This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

A. The Mall

This is a sto­ry of a bro­ken birth­day par­ty, an admirable and mali­cious bread mak­er, and a library put togeth­er from scratch in less than twen­ty-four hours. This is under no cir­cum­stance a sto­ry about the worst ter­ror attack Israel has ever suf­fered; it’s not about the per­pet­u­al­ly scorched sights of hor­ror, nor is it about the inabil­i­ty to inhale and exhale, or the con­stant feel­ing that we, Israelis, are all going to die in the next few days. It’s not a sto­ry of rage, not about a kind word one may say to a pan­icked stranger in a super­mar­ket. It might be just about the per­fect response to the ques­tion how are things?” when it’s pre­sent­ed in Israel at this time.

Two days pri­or to the hell­ish, night­mar­ish attack in the west­ern Negev, I was in the local mall in Givatay­im (a town next to Tel Aviv) with my ten-year-old child, Enoch. We were look­ing for a big-enough birth­day present for my wife. Like all men in this predica­ment, I felt com­plete­ly lost. Final­ly, the idea of a bread mak­er hit me and we went and got it. We bought her two more small presents as insur­ance against dis­ap­point­ment and head­ed towards the last hours of life as we knew it.

We were hap­py. About a week from that day, we were sup­posed to fly out on our first fam­i­ly vaca­tion abroad to the isle of San­tori­ni in Greece. Enoch has an acute milk aller­gy, and we nev­er dared going abroad with him. But we had final­ly come to the real­iza­tion that life can’t be run by fear. Now it sounds iron­ic but at this time every­thing in Israel sounds iron­ic, hit­ting these keys sounds iron­ic, so does breathing.

B. The Attack

We woke up to the wail­ing of sirens and dashed to the safe room. I was clos­ing the win­dow, a heavy rolling met­al plate across a dou­ble-glazed win­dow. It’s usu­al­ly Enoch’s room and so my wife, Rav­it, was bring­ing in our oth­er two chil­dren, our daugh­ter Sivan and our youngest son Maayan. I rushed to the steel door, flung it shut and locked it firm­ly. We have nine­ty sec­onds till Hamas’s mis­siles hit our town, but we are in the safe room in about twen­ty. We are well-drilled.

Home­land secu­ri­ty says wait ten min­utes before it’s safe to come out; we wait­ed eight because we’re rebel­lious by nature. Watch­ing the liv­ing room TV after­wards we real­ized it’s not safe, it’s not going to be safe for a long time, and it was nev­er safe.

C. Bal­loons

The scale of the tragedy was slow­ly unrav­el­ing through­out the day. Rage, fear, help­less­ness, accom­pa­nied by repeat­ed dash­es into the safe room. The kids decid­ed to stay there and as evening fell, we filled bal­loons with air for the dec­o­ra­tions for my wife’s birth­day par­ty, the next day. What a day to cel­e­brate. Mechan­i­cal­ly, my wife was bak­ing a cake, because I’m a dis­as­ter at bak­ing. Final­ly, the eldest hit the hay, and there were just the two of us.

I poured us some whiskey and made a toast for the ones mur­dered and those kid­napped and those fight­ing for us. My wife sat down, eyes mis­er­ably glued to the screen. I was hang­ing Hap­py Birth­day” rib­bons all over the house. At mid­night, I poured us anoth­er drink and said L’chaim”– to life. Hap­py birth­day”, I stu­pid­ly added.

D. The Cake

There was a lot of hid­ing from the kids to do. No school today, we announced and, aston­ish­ing­ly, they did­n’t seem upset. We brought in the cake, and my wife blew out the can­dles and I just don’t know how she did it, because air did­n’t seem to come out of her lips. I’m sor­ry we have a war on your birth­day, I said. It does­n’t mat­ter,” she replied, it’s not impor­tant.” Then she opened up the presents. She was very hap­py, all things con­sid­ered, with the new bread maker.

E. The Bread Maker

We baked the first loaf togeth­er, and it came out shrunk­en yet tasty. From that moment on we made exper­i­ments that ulti­mate­ly yield­ed the per­fect bread. We looked at the news on the TV when the kids were in the safe room and bread was in the mak­ing. We were mea­sur­ing olive oil when sirens came. We were adding water when rumours of rape were turn­ing into facts. We were care­ful­ly adding yeast when the first tid­ings of babies being behead­ed arrived. We were bak­ing real­ly good bread; I made one with chestnuts.

