By Leah Garber
Eighty-three days into the hardest war in Israel’s history, and we haven’t gotten used to it. The atmosphere of war is overwhelmingly taking over.
It’s all we hear, from the noise of Israel’s air force or the sirens’ wail followed by the sounds of explosions. But it is also clearly heard through the heartbreaking cries coming from the families of the 129 hostages who are still held captive in the harshest conditions by Hamas terrorists.
The routine of war is also felt through what is seen, from the huge street signs decorated with Israeli flags and the slogan “Together we will win” or through Israeli TV broadcasting 24/7 news reports and magazine articles telling the stories of the survivors and the fallen soldiers.
But more than the sounds and sights, the war is felt through our hearts. It oppresses our breathing.
The air we breathe is mixed with fear, anxiety, and concern for the soldiers who are fighting and filled with empathy for the families who were evacuated from their homes and are trying to build a new life in a temporary place.
And while the war becomes our normal routine, all eyes are anxiously directed to the north, towards a much more difficult war that may flare up against Hezbollah terrorists on the border with Lebanon.
However, our lives alongside this painful war continue to bring out the best in the people. The people of Israel are the ultimate hope for a better future.
During 83 days of fighting, Israelis continued to lend a hand, and our spirit of volunteering has gone through an interesting evolution, one that has evolved to match the needs of this war, for those on the frontlines and at home.
The following are but a few examples.
About 150,000 families who were evacuated from their homes in the south and north of Israel are trying to adapt to a new life in temporary housing. Israeli architects and interior designers have volunteered to transform temporary housing, ensuring the displaced families have all the creature comforts they left behind. Companies and suppliers donate the supplies, and the professionals work with the help of many kind volunteers who come to paint, repair, clean, move, and fill these housing units with a feeling of home. With that effort, the evacuees feel wrapped in the warmth of Israeli love with the message that they are not alone.
Hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers were called up on October 7 to serve the country, and they mobilized without hesitation. They left families, home, work, school, and their personal lives behind. Many among the recommissioned are small business owners who must, on top of fighting on the frontlines, deal with business operation-related expenses that continue to pile up. For some, the entire business rests on them. After fighting for 83 days, they have a closed business with no revenue.
Knowing these hardships, Israelis have responded. When those small business owners get a 48-hour leave from their service and can return home to open their businesses, many Israelis come from all over the country to support them. To buy furniture, clothes, food, and even jewelry (anything featuring the Star of David is a popular choice) and in doing so, they open not only their wallets but their hearts, too. It warms the heart to see a woman who traveled dozens of miles to buy something she really didn’t need, only to allow that storeowner, a combat soldier, to continue to make a living with dignity even while fighting.
Until October 7, many preferred to consume foreign produce. Buying into the illusion that imported products from prestigious and exotic places elevates the shopping experience. However, since the war, patriotism has intensified, and with it, an increased tendency to buy only blue and white products— those produced in Israel. This is to support the Israeli agriculture industry, but also because now more than ever, we are all so proud of what grows natively here within our small country.
These are but a few of the beautiful gestures for one another, for the soldiers, evacuees, and of course, for the 129 families of the hostages. Some support is very direct and visible while other efforts are more subtle, like that of those who are no longer here.
Four months before he was killed in the fighting on the northern border, 33-year-old Major Rabbi Naaran Eshchar donated a kidney and saved a life. Naaran was still recovering from the surgery when he was called to report with his unit to the Lebanese border, and therefore, he was exempt from service. But he insisted on fighting alongside his friends. He did not think he deserved a special exemption. Ultimately, his kidney is not the only organ that saved a human life. Naaran was seriously injured in the fighting and fought for his life for several days. His family and many friends were by his side, praying for this gifted musician, educator, and dear friend, with hymns and tunes. When Naaran’s soul left his body, and paved its heavenly path, Naaran’s noble family decided to donate his organs, and thus, Naaran continued to save more lives even in death.
In these most difficult hours, when Israel’s army is fighting on two fronts, a great light shines through this terrible darkness. A bright light that reminds us of what we are fighting for, for whom, and why. Our hearts and heads, more than ever, seek to hold onto everything that is Israeli, to everything that connects us to our one home.
Yes, we have a strong army, a sophisticated technology industry, and we are a start-up nation, but above all, it is our resilience that defines us. The war has reminded us of what the best version of ourselves can look like, and how wonderful it is.
This is what we fight for, and through our Israeli nature, we will win.
Together, united, we will overcome.