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. 

  1. In the first evening, I told my part­ner that I’m think­ing of get­ting a license for a rifle. It turns out it’s pos­si­ble. It turns out they sell rifles just two streets away from our home. My part­ner looked at me with con­cern. His gaze says, Who is this woman I’m liv­ing with?” I tell him that I prob­a­bly won’t end up get­ting a rifle; maybe I’m just writ­ing a sto­ry. But my eyes wan­der to the door. It’s a door that can be bro­ken into.
  2. I can’t stop think­ing about the slaugh­tered fam­i­lies in the Gaza Enve­lope. The chil­dren. The infants. The girls who went out to dance. The cou­ples. The elder­ly who were killed in their homes. Entire com­mu­ni­ties that were destroyed. The kid­napped who were tak­en with threats and tor­ture – their dig­ni­ty vio­lat­ed – to Gaza. I’m learn­ing their names, and at this moment in time, I still don’t know what I will learn in the com­ing days: that there will be more names, more life sto­ries for me to know and mourn. In the south, there are kib­butz­im which have been turned into val­leys of death. Sderot is a shat­tered city. A world cov­ered in ash­es. I hate all weapons. I’m seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing get­ting one.
  3. My friend won­ders if a gun is a good solu­tion. I hear cau­tion in her voice and tell her maybe I’ve gone mad. But I don’t feel crazy. I’m a woman on the front line now. My friend abroad asks if I have anoth­er wood­en plank to block the door. She’ll send me a video explain­ing how to do it. There are rumors of ter­ror­ists in Tel Aviv. I read a post that says: Know that when the bad guys come, you’ll like­ly be alone.” Women I know are sleep­ing with a knife under their pil­low, they car­ry an extra knife in their bag. My house is torn apart too. The dead and the cap­tives are my peo­ple. In the kitchen draw­er, all the knives are dull because I’m almost nev­er care­ful, and I cut eas­i­ly. I don’t buy sharp knives either.
  4. I wake up in the morn­ing and cry, but the rest of the day, I func­tion. There’s no oth­er choice. All of my What­sApp groups come to life. Ini­tia­tives are set up every moment. We col­lect food for fam­i­lies in the south, sup­plies for the sol­diers, clothes and food for agri­cul­tur­al work­ers who have noth­ing left. New immi­grants sit shi­va for their daugh­ters, and no one can come. We come. Those who can weave flow­ers are mak­ing wreaths for graves.
  5. I try to stay busy. My part­ner trav­els to the south, then to the north to bring food to the sol­diers. He, whose polit­i­cal crit­i­cism is sharp and bit­ter. But gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions are not func­tion­ing, and the sys­tem that emerged in their place is com­posed only of vol­un­teers. Most of them are against our gov­ern­ment. In one of the bases, they don’t let the vol­un­teer dri­vers in because the food isn’t kosher. The next day, the gov­ern­ment issues kosher cer­tifi­cates for restau­rants. The fol­low­ing time, my part­ner brings plat­ters full of sauce from an events hall to sol­diers. There are no events. Part of the sauce spills from the full plat­ters onto the car seats. From now on, we dri­ve with the win­dows open. The dis­tances are short­er now. The city is emp­ty. The roads are empty.
  6. I don’t intend to shoot any­one. Ever.
  7. Every­one says not to watch the videos that Hamas released. You’ll see things you can’t get out of your head. Yet some peo­ple watch in order to reaf­firm facts— to iden­ti­fy faces and details, or some­one from the kid­napped. I study the pic­tures of the kid­napped and the mur­dered that griev­ing fam­i­lies post. There are so many of them.
  8. I read about the old­er cou­ple who used to trans­port Arab patients from Gaza to hos­pi­tals in Israel and are now both kid­napped. Here are Ra’aya and Hila Rut­man, a moth­er and daugh­ter from Kib­butz Be’eri, who were kid­napped to Gaza. I look at a pic­ture of them on the beach. Hila is half-smil­ing; Ra’aya looks wor­ried. On Hila’s black shirt, it says, the best is yet to come.” Hag­it, a moth­er of three, a doc­tor of edu­ca­tion in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, with whom con­tact was lost. The last mes­sages on her What­sApp are: Ter­ror­ists are shoot­ing at me. I’m near Kib­butz Be’eri. Please come.” To the mes­sages writ­ten to her Are you okay? Call me please” and Please.” There is no answer. Eight-year-old Emi­ly from Kib­butz Be’eri was sleep­ing with her best friend and was mur­dered along with her. Entire fam­i­lies were mas­sa­cred. Par­ents were tor­tured and mur­dered in front of their chil­dren and then the kid­nap­pers sat down to eat next to the bod­ies. So many chil­dren die. Each of them could have been my child.
