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. 

Three weeks after the events of Octo­ber 7, the trau­ma, hor­ror, and extent of our loss is start­ing to sink in. It’s our 9/11, peo­ple are say­ing. Hamas has proven itself to be a local ver­sion of ISIS. Every sin­gle day since then, mis­sile alarms go off all over Israel, remind­ing us – even as we make din­ner, or run out to buy a loaf of bread, or watch Net­flix – that we are being tar­get­ed by a fanat­i­cal ene­my. It is emerg­ing that this is an event whose mag­ni­tude has the pow­er to change one’s inner com­pass, lead­ing Jews every­where to reex­am­ine the par­a­digms that just a few weeks ago seemed not just valid, but obvious. 

We, who were born after the Holo­caust, grew up in a world that spoke a lan­guage nev­er heard before in human his­to­ry. To sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly mur­der anoth­er peo­ple was not mere­ly a con­se­quence of war, but geno­cide. Every per­son in the world was deserv­ing of human rights. Every group with a com­mon his­to­ry was deserv­ing of self-deter­mi­na­tion. The Vat­i­can final­ly came out and said that Jews didn’t kill Jesus. Jews were final­ly full par­tic­i­pants in the mod­ern main­stream world and cul­ture. All of which is to say that we believed that we, unlike our ances­tors, could draw a long, thick line sep­a­rat­ing them — those who had to deal with vir­u­lent anti­semitism, pogroms, inqui­si­tions, exiles, blood libels, and count­less oth­er atroc­i­ties — and us. 

It is clear now that that line is no longer valid. It is not world peace” and swords into plow­shares” that have proven endur­ing and con­stant, but the most vio­lent and bru­tal aspects of human­i­ty. This dev­as­tat­ing real­iza­tion, along with the real­iza­tion that Jews are now, still, fore­most at the receiv­ing end of this vio­lence, has chal­lenged and shak­en our under­stand­ing of the human condition.

Jew­ish fam­i­lies hid­ing, help­less­ly fear­ing for their lives as those look­ing to mur­der them go door to door; it is all sick­en­ing­ly famil­iar. And yet this time, for per­haps the first time in two-thou­sand years, there is an impor­tant, essen­tial, dif­fer­ence. That dif­fer­ence is that unlike our ances­tors, we here in Israel have an army that was cre­at­ed for the sole pur­pose of defend­ing us. The unde­ni­able and trag­ic fact that this army large­ly failed when it was most need­ed is beside the point. The point is that this army exists. Despite the many mis­takes lead­ing up to Octo­ber 7, some sol­diers were able to mobi­lize, and res­cue hun­dreds who oth­er­wise would not be with us today. Despite its fail­ures, we Israeli Jews, as I write this, are being defend­ed by a mil­i­tary force that is pow­er­ful and deter­mined, led by intel­li­gent, deeply com­mit­ted men and women. We can­not know the out­come of the con­flict, but we do know that the peo­ple fight­ing it have our sur­vival at heart. 

In these dif­fi­cult days, I take com­fort and inspi­ra­tion from Let­ters from the Desert, a col­lec­tion of trans­lat­ed let­ters first pub­lished in Hebrew in 1944, writ­ten by Moshe Mosen­son, who served as a truck dri­ver in the British army in North Africa. The let­ters span from his arrival at train­ing camp in August 1940 to the army’s depar­ture from El Alamein in Novem­ber 1943. Com­posed in a peri­od of uncer­tain­ty and upheaval – the des­per­ate fight against the Nazis, Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties being anni­hi­lat­ed all over Europe, and the fate of the half a mil­lion Jews of Pales­tine yet to be deter­mined — the let­ters reflect a con­fi­dence and faith in the future that feels jus­ti­fied now but must have been far more ques­tion­able at the time. 

The term Jew­ish sol­dier,’” we’re informed in the Eng­lish intro­duc­tion writ­ten in 1945, so strange­ly direct and unqual­i­fied, will be puz­zling to many. Is there indeed such a crea­ture as a Jew­ish sol­dier, as dis­tin­guished from the sol­dier of the Jew­ish faith or race in the British of French or Amer­i­can army? Is there a Jew­ish sol­dier in the ser­vice of the Jew­ish peo­ple?” The let­ters take us back to a time when this ques­tion was asked in earnest, and the notion of an army in the ser­vice of Jews sound­ed both fan­tas­ti­cal and miraculous. 

The rea­son that Mosen­son served as a truck dri­ver and not a fight­er is that in the ear­ly years of World War Two, the British opposed the cre­ation of a Jew­ish Brigade.” In the doc­u­men­tary film, In Their Own Hands, ex-fight­er Mordechai Gichon, recalls that Although so many Jews from Manda­to­ry Pales­tine were keen to fight…there was no all-Jew­ish fight­ing force that could face the Nazis on the front lines.” For the greater part of the war, Ben Guri­on and Weizman’s repeat­ed appeals to cre­ate such a force were refused.

What does it mean that the IDF exists in the world as a mil­i­tary force ded­i­cat­ed to the defense of a Jew­ish state? In light of the events we are liv­ing through, events that both call up the harsh­er real­i­ties of our long his­to­ry and remind us that we are its heirs, it means everything. 

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

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Jan­ice Weizman’s first book, the award-win­ning his­tor­i­cal nov­el, The Way­ward Moon (Yotzeret, 2012), was recent­ly reis­sued with Toby Press. In addi­tion to dab­bling in essays and trans­la­tion, she curates the book review web­site, Read​ing​Jew​ish​Fic​tion​.com. Born and raised in Toron­to, Ontario, Jan­ice has lived in Israel for over 40 years. Our Lit­tle His­to­ries is her sec­ond novel.