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Day 248: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

The seam between grief and bereavement and joy—the essence of Israeli existence.

Superintendent Arnon Zamora, z”l, and the four hostages in their families’ embrace.

Last weekend was one of the rare moments of elation, the few that Israel has known since the October 7 massacre. The only other times we felt a similar surge of joy were when other hostages returned safely from captivity in Gaza.

The news on Saturday morning that four hostages had been rescued in one of Israel’s most heroic operations, a raid on terrorist strongholds, was a blessed reminder that our Israeli soldiers are the finest, the most courageous, and the most moral of all.

It was a Shabbat to remember, one in which at every home in Israel people breathed a sigh of relief—the first deep breath in months. Israelis who do not observe Shabbat made sure to hang notices announcing the news in public areas for the benefit of those who do not listen to the radio on Shabbat. There was not a dry eye anywhere. These were moments of sincere contentment that enveloped us all. Israelis were out in the streets, welcoming the hostages, singing, and waving flags. As deep as is the concern and pain for the remaining hostages, for our people, so is the depth of relief and joy at the return of four of them. Noa, Andrey, Shlomi, and Almog are home!

As is the complex reality of our lives—moments of joy interwoven with great sadness—hours after receiving the good news, we were informed of the death of the hero of Israel, Superintendent Arnon Zamora, who was the first to break into the building where Almog, Andrey, and Shlomi were being held. Arnon’s heroism gave this operation its name—Operation Arnon.

Noa Argamani’s was one of the most recognized faces among the hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7. Harrowing footage of her abduction into Gaza on the back of a motorcycle, pleading for her life, and desperately reaching toward her boyfriend, who also was abducted, circulated across the globe. Her terror-stricken eyes became a symbol.

I met Yaacov Argamani, Noa’s father, in early February in Denver at JCC Association’s Mifgash: Executive Leadership Forum. Yaacov, accompanied by representatives of several other hostage families, was in Denver as part of an international trip intended to influence supportive public opinion and pressure Hamas to release the hostages.

Yaacov, a dear and kind man, taught me then an important lesson in faith, one I’ll never forget: After he spoke from the conference stage, I stood by him with teary eyes. How could I not… Yaacov asked why I was crying, and I replied by saying, “I’m simply immensely sad. Sad for the hostages and sad for their families who need to cross the world begging for the lives of their loved ones.”

With caring, shining eyes, Yaacov wiped away my tears, embraced me, and said, “Leah, I believe in God. You’ll see, Noa will come back. She’ll return, so please don’t cry, come, say a chapter of Psalms with me.” And so, we stood, in the middle of the conference hall, hugging each other and reciting Psalm 121: “A song of ascents. I will lift mine eyes unto the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.”….

Yaacov, a father who fights for the life of his only daughter while caring for his wife, Liora, who is dying of a terminal illness, reassures and encourages me with complete confidence that it will be all right, that Noa will return. He was right. God heard his prayer.

Immediately upon Noa’s return to Israel, she was rushed to the hospital to be with her mother, who can no longer hug her only daughter, but whose eyes said what was in her heart. Noa is now back in her parents’ arms—facing the great pain of seeing how much her mother’s condition deteriorated during her abduction in Gaza. Joy mixed with sadness.

I called Yaacov today to congratulate him on the return of Noa and to thank him for the important life lesson he taught me.

When Almog Meir Jan was abducted, the life of his father, Yossi, like the lives of many other parents of hostages, changed completely. From the moment of his son’s abduction, Yossi cut himself off from other people and didn’t want any interaction with the outside world. Yossi lost about 40 pounds and sank into great sadness. Hours before his son’s return home, Yossi’s heart gave in. Yossi passed away not knowing that his son had been released from captivity. Again, joy for Almog’s safe return mixed with sadness for his dad’s passing from months of pure grief.

Shlomi, Almog, and Andrey know they were not included in the first round of a future deal to release hostages. They know young men are at the end of the list. They understand, now more than ever, that their lives are a gift, because who knows if they would have survived many more months, if not longer, until their turn for freedom came. Noa knows that her return home at this time is perhaps her last chance to see her mother, to hug her and to whisper in her ear that she is home, in Israel, by her side.

Arnon, a decorated officer, fought fiercely on the morning of October 7, when he led his fighters in a battle in one of the southern kibbutzim and prevented the terrorists from advancing north. He then continued with his fighters to the Nahal Oz army base, where he helped liberate soldiers who were besieged at the base. After that, he continued and joined other fighters in the difficult battle in Kibbutz Be’eri. That day alone Arnon saved dozens of lives.

This past Shabbat, Arnon fell in a heroic battle. He fought believing in the justice of this war, of our rights on this land, and with a commitment to bring the hostages back home. His death was not in vain. Four young Israelis returned home, safe and sound, thanks to his bravery—and the bravery of many other courageous, committed soldiers. At her husband’s funeral, Michal, Arnon’s widow played a recording in which his two sons are heard crying and saying, “Dad, I miss you. I love you, Dad.

Arnon, an entire country salutes you; an entire country cherishes you and loves you forever. Rest in peace, hero of Israel, and please ask God on our behalf to grant us more days of joy and fewer moments of sadness. Joy does not always need to be intertwined with sadness.

Just joy, on its own, will be received here with gratitude.

As we end the counting of the Omer and prepare to celebrate Shavuot, may we also soon end the counting of the days the hostages have been held in Gaza with the safe and swift return of all of them.

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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