This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we are shar­ing 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. 

Novem­ber 92023

It’s been forty days since Octo­ber 7. Forty days in which Israel has expe­ri­enced its worst ter­ror­ist attack and was plunged into war. Since then, the coun­try has changed in fun­da­men­tal ways. It will con­tin­ue to change; how the coun­try will look and how we will act after the war is over — when­ev­er that may be — is anyone’s guess.

The changes are not uni­form across the coun­try. Some com­mu­ni­ties, those hit hard on Octo­ber 7 and those close to the bor­der with Lebanon (where the threat of Hezbol­lah looms large), are near­ly ghost towns. Over 100,000 Israelis have been evac­u­at­ed from their homes. They are now dis­placed with­in their country.

My town is one of the luck­i­est. So far, not a sin­gle rock­et has fall­en here. No ter­ror­ists have invad­ed. Things have been peaceful.

But that doesn’t mean the town hasn’t changed. In fact, the changes are all around us.

For instance, there’s vol­un­teer guard duty at every entrance to our town. I am part of this group. In addi­tion to that, there are patrol cars that scour the town 24/7; some with civil­ian vol­un­teers, oth­ers with police offi­cers, and oth­ers with sol­diers armed with assault rifles. More sol­diers are sta­tioned at schools. I won­der what the kids make of it. So far, I haven’t asked my boys. Per­haps I should.

There are more guns around than ever before. Neigh­bors are sud­den­ly car­ry­ing a pis­tol on their hip. Most of these weapons are new. Peo­ple don’t trust the armed forces to keep them safe. They want to be able to do it themselves.

School has been cut from six days a week to five, and that’s after school was com­plete­ly sus­pend­ed at the begin­ning of the war. Some of the teach­ers have been called up for duty. There are not enough of them to fill the reg­u­lar sched­ule. Our teach­ers are cre­ative in how they con­tin­ue edu­cat­ing their charges, all while wor­ry­ing about their own spous­es and chil­dren sta­tioned at the front.

Each school day begins with a drill. The pupils are marched to the shel­ter. They have nine­ty sec­onds to get there in case of an alarm. That’s how long it will take a rock­et to get here. In the com­mu­ni­ties near Gaza, that time is just fif­teen seconds.

The sit­u­a­tion, as many call it in lieu of using the word war, is the main top­ic of dis­cus­sion. When par­ents gath­er near the school at the end of the day to pick up their chil­dren, there’s a sus­tained effort to speak of mun­dane things. But soon­er or lat­er the grav­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion pulls our con­ver­sa­tions toward it, like a black hole whose tug no one can escape.

Rumors abound. False infor­ma­tion, often false hope, and some­times whis­pered news of dis­as­ters spread like wild­fire. Each day, I hear sto­ries that end up not being true. The fog of war is present even here, far from where the fight­ing is tak­ing place.

There are exhibits with pho­tos of the hostages on our main street. Some par­ents have com­plained that they can’t take their chil­dren there; they don’t want their kids to see the faces of chil­dren held hostage by Hamas. They might devel­op anx­i­eties, they fear. Oth­ers say the hostages come first, and we must keep them in the pub­lic eye, no mat­ter how upset­ting it is.

There are more than a hun­dred evac­u­at­ed fam­i­lies in town. They live in hotels, with fam­i­ly mem­bers, or in apart­ments they man­aged to rent. Play­grounds are full of chil­dren from the south and north. Some of them grew up with sirens as the back­ground of their child­hood. How did Israel’s gov­ern­ment per­mit so many of its cit­i­zens to live for years in fear of rock­et fire? It’s a ques­tion that roils the blood.

Some of the chil­dren have been enrolled in local schools. They’re mak­ing friends here, not know­ing when they’ll be able to go back home. I won­der how many of them will return home after the war. It depends on the out­come, I suppose.

Farm­ers from the north and south bring their pro­duce to makeshift mar­kets here. One is held every Tues­day at the end of my street. Peo­ple are eager to sup­port these farm­ers. This past Tues­day, my street was packed with cars and shop­pers. Sol­i­dar­i­ty at its finest.

Above all, there’s fear. Fear for what will hap­pen to our sol­diers in Gaza. Fear for the hostages. And fear that the war will expand.

In fact, it already has. Our bor­der with Lebanon is an active war zone. Hezbol­lah attacks our posts and com­mu­ni­ties there every day. But the fight­ing there is not an actu­al war. Yet. If Hezbol­lah decid­ed to raise the ante, our town will sure­ly be tar­get­ed by its rock­ets, and then life here will change fun­da­men­tal­ly. I won­der if my com­mu­ni­ty is ready for that. I won­der if I am.

We try to stay calm and pro­duc­tive. We try to smile and laugh and occa­sion­al­ly we suc­ceed. That’s anoth­er thing that’s changed since the war has start­ed. We used to laugh more. I hope that one day soon, we’ll be able do so again.

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

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Jonathan Dun­sky is the author of the Adam Lapid his­tor­i­cal mys­ter­ies series and the stand­alone thriller The Pay­back Girl. Before turn­ing to writ­ing, Jonathan served for four years in the Israeli Defense Forces and worked in the high-tech and Inter­net indus­tries. He resides in Israel with his wife and two sons.