Shir-Ann and her friend stood near me as we sheltered in the kitchen of an Aroma café in Jerusalem, on 16th October, 2023, as booms sounded nearby. “At rotz'ah chibuk?” she asked her friend, to which the other woman shook her head with a smile. “Would you like a hug?” was the question. When the friend declined, I piped up: “Ani ken rotz'ah!” (“Well I’d like one!)
So, we had a group hug, as complete strangers, right there in the melee of the small crowd trying to shelter from a Palestinian rocket attack on the religious capital of the world. And not for the first time.
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets fired at Israeli population centres is not a new phenomenon. But what happened on 7th October, 2023, was unique in its barbarity. Not since the Holocaust have so many Jewish lives been claimed in one day.
Sadly, it wasn’t a new type of attack for the Christians, Yazidis and Muslims who have suffered so terribly at the hands of ISIS. As soon as some of the horrific details of the 7th October attacks began emerging, they had the marks of the infamous death cult all over them. Unsurprisingly, the ominous black flag was found in the aftermath of the massacre.
“People should stay silent if they can’t find the words,” said Howard Jacobson, speaking at JW3 in London recently. He differentiated between so-called artists, and true artists. As a writer, I am one who has remained silent up to now. There are just no words to express what happened.
All I know, and felt from my safe Jerusalem home, is that the entire nation was in a state of complete shock in the days following her 9/11. Everybody knows somebody involved, since Israel is so small. The sheer brutality continues to be the biggest shock. Jerusalem streets, during the week of 8th October, were eerily quiet. Even in the capital, relatively far from the southern kibbutzim, people were not sure if it was safe to go outside. We Jerusalemites had all woken up to the sound of rocket sirens on the 7th, the first sign that something was very, very wrong. Even at 9.00 a.m. that morning, the faces around me in the bomb shelter were grave with worry, as phone alerts began showing terrorist infiltrations.
Many of us have lived through different intifadas in Israel, and, terrifying though they were, be they marked by knives or suicide bombings, nothing could prepare a nation for this. No one could have predicted the Nazi-type atrocities which just took place, within the boundaries of a flourishing, democratic, happy nation, on the day which - by definition - is her happiest. It was Simchat Torah, the day of Rejoicing over the Law of God, the biblical Eighth Day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Having the privilege of being in Jerusalem on this, one of her saddest days, I think the contrast is one of the hardest things to process. We had celebrated three massive events in the Jewish calendar:
Rosh ha Shana, the Feast of Trumpets; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and then the building of the sukkot (temporary dwellings) in preparation for the Feast of the LORD: Tabernacles.
October 7th was the Shabbat morning of the culmination of all of this, and many were rising early to begin the celebrations. Others were sleeping in to recover from all the nights partially outdoors!
All in all, it had been the happiest time. Friday, 6th October, was a beautiful sunny day, Israelis outdoors relaxing. On 24th-25th September, we had poured out our repentance on Yom Kippur. We had surrendered to our King, ten days before. And then we had danced. The colourful Jerusalem March happened on 4th October, hundreds of Christians from many nations blessing the City, the Land, the people. On 2nd and 4th October, we had received our Aaronic Blessing, as thousands of us gathered at the Western Wall. Just three days before the massacre, we had prayed in unity as a nation. But - we hadn’t known true unity. That only arrived on Saturday, 7th October.
And then - all disunity melted away.
While police were advising against all but essential travel, as terrorists were still at large, Israelis queued for hours to give blood. Others began collecting essential items for the thousands of reservists who were immediately called up, lining the streets with flags to cheer them on. Others travelled to the airport to greet the hundreds of Israelis who began flying home. Massive banners, showing the blue and white national emblem, began appearing all over the country.
Almost in an instant, the nation was as one. One heart, one soul, one group hug of sobbing Jews – and the ‘aliens’ in her midst. The sense of solidarity and unity was palpable. Suddenly, in brokenness, the Family of Israel’s fight against utter evil became an unbreakable chain. This was the one good thing that arose from the deepest, darkest evil I have ever known.
Except… I don’t know. I didn’t see it. I wasn’t there. But there are little children who were there, who did see, despite the attempts by rescuers to cover their eyes. And those who did not lose their young lives will need the most prayers, the most help, the most comfort the world can give. Even then - it won’t be enough. There are children who are the only ones left in their family unit, including 12 year-old Ariel, who buried his father, his mother, his two older sisters and his maternal grandfather. His paternal grandfather, himself a Holocaust survivor, reportedly told his bereaved grandson:
"I lost my parents when I was 14. You lost your parents when you were 12. I survived, and you will too!"
One little girl, Abigail, age 3, is listed as one of the hostages. Her parents, Roi and Smadar Idan, are no longer alive. Her big brother Michael, aged all of nine, heroically managed to hide himself and his 6 year-old sister Amalia, for 14 long hours, after their parents were murdered. Please pray for Abigail’s safe return, and that of all the other 37 children, the young people, mothers, fathers and grandparents, 241 in total at the latest count.
May the Lord who weeps for them, and who longs to gather them, truly take them under His wings. May every soldier confronting this evil be armed, under-girded and shielded, by the love of Judah’s Lion.