Although I’d already been fasting for several years that Yom Kippur was my first Yom Kippur in an Orthodox synagogue. I really don’t remember if I found the Hebrew-only difficult or missed the shorter services I was used to. What I do remember, and will probably never forget, was the announcement the rabbi made right before Yizkor, the memorial service recited for deceased parents and other close relatives. Apparently the shul’s non-Jewish janitor had been listening to the radio and he’d informed the rabbi that the Arab states had made a surprise attack on Israel. Across the ocean the tiny Jewish homeland was at war on the holiest day of the year.
Those of us blessed with living parents left the synagogue before the Yizkor service in shock. As the ones still inside asked for HaShem to remember their loved ones those of us outside tried to come to grips with the bitter news. I cannot say we succeeded but our prayers took on a special poignancy.
Sorrowfully the Yom Kippur War proved to be much different than the Six Day War six years earlier. The battles dragged on and on. Although I was concerned it didn’t really affect my day-to-day life. The same cannot be said of my sabra contemporaries.
One of my friends was in high school then and remembers the 1967 war far better than the one in 1973. Like most, though, she hasn’t forgotten the men leaving services as they were called up for emergency army duty. Among them was her father. Her older brother, still in basic training, was sent to the border. Both survived but many did not.
Another friend remembers several brothers of her friends falling in battle. Communication was so different then that it took days and even weeks to learn of each one’s fate. Almost a year had passed when the government issued a booklet full of nearly 3,000 names of the soldiers who were killed or missing. Many others were seriously wounded, never to again know the life they’d once had.
My friend, a nurse, personally met many of the wounded. She was just finishing her first year of nursing school at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem when war broke out. Her memories of the war are sketchy at best. She recalls not being able to go upstairs to the women’s section at her synagogue to pray. Rather benches were set up outside so that the women would stay on ground level. As the shofar sounded to end the Day of Atonement there was total blackout across the country. In thick darkness she made her way to the hospital and that’s where she stayed for the duration of the war.
Working twelve hour shifts, she was first in geriatrics, then in the ophthalmology where she worked with many blinded soldiers, and finally on the surgical floor where she learned far more than she would have ever learned inside the classroom. In those few months she matured from a child into an adult.
Meanwhile in America my then-to-be husband and I were considering moving our wedding date up, getting married in a simple ceremony, and heading to Israel to volunteer somewhere, anywhere. The rabbi talked us out of our plan though, claiming that we’d have much more to contribute to the country once we’d finished our college education.We’ll never know if he was right or not. Fourteen years later we did indeed make the move to The Land of Israel. I hope our presence here has made a positive impact on the country.
Seventeen years ago, after my mother died, I stopped leaving the synagogue for Yizkor and joined the ranks of those who’d lost a close loved one. In addition to my quiet prayers for her I listened to the cantor recite the names of Shilo’s terror victims and fallen soldiers. It’s a recitation that never fails to invoke my tears. This Yom Kippur, as always, I’ll pray that we will not have any more names to add to the list.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good life.