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. 

I make choco­late; melt­ing dark choco­late pieces togeth­er, for­get­ting how many grams I’ve added. I keep going even when the dou­ble boil­er water runs dry and the choco­late burns at the bot­tom. I spoon out what’s still good, and mix the smooth Lotus cook­ie but­ter spread in. It will be fine. It is choco­late, it is war – does choco­late mat­ter anymore?

I wish choco­late mat­tered. At least this choco­late mat­ters. I’m mak­ing it for my son who is a sol­dier and loves my Lotus choco­late. I will deliv­er it to him and his unit, along with a batch of brown­ies, an apple strudel cake, bil­tong. We would have tak­en more, but my son tells me over the phone that they have too much food. He doesn’t want to gain weight – but still, I make the choco­late, because I am his mother.

I have moved into the numb stage. This is not an essay about what Hamas did, what hap­pened here in Israel. It is all record­ed online. I want to tell you some things that are not record­ed. Not spo­ken about enough.

How this morn­ing I met a man whose name is Doron at Russel’s bak­ery at the Machane Yehu­da Shuk. He tells me his moth­er is nine­ty-sev­en ‑years-old. She is a Holo­caust sur­vivor, and yes­ter­day as she was being wheeled to a doctor’s appoint­ment she burst into tears. Her daugh­ter-in-law asked her what’s wrong, and she said, I can’t believe I sur­vived to see it hap­pen here.”

This is why we have Israel, to stop such things hap­pen­ing again.

This is why my grand­par­ents came to Israel in 1951 because the con­di­tions for the Jews in Iraq became too unbear­ably anti­se­mit­ic, too dan­ger­ous. My par­ents and 120,000 oth­er Iraqi Jews remem­bered the Farhud mas­sacre of 1941. They had to leave. They were air­lift­ed to refugee camps in Israel, even though there were no jobs, no food, no hous­es for them. As Ben Guri­on told Shlo­mo Hil­lel – the Iraqi Jew who helped them flee – he did not want anoth­er Holo­caust in Iraq.

A holo­caust was avert­ed. Today, there are three Jews liv­ing in Iraq.

This is why we are here in Israel. In its fledg­ling days, the coun­try received over 850,000 dis­placed Jews from Arab lands, in addi­tion to all the Euro­pean Jew­ish Holo­caust sur­vivors who sought solace and safe­ty in a Jew­ish State. This is why we have an army and why our chil­dren have to fight. Why it hits us so hard when a mas­sacre hap­pens here. 

The num­ber of casu­al­ties keeps rising. 

We have been con­di­tioned by peo­ple who sup­port Hamas to see the IDF not as peo­ple, but as Nazis. I want to tell you that our sol­diers are not Nazis. They are sol­diers from many dif­fer­ent cul­tures and reli­gions who would feed your chil­dren choco­late, and pro­tect them with their lives.

When I think of Israeli sol­diers and choco­late, I think of how sur­vivors describe the Amer­i­can sol­diers who eman­ci­pat­ed them from the con­cen­tra­tion camps. The act of hand­ing them chocolate. 

When 300,000 Israeli reservists were called up, 420,000 mobi­lized. The army was not pre­pared for this. So Israel turned into one giant, giv­ing kib­butz. We are orga­niz­ing and deliv­er­ing meals to bases. We shop for toi­let paper, soap, sham­poo, cell phone pow­er banks, head torch­es, vests, tooth­brush­es, tow­els, cof­fee, sug­ar, fol­low­ing the long What­sApp list for what our sol­diers need. I add Orbit mint chew­ing gum, even though it’s not on the list, because I’m think­ing of my son.

Up until now we were not allowed to vis­it our son. I do any­thing to take my mind off my miss­ing him. We dri­ve down south to deliv­er sleep­ing bags and a per­son­al box with a soldier’s name on it. The sol­dier who greets us thanks us. He is so appre­cia­tive, so grate­ful to have the sleep­ing bags. I ask him where he is orig­i­nal­ly from. He tells us his grand­par­ents are from Yemen. What would his grand­par­ents think about what hap­pened here? I can’t help but ask myself. Today there is only one Jew left in Yemen. There used to be over 50,000

There is a What­sApp mes­sage request­ing dessert for an army unit. I make two trays of Lotus choco­late. I write a note. Every­one has been writ­ing notes and slip­ping them in with the items, between chal­lah rolls and hum­mus. Thank you for pro­tect­ing us. May God guard and pro­tect you. 

