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 can’t sleep more than a few fit­ful hours at a time. I look at my phone, force myself to put it down, close my eyes, and wait and wait and wait. Some­how I sleep. Then I wake up, check my phone for news, for my daugh­ter to text me from her base. I try to go back to sleep. Wake up, check my phone, get out of bed. 

The num­ber of the dead con­tin­ues to rise. Now it is 1200. My con­fi­dence in my gov­ern­ment bot­toms out every time I check the news. I can taste my anx­i­ety with every swal­low. My fear for the future swirls around me when I walk. My under­stand­ing of oth­ers’ hatred is utter­ly new and vivid, made of images I wish I hadn’t seen. My recog­ni­tion that all the old strate­gies for liv­ing are obso­lete is as sharp as a recog­ni­tion can be. I want to fast. I want to pray. I want to put every­one I love in a room and hold them safe and ask them to speak so I can hear their voic­es. My mind is a mess with thoughts about how we got here and all the things I do not want to hap­pen and all the things I want to turn back time for so that they won’t have happened.

Sat­ur­day night, Octo­ber 7. Jerusalem. We turn on our phones, final­ly, after a day that began with repeat­ed sirens and quick runs to the stair­well clad in paja­mas, the neigh­bors also in paja­mas. Then the thud of Iron Dome, the descent of dead silence on the streets. A deci­sion is made not to go to syn­a­gogue even though it is down the block. It is Sim­chat Torah and all we know is from a neigh­bor we saw in the stair­well: there was an inci­dent in the south, there are hostages. My old­er chil­dren draw in their breaths when they hear that; they know that noth­ing that includes the kid­nap­ping of an Israeli is going to end with­in a day. We moved to Israel in 2014, soon after the Three Boys” were kid­napped, and I remem­ber try­ing to fig­ure out how to tell my chil­dren about those boys and their sub­se­quent deaths, and the war that ensued. I remem­ber stand­ing in the stair­well in paja­mas, the sound of sirens vibrat­ing around us. At the time, my son was sev­en, my daugh­ters four and ten. Now, my son is six­teen, and my daugh­ters thir­teen and nine­teen. The nine­teen-year-old was draft­ed into the IDF on August 24. All three know quite well that any kid­nap­ping is not a siren today and school tomorrow. 

But I can’t begin to imag­ine that the kid­nap­ping” is not one sol­dier, or three, but hun­dreds, and that the infil­tra­tion” of a paraglid­er is a mas­sive attack on the entire south­ern bor­der of kib­butz­im and towns. That hun­dreds of peo­ple are dead. That hun­dreds of peo­ple are miss­ing. That thou­sands are wound­ed. That the IDF has lost con­trol over the south and that ordi­nary peo­ple are fight­ing for their own lives and those of their fam­i­lies. I have not yet heard that there was a rave, in a big open field three kilo­me­ters from the bor­der (Why? Who okayed this?), and that we know kids who were there. 

In fact, at mid-morn­ing Sat­ur­day, I am still won­der­ing if I should have tried to make it to syn­a­gogue because I was sup­posed to read Torah for the hol­i­day: as we fin­ish read­ing the book of Devarim, each adult gets to come up to the Torah, to say the bless­ings before and after a short sec­tion is sung. I was going to be read­ing at one of sev­en sta­tions set up to ensure we can get through the hun­dreds of aliy­ot. Divide and con­quer strat­e­gy. When every adult has gone up to the Torah, the cus­tom is for all the chil­dren to go up. They stand under a tal­lit or a few tal­li­tot that the taller adults hold high over their heads, and they too say the bless­ings, as a group. And then the whole com­mu­ni­ty asks the angels that save us from evil to bless the chil­dren in the names of our ances­tors, to let them mul­ti­ply through­out the land. 

I often have tears in my eyes dur­ing these moments, as do oth­ers — to see new babies who have come into being between the last Sim­chat Torah and this one, swad­dled in par­ents’ arms; twelve-year-olds who will become adults in the com­ing year, chil­dren hold­ing sib­lings’ hands. The space pro­tect­ed. Home with­in a home. It is with the chil­dren that we fin­ish the five books of the Torah. They are too young to appre­ci­ate end­ings, to appre­ci­ate the poet­ry of the bless­ings of the tribes, to feel the loss in Moses’ death. They are most­ly think­ing about the bags of can­dy they will get after their aliyah. Which is just fine. 

