Friday, January 12, 10:14 a.m.

I didn’t realize.

I didn’t realize that my longest leave since October would feel like my shortest — that trying to reintegrate into a busy week at home would make the time fly and make my departure that much harder on everyone.

I didn’t realize how much being inside, in a warm apartment on a cold and rainy day, would focus my mind so sharply on those still at the front who are not. That it would remind me of my days in the mud and reawaken my awareness of the differences between my service and that of others.

I didn’t realize how disorienting it would be to read international news this week, to read headlines condemning the IDF for tactics — headlines that, based on my own experience, come from an alternate reality.

I didn’t realize that antisemitism can thrive in progressive, liberal societies as easily as it does in conservative ones, that it can survive and even grow in the spotlight, that it isn’t restricted to the ignorant or the uneducated.

I didn’t realize how much I would be moved by Israeli songs from the Yom Kippur War, that hearing lyrics that resonate as strongly today as they did 50 years ago is both comforting and frightening, a measure of our strength as a society and of the inevitability of conflict.

I didn’t realize that the world can regress — that I could witness total war practiced against us, playing out dishonestly as a modern-day Dreyfus affair on the world stage, along with the degradation of Israeli political leadership. And that this can happen while I try to raise hopeful and optimistic children.

I didn’t realize any of these things. I have learned a lot over the past three months.

But I have also learned that a community can rise to the occasion and provide support for a family that is still new to it and experiencing hardship.

I have learned that Gabrielle is an unstoppable force, carrying an incredible amount on her shoulders with no breaks, no “me time,” while her life partner is far away and mostly unavailable.

I have learned that differences can be put aside during war, even if those differences remain. And that when the conversations and debates resume, society can choose to hold its leaders accountable for their tone.

I have learned firsthand that we fight our wars with morality and ethics as our guide, and that when the world sees things otherwise, we are not tempted to act as they presume. That we hold ourselves to the highest standards with pride — not to be recognized for it, but because we know that it is the only acceptable way to wage war.

I have learned that in the most difficult of times, we can rise to the occasion, and that the growing turbulence on the world stage has sharpened our resolve rather than dulling it.

I have learned that we can literally rise from the ashes. That towns stained in blood, buildings riddled with bullets, fields covered with mutilated bodies can recover, can bloom and flower. That a massive wave of love and humanity can transform tragedy into a new beginning.

I have learned that toddlers can live through torture. That parents can live through the loss of their children. That we can forgive one another and come together in the face of tragedy.

And I have learned that, even if we are not yet free to live in peace in our land after 2,000 years, our hope, as we sing in our national anthem, is not yet lost: Od lo avdah tikvatenu.

Sunday, January 14, 10:52 p.m.

One hundred days of war.

I found 30 minutes this morning to meet a good friend from abroad who passed near my base while visiting the places attacked on October 7. On the way to meet her, I thought about what she would ask and what I would say.

Even now, 100 days after the war began, I am still out of sync with civilian society.

My social-media feeds were saturated all day long with friends and acquaintances marking 100 days of war, retelling stories of those killed or kidnapped, calling for political action or attention or justice. I feel as if I’ve missed a lot of it. I don’t know all the stories or all the names. At first it was too much, and I needed every ounce of focus to attend to my duties. To a large extent, that is still the case, but even when I do, now, find a moment’s pause, the prospect of trying to capture all that has happened is overwhelming.

Instead, I have a set of unconnected experiences. Images from the early days of the war. Sights and sounds and smells from the time when this entire area was a war zone crawling with terrorists, and afterward when an intersection was filled with people holding banners in honor of the hostages. I didn’t have anything coherent to say on this 100th day. I only know the personal stories I’ve heard firsthand, which most have probably heard. I worried that, if a friend wanted to hear about my experiences, it would sound like the meandering tale of an incoherent war veteran — one that starts, “I remember when,” includes a jumble of snippets that don’t seem to connect with one another, and trails off at the end.