  9. What poems can we write from now on, aside from ele­gies or laments?
  10. In 1920, Berl Katznel­son, a leader and edu­ca­tor, com­posed poem Yizkor” after the mas­sacre of Tel Hai on March 1, 1920, which por­trayed the defend­ers of Tel Hai. May the peo­ple of Israel remem­ber the pure souls of his sons and daugh­ters.” The duty of remem­brance is not placed on God but on the peo­ple. Yizkor,” based on the Yizkor prayer, is recit­ed dur­ing Memo­r­i­al Day cer­e­monies. Kib­butz Be’eri, once mag­nif­i­cent and beau­ti­ful, now burned and bro­ken, is named after Berl Katznel­son’s Hebrew name.
  11. This gov­ern­ment does­n’t deserve the peo­ple we have, every­one says. When one of those politi­cians dares to show his face, peo­ple cry in tears — you ruined, destroyed, get out of here.
  12. My whole body aches. Ten­sion, adren­a­line, and grief, but the rea­sons don’t mat­ter much. At night, I see a floor cov­ered in blood. It does­n’t mat­ter if my eyes are closed or open. I taste ash­es in my mouth. Women who strug­gled to sleep through the night are now sleep­ing like stones. Sleep over­pow­ers them. Most peo­ple I know can’t sleep. There’s always more news. More young and beau­ti­ful faces — of a girl who was killed; a child who was kid­napped; babies who hid in a clos­et, and their par­ents were mur­dered; an art stu­dent who was killed; an elder­ly woman now held cap­tive in Gaza. The words from the Book of Lamen­ta­tions echo in my head: She weep­eth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks.” In the day­time, we’re like wan­der­ing souls, gaz­ing into an emp­ty space. But it seems we all do some­thing. If we don’t, we’ll fall. We find out who needs help. Who arrived from Sderot or from Kfar Aza with­out glass­es. With­out shoes. We col­lect chil­dren’s books. Tooth­brush­es. Hygiene kits. My friends dis­trib­ute sup­plies and cook in restau­rant kitchens. More and more food. Musi­cian friends per­form for dis­placed chil­dren. Some trav­el to res­cue the kib­butz’s remain­ing dogs in the war zone. There are chil­dren for whom the dog is the only fam­i­ly they have left. 
  13. I attach a chair to the door. I press it under the han­dle. My part­ner asks what I’m doing. He says the door is locked, and I’m scar­ing our daugh­ter. I move the chair and con­tin­ue to stare at the door.
  14. We hear about the fate of slaugh­tered babies. About the gen­tle chil­dren who were kid­napped. The ancient text of the Book of Lamen­ta­tions is unfold­ing before our eyes. Her young chil­dren are gone into cap­tiv­i­ty before the adversary.”
  15. No one asks how any­one is doing. It does­n’t make sense. We’re in hell, they say. I read Dan­te’s Aban­don all hope, ye who enter here.” I’m form­ing a group to read the divine com­e­dy. I read alone.
  16. On CNN, they’re inter­view­ing Shai­ly Atari, a young woman wor­ried about the fate of her hus­band, Yahav. While the cam­era is on her, her moth­er asks to speak to her. Screams are heard. They just informed Shai­ly that Yahav was killed. I read these words and cry.
  17. The sirens sound like a ban­shee howl­ing. I hug my daugh­ter. I look at my part­ner. Every­thing we knew, every­thing we thought would nev­er hap­pen, hap­pened. Dur­ing the sirens, the win­dows shake. Our dog tries to escape but our cats remains indif­fer­ent. I write to every­one, we’re okay. When the sirens sound in the north, my sis­ter writes to me. A few hours lat­er, the dog still lies curled up. We don’t have a bomb shel­ter, but I don’t want to stay in anoth­er house. I don’t want to leave here. Most air­lines have stopped fly­ing. I look for flight tick­ets. I almost book and then stop myself.
