Yesterday my daughters came home from school and informed me that they all have new girls in their classes. One of the girls is from Netivot, another one is from Beer Sheva and, finally, there is Leah from Ashdod.
Ever since the war began my six-year-old asks me every day: "Is the war over yet? When will it end?" Last week my eight-year-old described how they had spent a better part of the morning practicing hiding in the school shelter. We live right outside Jerusalem. Why is the school doing this? But then I heard it in my daughter’s voice. She doesn’t see an iota of difference between herself and Efrat from Netivot. We are all in danger.
I glanced back at the picture, and felt a jolt of shock "We each have a partner, and we need to walk quietly. We aren’t allowed to run," my other daughter explained as we sat down to lunch.
A couple of days ago, my nine-year-old peered over my shoulder at the newspaper.
"Who is that?" she asked, pointing at a picture of one of the first soldiers who was killed in the war.
"He's a soldier who was killed," I told her.
"No, that's not a soldier," she shook her head. "That's a boy. He’s not old enough to be a soldier."
As she ran off to play, I glanced back at the picture, and I felt a jolt of shock. He does look like a child! He is so very young. He could be any of our sons. Why didn’t I see it before? Wasn’t I graduating high school at that age?
Later that day an anxious taxi driver told us that two of his sons are in Gaza.
"Do you know what it's like to wait all day listening to this news?" he said as he turned up the radio.
"At midnight my sons call. 'Abba, don’t worry' they say. It will be okay." He shakes his head as the news crackles in.
"It's not okay. It's only okay if your sons are at home."
I think about the summer that I spent volunteering for the IDF. I was between my junior and senior years of college. I was idealistic and driven. I wanted to help. So there I was in full army uniform at four in the morning on a base near Tzfat getting ready to build cement boulders for the army. We worked all day in the intense summer heat. I didn’t feel a thing. I was so happy. I was helping. On the last night before my return trip to NY, I was sitting with one of the real Israeli soldiers at dinner.
"Do you know what the only difference is between you and me?" he asked in broken English.
"What?" I asked. I felt so much a part of the country that I couldn't imagine any differences between us at all.
"You are going home, and I am going to war."
I was stunned, though I shouldn’t have been. I had only been there for a month. And I wasn’t going into battle. In fact, I didn’t even know what a real war was. What was it like to graduate high school and receive a gun instead of a free pass to an Ivy League university?
Back home I sat on our black leather couch, surrounded by plush gray carpeting, and I tried to focus on the conversation. It was a typical dinner party full of charismatic professionals who travel frequently.
"So how was your trip?" a well-intentioned guest asked me. My mind flashed back to the cold, bare army base, and the sight of the pre-dawn sky glowing behind the mountains of Tzfat. I heard my own voice from a distance.I was describing the sights, the aromas, and the people of Israel. And then I felt a strange pang of homesickness rise up within me. It was strange because I was sitting in my own home, but my heart was clearly elsewhere.
As I reminisce, my daughter suddenly brings me back to reality. The reality we need to focus on.
She asks, "Does everyone believe in G‑d now?" We all pause.
"What do you mean?" I ask, even though I already understand what she means.
"Well, after all the miracles this week... Efrat's whole family is okay even though a rocket landed right next to their building. So now everyone knows, right?"
How far will we allow today’s miracles to take us? I think about the Yom Kippur War. After some soldiers came back from the front, everyone gathered in one of the houses to greet them and hear about the latest news. It was a mixed crowd, with soldiers of all levels of Jewish observance. And they said:
"You know how G‑d promised the Maccabees that a small army would prevail over a mighty one? Well that's what happened! It was a miracle! They could have taken Tzfat. Instead they retreated. It was Biblical. A real miracle right before our eyes!"
The crowd in that living room sat spellbound.
So I wonder- how far will we allow today’s miracles to take us? Will we watch the sun rise and then turn our back on the miraculous beginning of a new day? Will we watch hundreds of rockets fall without injuring anybody and say that it is just a coincidence? Or will we let this war change our lives? Will we see the children’s faces underneath the soldiers’ helmets? Will we remember that tomorrow we, too, might be running for shelter? Will we welcome each other into our homes and our hearts the way our children do? The miracles are all around us. Let's open our eyes and change our lives.