Luckily, she is a close friend, the one who visited this morning. Mostly, she wanted to give me a hug. I can’t remember anything I said, but I hugged her back, and that’s what mattered to us both.

One hundred days of war.

One hundred days feels different at the front. In our unit, some of the soldiers under the most strain because of the length of the war have reached a breaking point. My friend with his own start-up can no longer keep up with his schedule: four hours’ sleep, driving to Tel Aviv for meetings, and then driving back for his IDF shift. So he is going to work weekdays and pull shifts on the weekends.

A few meters in either direction would have made this 100th day my most traumatic day of the war, a horrific climax to mark the milestone. But all four RPGs missed, so today felt like a quiet day.

We have two weddings coming up. The bride thinks she can push through until six weeks before the wedding, before diving full-time into planning. The groom is hoping he’ll have a month off so he can arrive at his own wedding having cleared his head from the war.

Students are asking for overnight shifts so they won’t miss classes. Newlyweds are trying to time their leave with that of their spouse so that they get to see each other. One guy’s wife is 32 weeks pregnant with their second child and has an 18-month-old at home. He’s going to try to push through to 35 weeks.

No one is running out of morale, but some are running out of steam. Once again, I am overwhelmingly grateful for my wife and for my work colleagues, who have taken on so much so I can serve here at the front.

One hundred days of war.

Over the past 24 hours, terrorists fired four RPGs at our guys. I dimly recall, early in the war, the first time I witnessed a medical evacuation by helicopter, on a camera from above. Because of the constant rotation of sectors, we would have used that same landing zone, had we had such an evac today. And instead of being an observer, I would have been a participant.

A few meters in either direction any one of those four times would have made this 100th day my most traumatic day of the war, a horrific climax to mark the milestone. But all four RPGs missed, so today felt like a quiet day.

Tomorrow is Day 101.

Tuesday, January 16, 12:56 a.m.

The theme of my past 24 hours has been death.

Ironically, it began with a sense of disconnection from the milestone everyone seemed to be talking about: 100 days since so many were kidnapped. So I found myself watching an October 7 video clip of a family with two children the same ages as two of my own, held at gunpoint as they sobbed over the murder of their oldest daughter.

Then I went on duty. Four times during my shift, we encountered terrorists that we could distinguish from the civilians around them — and no doubt several more that we could not. Four times, we took action to end their lives. Four times, I assembled the videos and the minute details of the results.

I barely had time to step aside and use my phone during the day. But when I did, it was to check for updates about a terrorist attack in the central city of Ra’anana, in which two brothers stole cars and ran over as many people as they could. They killed one elderly woman. Given the hour of the attack, many of the injured were children on their way home from school. Friends of mine watched the attack from their office windows.

And then, just before midnight, we learned of one more death: that of an Israeli kidnapped to Gaza. Over the course of the day, deep in Gaza, our unit found something that did not seem significant at the time. But after following the protocol for evaluating anything out of the ordinary, we now know that what we found was evidence of the death of one of our own civilians.

And so ended my day.

Death has surrounded us since October 7. It was the massive number of deaths perpetrated by Hamas terrorists that started this war.

Our unit’s primary focus for most of the first month involved finding and collecting the bodies of those same dead.

But our operations in Gaza have had multiple goals, and each has included trying to identify terrorists among the civilians, and then killing them. And so, each operation has put in front of us near-daily decisions involving death.

Nor have those of us who have remained alive emerged unscathed. The deaths of our fellow soldiers have also been a part of our experience.

In that sense, yesterday’s discovery of a hostage who had been killed was no different. But at the same time, the differences are endless.

There is an important difference between the intentional killing of children and the surgical warfare we wage, focused only on visiting justice on their killers.

There is a tragic difference between the deaths of civilians we are meant to protect and the deaths of soldiers whose duty is to put themselves in the crossfire.

