’s northwestern Negev desert, was established 75 years ago and is known for supporting the “Garin Tzabar” program for non-Israeli Jews serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). On October 7, eight kibbutzmembers were taken captive, five of whom are members of the same family: Gabriela Leimberg and her daughter, Mia, along with Clara Marman returned to Israel from Gaza after 53 days in captivity as part of the week-long cease-fire and hostage release in November. Clara’s brother, Fernando, and her partner, Louis Har, were not among that group of hostages and stayed behind for an additional 76 long days and dark nights until they finally were released last night. This family of five is smiling again, and we are all smiling with them. This is what true happiness looks like.

But for the families of 134 others, some of whom are considered dead by now, the counting continues.

How does it feel to be left behind? To know that others who just a few hours ago were with you in the dark, can now see the sun, feel freedom, and are within touching distance of their loved ones, so close to home, while you are left behind in the darkness of the unknown? How does it feel to be swallowed up in the maelstrom of time, seconds of despair piled on top of each other in infinite sadness?

Although I know a few of the abductees personally, none of my family members or close friends were kidnapped. Nonetheless, it’s all so personal.

The pain took hold of my heart on the morning of October 7 and has refused to let go. It has become a part of who I am, defining the new me for the past 129 days. Thoughts of what the hostages are going through, what their days look like, and the conditions in which they are being held have taken over. With every bite I take, as I watch the beauty of nature bloom after the rain, with every touch of a loved one, when I hear the sound of a favorite song, my thoughts immediately wander a few tens of miles from here into the darkness of Gaza and into the tunnels of terror where the hostages are hidden. How can we enjoy beauty when our people are being held captive, deprived of any beauty—and so much more?

The power to bring them home safely is in the hands of God and humans who sit and negotiate, using formulas and discussing price tags. They argue about how many and when while the air runs out, suffocation takes lives, and people die in captivity.

So what can we do?

Our abilities are limited, yet vital. As much as possible, we must try to influence public opinion and decision-makers. In Israel, we wear yellow bracelets, drive cars with yellow ribbons, participate in protests, and wave pictures of the kidnapped.

There is much you can do from afar: The website Hostages and Missing Families Forum lists various actions people can take from anywhere in the world to arouse sympathetic public opinion: Sign a petition, speak up, wear the dog tags or the shirts or other items, donate, read more about the individual hostages, and learn more about this tragedy. Add a post to your social media signature or profile picture. Take the time to get to know the hostages. Tell their stories and share them with friends and family. Spread the humanity.

Remove the politics and prejudice, the biased, malicious lies, and allow the hostages—who, against their will, are pawns in one of the greatest human tragedies of our time—to take their rightful place where they belong. Hear their cries, listen to them beg, and, together, let’s do everything we can to bring them home now. הביתה!!

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.


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