Living in a Gloomy Fantasy: A Wartime Diary

Fighting for our existence also makes us remember that nothing is taken for granted. Photo by Nathan Roi; ©The Jewish Agency.
Fighting for our existence also makes us remember that nothing is taken for granted. Photo by Nathan Roi; ©The Jewish Agency.

by Inbal Freund-Novick

For me, this time is very difficult. We lost my cousin Noam z”l during the Second Lebanon war, his memorial day is coming up in about 10 days and this year I won’t be able to be there as I am so pregnant…

Anytime there is some conflict here I feel like it’s going to hit close to home, I think we all feel like it as Israel is such a small country and as we all know each other. This why we stand united so firmly at this time. We are sending the best ones out there. Each of them falling in battle is a terrible loss of whole worlds.

But fighting for our existence also makes us remember that nothing is taken for granted. That this beautiful country was built in the blood of brothers. I know it sounds anachronistic to say such things in our era, but under all the cynicism, you can find a strong sense of identity and belonging among many Israelis. We also realize there is no other choice but to fight for our existence, or as somebody said: “There were no IDF soldiers who were killed in Auschwitz”.

Oh how I wish we were a normal country! I would love to just be thinking now of what crib to buy and what to serve at the Brit Milah ceremony, but it’s not like that, and we need to live in parallel worlds – keep life going and expect the worst at any time.

My son Yair asked me a few days ago about the age difference between him and the baby, trying to understand maybe what being a big brother will mean. We started at him being 5 and the baby 1, and when we got to the baby being 17 and him being 21, I explained to him that at that age he will finish the army, God willing. So he asked me what does it mean to be in the army, and I explained that all men go to army for three years when they are 18. All Israeli mothers pray that the war will be over when it’s time for our sons to go to serve the country.

But we all realize it’s a fantasy. A gloomy fantasy. I’m dreading that day.

Last time, during the Second Lebanon War, a friend asked me to come to the Western Wall with him, as he didn’t know how to pray, to pray for a very good friend. I prayed there, with tears that his friend will return safely. Three days later my beloved cousin Noam was killed. I didn’t even know he was in Lebanon. I was at the funeral and helped run the shiva house as much as I could. During that shiva, I left one day to go to my cousin’s memorial ceremony, who had been shot along with her husband and son a few years earlier, leaving behind nine children. I remember losing my way on the highway, not knowing how to turn back, I was so overwhelmed, but didn’t cry. After the shiva was over, I had a tooth removed. The doctor injected some anesthetics, and I started crying like mad. He closed the door and I remained there for an hour. I couldn’t stop crying for weeks. Months. It took time to get back to regular life.

Earlier, I was a psychology student at Hebrew University. I worked at a psychiatric clinic at the center of town and ran a program for new immigrants at the university. Those years were horrible. Horrible. Each of us can tell you endless stories of how close it almost hit, us or our families or our friends. The most horrible week was the one where the falafel stand next to my work place blew up – I wasn’t there as this was not the time of my shift, but it was where I had my lunch breaks. The following day, I was supposed to meet a friend at the cafeteria at Mount Scopus. We cancelled. That day, the cafeteria blew up. Saved again. I felt I had to hide, maneuver from unseen bullets, I felt that I was a moving target.

On Sunday of the following week I had a huge exam, I studied like crazy. Friday, prior to that Sunday, we heard on the news that a family from Psagot was shot. I told my mother: “Ima, our cousin Chani lives in Psagot,” and she replied reassuringly that there are many families there. I had a sinking feeling all through that Shabbat. At the end of Shabbat, my father got the phone call informing us that Chani, her husband and son were killed. The triple funeral was set for the following day. I remember calling my lecturer and asking her very gently if I could write the exam two hours earlier than everyone else, I promised not to tell the questions to any of the students. She asked me why. When I told her I needed to attend the funerals later on that day, she asked me to sit down. Only then I started realizing what was really going on. The bullets got to our family once again.

I wish Yairi, my son, won’t need to go to the army, I know he will have to. This is the reality here, but it’s the reality for Jews in every generation, the difference is that today we are able to defend ourselves. Unfortunately we still need to buy this beloved country with blood: in the words of the Passover Haggadah, “In every generation they stand up to eliminate us, and God saves us from their hands.”

I’m very proud to be able to keep building this country through the work we do together at The Jewish Agency. The last proposals we sent out were full of vision to fortify the Negev and the periphery. As the Mishnah says: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.”

We are links in a chain. And if we are able to build and contribute to Israel, it’s an obligation, not an option, to keep building our country, our nation, step by step.

Inbal Freund-Novick is Resource Development Director for The Social Activism Unit of The Jewish Agency.

courtesy The Jewish Agency