And there is the reality that not every death, or discovery of a death, is a worst-case scenario. The efforts of our unit yesterday will bring closure to one family that has been in a living hell for 102 days.

Two things are motivating me today.

The first is something I read at the beginning of the war, that there is only one mitzvat aseh, one religious duty, that commands us to take action that might result in our own death: that of milhemet mitzvah, of defensive war waged to protect Israel’s borders. Death is tragic, but sometimes it serves a greater purpose.

The second is something I read years ago but that I feel I have witnessed many, many times in the past 102 days: that grief is the triumph of love over death. Death is not always the worst outcome, nor the absolute end to one’s story.

May the day soon come where I can spend more time reflecting on life.

Wednesday, January 17, 1:08 p.m.

“Aleinu al mit’an”: We’ve run over an IED.

A rock is tossed into the center of a small pond.

At first there is always uncertainty. The calm surface is shattered. What was the report? Can it be confirmed? Do we know who was involved? Is anybody hurt?

The information ripples outward quickly, in concentric circles. From the radio to the operations team, the battle director, the intelligence team, the air support.

As the news spreads, others begin to receive information through parallel channels. The ripples reach the edge of the pond and bounce back, introducing greater turbulence. Now teams are coming in from outside. Logistics, medical, engineering. Anyone who was on a break is back at his desk.

As the ripples moving outward and those returning collide, it becomes harder to discern the pattern, or even where the center was. To the untrained eye, there seems to be several centers. The air-support team is talking to evac helicopters. The logistics team is talking to the medical convoy. The operations team is managing a battle that has developed on the periphery of the scene. A second operations team coordinates with an attack helicopter.

Now there are waves going up and down, out of sync. Not everything makes sense. In the center of the room, an officer is standing on a chair but whispering into her phone. Three urgent evacs turn into two, but we need enough helicopters to transport four. Five terrorists flee a school where they were holed up, but two others are tracked down and killed. Four separate conversations on four separate channels on the radio blare at once.

As time goes on, patterns become apparent. The turbulence subsides into what can now be understood as coordinated movement. The IED was actually an RPG, and the rest of the unit is in pursuit of those who attacked us. Two battalion commanders coordinate the response in calm, professional tones. Two radio channels are for the battle, and two others are for the evacuation. There are two urgent injuries, not three, for the four spots on helicopters — because the third soldier was killed immediately, and a fourth still needs to be extricated from the tank that was hit. Helicopters are ready at the landing zone.

Soon the ripples begin to subside. Final details emerge. Two dead. Two wounded, but stable. Our forces have control over the area of the attack. The tank will be towed later that evening. Teams return to their posts; some officers step out for a moment to catch their breath.

Now the surface is calm once again. The volume of the radio has returned to normal. We are looking ahead to the next mission, the next task. Almost nothing remains to give any indication of what just took place.

The rock that shattered the calm surface will soon shatter the lives of families and friends whose calm surfaces know nothing of what is about to come. For those of us at the front, our surface is calm. All that remains is beneath the surface, and in our memories.

Thursday, January 18, 5:58 p.m.

I am not superhuman. I am tired.

I’m tired of being far from my family. Seeing family moments pass me by and sharing milestones over the phone, I feel as if I am a distant relative rather than a part of the crew.

I’m tired of the recurring feelings of guilt that I am not personally deep in Gaza, no longer a front-line fighter covered in mud and totally cut off from the world. I’m tired of reminding myself of the importance of the role that I do play. I’m tired of people who don’t know what I do telling me that I am a hero. I’m tired of people not knowing I’ve been at war for three and a half months.

I’m tired of the anatomy of each leave: the stress in getting a ride home and back, deciding who and what gets prioritized and who and what does not. Unpacking and repacking, with laundry in between. Walking around with a rifle on my back and feeling that it’s a nuisance that keeps me from immersing in normal life but also a tether that keeps me grounded in my new normal.

