I came to live in Israel in 1984 because I wanted to live a more intensely Jewish life in the only country in the world where Jews are the majority and where our holidays are national celebrations.
I wanted to raise my family in Israel and contribute something to building the Jewish state — a miracle that is still developing before our eyes. With all its many problems, Israel is an amazing place to live.
Our family has lived through a lot in the past 39 years, including the Gulf War, when Scud missiles from Iraq rained down on the country. There were air raids nearly every night, often several times during the same night.
I was shopping in Jerusalem’s open market one day in the mid-‘90s when two young Arabs blew themselves up not far from where I was choosing nectarines. Seventeen people, including an elderly Holocaust survivor, were killed. I will never forget the sights and smells of that day.
In the early 2000s, we experienced a period of bus bombings. Using public transportation became an agonizing ordeal. During that period, a friend’s daughter was seriously injured when a terrorist blew up a pizza restaurant where she stopped to eat with friends. I lost a former student, several coworkers, a former neighbor and a relative to Palestinian terror.
This past Passover, we arrived at the gruesome scene of a drive-by shooting in the Jordan Valley on a family excursion to see wildflowers, even before the police or army were on the scene. The blood-spattered window shield riddled by bullets indicated that this was a terror attack rather than an accident.
We have gone through a lot — but nothing as horrific as what happened on Oct. 7. I will not describe the atrocities that have been documented — but the only words I can bring myself to use are unthinkable barbarity and evil. A joyful festival and a peaceful Sabbath were turned into a day of unspeakable horror and bloodshed.
On Shabbat morning Oct. 7, Sh’mini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, I was walking with my wife in Jerusalem toward the synagogue where we were planning to meet friends and join in the celebrations.
On the way, I heard ominous rumbling in the distance. About 8 a.m., the air raid siren sounded, and we looked for a bomb shelter. By chance, we saw my son-in-law’s parents running out of a synagogue and joined them in their basement until things quieted down. We then proceeded toward the synagogue where we had planned to meet our friends.
But all the synagogues had closed, following the orders of the homefront command. We decided to set out for their house. On the way, I heard Torah reading coming from an underground parking garage that doubled as a bomb shelter.
We joined the small congregation that had found refuge there, taking their Torah scroll, a table and a few chairs. A handsome young man was reading V’Zot haBeracha, the benediction which Moses blessed the people of Israel before his death. He read with impressive speed while pronouncing each word precisely.
That young man is probably in uniform, on one of Israel’s borders today. Perhaps he is serving with my son … We joined in listening to the Torah reading and the prayer for rain that marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. The prayer concludes with the words: “For a blessing and not for a curse! For life and not for death!”
We had no idea that at that moment Hamas “militants” were engaged in a horrific pogrom that took the lives of 1,400 people in the most repugnant manner. Their kidnapping of more than 200 hostages is unprecedented in Israel’s history. I fear that this trauma will affect us for many years.
In the year or so before Oct. 7, Israel was a society in turmoil. Deep political and religious divisions rocked the country, and these rifts threatened to destroy the very fabric of Israeli society. Hamas was aware of this and seized the opportunity to attack.
All this changed in one instant. Right and left are united in the struggle against brutality and for a secure Israel. The mood in Israel is amazingly positive; solidarity, courage, volunteerism and brotherly love are the bywords of the day. Our soldiers are incredibly motivated and brave — the answer to the call to army reserves was 140% — many who were not called up showed up anyway.
More than 2,000 Haredim have volunteered for military service in recent days, and countless others are helping as civilians and donating blood. Anyone, including retired people, teenagers, students, mothers and fathers, who can do so, volunteers to help: in agriculture, street-cleaning, sewing uniforms, preparing food for soldiers, folding laundry for hospitals and in a myriad of other ways.
I hope and pray that this spirit of goodwill, community service and beneficence continues after this present crisis.
A pernicious lie has been promulgated: that Israel is guilty of genocide against the Palestinians and that their relative military weakness makes it acceptable to commit any atrocity imaginable in the name of resistance. The first allegation is a projection of the desires of Hamas toward Jews everywhere. The second claim is indicative of the total loss of any sort of moral compass.
We need moral clarity: Israel is facing a terrorist entity, an elected government of Gaza that is thoroughly evil. Linked with Iran and terrorism everywhere, Hamas aims at world domination. This is not a war over territory, or even for Israel’s legitimate self-defense. It is a war for the future of civilization, for the triumph of decency over barbarism.
Israel is a tremendous light in a world that is often darkened by savagery and cruelty. The incredible amount of goodness and acts of kindness on the part of the civilian population in Israel is only matched by the amazing bravery and determination of our soldiers, too many of whom have already paid the ultimate price for defending us.
Stand with Israel — and stand up for humanity.
Nahum Schnitzer is a native of Wilmington, Delaware, and a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy, now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr. He is a librarian, Jewish educator, translator and writer living in Ma’ale Adumim in Israel.