And in the stair­well on Sat­ur­day Octo­ber 7, I am still think­ing that when Shab­bat is over, I will text the gab­bai, my old friend from high school, and I will apol­o­gize for not show­ing up. I am still imag­in­ing that maybe I over­re­act­ed, maybe lots of oth­er peo­ple did show up. I hope I didn’t leave them in the lurch.

But the sirens keep com­ing. My son says, if there are this many sirens in Jerusalem …. He doesn’t have to fin­ish the sen­tence, because we all know that Jerusalem always has few­er alarms than the south and cen­tral areas of Israel.

We see sol­diers run­ning with their duf­fel bags and guns on the street, some of them still in street clothes. When I look out the win­dow and see my neigh­bor tak­ing her dog out, quick as she can, I run down­stairs, stay­ing close enough to home that I can run back if there is anoth­er siren. She says her son has just got­ten his call, he is stand­ing ready to be tak­en back to his base where he serves in a tank unit. It’s not just the sol­diers though. Some­one rush­ing down the street sees me and says, it’s a gen­er­al call up — reservists, everyone. 

When we turn our phones on the moment Shab­bat ends, the news comes ham­mer­ing down on us. We watch tele­vi­sion, all of us, plus my for­mer hus­band who came over ear­li­er in the day to make sure we were all okay and then came over again, as soon as Shab­bat end­ed, because we are in a war.

And I am hor­ri­fied by the num­bers – 200 dead. How is this pos­si­ble? I don’t know what to do first: check the news online, watch the news, read Face­book. I don’t know how to put this awful, awful puz­zle togeth­er. All the things that were sup­posed to hap­pen clear­ly will not. My son will not go back to his high school in cen­tral Israel because they are cur­rent­ly under fire. The name of the town is in the list on the right side of the TV of the dozens of towns under attack right now. My daughter’s com­man­der calls and says she will not return to base before Mon­day, and my daugh­ter apol­o­gizes for not turn­ing on her phone imme­di­ate­ly. Edu­ca­tion Corps, she did not think it could be an emer­gency for her. And the com­man­der says, keep your phone on and near you at all times now. 

And still we don’t under­stand any­thing. There was a rave: there were a thou­sand young Israelis, maybe more? They were in a wide open field, and paraglid­ers came. Real­ly? Paraglid­ers? Bull­doz­ers came and broke down the wall and then lots of Hamas fight­ers came though. What is lots? Twen­ty? Fifty? It starts to dawn on us that we are talk­ing about hun­dreds. They came in white trucks, not ran­dom cars or vans. It was a major operation. 

Still, we have no idea what major means. 200 dead seems impos­si­ble to take in. But then it is 300 and then 400. Already with­in a few min­utes after Shab­bat is over, we know that our friends’ child is miss­ing. He was at the rave. It is his father who was the gab­bai I was imag­in­ing call­ing to say, I’m so sor­ry, I should have come to shul. I was imag­in­ing him laugh­ing his easy laugh. But no. Now he and his wife will become pub­lic faces of the dis­as­ter that has befall­en us. The hun­dreds of posts of miss­ing young men and women, and also, full fam­i­lies, and elder­ly par­ents, none of whom have been heard from. Maybe they are dead. Maybe they are hid­ing. Hid­ing? In hid­ing? In Israel? I am think­ing of the sto­ries I grew up on of the par­ti­sans, of the forests of Poland, of Hungary. 

From here for­ward, it is a blur. The last four days: Sun­day, Mon­day, Tues­day, and today. Wednes­day. I no longer know when I learned what. When the death toll rose to 500 and 700 and 900 and 1200. And those num­bers sim­ply ceased to be ones I could take in, not in a coun­try this size. I don’t remem­ber when I learned that army bases them­selves had been over­run and that sol­diers were mur­dered in their beds. When I learned that peo­ple were still bar­ri­cad­ed in their homes; that hostages were still under threat of death in a kib­butz din­ing room. When I under­stood that the oth­er boy we knew who was miss­ing — my daughter’s close friend’s broth­er, Aner Shapi­ra — had been with Hersh Gold­berg Polin and that it wasn’t two sto­ries but one, and that both had been wound­ed. When we heard final­ly that they were alive but in Gaza. 

