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Day 216: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

One can live with bad news, if what was lost is clear.
A man can learn how to survive given he understands what he is facing.
A person can stand up against the storm if he knows the strength of the blowing wind.
And even if it’s hard, and even if it’s terribly cold, he will pull out reserves of light to ward off the pain, and glue together the torn pieces of life.
A person will carefully consider the chances of facing loneliness, because people can live with bad news, but they cannot live with uncertainty.
Noam Horev, Israeli poet and lyricist

The reality in Israel for the past 216 days is unlike anything we have ever experienced.

Everything has changed, even the terminology we use. When we are asked, “How are you doing?” we answer in a low voice, “You know, like everyone else…”

People who go on vacation almost apologize and try to justify it: “We needed to disconnect and let some air in.”

At every happy event—weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and others—many people are missing. They have been called to reserve duty—again. And the usual festive atmosphere is mild.

Planning for the future, even the near future, like tomorrow’s events includes an explanation: “We can’t commit to attend. It’s possible so-and-so will be called to the army.”

Is a deal to release the hostages their only hope? Perhaps, on the contrary, only force will convince Hamas to release them all.

Should we call for elections now, demanding that those responsible for this devastating situation vacate their office, or will elections during a war harm the efforts to free the abductees? We are all uncertain. Uncertain about everything.

Uncertainty hovers over us like a thick, threatening cloud. Will it bring heavy, raging rains loaded with painful news, or might these drops bring relief, refreshing blessed water? It is as though we are on a ship in stormy waters. Will we be carried on black waves to doom and abyss or toward safe shores? This is among the most difficult of uncertainties—trembling between hope and despair. This has been Israel’s reality since October.

But the cruelest uncertainty of all is the one 132 families in Israel endure. It has been 216 days and families of the hostages do not know the fate of their loved ones. Are they alive or dead? Tortured, starving, beaten and bruised? Moved from place to place like a sack, or God forbid dumped and buried somewhere, abandoned?

Sixty-one-year-old Lior Rudaeff has been missing since the morning of October 7, when Hamas terrorists attacked Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak. Lior, a volunteer medic and ambulance driver, was planning a motorcycle ride when he got a call from the kibbutz emergency squad to join them and fight the terrorists. Without hesitation, he joined the fighting unit. Later that day he texted his family, letting them know he had been hurt and was sending love to his wife, Yaffa, and his four children. That was the last his family—or anyone—heard from him. Two days ago, the army, based on new footage from Gaza, informed Lior’s family that he was murdered on October 7, and his body taken to Gaza. In addition to Lior, the bodies of 38 other people abducted Gaza are being held there. Some were murdered during the October 7 massacre and some while in captivity.

What could possibly be worse than a beloved family member being kidnapped by terrorists and murderers and held in inhumane conditions. Knowing they are in need and that we cannot reach out to help is devastating. At least we know they are alive and there is hope that they will hold up, that their strength and resilience will help them cope and remain alive, and that maybe, maybe they will be returned to us soon. This intense longing has helped their families back home float on waves of hope and keep their heads above water, one day at a time for the last 216 days.

But when the news of death comes, their hope is smashed to pieces, throwing the families and their bleeding hearts into an abyss of despair. They must live with the newfound knowledge that throughout the long months full of prayers and hope and constant lobbying, their loved ones actually were no longer among the living. Their grief is unbearably difficult, impossible to contain. Our reality of uncertainty is intertwined with countless stories of hopes shattered in the face of the painful truth.

Forty-one-year-old Tal Haimi, a member of the same emergency squad at Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak as Lior Rudaeff, also joined the fight against Hamas terrorists on October 7. Like Lior Tal was kidnapped to Gaza. Two months later, his family received word that he had been murdered and his body was being held in Gaza. Ella, Tal’s wife, was nine weeks pregnant at the time. A few days ago, Ella gave birth to their fourth son, the last and most precious gift from Tal. She did so having been alone for most of her pregnancy, without a partner to hold her hand or accompany her to the delivery room. Ella, a superhero who chooses life for the sake of her children, said after the birth: “It’s a birth with mixed emotions, of a child who brings a lot of joy.”

Tal’s little baby will grow up without a father. His mother and brothers will tell him about his dad, the hero who fought the bad guys to save lives. They will show him pictures of his father and help him imagine what life would be like if Tal was still by his side. As her youngest son grows, Ella will constantly repeat these words: If only. If only he could sit on his father’s shoulders, tall, protected, proud of his brave dad. If only he could play soccer with his dad. If only he could learn to ride a bike with dad running behind him. If only…  But Abba is gone, and his baby joins far, far too many war orphans. These children will grow up alongside stories of what was and what might have been. If only…

Keep the world safe kid, there are things that must not be seen
Keep the world safe kid, if you will see, you will no longer exist
Boy, you are the world’s hero, with a smile of angels.
Keep the world safe kid because we no longer can.
David D’or, Israeli singer, songwriter, and composer

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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