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Day 185: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

Go son, go down to the water
And see the women weeping there
Then go up into the mountains
The men, they are weeping too.
Father, why are all the women weeping?
They are weeping for their men
Then why are all the men there weeping?
They are weeping back at them.”
– Nick Cave

An autumn sun rose on the morning of October 7, illuminating a world that, as soon as the warming rays shone in full, darkened and went out. Since then, 185 days of thick darkness have descended upon us. Six months have passed, and the sun has not yet risen again.

Forty-sevenyear-old Elad Katzir from Kibbutz Nir Oz woke up on that black Sabbath, to the sound of terror. He reported in a WhatsApp group that terrorists had infiltrated the kibbutz and were in the midst of a house-to-house killing spree. Elad begged: “We need help as soon as possible.

Help didn’t arrive in time to save him or other kibbutz members. One out of four members of Kibbutz Nor Oz either was murdered or kidnapped to Gaza that morning. Elad, together with Hana, his 76-year-old mother, was kidnapped. His father, Rami Katzir, was murdered. Hana was released after 49 days in captivity, and since her return to Israel, she has been hospitalized in serious condition.

In January, as part of vicious psychological terror, Elad’s captors sent videos in which he looked emaciated but alive. Not long after he was videotaped, he was murdered. Two days ago, following intelligence information, the IDF’s commando unit, in a daring operation, managed to locate and retrieve Elad’s body and bring it home to Israel to be buried.

It has now been six months—185 days—that those 133 abductees have been held in Gaza. Of the total, at least 34 are no longer alive.

No matter where we turn, these are challenging times. All eyes are directed north, toward the escalating tensions with Hezbollah, as we speculate about when the current fighting will turn into war. The atmosphere is tense, anxiety is in the air.

The fact that 133 of us are still held captive leads to a desperate notion of helplessness together with the need, more like an urgent call, to do something, anything, to bring the hostages home.

In six months, life goes on, and the world hasn’t stopped spinning. Alex and Dolev, two of the hostages, had babies whose first gaze was into their moms’ sad eyes, and their first cries were for dads they haven’t met. Emily, also held in Gaza, lost her beloved grandfather; Itai and Agam, kidnapped on October 7, each missed the celebration of a brother’s bar mitzvah back home in Israel, and Yonatan, Daniel Perez’s brother, got married.

Alongside the tension and worries, and the solidarity rallies in support of the families of the hostages—that now turned into protests—life in Israel, as much as possible, goes on as usual.

All trains hold seats reserved for the hostages, a sad, daily reminder of our reality. Yet every morning, passengers ride the trains to begin another workday, and every evening, as they head downtown to hang with friends, they sit next to the reserved seats, powerless against the absence—like phantom pain in a missing limb that doesn’t let go. The hostages are absent, but they are always present in our thoughts and our hearts.

How can people sit next to reserved seats for hostages who are presumed to be alive—and certainly tortured—and chat with other passengers about banal, everyday life, read a book, or listen to music as if that empty seat isn’t screaming of horror?

How can one enjoy a meal in a restaurant when the next table is set, waiting, reserved for the hostages, their pictures by their plates?

How can it be that classes at our Israeli community centers continue? Folk dances, modern dance, ceramics, painting, they’re all happening, when on the walls nearby hang pictures of the hostages in mute sadness?

Who can go for an evening run and day after day pass a display of 250 chairs—rocking chairs, baby seats, cribs, each with a picture of a hostage?

How is it possible to attend a funeral for a soldier who fell in battle, listen to their parents mourn in pain, and then get into the car and listen instead to traffic reports—as if the world did not just end for one more bereaved, loved family?

This impossible reality, with all its paradoxes, is apparently, possible. It has been our reality for six months.

For six months a gloomy grief, an endless sorrow, has filled me and taken over my being as if a heavy burden rests on my shoulders. I carry the searing pain with me throughout my daily activities; it clings tight and doesn’t let go. Every breath is breathed for those who are struggling, those who are hidden in the suffocating tunnels. At every meal, I agonize over how it is that I get to enjoy what is denied to others. With every sweet chirping of birds, I think of those who hear only the sound of death. When someone hugs me, I think of those who are wrapped instead in terror and fear. I beg beautiful butterflies to carry my thoughts and some beauty to our people in Gaza, who likely see none, and in every baby’s laughter, I see hope for a better world—one that has yet to come. Like everyone in Israel, I live my life alongside the constant, painful presence of the tragedy. A part of my heart, a part of the heart of all of us, is a prisoner in Gaza, too. With each passing day, the thread of the hostages’ lives grows shorter.

Israelis’ reputation for resilience is starting to erode, and the overwhelming sense of unity that was so comforting in the first months of the war is beginning to evaporate, giving way to old disputes.

I have never experienced such deep, inconsolable pain. I have never felt such burning despair or disappointment with our leadership, or such true fear of the future.

Israel has been at war for six months. Six months and our wounds still bleed—daily. The cry is still screaming, constantly. The fire is still burning. It has been six months that we’ve been breathing the smoke from October 7.

This is a weeping song
A song in which to weep
While all the men and women sleep
This is a weeping song
But I won’t be weeping long”

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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