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About War, Hostages and the Transcendence of the Human Spirit

October 7, 2023. This is a date, but it is not just any ordinary date. It is one which will comprise for this generation of Israelis, and perhaps the future ones, a date when there is a "before" and "after". The question will no doubt come up in conversation- "Where were you on the morning of October 7th?".

It was on that day that Israel suffered the greatest and deadliest attack on its civilian population in its history, about 1400 civilians and military personnel were killed, murdered, butchered in their homes. The many acts of atrocities are still not widely known, there is a limit to what the Israeli population can absorb at a time when the country is at war with Hamas, a barbaric, terrorist organization. As of the time I am writing this post, we are still involved in the event, not sure where it will all lead to, up and down the emotional roller-coaster, flooded with feelings of the past and uncertainty of the future. War is a terrible exprience, for all involved, on all sides. Innocent civilians are killed, lives lost, damage done which can not be repaired.

But in this war we are experiencing something that we have never known in Israel to this extent: the taking of over 240 hostages, mostly civilians, infants, children, women, elderly, as well as men. The Hamas was barbaric enough to record its many acts of murder- and even some of its atrocities- putting it on social media. Israeli security cameras caught the rest. The results have been heart-wrenching: Israel has seen its children and grandparents being dragged off to the Hamas tunnels, for days on end (as of now it is 50!). The war has devastated Gaza, as the Hamas have built their whole terrorist infrastructure within civilian areas, in and under hospitals, mosques, schools and playgrounds.

Bring Them Home! Human Transcedence Prevails

Within all the pain, deep shock and mourning over October 7 victims, mourning over soldiers killed in action, military manuevers and successes, bombing, rockets being fired, running to the safe rooms time and again, one topic has prevailed over all the rest: to bring the hostages back home to Israel. It is hard to describe just how deep this sentiment runs in Israel, if you are not here to experience it, it is difficult to convey. The Israeli population has demanded- and has been heard- that the Israeli leaders, both military and political, will not forget to put the return of the hostages above all else. It is in no way trivial, and it is not in total consensus, as straight military strategy and pragmatism would have it otherwise. To continue to pursue the very-strongly supported goal of defeating the Hamas and neutralizing its ability to threaten Israel, would mean to put things the other way: military goals first, hostage return later. And there were those voices in Israel.

But this is Israel, the only home for Jews in the world, and it is here that the sense of moral rectitude of Jewish values needs to prevail. The redemption of captives is a Biblical commandment of Jews that exceeds others, and even in a war where there are "two objectives", this one can and will not be second to any. It is more than just a "traditional edict", it is the lifeblood of morality that keeps this country alive: if we are not there for one and other in life and death situations, perhaps we don't deserve to be here at all. Israeli soldiers are taught early in their training, "We do not leave wounded soldiers in the field". Israeli travelers around the world will vouch for the fact that if one |sraeli falls into trouble, you can be sure that there will be others there to try and help him or her. Is it foolproof? No. Does it always occur? Probably not. I can say one thing, however, is that this does not start with the state of Israel but is an ancient Jewish mandate from antiquity- "All of Israel is responsible for one another."

Having said all that, it is still hard to describe how the entire country has been glued to the television or social media to chart every move of every effort to bring the hostages home, charting their every move, learning about their families, interviewing their friends and communities....and, of course, embracing the family and its every need. It seems like all of Israel has learnt the names of all the children and grandmothers who are said to be coming out, or have come out, every piece of news is savored, the tension is high.

The tears stream out on even the most rugged of faces, a father embraces his small children who have just been returned from captivity of the Hamas; grandmothers are embraced with the love of the entire country- "They are our children and grandmothers", you hear time and again.

To me this is the transcendence of the human spirit. Here it is the Israeli human spirit, but human spirit can be found everywhere if we let it come. We homo sapiens are a very cruel creature, but we are also a very loving and spiritual one. We have that deep longing to love, to be connected, to care for and be cared for. It surpasses all other objectives, as important and essential as they may be. This is what makes us human. Even amidst the shock, horror, sadness and anxiety in which we live, this is what is meant by "choosing life". And we will choose life. We have no other choice, nor would we want another choice.

Bring them home- NOW!!!

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