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Day 3: Operation Iron Swords

By Leah Garber

Times are tense, nerves are exposed, and emotions alternate among fear, frustration, and worry but also great love and pride.

Along with the horrors, cruelty, and intense evil that are dominating the media, there is so much good here, an abundance of brotherhood, a true sense of shared destiny, sublime acts of heroism and sacrifice—the people of Israel at their best.

We arrived at this sudden war bruised, a divided society that for months has struggled with the nature of our collective Israeli identity. Long-running street protests stemmed from a tremendous commitment to this country, our homeland. From the right and the left, from all walks of life, all backgrounds and sectors, people came out into the streets because they truly care. On the right and left they carried Israeli flags out of a sense of pride and belonging.

The same degree of commitment, obligation, and loyalty to our one home has now been transferred by the good people of Israel to cope with the difficult campaign in which we find ourselves.

Our mutual responsibility for one another and acts of sacrifice, sometimes risking our lives for the sake of others, drive us. We do not ask about one’s political opinion before reaching out to help. The hands lent for rescue and the arms that embrace our soldiers wrap us all together, without exception or regard for background, opinion, or political inclination. We are in this together, and together we mourn, we fight, and we will prevail.

This is who we are—and I have never loved my homeland as much as I love it today.

Eli participated with thousands of others in the now infamous outdoor party that turned into a battlefield. He managed to escape and bravely take some people with him. They arrived at a safe place in Be’er Sheva, but Eli returned to the burning, bloody forest and continued to save others, seven in total. Unfortunately, the murderers caught him and now he is missing. Who returns to a burning hell by choice to save others, others he never met before, complete strangers?  Only one who loves his country and its people enough to sacrifice his own life.

Families who survived the barbaric massacre in the kibbutzim near the Gaza border but lost their homes were mobilized to hotels—a relatively protected environment.  Good-hearted citizens have collected equipment, toys, clothes, and other essential items to share with those who left everything behind. Their desires outweigh the needs, and there is no more space for the abundant supplies, which are matched only by the kindness of those who donated and transported them.

Teens walk from house to house and offer help dismantling sukkahs, watering gardens, and performing other tasks for families whose husbands, fathers, and sons have returned to military duty.

The day-to-day routines of work, school, travel, family life, and even the birth of a new child have been halted. One soldier participated in his son’s bris by cell phone. There is 130% enlistment, and he, like everyone else showed up—immediately, without hesitation, and in a show of commitment to our country and love for each other and for our shared future.

The airport remains open so the massive number of Israelis who are living and traveling abroad but wish to return home to join the fighting units can do so. Today an Israeli donor leased a private plane to bring these courageous soldiers home from the U.S. at no cost to them. Once on the ground in Tel Aviv, they will be transferred directly to their units. Among these wonderful people is our own Guy Sela, central shaliach (emissary) for JCC Association and Maccabi World Union. In the last four years Guy has contributed tremendously to bringing Israel in various ways to JCCs. Today he is putting on his uniform and heading to the battlefield. I’m praying for Guy and his brothers and sisters in arms to all return home safely.

More than anything, this video illustrates the beauty of this nation, a nation like no other. The words of the song that accompanies the video say: “I have no other country, even if my land is on fire, in a loving body with a trembling heart, this is my home.”

The time has come for the funerals of those who have been killed, have been identified, and can be buried. Songs will be sung over many fresh graves; tears will flow, a sign of great pain. Over these open graves, with our teary eyes and broken hearts, we promise to protect this land, together, and never forget that we are one people with one heart.

So, you see, my land is burning, but this is my home. I love the people living here; they are my brothers and sisters, and I love them with enormous pride and unending gratitude.

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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