  18. We’re still alive. Need­less to say, we are the lucky ones.
  19. I’m read­ing a poem by Dahlia Ravikovitch, my beloved poet, in Hebrew. She asks the whole world, the city of Beth­le­hem, Jerusalem, and even the moun­tains to return her child to her. She wish­es he would come back to her like the soul returns to the body when the eyes open. Twelve years ago, when my daugh­ter was born via a cesare­an sec­tion, she was tak­en from me while I was recov­er­ing. I mur­mured to myself PJ Har­vey’s song: Lit­tle fish, big fish swim­ming in the water, come back here, man, gimme my daugh­ter.” With­in a few hours, they placed her on my chest, but then it felt like they took my daugh­ter away. As I write these words, she is sleep­ing in her bed. In Gaza, a child named Eitan Yahalo­mi is held cap­tive. He is the same age as my daugh­ter. They were born just two months apart. Like her, he played soc­cer, and the first result when you search their names on Google shows them in their team’s uni­form. In a pho­to of him that was post­ed, he is hold­ing a kit­ten. Lit­tle fish, big fish bring him back, just like the soul returns to the body.
  20. It seems like we’re not breath­ing any­more. The streets of the cities are emp­ty, not only because of the fear of mis­siles and the threat of ter­ror­ists walk­ing around; the few times I went out into the street, I saw a pro­found sor­row, almost unimag­in­able, reg­is­tered on every face. An exis­ten­tial dread. But the body car­ries on and under­stands before the soul. Every day, anoth­er hor­ror is revealed, as if the waters are reced­ing, and we dis­cov­er what’s hid­den there. Five mem­bers of the Kutz fam­i­ly– the par­ents Liv­nat and Aviv, and the chil­dren Rotem, Yif­tach, and Yonatan – who returned from Boston a few years ago and built a home in kib­butz Kfar Aza. They were all killed. I want to write all their names, all their sto­ries. Ruth, a six­teen-year-old girl with cere­bral pal­sy who went to a par­ty with her father, Eyal. Their car was shot, and since then, they don’t know any­thing about their where­abouts. Her wheel­chair is emp­ty. Sagie was sup­posed to get mar­ried next week to his part­ner. They played his wed­ding song at his funer­al. I read: Itay is still miss­ing.” The last time any­one saw him was at a par­ty. The day after, his fam­i­ly wrote, Thank you for all the efforts and search­es, unfor­tu­nate­ly, Itay is no longer alive.” I hear thrilling sto­ries of hero­ism, which I wish were not nec­es­sary. Sud­den­ly, I stop. I have no strength in my body. I’m scrolling through social net­works. Don’t open your Face­book account,” I tell my sis­ter. It’s like walk­ing into a graveyard.”
  21. On the high­way, there’s a sign on the side of the road, stand­ing alone. Red let­ters on card­board. I read: We are dead.” As the car approach­es, I see that it actu­al­ly says: Sweet pineap­ples.” There’s no stall. There are no pineapples.
  22. In my online French les­son, every sen­tence talks about babies that need to be cov­ered. To con­ju­gate the verb cou­vrir. Are you going to cov­er the baby? Is the baby cov­ered? In Yehu­da Amichai’s ear­ly poem Rain on the Bat­tle­field,” trans­lat­ed by Robert Alter, he wrote:

Rain falls on the faces of my friends;
on the faces of my liv­ing friends
who cov­er their heads with a blanket –
and on the faces of my dead friends
who cov­er no more.

Who will cov­er the babies?

  1. Over 1300 casu­al­ties in Israel. More than 1050 civil­ians slaugh­tered bru­tal­ly, includ­ing chil­dren, women, the elder­ly, and for­eign cit­i­zens. The num­ber will con­tin­ue to rise. I tell my part­ner, Do you remem­ber when we were wor­ried about forty casu­al­ties last Sat­ur­day? Do I have to remind myself that forty deaths is hor­ri­fy­ing?” Again and again, they write that since the Holo­caust, there haven’t been so many Jew­ish casu­al­ties in one day. I think about the days to come.
  2. It’s Sat­ur­day. A week has passed since the out­break of the war. We are going to the bar mitz­vah of a thir­teen-year-old boy, a friend of my daugh­ter, in the grand syn­a­gogue of Tel Aviv. The young boy in a white shirt reads the por­tion of Bereshit. Some­one thinks she hears gun­shots, but no one is shoot­ing. Before we throw can­dies at the boy, the can­tor sings with the pub­lic in the syn­a­gogue: He who maketh peace in his high places, may he make peace for us. Almost every­one is crying.
