By Eytan Libkind

Hearing sirens from my bed in Jerusalem, I felt safe. I knew that the rockets were not going to hit us, so I continued to sleep. After the sirens continued to sound, I finally got up, as I was a madrich and probably had responsibilities, such as roll call. I got dressed and went downstairs, met with the strangest Simchat Torah celebration I have ever witnessed—everyone was dancing with the Torahs into the staircase of my building, as that was a safe area in the case of rockets hitting. But there was still joy, excitement, and dancing going on. While I must assume that some were enjoying, it felt eerie. Little did we know what was transpiring at that exact moment. Think of the worst situation and multiply it by 100—that is how severe and heinous this situation was. But I had no clue because I do not use my phone on yom tov.

I remember my friend Josh came up to me and started telling me the craziest things, which I immediately dismissed as lies. Hamas has infiltrated the border and has captured and killed full bases worth of soldiers, stolen tanks, parachuted into neighborhoods along the border and killed, raped, and kidnapped civilians. But how is this possible? Being in the army for a year and a half, that made no sense…. How could we not see them coming? This must be fake with the sole purpose of scaring us.

Time was moving slower than ever, and I began to slowly understand this nightmare was not a nightmare at all—this was our new reality. All my friends who were still in the army began getting called back to base, and friends of mine who were in the army already were already immersed in one of the most intense combats in Israeli history. The fighting was going on for hours and we still hardly understood the severity. I had just finished my army service 2 days before and therefore knew that there was no way they were going to call me back. I felt so helpless. I was angry. I needed to go back and rejoin my friends. Still with little understanding of the situation at hand, I contacted my officer and requested to come back. I was told to wait, and he would do his best to get permission.

At the same time, I was dealing with hysterical yeshiva students, many on the verge of panic attacks—and I had no clue what to do. Practically, one who is panicking lacks the ability to help others who are panicking, and everyone was panicking. That night I hardly slept and refreshed the news every couple of minutes, and each time I did, it just got worse and worse. In the morning, my officer called me and said, “You have permission to rejoin the tzevet—pack for a long time and get here before 18:00.” I threw a bunch of clothes into a bag, and I was on my way. I didn’t tell anyone, mostly because my mind was already made up—I had the ability to go and aid in protecting my nation and that is what I was going to do. That day, I got a text that Valentin, a great friend of mine and beautiful soul, was in critical condition from the combat the day earlier. This felt fake—like someone was playing a sick practical joke on me. But again, it was real and Valentin passed away that day. I was destroyed, but I had now joined the war and felt I had to stay strong—that is what he would have wanted from me. While Valentin’s family and friends were painfully mourning his death at his funeral, I was in Beeri, where he was killed, ensuring all these killers and rapists were dead.

Driving into Beeri was the most painful experience I have had up to today—hundreds of cars blown up or burnt on the side of the road, dead bodies along the road with the thick stench of death, and entire fields that were once green were now charcoal black. Inside of Beeri was not much better—even three months later, people who visit Beeri to bear witness to the destruction leave distraught. Seeing this, I understood that this was not a war about land or religion, but good versus evil. The evil required to commit the acts committed on October 7 is unthinkable. But we are not a weak, unprotected nation—we are a nation who can face any challenge together and come out stronger on the other side. This is what our history has pointed to continuously and this is just another enemy that we are obligated to destroy. Once we finished in Beeri, we began intense training until they were ready to send us into Gaza.

We were all ready—we wanted to get in there and get our revenge. We wanted to fight for the people who fought for us. Training was difficult, especially in a time when everything was so upside down. “Focus on the task at hand. Do not let your emotions take over.” We were constantly told this, but how? We lost so many brothers and sisters. These monsters instilled enormous fear into our entire nation. But we’re not cowards. We appreciate life so we are going to train our hardest to make sure that we preserve ours. Our appreciation for our lives is what makes us great soldiers and people. It’s what keeps us on our feet and ready for anything. Hamas displays the exact opposite trait. They have shown how little they value life and the great lengths they are willing to go to in order to take it away from us.

So we trained hard for a month and finally went into Gaza on November 4. Immediately, the absolute destruction in Gaza was evident. It was not as satisfying as I thought it would be. Maybe because my anger had died down, but I also began to understand what war meant. No one enjoys war. We did not want to have to destroy neighborhoods and blow-up houses, but there were no other options. Having gone through hundreds of apartments, I have seen that in almost every building, there was either weapons or Hamas propaganda. I am not suggesting that everyone there is guilty, but frankly it doesn’t matter. Hamas decided to implement their infrastructure in the middle of the most densely populated areas. We found a massive weapons factory disguised as a playground. We found guns inside of cribs and pillows of children’s rooms.

So did I enjoy searching children’s rooms for weapons? Not at all. But was it necessary? Absolutely. A war zone is a depressing place to be, especially for 46 days straight. You get used to destruction, dirty air, and lack of color in general. I only realized this when I returned to Israel and was mesmerized by the grass and trees. I thought, “This is a country that is filled with life and happiness while Gaza is a representation of death.” They brought this upon themselves. Before they decided to breach the border and execute our people, they had homes and even prosperity. Before they held over 200 of our people hostage, they should have thought about the repercussions. But they must know that we cannot be pushed around. This can never happen again, and we are in the process of ensuring that.

That being said, while I was fighting the physical war, I had friends back home in America fighting a different battle. This was a battle of words and media, but these words must not be underrated. These words question our entire existence. Peers and fellow students of my friends have now revealed their true colors. This has nothing to do with Israel versus Palestine, but Jews against the world. So many people hate us just for being Jewish. And I wish I better understood why, but this is something lacking rationale. It’s something that has been deeply rooted within the world’s fabric for thousands of years. So what takeaways do we have from these atrocities?

One, that we must never get too comfortable because people’s hate for Jews is one thing that will never cease.

Two, we are unstoppable when we are united. Prior to the war, the divide between the left and the right political parties was so strong that people were suggesting the possibility of a civil war. Suddenly, the war breaks out and everyone puts aside their politics and comes together to support each other in such a difficult time. I witnessed such incredible acts of kindness from strangers. For example: Every night (prior to going into Gaza), we had people come to BBQ for us, bring us food and drinks, and even perform concerts to raise the morale. Everyone was playing a part, and it was beautiful. If you couldn’t fight, you raised money, helped families that were displaced, etc. Only together can we win this war.

Three, we must continue to be the most moral army in the world, even if the world fails to acknowledge it, because that is what defines us as good. Just because they came in and murdered our people, soldiers and civilians, does not mean we must do the same. Our goal is to destroy Hamas and we must stick to that. Obviously if their civilians (many of whom are not so innocent) are putting our lives at risk, we will do what we must do to stay safe. But that is not something anyone is proud of—it’s just the reality of war.

Finally, we lost so many amazing people in the past three months, and we must never forget about these heroes. We will rebuild in honor of them and recognize that without their sacrifice, we would not be able to come back stronger than ever. They are angels, watching over us, guiding us through one of the toughest chapters in our history, and without a doubt the toughest period of my life. We must finish this war, bring back all the hostages from the hell that they are in, and reestablish peace in our homeland. There is no other option.

 

Eytan Libkind is a graduate of HAFTR High School. He is currently an IDF soldier in the Tzanhanim. When he is not in the army, he calls Yeshiva TVA his home.

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