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Our nightmarish new normal

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How do you put into words the atrocities we’ve witnessed as a nation, a people, a country over the past three weeks? There simply are no words. On 7 October 2023, my country, my home changed forever.

When the news broke, we were in South Africa for Sukkot, visiting family, and usually we don’t check our phones if we’re staying with family who are keeping two days of the chag. For some reason, both my husband and I were compelled to do so this time as South African Jewry celebrated Simchat Torah. We had no idea what we were about discover.

I remember saying to my husband jokingly as my phone turned on, “Let’s see if the world is still standing, shall we?”

Our world was shattered. Hand over mouth, I stood in disbelief as I saw the images and read the horrific and barbaric stories filtering through. The depraved monsters of Hamas had done the unspeakable, the unthinkable. My husband held me in his arms as the non-stop tears flowed. What were we reading? How could this have happened? So many dead! We said, “Never again” after the Holocaust, but “Never again” just happened on our own soil. The blood of our brothers and sisters soaking the holy ground of Israel.

Disbelief, shock, tears, anger. This was now our nightmarish reality. And yet, somehow, we made it to my sister for dinner that night. We tried to hold it together. I hugged my nephews tighter than usual. More tears.

The next morning, my husband woke me gently. “I got a call up. I have to go home. I need to ask you something though: I know you want to come back, but I need you to stay here, with your family, your support system. They’re sending me to the frontline, and you can’t go back to Beersheva alone. There are still terrorists [in the Negev], and the rockets are non-stop. For me, please, I need you to stay here so I can have the menuchat nefesh [calmness] that you’re safe, far away from all this, while I do what I need to protect our country. Please do it for me.”

My heart shattered again. The tears started again. It was the hardest decision we’d ever had to make. He made plans, got on the plane, and went back to fight for our Israel. I remained behind riddled with guilt that I wasn’t going back to be with my people. But I kept getting the same response from so many people as I questioned the decision, “You’re where you need to be right now.”

As I thought back on the situation, I remembered how for weeks, I’d had a bad feeling. I kept telling my husband, “There’s something wrong, something in the air.” As a former reporter who’d covered the flare-ups with Israel and Hamas numerous times, the random riots that suddenly started before the chaggim on the Gaza border made no sense to me, and Hezbollah’s “thorn-in-our side” actions over the past few months made no sense either. I told my husband that I felt like something bad was about to happen. He attributed it to the fact that we’d just watched the Golda movie, and I was on edge from that.

Among the fear and worry for my husband and the country, I haven’t stopped thinking about the Gaza border communities. The many wonderful people I’d met there over my almost five years as journalist in Israel. How they would open their arms up warmly to invite me into their homes when there were flare-ups or terror kites/balloons and rocket attacks. Kfar Aza, Kissufim, Kerem Shalom, Netiv Ha’asara, Nahal Oz, and once, a short visit to Beeri. All beautiful, all “slices of heaven”. On good days, the calm, which residents would say “is most of the time”, was something special. Now so many of these families are broken and destroyed, murdered in their sanctuaries. Peace and tranquillity in these communities reigns no more. I once asked a resident of Kerem, “What keeps you here, especially when things get so tough?”

Her response was, “If we don’t stay here, who will? We’re the buffer zone between Hamas and Israel. It’s not always easy, but this is our normal, and we love it.”

The past few weeks have been anything but simple. For many of us, we’re living through a nightmarish daze. Just trying to get from one day to the next without completely falling apart. Sleep continues to evade me as I worry non-stop about my husband. Just the other day, he called from the frontlines and in the middle of the conversation, I heard a massive explosion, then rocket sirens, and the call just ended. I panicked. I ran to my mom and sat with her, devouring an entire slab of chocolate to calm my nerves. About 10 minutes later, my phone buzzed again – “I’m okay. We just had an incident, and I needed to get to cover. I’m sorry for scaring you.”

He called back soon after that message. He wasn’t able to say what had happened for security reasons, but I found out later in the news. And the reality set in that this was going to be my world, our world, for who knows how long. I know that I’m not the only one going through this. So many are in the same boat.

But one thing’s for certain. I know wholeheartedly that G-d is with our soldiers, our people, and our nation. We may never understand why this happened, but we’ll continue to fight against Hamas, a despicable enemy. It won’t break us. We’ll win and we’ll prevail. I say with a whole and strong heart: Am Yisrael Chai – the nation of Israel lives.

  • Ilanit Liberman worked as a reporter for nine years, both before she made aliya and thereafter. She now works at an international communications and public relations company.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anon

    Nov 7, 2023 at 10:41 am

    May G-d keep your husband safe.

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