When my son told me that the boy, Ofir, whose pho­to I had just repost­ed in a state of shocked reac­tion – the face, the face – was six­teen, like him, that he lived ten min­utes away, that they played bas­ket­ball togeth­er, and that it had been con­firmed that he had been tak­en to Gaza. And I thought, he is six­teen. If he was vis­it­ing a friend, and that friend isn’t also miss­ing, then he is now in Gaza alone. Ofir. And I keep see­ing the image of this boy, smil­ing, with his braces that he was prob­a­bly count­ing the days to be done with, with his hair­cut that all the bas­ket­ball play­ers had been sport­ing that sea­son. I won­der what sur­re­al world I have entered that my son knows a boy who has been abduct­ed to Gaza. And I won­der how our friends have the where­with­al not to spend every moment scream­ing or hurl­ing them­selves at a wall or rip­ping their own skin because they can’t get to their wound­ed child, to save him, now that they know he is alive. 

So many deaths behind us. And the hor­ri­fy­ing fear of how many more to come, and my inabil­i­ty to imag­ine any­thing beyond this moment. 

Israelis enter a whirl­wind of doing: faster than any­thing any­one out­side the coun­try can imag­ine. A call goes out in a sin­gle What­sApp group: there are 200 Thai agri­cul­tur­al work­ers who ran for their lives from the south, they ran with noth­ing. They are near Netanya, in a hangar there. They need every­thing from refrig­er­a­tors to toi­let paper to cloth­ing and sheets. Maybe fif­teen min­utes after the call goes out and I have replied to the man who post­ed it, he arrives in front of my house with his teenage son to col­lect an elec­tric burn­er from me, sheets, tow­els, garbage bags, kitchen goods, what­ev­er I have been able to find quick­ly at home. His trunk is already full to the brim. He will dri­ve it straight to the hangar. And that is one nee­dle in a haystack of giv­ing and orga­niz­ing and donating. 

Blood dona­tion lines in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are so long that peo­ple stand for hours. From kids to teens to adults not called up, are cook­ing and pack­ing and deliv­er­ing food to sol­diers. Peo­ple are offer­ing beds and homes and apart­ments to fam­i­lies and now half-fam­i­lies and lone sur­vivors from the south. Help for Bedouin com­mu­ni­ties who have chil­dren that lost par­ents in the bat­tles in the south. I find out from a pho­to of my son hold­ing a pup­pet that he was busy enter­tain­ing chil­dren whose par­ents are doc­tors, and that he spent hours with his friends clean­ing hotel rooms to get ready for the 1100 peo­ple from the south who would be sleep­ing there on Mon­day. I know that on Sun­day he was load­ing and deliv­er­ing sup­plies back and forth for hours, along with a friend old enough to dri­ve. Some vol­un­teer to phone elder­ly cit­i­zens who live alone. Oth­ers vol­un­teer to shop and dog walk and babysit for fam­i­lies who have a par­ent at the front. Bright, big paint­ed hand­made signs appear on the walls of the school oppo­site our street, direct­ing peo­ple to the near­est pub­lic bomb shel­ter, should an alarm go off. The activ­i­ty is non­stop. Because what if we stopped? 

Even as we don’t stop, I think to myself that if we could go back in time, we would put all the chil­dren, big and lit­tle, under the tal­li­tot, and demand that the angels watch over them. That they be safe in the land.

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

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Ilana M. Blum­berg is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and past direc­tor of the Shaindy Rud­off Grad­u­ate Pro­gram in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of Open Your Hand: Teach­ing as a Jew, Teach­ing as an Amer­i­can, Vic­to­ri­an Sac­ri­fice: Ethics and Eco­nom­ics in Mid-Cen­tu­ry Nov­els, and the Sami Rohr Choice Award-win­ning mem­oir Hous­es of Study: a Jew­ish Woman Among Books.