Wednesday, October 25, 7:14 A.M.
My shifts vary between three different states: boredom, busywork, and high stress.
An outsider might not be able to distinguish between the first two — we can be frenetic during busywork and loud when we are bored. But during moments of high stress and danger, there is a level of quiet that settles over everything. We are focused, efficient, deliberate.
Every shift includes all three, and last night was no different. Coming off duty, I sought my refuge: 10 minutes of prayer in our base’s shul.
As I emerged and turned to go to sleep, I noticed a circle of soldiers with guitars. Curious, I came closer and sat down to listen. A soldier named Tal was playing a beautiful love song that seemed to fit our new reality like a glove and left everyone in the circle nodding pensively. Tal had spent 20-plus years in a special-forces unit before his age and deteriorating hearing pushed him to seek another role. He is a musician by trade and has attached himself to our unit’s mental-health officer, going from subunit to subunit, supporting those who have absorbed too much of what is going on around us.
Another soldier picked up a guitar and sang a haunting melody I’d never heard before, using the words of a prayer called הושענות, recited only on Sukkot. He pointed out that the prayer describes God calling out for redemption alongside His people — He’s a partner in our darkest hours rather than a spectator from the heavens.
A thick fog sat low above our heads, illuminating the area with the reflection of the base’s lights and creating a beautifully surreal ambience. Yet I am keenly aware that the same fog presents a danger to our unit and just a couple hours earlier had aided a failed terrorist attack in Zikim, on the beaches near another part of the border with Gaza.
Thursday, October 26, 10:03 A.M.
I could have sworn today was Wednesday, when I half-jokingly checked with someone. Nope — it’s Thursday.
The intensity of being part of the military effort in wartime can be so overwhelming that you sometimes forget the outside world. Yesterday a friend messaged me to offer sympathies for the end of the Phillies’ playoff run; I had forgotten baseball existed.
I am aware that there are frustrations and questions about the decisions our government is making in the prosecution of this war. There is a feeling that we are standing still when we should be doing something. From where I sit, the army is doing a tremendous amount. Sometimes our efforts play out in a headline; other times they do not. It is the same on an individual level: Sometimes all of our attention is on a soldier who led a successful mission, or on one who became a casualty. Rarely does the spotlight shine on the officer who cleaned the bathrooms instead of sleeping between shifts, or the guy who sets out snacks for those operating through the night. But we are all working — and working hard, as individuals and as a collective.
I have said I feel lucky to be here and to have a role to play — which is true. But I am on my own roller coaster of emotions: Sometimes I feel good about the work I am doing and can clearly see my contribution to the war effort; other times, I feel as though I am in the way or unnecessary.
Time to process these thoughts is a luxury, maybe one I should avoid for now. I find it hard to re-read some of my own updates, even when I am just skimming for typos. I read somewhere that army therapists are working to keep soldiers in a state of trauma in order to delay post-trauma until a time when soldiers can afford to focus on processing it. That, there, is a sentence I will find hard to reread. And an idea that seems unfathomable.
A few minutes ago, I walked past a fellow soldier cursing and crying. I don’t know him well enough to ask what’s wrong, but I don’t need to — I can already guess.
There are times when I am aware of another looming challenge, like a distant mountain barely visible through thick fog: the return to normal life.
It was hard enough readjusting to life at a private American university after my initial IDF service. At the time, there was only one person who seemed to understand what I was going through — or at least to understand that she couldn’t possibly understand. Twenty years ago yesterday, we started dating; this year, we celebrated 18 years of marriage.
If there is an anchor I cling to in all of this, it is the certainty that she will be waiting for me when I finally reach the shore.
Saturday, October 28, 8:21 P.M.
I have been thinking a lot about silence.
Generally speaking, this war has been nothing if not loud. Most hours of the day and night are filled with the buzz of drones overhead, the bone-rattling thumping of artillery, the roar of jet planes and helicopters flying back and forth, to and from missions.
In between all the noise, though, silence creeps its way in to fill the gaps.
Like a distant memory, I can recall the silence of October 7, of the drive to my base on eerily empty highways.
The way the dull roar of a normal shift drops to a focused hush when something serious happens, like someone spinning the volume button on a radio from 10 to 2.
The silence of a forest filled with empty tents and bloody cars after a music festival became a massacre.
Houses burnt to ashes, or pockmarked with bullet holes, standing silent on a beautiful sunny day in defiance of the tragedies that unfolded inside them.
There are silences I am lucky not to experience: the deafening silence of an empty spot at the dinner table, or of a newly filled grave.
Privacy is practically nonexistent, and when I am off duty, I catch many quiet moments of fellow soldiers. A father answering the question of his young children the only way he can, in order to preserve secure information: “It’s not important where I am — and Hamas doesn’t need to know, either.” A military officer and his No. 2, reading a poem by the poet Hayim Nahman Bialik about the 1903 Kishinev pogrom and discussing its parallels to October 7.
The background silence of my nine-year-old, who mostly stays off-screen when I call home because it’s too hard for him to see me where I am.