I think of our friend Ivan, he’s from South Africa and is sta­tioned on the north­ern bor­der. He has two beau­ti­ful teenage daugh­ters who love the home­made Lotus choco­late I make. He reports that they are like sit­ting ducks for Hezbol­lah. They are try­ing to stop ter­ror­ists infil­trat­ing into Israel. He has not changed his clothes in two weeks. The oth­er day an anti-tank mis­sile explod­ed by them. It’s a mir­a­cle they’re alive, he says. His com­man­der broke his ankle leap­ing away. Ivan is fight­ing for his daugh­ters’ future. He does not want them raped or mas­sa­cred. When he vis­its I make choco­late to take back to his unit. I make choco­late for his daugh­ters for Shabbat.

I think of the tank unit of female sol­diers (the Peled team), a counter ter­ror­ist unit who fought in the south like lioness­es against the invad­ing ter­ror­ists. They saved many lives. I am grate­ful they were not cap­tured. I am grate­ful Israel has female warriors. 

I am think­ing of my Ital­ian friend’s son who is also in the north. He writes a mes­sage because his moth­er buys him a pen and note­book and tells him to write through the dark­ness — with mean­ing, with­out mean­ing, just write. So he writes. He writes of his jour­ney to the north with eight oth­er sol­diers in a boil­ing tin truck. Peo­ple came out in sup­port throw­ing sweets, cook­ies, notes, games, and a pack­et of buck­wheat which hit him on the head. Who throws buck­wheat?” he writes. On the pack­et is a mes­sage, Yes buck­wheat, we know…but what can we do, we are from Pardes Chana, we hope you enjoy, and apologize.” 

When they arrive in the north, he describes how they begin dig­ging trench­es. It sounds like a World War I movie. He writes with dark humor, say­ing that they are dig­ging their graves. They joke that they should say kad­dish, the prayer for the dead. They joke that they come from dust and return to dust. Jew­ish wis­dom. What war reminds us of.

He asks, How do I stay sane?” He writes that he needs to find the points of light in this darkness.

We are all look­ing for light. He is one ray of light. All our sol­diers are sparks. Sparks of so many moth­ers and fathers who have nour­ished them. Who don’t want them at the front, but who know we have no choice.

My own son does not want to be writ­ten about. I respect that. I think of the song that a ther­a­pist tells me was sung when she was a lit­tle girl in the Yom Kip­pur war. It’s by Uzi Fux and its Hebrew title trans­lat­ed to Eng­lish is, You Have Noth­ing to Wor­ry About.” It sounds hap­py and hope­ful, and in it Fux sings a mes­sage from the sol­diers, where they say they are liv­ing like ani­mals but fight­ing like lions. He sings about what the sol­diers say they need, Send me under­wear and vests.” When I ask my son what he needs, he replies, Under­pants.” 

We have been through many wars. Israelis are remem­ber­ing what it was to be a child in the Six Day War, in the Yom Kip­pur War. To hide in shel­ters. To say good­bye to fathers and broth­ers and sisters.

The sol­diers now are grow­ing mus­tach­es like in the Yom Kip­pur war.

We receive spe­cial per­mis­sion to vis­it my son. I pack under­wear along with the choco­late. We vis­it and sit on plas­tic chairs togeth­er, watch­ing young IDF men and a cou­ple of girls play­ing ball on the bas­ket­ball court. Watch­ing trucks dri­ve by with ful­ly equipped sol­diers in cam­ou­flage, run­ning drills. My son tells us that on Fri­day before Shab­bat the fam­i­lies of the fight­ing sol­diers vis­it­ed the base. Moth­ers, fathers, wives, and chil­dren. They were all cry­ing when they had to say good­bye,” he tells us and he repeats, Every­one was crying.” 

Writ­ing this makes me cry.

