At about 6:40 a.m. on Saturday October 7 (Simchat Torah here), I dreamt that there was a siren. When I woke up about an hour later, Sarah told me that the siren was for real and that Nathan had come to pick up his 5-year-old son Noam (who had slept here overnight with his cousins, Elie’s children). When Elie and I got to synagogue, Eitan the gabbai (and the person at our synagogue who handles emergencies) asked Elie if he is authorized to carry a gun. Elie said yes (in fact, Elie carries a handgun at all times). Services continued more or less as normal until the day’s main event: the hakafot (circuits made with the Torahs). There are seven of these, and with all the singing and dancing that accompany them, each one can take 20 minutes or longer. Eitan announced, however, that due to the war and to instructions to limit large gatherings of people, the hakafot would be greatly curtailed. Eitan also said that the synagogue would then continue with the day’s full services, but everyone was free to decide for themselves whether or not to stay. When I heard Eitan use the word “war,” my heart dropped. Eitan is in his mid 80s, old enough to have served not only in the Yom Kippur War but in the Six-Day War— this is a person who does not use the word lightly.
The hakafot began and Elie and I went around with the Torahs. Elie has a large projecting voice (he is a company commander after all), and he often led the singing. The seven hakafot ended, but when I looked around Elie was gone. A few minutes later Elie’s 3-year-old daughter Ayala toddled in. Sarah later told me that Elie had crossed paths with them. Elie had told Sarah that he was going to our home to call his division commander. Ayala, upon seeing Elie heading home, started to throw a fit, thinking (mistakenly) that she would be denied her Simchat Torah candy. Twenty minutes later Elie was back, breathing hard (he had run from our house). He told me that he was going in to the Ofer Military Base (coincidentally, very close to Givat Ze’ev, where he was raised). Elie then went into the women’s section to say goodbye to Sarah. I was to learn that this scene was repeated all over Israel—young men specifically coming to synagogue to say goodbye to their parents.
When we got home, I was pleased to see that Nathan had returned with his whole family–his wife Avia and their 2-year-old Lavi as well as Noam. During our preparations for lunch, our neighbor and friend Rabbi Zvi Koren stopped by to tell us that we were halachically permitted to open an electronic device and check it hourly to see if there were instructions from Home Front Command. As I imagine was the case in many national-religious families, where there is typically a range of observance, there were those of us who were updated as to the seriousness of the situation and those who were not; having 5 kids around made it easier not to speak of the war, but it was hard to conjure up a festive atmosphere.
At around 7:30 p.m., Elie called to briefly say that he was okay and that his company was “holding the line” in an area near Shilo (in the Shomron). Hadar wanted to spend the night at her parents’ in Jerusalem, but as Elie had taken their car, Sarah drove the family to Jerusalem. While we were buckling everyone up, Elie called again. Elie downplayed what he was doing, saying “we’re not in the action, we’re just doing baby stuff like stopping rock throwing,” but it was heartbreaking to hear Hadar, voice cracking, pleading with Elie to take care of himself and to not let anything bad happen to him.
Ruthie’s husband Nofar, the other member of the family doing active military-reserve duty, is in a unit that identifies missing people. On Saturday he was told to go to a base relatively close to Gaza. The early report from Nofar was that it was a “complete balagan” down there. His unit was so overwhelmed with work that it was not clear to them how to start. On Sunday afternoon October 8, however, I did receive the following text message from Nofar: “I am okay. We are working hard and are preparing for all scenarios.”
TEDDY WEINBERGER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.