And the silence on the radio, when our unit is attacked, until each position calls in that everyone is unharmed. And the thousandth-of-a-second of silence when the call comes that someone has been injured or worse, that millisecond while the brain processes the truth before the body kicks into action.
Sunday, October 29, 9:27 A.M.
For security reasons, I cannot write about military tactics, though I wish I could. Time and time again I am amazed — or more accurately, inspired — to witness firsthand the extraordinary humanity of this army of the Jewish state.
For 2,000 years, all aspects of Jewish law that relate to self-governance were theoretical, abstract — maybe even ridiculous — as we were shepherded from country to country, ghetto to pale of settlement to ghetto, and eventually to death camps. The idea of Jewish sovereignty was laughable. But we clung to our code of ethics, studied our body of law — the Torah — and made it central to our national identity. Such that when our sovereignty was restored after two millennia, we had a moral and ethical foundation upon which to build.
I see it play out before my eyes. Behind every angry comment about “razing Gaza” are Jewish souls that, when it comes to waging war, cannot but treasure human life. For all of the anti-Israel propaganda about “carpet-bombing,” in my experience “precision-bombing”’ is not a sufficiently accurate term. There is no military term for the way this army wages war on its enemies; I don’t think modern terminology considers the possibility of such a humane approach to battle. I am filled with pride.
I see the other side’s tactics as well. It fills me with a disgust so deep that I cannot distinguish it from severe nausea. Multiple times I have seen Hamas use their own children — and their knowledge of how we value children’s lives — as a weapon against us. As a human being, as a father, I am stunned to see children deliberately put in mortal danger.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the massacres of October 7 were not undertaken by individuals with any moral compass. It feels critical to retain a sense of the humanity of our enemies, but I simply cannot find it in what I am witnessing.
I hang on to a thought: The way we battle, the way we wage war, the way we act in this worst of realities, is not a reflection of who they are but of who we are. When the sounds of gunfire become a distant memory, it will not be our own actions that keep us up at night, but theirs.
Fifty years ago, Prime Minister Golda Meir wrote, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Alas, that time has not yet come.
Tuesday, October 31, 10:13 A.M.
A few days or weeks ago — I can’t really tell, to be honest — I wrote about polarities, about the trick of finding balance, even on a constantly sliding scale. The last couple of days have been a lesson in maintaining imbalance, and why that can be important.
In the first days of this war, I felt plunged into a rapidly changing reality that seems now to have become my new normal. Like merging onto a busy highway, I have gotten past the frenetic experience of accelerating and merging, and while I know intellectually that we are all speeding along at an insane and dangerous pace, the actual experience is more like making slight adjustments to stay in my lane and occasionally glancing at the mirrors.
One example: While public news about this war continues to evolve, the evolution has been more gradual for me of late. Most of what I see of military operations in the New York Times or on YNet is either less complete or less accurate than what I know, or it has been discussed and planned for so long that the actual execution of the plan feels anticlimactic.
And so I find myself in a kind of routine. Balanced. Learning to navigate the rhythm of time on duty and time off, of being alert and focused on the mission versus focused on my personal needs.
When I was in basic training, they taught us that our job during guard duty was to be constantly imagining scenarios. What if a terrorist peeks out from behind that rock? Or a car comes hurtling toward the gate without stopping? Thinking this way, we were told, would keep us alert and prepare us for such eventualities.
In the first days of the war, we did exactly this — with the difference that most of the scenarios were coming true. I sought a counter to that extreme and found my ways to “turn off.” And at this point, I am better at it than I would like to be. In the past few hours, I dove into the rules of American football with a fellow soldier; shortly afterwards, I helped track down a terrorist infiltrating the border. At the end of my time on duty, I learned of a deadly attack on our forces, and the most vile abuse of women, children, and babies I have heard of to date.
Then I ate breakfast.
Soon I will close my eyes for a couple of hours. There was a time when I would scroll through Facebook, but I learned that the flood of tragic updates from Israeli friends dealing with loss and scary updates from American friends dealing with antisemitism was not a good way to fall asleep. Now I play mindless cell-phone games until sleep comes. It works pretty well.
The balance feels wrong. But I’m not sure what is right. Is there a way to keep sufficiently off-balance so one remains aware of how unreal all of this is, without drowning in it?
For now, I cling to the jarring reminders that interrupt that routine. Yesterday it was a soldier joining the unit who hadn’t been with us until now. Briefing the soldier on the past three weeks — and seeing his visible shock at our new normal — was a good reminder that we are at war.
As was my wakeup later that afternoon: I didn’t hear the alarm for incoming rockets but rather what sounded like one landing a few feet away from where I was sleeping. I dashed, barefoot, to the nearby protected area, shredding the soles of my feet. It turned out that the noise was the launch of our Iron Dome battery, aiming to take down the rockets. But my thigh muscles were shaking for quite a while after I got back to my bed.
Is it strange to crave that imbalance? I don’t know. As I often say these days: It’s my first war.