This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we are shar­ing 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. 

My library books are long overdue. 

I took them out from a kib­butz library near where I live in the West­ern Galilee, a few weeks before the Octo­ber 7 mas­sacre. Most of the peo­ple on the kib­butz — four miles away from the bor­der with Lebanon, where Hezbol­lah, Iran’s proxy ter­ror army, has more than 150,000 mis­siles and rock­ets aimed in our direc­tion — have left. And the library, with its sur­pris­ing col­lec­tion of Eng­lish books, is closed until fur­ther notice. 

That’s just one of the many ways my life in a beach vil­lage on the Mediter­ranean Shore has changed so abrupt­ly, a place I’ve lived with my fam­i­ly since 1991.

I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t con­cen­trate enough to read a book. And I’ve always loved read­ing! But what could I read, any­way, dur­ing the war? From my book­shelf, I picked up John Le Carre’s The Lit­tle Drum­mer Girl, and leafed through it, find­ing a few sen­tences about a char­ac­ter who mused about Israel, ask­ing, What are we to become… A Jew­ish home­land or an ugly lit­tle Spar­tan state?” I thought about how we returned to Israel after an exile that last­ed near­ly 2000 years. We revived the Hebrew lan­guage. We wel­comed Jews from all over, from Afghanistan to Yemen. We became the start-up nation, fueled by a Do-It-Your­self inge­nu­ity and cre­ativ­i­ty. We have a diverse pop­u­la­tion of almost ten million. 

As a writer, I want my nov­els to reflect a per­fect­ed real­i­ty, and I want real­i­ty to be as redemp­tive as a nov­el. But liv­ing in the Mid­dle East has crushed my roman­ti­cism. Israel still has to act like Spar­ta, even though since its found­ing in 1948, we’ve kept dream­ing about how to beat our swords into plowshares.

So what have I read dur­ing the war? The only book I’ve been able to focus on is Daniel Jon­ah Goldhagen’s The Dev­il Nev­er Dies: The Rise and Threat of Glob­al Anti­semitism. It con­firms what I sus­pect­ed: Israel does not cause anti­semitism, but rather, anti­semitism caus­es the demo­niza­tion of Israel. I’ve come to under­stand that, before Octo­ber 7, I lived in denial about the pow­er of that hatred. Now, I can no longer pre­tend that there are those out there who don’t real­ly mean it when they use the same words that Hitler used. Anni­hi­late. Exter­mi­nate. Eliminate.

But it’s wartime and there’s lit­tle time for reflec­tion. There’s too much work to be done. A few days ago, I start­ed vol­un­teer­ing at a local school to teach Eng­lish to junior high school stu­dents. They come in the after­noon; ele­men­tary school kids study there in the morn­ing. The schools where the kids usu­al­ly study have been closed because of the threat of Hezbol­lah attacks. There is also a lack of teach­ers: many of them have been called up for the Israeli Army’s reserve units while oth­ers have moved far­ther south.

The Eng­lish teacher, Mari­na, explained to me that the stu­dents do not yet have books or study mate­ri­als; they’re all stored in the school that is now part of a closed mil­i­tary zone. So Mari­na set up her com­put­er to project vocab­u­lary words on the board in the front of the class­room. I didn’t bring a com­put­er; instead, I took a pho­to of the words with my phone and then sat with a group of eighth-grade stu­dents in the bomb shelter. 

The kids were row­dy, unruly, bois­ter­ous. Still, I wor­ried about the words they had to learn for a sto­ry: crime, scene, blood, evidence.

I asked the stu­dents to write sen­tences using the words, hop­ing they wouldn’t write about Hamas or the war. They didn’t. They wrote about crim­i­nals, rob­bers, and detectives. 

They laughed. They sang Head, Shoul­ders, Knees and Toes.” They joked. Some of the kids didn’t have pen­cils. One asked to go to the bath­room because he didn’t want to read his sen­tences out loud. I’ve giv­en pri­vate Eng­lish lessons but I’ve nev­er taught in an Israeli school before. I impro­vised the way a neigh­bor who owns a sec­ond-hand cloth­ing store now guards the entrance of our vil­lage, or the way high-pow­ered tech exec­u­tives are now pick­ing lemons and cher­ry toma­toes in south­ern Israel because of the short­age of farm workers.

After school was over, I walked out­side and sud­den­ly there was an explo­sion. The boom sound­ed close.

If it is out­go­ing, you don’t have to wor­ry about it,” my hus­band always tells me.

Out­go­ing means Israel is shelling Lebanon. Incom­ing means a rock­et or mis­sile from Hezbollah.

I rode back to my vil­lage on the shore of the Mediter­ranean on my 250-cc scoot­er, the one I usu­al­ly ride to the library, and tried to act as if I’m a char­ac­ter in a nov­el who doesn’t give in to fear. 

I thought about the books I want to take out and read once the war is over. I thought about the books I want to write. I thought about the his­to­ry of the Peo­ple of the Book and the present moment. Some­thing enor­mous is hap­pen­ing right now, and I am part of it. I am writ­ing the sto­ry of my life. I am writ­ing the sto­ry with my life.

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

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Diana Blet­ter is a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award nom­i­nee and author of sev­er­al books, includ­ing A Remark­able Kind­ness and The Lov­ing Your­self Book for Women. Her work has appeared in Com­men­tary, The New York Times and The Wall Street Jour­nal.