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Day 31: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

The fifth week of the war has begun, bringing with it more casualties, new graves being dug, and words of farewell interwoven with heartbreaking cries that tear at the soul. Bereaved parents refuse to believe, loved ones can’t let go. Small children who, until yesterday, had mom and dad by their side, have been robbed of their innocence, as they put on their new title—orphans. Entire worlds have been lost forever. There is endless pain.

Twenty-six-year -old Major Yehuda Natan Cohen fought bravely on the first day of the war against the terrorists in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Following a harsh battle, after Yehuda Natan and his friends heroically defeated the terrorists, they rescued the families who had been besieged for many hours in home shelters. In an interview following those October 7th heroic battles, Yehuda Natan shared with journalists that the rescued families were, at first, reluctant to open the shelters’ doors, believing he was a terrorist posing as an Israeli soldier. Only after they asked him various questions that only an Israeli could answer, did they open the door and fall in his arms. Yehuda Natan and his friends saved dozens of lives that day, but just a few weeks later, he was killed in a fierce battle in Gaza.

It’s been a month since the brutal attack in Israel’s southern towns and kibbutzim, and 8-year-old Emily Hand’s family from Kibbutz Be’eri has taken another steep curve on the journey to hell. At first, her family was informed that little Emily was missing. Then they were notified that she was murdered in the massacre, but her body was not found, so there was no funeral. Now new evidence has surfaced, indicating there was a mistake in the identification and Emily was kidnapped alive to Gaza.

Imagine Emily’s family members, who spent the last few weeks grieving her death, with no grave on which to lean. Now, they’ve been pulled from the depths of sorrow to join the efforts to free all the hostages. From despair to hope—if there is hope.

Emily is known as someone who always manages to get what she wants. Will she have the strength to survive the jaws of her captors without her parents by her side? Will her strength withstand the darkness of Gaza tunnels? Will her golden curls flutter again in the winds of her kibbutz’s fields?

In a chilling mirror image, Liraz Assolin’s family held onto a glimmer of hope for several days. Liraz had been dancing to the music she loved at the Nova party on the black Shabbat of October 7th. At first, she was among the missing, but later on, the family was told she had been kidnapped into Gaza, so there was hope, but not for long. Her family just received the worst news: Liraz’s body had been identified.  

I invite you to stop for a moment and think through these shocking facts: It’s been a month since the massacre, and bodies are still being identified due to monstrous desecration. A month since the abductions, and no one has any solid information about the status, condition, or fate of the hostages. No officials have visited them; no Red Cross personnel have seen to their rights. The cruelty of not knowing is as though a black curtain has closed in around them—around us.   

How is it possible to survive these upheavals vacillating among despair, hope, and the depths of grief? Will this mad rollercoaster ever stop?  

We are fighting for our home, but it’s also a war of consciousness against the cruelest of enemies who not only slit throats and crush skulls, but also tell lies, distort reality, and play painfully and cynically into the ignorant minds of those who flock to the distorted narrative that terrorists are freedom fighters, that murderers are martyrs, that human monsters have a right to exist, and that the attacker is the victim. 

The sickening images released in a horrific 47-minute video for viewing by journalists and diplomats around the world will not be enough. Filmed by Hamas terrorists themselves, the unedited video that documents the horrors of the massacre will not sway the public. 

The fact that human rights advocates for the LGBTQ community and for women would be stoned if they voiced their opinions in the streets of Gaza will not change public opinion. The fact that Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, embezzling and diverting funds for the terrorists’ personal use and to arm themselves, all while perpetuating the poverty of the unfortunate residents rather than funding Gaza’s reconstruction will not change public opinion.  

The fact that Israeli soldiers are being shot at while securing a path for hundreds of trucks containing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza won’t move the needle either. To be clear: Hamas shoots Israeli soldiers who try to make it possible for humanitarian aid to reach Hamas’ own people, the Palestinians in Gaza. After Hamas terrorists shoot those soldiers, they cry into the nearest camera about how desperate they are for humanitarian aid.  

Does this scenario make sense to you? No, not to me, either. 

But is there a need for common sense or any kind of logic when people believe in a false narrative based on lies and their own shallow ignorance? 

Listen to Donny Deutch share his frustration on this topic in an MSNBC interview, and listen to an IDF army spokesperson’s uplifting message about the war. 

Since the dawn of history, the Jewish people have been persecuted; suffered riots and pogroms; and been slandered—solely because we are Jews. We are hated for no reason. But we choose to love one another and stand by each other for the best of reasons—solely because we are Jews. Thanks to our standing side by side we survived those horrible times in our history and built a glorious country.  

Together we will protect our homeland and together we will protect every Jew in the world—whether they are harvesting their fields in Kibbutz Be’eri or dancing at a recital at a JCC. 

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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