  3. We con­tin­ue from the syn­a­gogue to the street in front of the Min­istry of Defense. Avichai Brodez, whose wife and three chil­dren were kid­napped to Gaza, sits on a plas­tic chair with a hand-writ­ten sign My fam­i­ly is in Gaza. Hagar, Ofri, Yuval and Uriya, father is wait­ing for you.” We came to stand with him. We stand by his side. Thou­sands will stand with him until late after­noon. There, in the night, they will light memo­r­i­al candles.
  4. My grand­par­ents were born in War­saw in Sep­tem­ber 1939. They fled to the Sovi­et Union. My grand­moth­er was the only one from her fam­i­ly to sur­vive the Holo­caust. From my grand­fa­ther’s fam­i­ly, a few sur­vived. I read the tes­ti­mo­ny pages my grand­moth­er filled out with trem­bling hands. I rec­og­nized the names of her par­ents, her broth­er, her sis­ters, and her nieces. All were mur­dered in Tre­blin­ka. After the war, when they were in a DP camp in Ger­many, my grand­fa­ther received two flight tick­ets from his rel­a­tives. They were tick­ets to Amer­i­ca. My grand­fa­ther, who was a Zion­ist, tore the tick­ets. They came to Israel, where my moth­er was born. Some­times I still think about that pair of tick­ets. What kind of life would they have had? My moth­er? Even me? 
  5. This past sum­mer, we were in Rome. The pecu­liar hotel we stayed at was not far from the Arch of Titus, which com­mem­o­rates the Jew­ish cap­tives and the loot tak­en from the Tem­ple. Titus’s younger broth­er, who ruled after him, erect­ed it in his hon­or. Some argue that those cap­tives were not actu­al­ly pris­on­ers in the bas-relief but rather the Roman sol­diers who plun­dered the Tem­ple. Roman Jews, over the years, have refused to walk under the arch until the UN dec­la­ra­tion on the estab­lish­ment of the State of Israel. On what stone will the faces of the cap­tives from Octo­ber 2023 be carved? Chil­dren, women, men, infants, and young ones. I under­stand the Roman Jews. Irra­tional­ly, I want the arch to be bro­ken. I want every­one to return in peace. I con­tem­plate what’s called , the bal­ance of ter­ror. There is no bal­ance. The frac­ture cuts through every­one. Can we still hope that this torn and scarred land will become just a dull, unevent­ful piece of earth?
  6. Sud­den­ly the mil­i­tary con­fir­ma­tion for my manda­to­ry ser­vice in the IDF arrives. I for­got that I asked for it. I for­got that I thought I would apply for a weapon. How I hat­ed being a sol­dier. I sat among oth­er sol­diers and we inter­viewed boys and girls before enlist­ment. I only shot twice at the range at card­board tar­gets. Now, my nephews are being draft­ed into the army. I am not buy­ing a gun.
  7. Eight days have passed since the mas­sacre. The count of the dead does not stop. Some­one writes that in Israel it is still six thir­ty in the morn­ing on Octo­ber 7th.
  8. After a long sum­mer, the rain comes. We wait­ed for it as thirsty peo­ple. The rain falls on the scorched fields, the bro­ken hous­es, and the body bags lin­ing sides of the breached bor­der. Today, graves are dug on the land of Kib­butz Be’eri, at the grave­yard of Sderot. Funer­als are held in almost every city in Israel. On the wall in front of the Min­istry of Defense, peo­ple hang signs with the names and faces of the abduct­ed. I raise my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.

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

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Yaara She­hori is an Israeli nov­el­ist and poet. She has been an edi­tor of Hebrew lit­er­a­ture at Keter Books since 2013. In 2015, She­hori was award­ed the Prime Min­is­ter Levi Eshkol Cre­ative Writ­ing Prize for Writ­ers and Poets and the Min­is­ter of Culture’s Prize for Upcom­ing Writ­ers. She holds a PhD in Hebrew lit­er­a­ture from the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem and was award­ed a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship and a fel­low­ship from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ing Pro­gram. In 2017Aquar­i­um was rec­og­nized with the Bern­stein Prize for the best orig­i­nal Hebrew-lan­guage novel.