I’m tired of wondering whether I will have something to write. I’m tired of having difficult things to write.

I’m tired of talk about when we will be released. The rumors constantly flying around, the news of other units’ release dates, the ever-present possibility that anything could happen, including a move to the northern border or a release followed by another draft. I’m tired of people who are not drafted being incredulous that I am still on the front. Have they read the news? Did the war end?

I’m tired of hearing about horrible things that happen to people and knowing about them before their families do, and then needing to unburden myself by writing about it. And then needing to wait or to censor myself because the information isn’t public.

I’m tired of having to avoid international news about the war because it’s so divorced from reality. Or because I will wonder how many people, hearing it, will think that I and my fellow soldiers are war criminals. Or because I will wonder how many of those people are Israelis or Jews.

I’m tired of having to forgive soldiers for giving it less than their best. Of unspeakably disgusting bathrooms shared with 18-year-olds. Of the mediocre, unvarying, and often insufficient meals normal in major wars whose logistics are managed by huge bureaucracies made up of imperfect human beings.

I’m tired of feeling that my professional colleagues need me, but I am unavailable. Or worse: available in brief spurts, but unable to commit time and mental capacity consistently enough to make a difference. I have a new board member and a newly elected board chair. I haven’t met the first, and I haven’t spoken to the second since September.

I’m tired of shifts that are busy without good reason. I’m tired of sometimes having weird pockets of downtime in between shifts. I’m tired of feeling the need to “be there” when shit goes down, and then being there, and then shit going down.

I’m tired of trying not to think about what my life will look like after this war, because it’s never clear when that will be, and because I can’t let my head go there while still doing my job well.

I’m tired of there not being coffee when I need coffee. I’m tired of drying my hands on my pants leg. I’m tired of wearing dog tags.

I’m tired of wondering whether I will have something to write. I’m tired of having difficult things to write.

I’m tired of worrying that this war won’t be enough. That kidnapped innocents will remain kidnapped, that southern towns in Israel will remain under threat of rocket fire, that we will perpetuate hatred instead of sowing the seeds of peace. I’m tired of worrying that this war is absolutely necessary but may be unwinnable.

I’m also just tired.

Friday, January 20, 7:33 p.m.

It was a tough week. But we are in the middle of fighting a war we didn’t want, battling against those who have, in word and deed, declared their intention to kill every last one of us. So maybe it’s okay to have a tough week.

Because even during a tough week there is a tremendous amount that I am inspired by.

By Gabrielle and my children, who are pushing forward as much as anyone can in this bizarre reality.

By the communities and individuals who have stepped up to support our family as well as those of the thousands upon thousands of others who are still on the front lines.

By the opportunity I have to be a part of protecting this amazing country and its citizens, a small part of the story of Jewish survival that is thousands of years old. It’s been more than 100 days, but I’m not going anywhere until my job is done.

By my fellow soldiers, some of whom I barely knew on October 6, who have offered me rides and lent me their cars and worried I wasn’t seeing my kids enough. Soldiers such as the one whose business is struggling, but who is still serving shifts on the weekends so others can get home more often.

By the resilience we see in the face of loss, by the families of the fallen who find inspiring ways to carry the memories of their sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and spouses. By the society that knows that their loss is the “silver platter” on which our country endures.

By the tenacity of those in the Hague, on college campuses, in communities around the world who bravely face the distorted image of social justice that is antisemitism.

By the tenacity of the units like Golani, or our own 87th battalion, who have suffered so much loss and yet are so proud of their role in bringing safety and security to the people of Israel.

By my colleagues, who are carrying on incredibly important work in my absence, alongside donors, lay leaders, and people who have stepped up when called upon.

By my neighbor, who read my last post and showed up late Thursday night at our apartment with several bags of coffee. And the others who are planning a return to our base for a repeat barbecue.