I did more stuff. I went to give blood. They said: sir, we’re ful­ly-booked for the next three days, the line is stretch­ing out to the street. I did count­less pro-bono Zoom shows for kids and lec­tures for adults. I applied for a firearm license. I vol­un­teered for the neigh­bor­hood watch. I asked my old com­mand­ing offi­cer to redraft me to my reserve unit, from which I was dis­charged at forty as is typ­i­cal. I was ready to dri­ve a tank again, if nec­es­sary. I was in a rage. 

None of this hap­pened. Our flight was final­ly can­celed about forty-eight hours before take­off, so that gave me some blessed bureau­cra­cy to sink into. Can­cel­ing the hotel reser­va­tion, the car rental, the trav­el insurance. 

And I baked bread. Bread is life, bread is the future. I kept going to the store to get flour. There was a siren when I was wait­ing in line and one of the women start­ed yelling and cry­ing. We have nine­ty sec­onds, ma’am, come with me to the safe room,” I said. Oh, I’m sor­ry,” she said mor­ti­fied, I’m from the south. We only have fif­teen seconds.”

F. The Library

I had an idea about books. Before Octo­ber 7 we escaped our lives with social media; after Octo­ber 7 we escape social media back into our lives. And our lives aren’t pret­ty, so our minds real­ly have nowhere to hide. Books are the per­fect escape. Always, and now more than ever. Like bread, books are also our future and our past. Books are our soul’s bread.

I want­ed to orga­nize a dona­tion of chil­dren’s books, for the thou­sands of fam­i­lies who were evict­ed from their homes in the war­zone. They were all put into hotels in safer regions of Israel, some got there bare­foot, with not so much as a clean pair of under­wear. Then I saw that iCast, an audio­books com­pa­ny in Israel, was giv­ing away the books they’ve already record­ed for the evac­uees. I went to their head­quar­ters, got two big crates of books and made a few phone calls. It turned out my child­hood neigh­bor, Shirly, is help­ing out refugees from a moshav called Shoke­da, who were evac­u­at­ed to a hotel in the moshav where she lives, Neve Ilan, about twen­ty miles west to Jerusalem.

G. The Disappointment

What’s in there?” inquired the lady in charge of the refugees’ sup­plies at the hotel. Books, I said. Books, huh?” She nod­ded skep­ti­cal­ly. I don’t expect they’ll be in a read­ing mood right now.” Well, that took the air out, I was in this Mes­si­ah mood of sav­ing their spir­its, bring­ing these poor des­o­lat­ed peo­ple the bread of the soul and so on. Just put them in the Carmel lounge, that’s where they’re hanging.”

I pulled the trol­ly to the Carmel lounge. A teenag­er came towards me. What’s in here?” she asked in an eager trea­sure-hunt­ing tone. Books,” I replied sheep­ish­ly. Oh, thank God! Books!” she said happily.

The Carmel lounge was filled with moms and infants and the unmis­tak­able scent of dia­pers in need of change. Donat­ed clothes, toys, and a clut­tered dis­ar­ray of items so dense we did­n’t even know where the crates could go. We just moved some emp­ty baby strollers. Frankly, I just want­ed to leave. You hear about evac­uees on the news, but see­ing the real­i­ty is different. 

Shirly sent me a pic­ture after two hours. All the books were labeled with the name of Shoke­da, the moshav of the evict­ed peo­ple, very neat­ly placed on a book­shelf unit some­one had donat­ed. These peo­ple did not have a home to come back to yet, but they already had a library.

H. The Per­fect Answer

I texted one of my old army bud­dies a few days ago. I asked: How are things?” He replied: Tol­er­a­ble”. I thought that’s the per­fect answer for this ques­tion. That, and bread baking.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Jonathan Yavin is an Israeli nov­el­ist and writer for chil­dren and YA. So far, he has writ­ten 17 books that were trans­lat­ed into sev­er­al lan­guages. His book Pump­kin the Kit­ten” entered many edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams as a text­book and sold over 200 thou­sand copies. The Amer­i­can edi­tion of this book, along with the Amer­i­can edi­tion of A Night at the Play­ground”, were pub­lished In the USA 2023 (Gefen Pub­lish­ers, Ohio-Jerusalem). In 2012, Yavin was award­ed the Prime Min­is­ter Levi Eshkol Prize for Writ­ers and in 2006, his chil­dren book Oh, Broth­er” received the Israeli Muse­um Prize for Illus­tra­tion (art by Gilad Sof­fer). In 2022 Yavin found­ed Mel­lel Pub­lish­ing House”, launch­ing his 4th fic­tion nov­el, Loy­al to None but Him­self”.