Once the war broke out here in Israel, my August essay seemed to have descended from another planet and I wrote an addendum to reflect the current horrible times we are all living through.
"The school was closed and no one went to work. Everyone was conscripted into the military or to help in the hospitals or to bury the dead. Across from the house, the dead were in crates piled one on top of the other. From the hill across from the house, all day we heard the screams and the cries of the parents and families from the nonstop funerals taking place. In daylight, there were the continuous sounds of the screaming and crying over the dead and, in the night, we would wake up to the shrieks from the mortars."
—Excerpt from my Abba's letter from when he was a 12-year old boy in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine/New State of Israel, 1948
I translated these words 18 years ago, and they rushed back to me on the second day of the October 2023 war in Israel. It goes without saying that I can cross out 1948 and write 2023 in its place. The meaning of this is apparent. We have arrived where we have already been. What was once is again. The grandchildren inhabit the spaces of their grandparents.
All of this is devastating and true. But there are other truths I want to share with you. It would be unjust to leave you with only this excerpt, with only these conclusions. It would be a disservice to how far we have come and against the Jewish idea of hope in the darkness for whom so many have already lost their lives.
Let us return to another of my father's letters from the same moment in time:
"The situation worsened and we received coupons for food and water. I made a wagon with four wheels for olive picking in Emek Hamatsleva, the Valley of the Cross, and my mother also taught me to pick good plants to eat like kubezah and roots of various kinds. I went around the neighborhood with friends looking for food and collecting shells from bullets just for keepsakes.
In the night we would watch the mortars flying through the sky … every day we stood in line for our bucket of drinking water… the one in charge opened the lock and the cover of the water hole. There was a pail on a rope that we would throw into the water and fill up our bucket; life for the soul. The days were hard — no food and little water and no radio to listen to the news."
In spite of stark similarities within these letters, Israel of 1948 is not Israel of 2023. (Do you hear me, Abba? Today, he is in his 88th year and in shock at what he feels is a return to his past. My protests go unheard, his ears too filled with anger and sadness to hear them.)
We have plenty of food and water — there are no coupons, there are no water holes or lines of people waiting in them. Today's Israeli teenagers who are too young to serve or who are not currently conscripted do not have to build wagons and forage for food in nature. And as far as radio news goes, it is a struggle to keep them off of the endless news streaming into their eyes and hearts.
They are strong and they can do!
This week alone, my daughters have packed thousands (yes, thousands) of packages for soldiers containing everything from food to clothes to toothbrushes, from morning to night. They have been making tzitzit at soldiers' requests, raising thousands of shekels online, babysitting for mothers whose husbands are in the army, creating activities to keep groups of younger children occupied, and probably another half-dozen things I don't even know about.
They do not brag about it; they barely mention it in passing as they whiz out the door — again. No one had to ask them or tell them. They are indeed inhabiting the spaces of their grandparents, but this time with vast resources they intuitively know how to use.
Gila Green is an author, editor, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) lecturer, and mother of five children. Her novels often feature characters with Yemenite and Sephardic backgrounds as she strives to broaden the scope of Jewish literature. Her fifth novel, With A Good Eye is forthcoming with AOS Publishing Montreal (2024). Pre Order With A Good Eye Now.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.