My Moroc­can friend’s grand­son is at the Gaza front and has been pulling dead bod­ies of sol­diers out. Oth­er sol­diers have to vis­it the fam­i­lies and break the news. 

Every sol­dier who dies hurts. It hurts so many. 

This is an army of our sons and daugh­ters, fathers, broth­ers, sis­ters who fight for all of us. I am on my son’s unit’s par­ents’ What­sApp group. Moth­ers and fathers mes­sage, won­der­ing when they can vis­it their sons. I feel too guilty to admit we had spe­cial per­mis­sion to vis­it ours.

There is a bar­rage of What­sApp mes­sages — which base are the boys mov­ing to now? Do they have enough food? Some­one shares pic­tures of our boys enjoy­ing burg­ers that have been cooked up by a famous Israeli chef. Famous burg­ers make them feel spe­cial and seen.

We smile when we see the pho­tos. It’s a relief to smile in between the weep­ing and howl­ing over what has hap­pened here.

Many sol­diers have been giv­en twen­ty-four hours leave this week. I walk in the streets of Jerusalem and see sol­diers in their fatigues hug­ging their wives tight as they hold the hands of their small chil­dren. The chil­dren look like the pic­tures of the chil­dren who have been mur­dered, who have been kid­napped. I can­not stop think­ing about those mur­dered and kid­napped chil­dren every time I see a child. It could have been any of them. 

One of the soldier’s eyes are heavy and bruised-look­ing with lack of sleep. He looks like he’s walked out of a war movie. I wish he had. I wish this was a movie, but it isn’t. 

I think about what God wants from us. I think of the words I learnt as a child that have always stuck in my mind, And what does the Lord require of you? To act just­ly and to love good­ness and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic­ah 6:8).

I read about a five year old Bedouin boy, Attal­lah Abu Madigam, who sur­vived the mas­sacre thanks to the com­man­der of the Police Negev Desert force Magen, Chief Super­in­ten­dent Ronen Hal­fon. Attal­lah says from his hos­pi­tal bed, as report­ed by Y‑Net news, that he wants to be a police offi­cer when he grows up.

I want you to know some of the sto­ries of the sol­diers who make up the Israeli army. 

I call my son ask­ing if the sol­diers enjoyed the choco­late. I am hop­ing he does not say it tast­ed slight­ly burnt. He says they loved the choco­late, and I am happy.

We are all los­ing our minds. I can­not stop mak­ing chocolate. 

The par­ents of the What­sApp group announce that we have per­mis­sion to all vis­it one evening. We share a list of home­made dish­es we will bring for the boys’ sup­per. We cook for all of them. Kib­butz style, a feast is set up on fold­ing tables at the base’s park­ing lot. Some­one knows to bring lights, some­one else brings chairs and Turk­ish cof­fee on a gas camp­ing stove. The table is heavy with chick­en kebabs, meat in a big black pot, rice, sal­ad, meat bourekas, roast veg­eta­bles, a cool­er bag of ice pops. None of the par­ents eat that much. We wish the boys ate more. We wor­ry for the lone sol­diers with­out their par­ents here. 

What is this need to feed our chil­dren? What is this obses­sion with food?

Eat,” my Iraqi Jew­ish grand­moth­er always beseeched me. Eat.” She knew what it was to be hun­gry in a refugee camp. Jew­ish love is telling our chil­dren to eat. Jew­ish love is telling our chil­dren to live.

For this meal I made anoth­er batch of Lotus choco­late. I’ve made this choco­late so many times and this time it feels dif­fer­ent, more care­ful. Not just because last time I burnt it, but because it feels like maybe this is what our army runs on — love.

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

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Sarah Sas­soon was raised in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, sur­round­ed by her lov­ing Judeo-Ara­bic speak­ing Iraqi Jew­ish immi­grant fam­i­ly. When she mar­ried, she immi­grat­ed to Johan­nes­burg, South Africa and with her hus­band and four sons, made Aliyah. She lives in Jerusalem. Sarah loves writ­ing poet­ry and sto­ries about cross­ing bor­ders and oth­er worlds. Shoham’s Ban­gle is Sarah’s first children’s book.