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. 

My town looks dif­fer­ent at 3:45 a.m. on a Thurs­day morn­ing. The streets are emp­ty and qui­et. The only sound is of the wind rustling through the trees.

I start walk­ing. I have fif­teen min­utes before my shift starts. I’m part of my town’s civ­il guard. It’s a force of local vol­un­teers who are posi­tioned at the entry­ways to our town around the clock. And there are more vol­un­teers who patrol by car, mak­ing sure every­thing is safe.

In Israel these days, no one feels safe.

I breathe the night air and quick­en my pace. It wouldn’t do to be late. I go on shift at four a.m. The team I’m reliev­ing has been on since two in the morn­ing. They must be exhaust­ed by now, eager to climb into bed and get what­ev­er sleep their trou­bled minds allow them.

Well, I assume their mind is trou­bled. I don’t know of a sin­gle per­son here who isn’t anxious,tense, and wor­ried. We wouldn’t be get­ting up at all hours for guard duty if we weren’t.

The side­walks and roads are emp­ty of peo­ple, and wild ani­mals are tak­ing full advan­tage of this. I see a group of jack­als race across the main road. Most nights, you can hear their howls from my apart­ment win­dow, but you rarely get a chance to see them. Some say they’re scared of peo­ple, and I’ve nev­er known one to stand its ground when it spots me approach­ing. But some ingrained impulse caus­es me to halt in my tracks until the jack­als dis­ap­pear into a patch of shrub­bery by a drainage ditch.

I con­tin­ue on and come across a fam­i­ly of crest­ed por­cu­pines. They’re dig­ging in the ground, search­ing for sus­te­nance. I have nev­er seen these crea­tures in the wild, and I look at them in fascination.

There’s some­thing wild and majes­tic about their mane of quills. The bot­tom end is black while the high­er part is white all the way to the sharp tip. They look like the head orna­ments of some his­toric monarch. But their demeanor shows no hint of impe­ri­ous­ness. In fact, they seem rather indif­fer­ent, going about their busi­ness slow­ly, fin­ish­ing their scroung­ing before cross­ing the road in large­ly the same direc­tion as the jack­als have gone.

The last of their num­ber is par­tic­u­lar­ly slow. It falls back from the pack, and I whip out my phone and cap­ture it on video. I’ll show it to the kids when they wake up.

I get to the guard post. It stands on a round­about at one of the entrances to our town. Four peo­ple are there. Two are argu­ing about glob­al warm­ing with the tenac­i­ty of those who will not be budged from their beliefs even by a bull­doz­er of facts. The third man is look­ing at them in amusement.

The last guy smiles weari­ly at me and gives me a brief­ing. Every­thing is qui­et. A while back a sus­pi­cious vehi­cle passed through, but noth­ing came of it.

Large blocks of stone make up part of the posi­tion. They’re for pro­tec­tion in case a ter­ror­ist tries to ram you with a car.

Atop and beside one of these stones, there are bot­tles of water, an assort­ment of cook­ies, a par­tial­ly con­sumed super­mar­ket cake, and small box­es of fruit. Most of this boun­ty was brought to the guard post by grate­ful res­i­dents. A few days ago, a let­ter deliv­ered to one of the guards was post­ed to the civ­il guard’s What­sApp group. A young girl had writ­ten it, thank­ing us for tak­ing the time to stand guard, allow­ing her to sleep in peace and secu­ri­ty. You couldn’t get a bet­ter dose of moti­va­tion than that.

My friend Dor, who is my part­ner for the shift, arrives. He’s a big guy, and usu­al­ly has a smile on his face, but tonight he looks worn out. I sup­pose I do too. Two more vol­un­teers pull up in their vehi­cle. They opt to remain in the guard post. Dor and I hop into a secu­ri­ty car and start our patrol.

Dor and I met dur­ing the demon­stra­tions against Bibi Netanyahu’s plan to sub­vert Israeli democ­ra­cy. The same Bibi who promised secu­ri­ty and peace under his premiership. 

The car the coun­cil rent­ed for us is small and its engine strains. Dor dri­ves and I sit beside him. We talk, nat­u­ral­ly, about the sit­u­a­tion,” mean­ing the war, our untrust­wor­thy lead­er­ship, and our fears for what may lie ahead.

This is our sec­ond shift togeth­er. At the end of the pre­vi­ous one, Dor sug­gest­ed that next time we talk about oth­er things. Well, this is the next time, and we can’t seem to find a top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion that’s not all doom and gloom.

We dri­ve around our slum­ber­ing town. I’m sur­prised to see that there are a hand­ful of peo­ple out and about, and we slow and scru­ti­nize them. Some are walk­ing their dog; oth­ers are very ear­ly ris­ers or insom­ni­acs. The lat­ter are a grow­ing seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion since this war began. I count myself among their number.

Every­one is affect­ed in a dif­fer­ent way. Some smoke more. Oth­ers turn to com­fort food. And most peo­ple are glued to their phones, brows­ing one news web­site after anoth­er. My wife has man­aged to break the spell. She’s sub­scribed to a ser­vice that pro­vides three news sum­maries per day via What­sApp. Any more, she told me, and you can go crazy.

After an hour, Dor and I stop to stretch our legs. He lights a cig­a­rette. I turn to my phone. Above us we hear a jet streak through the sky, either toward Gaza or back from it. When we get back in the car, Dor remem­bers that he has brought me something.

A book.

My grand­fa­ther wrote it,” he tells me. It’s about how he sur­vived the Holo­caust. I thought you might be interested.”

Dor has read some of my Adam Lapid books. He knows I’m always try­ing to learn more about the dark time of World War II and the Holo­caust. But now when he hands me the book, I feel much clos­er to those days than I ever did before. The way Hamas mur­dered, tor­tured, and bru­tal­ized our cit­i­zens — it con­jures up inter­gen­er­a­tional trau­ma from pogroms and per­se­cu­tion and the Holocaust.

At six a.m. we bring the car back to the guard post. We smile at each oth­er. It feels good to have done some­thing for our com­mu­ni­ty, for Israel. We sched­ule our next shift and go home to catch some sleep. As much as our trou­bled minds will allow us.

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.