Saturday, September 14, 2013

My first war

Every Israeli and Palestinian has had their first war. My first war was the Yom Kippur War, in October 1973. David and I were married in August, 1973, 15 months after my aliya. I wasn’t even 21 when we got married. I wasn’t even 21 when the war began.

            Joe, a fellow kibbutz member, who had been in the army with David, convinced him that they should go to their unit soon after the war began. Even though they hadn’t been called up, Joe was insistent that it was the right thing to do, that they were needed. I don’t remember exactly when they took off for their unit; it was a few days into the war, after many young men from my kibbutz had been called up, and after it turns out, some of them had already been killed. The guys went north to their unit that was stationed in Haifa, came back after awhile, and then went to the Sinai desert, near the Suez Canal.

All in all, during my first war, and during my first year of married life, David was gone for 6 months, rarely coming home for short leaves.

            I was new on the kibbutz, and had begun making friends – mostly former Americans who had made aliya around the time that I had, preceding that war. But I pretty much felt alone and terribly out of my depths. I was scared to death. After all, it was my first war.

            In October 1973, there was only one public telephone on the kibbutz, and it was located in the dining room. But that was okay since David rarely had access to a telephone when he was in Haifa or when he was stationed in the Sinai. There was, of course, no email, no cell phones, no Skype. There was one public television in the kibbutz moadon (club house) that showed a little bit of news (there was only one station, and that was the government station, and it was only on for about 4 hours during the day). I also remember going to Naomi and Haim’s (both senior kibbutz members who passed away a number of years ago) with friends – mostly other young women whose husbands who had also marched off to war – and watching television at their house in the early evenings to see the news about the war. My Hebrew wasn’t so great at that time, so I am sure that I missed a lot of what was being said. Most of the people who sat with me in that living room have either died or moved away from the kibbutz. Truth be told, most of that period is a blank for me, and I don’t think it’s only because it happened 40 years ago.

Communication between my husband and me was extremely rare. I think I sent him some ‘care packages’ during those months (that was the time when women from the kibbutz got together and put together care packages – paid for by the collective – to soldiers once every two weeks or so), but can’t remember if he got them. I think we put in sunflower seeds, chocolate, socks (?). Maybe we added some canned goods as well.

I remember having no clear idea what was going on, and how scared I should really be. We had a few air raid sirens and had to run to the bomb shelters a few times and remain there for awhile. That was the first time in my life that I had been in a bomb shelter. I remember thinking that I did not know what ‘bomb shelter etiquette’ was. I hoped I wasn’t making any faux pas. And even though, since that war, I have lived through two Intifadas, the First and Second Lebanese war, two Gulf Wars (gas masks and all), Summer Rain, the Gaza War and Pillars of Defense, and many, many rounds of Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza, I still really don’t know how one is supposed to act, or what one is supposed to do in a bomb shelter. I have come to understand that this one skill I refuse to learn. My children have lived through most/all of these wars. David served in reserve duty for 22 years, also sometimes during these wars.

We were your ‘typical’ Israeli kibbutz family from the Negev – enjoying lawns and gardens, a swimming pool, communal dining room, children’s houses, wars, gas masks, air raid sirens and fear.

Yom Kippur was my first war. A first war is sort of like a first child. You have no clue what you are doing, but just hope that you aren’t making too big a mess out of it. You are scared to death that you will make the wrong decision, not take enough care, not follow closely enough the instructions that you have been given by the war/baby experts, and plod along like everyone else. You wonder why you put yourself in this position, and if wasn’t really a terrible mistake. You feel responsible for other’s lives, scared for your own, but try to go on, as if everything is cool. And somehow one war turns into many wars, and you have more children, and even grandchildren, and it becomes a way of life.
Like your children, in some ways, you become addicted to the wars. I can’t explain how it happens, but know that it happens slowly, and you find that you somehow ‘need’ the adrenaline rush of the war, and wonder when it will come, even though you hate the feeling. But you can’t help it, because most/all of your life has been tied to one war, or another. You can’t imagine your life without them (children and wars).

The Yom Kippur War was my first war. I so much wanted it to be my last. I was wrong about that… Even though I have lived through all of the wars and terror attacks since 1973, I am a novice compared to many other Israelis. I sometimes wonder – when will enough be enough? When will we give up our ‘need’ for our ‘war fix.’

The Yom Kippur War was my first war. In many ways, it shaped my perception of my kibbutz, my region, my country, and my fellow countrymen and women. For my 40th wedding anniversary, I wish to give myself and all Israelis and Palestinians/Arabs a meaningful gift - the gift of no more war, no more bloodshed.


  1. My first war was the first Lebanon war. My oldest was a few a few weeks old. My husband was called up & because he was now a father he requested my permission to refuse to fight. I granted it knowing he could be imprisoned. What I wasn't prepared for was the reaction of my (left wing) kibbutz members. They were angry & blamed me for his choice. It was unacceptable in their eyes. I don't think I was ever forgiven.


  2. Like in many historical events each one has his or hers memory which stands out and when one looks back on it from where he or she stands today. In this case 40 years later.
    For me it was the first year in many that I did not fast and felt a certain embarrassment. I had friends coming to stay and after a good breakfast, we went out with the children for a walk. It wasn't long before we noticed more and more cars driving past, most irregular for Yom Kippur. We realized that something was wrong when we saw people in the cars showing us pieces of paper in the hand. We stopped for a while wondering what was happening and a stranger saw us and said, "of course something is happening. War has broken out".
    An hour or so later, our friends were on their way back to Jerusalem, my husband was on his way to his unit and the children and myself were left in fear and bewilderment, not knowing exactly what to expect.
    We were glued to the television for the updates and to the telephone for any piece of information from our loved ones.
    I must admit that only many years later did I come to the realization that every war has two sides but not necessarily a right side and a wrong side, not one righteous and one evil. Only much later did I realize that violence is not the answer to security.
    I too join Julia in her giving the Israelis and the Palestinians the gift of no more war, no more bloodshed.