By the best of us — the ones who are quick to offer a word of support, who notice when others are feeling down, and who empty garbage cans and clean bathrooms in between their shifts.

By Israelis, who will cut you off on the road or in the checkout line but will just as quickly invite you for a holiday meal. Who can hold our leadership accountable as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no vacuum in leadership. Who haven’t lost their sense of humanity against an enemy that has.

Yes: Sometimes, I am tired. But mostly, I am proud and inspired. And at the end of the day, that makes me feel that I am superhuman.

Wednesday, January 24, 4:44 p.m.

I had just gotten home. Just shed my uniform and taken a hot shower. Eaten a hot meal. Put my kids to bed. I was just starting to grapple with the familiar if unnerving feeling of finding myself away from the war I’ve been a part of since October 7. And then a message came through from my unit and pulled me, mentally, right back to the front.

“Yesh eiru’a Ara”n”: There’s a mass casualty event.

My blood ran cold.

I’ve become sadly well-versed in the nuances of medical evacuations in battle. In the news, for example, an injury is described according to its severity, so readers can understand how bad it is. In the army, however, we are exclusively focused on managing incidents. There is no such thing as a moderate injury. An injury is either “urgent for evacuation” or “non-urgent for evacuation.” An illustration of what that can look like: Last week, we had an event with two injuries that were non-urgent for evacuation. One was shock; the other was a death. Neither would justify taking risks to speed up the evacuation beyond its standard breakneck pace.

Early in the war, I heard the term Ara”n for the first time. I asked the officer running our shift what determines when an event becomes an Ara”n. He explained: It’s when the scope of what happened is so severe that the unit cannot manage it themselves. In other words, it’s an inter-unit call for help.

Tuesday, it poured. Twenty-one funerals in pouring rain, the fresh water from the heavens mixing with the salt water of tears flowing into freshly dug graves.

I was sitting on a sofa, in the comfort of my own home. But my mind was miles away. And in short order, I learned the basic details of what happened, and a number: 20.

I kept checking the news because I couldn’t help it, even though I knew it would be a while before I saw anything there. So I closed my eyes for a troubled night’s sleep, hoping to wake up to better information — or a correction.

In the morning it was 21. Twenty-one soldiers dead. Guys from a battalion that fought with us through Khirbet Achza’a. Guys led by Beni, an officer who drove me south on October 8 and was on my team until he was reassigned a month ago. Guys who were working on a dangerous but common operation in this war, one with which I am very familiar. Guys who will never come home again.

The entire country is in mourning. Twenty-one souls is enough to reach every corner of this sliver of a country. A soldier who studied at my yeshiva, another who served on the previous prime minister’s security detail. A son of migrant workers. A teacher who had just sent his students a video message.

Tuesday, it poured. Twenty-one funerals in pouring rain, the fresh water from the heavens mixing with the salt water of tears flowing into freshly dug graves.

Gabrielle and I got in our car and drove some 45 minutes to Tel Aviv. In a quiet neighborhood between a nursery school and a municipal garden, we squeezed into a parking spot, opened our umbrellas, and found our way to a narrow path with a turquoise gate. Clutched in Gabrielle’s hand was a small photo album wrapped in a large Ziploc bag. An older man, perhaps 65, came to open the gate and led us into his home, where we sat down on the sofa with him and his wife.

“This…is for you,” I said, handing him a photo album I had found during the second week of the war on a coffee table covered in ash, in the house where his sister and brother-in-law had just been kidnapped and then murdered along with his brother-in-law’s medical aide.

There was a pause. Tea was poured.

And then we spoke. We spoke about the outbreak of the war, which caught him on a trip to the Far East and me on the way to services with my family. We spoke about his childhood in Kibbutz Be’eri and our immigration from America. We spoke about the horrors we had each witnessed when we came to Be’eri and walked into his sister’s home.

They shared their guilt that they hadn’t spent enough time mourning their sister, because of how much energy they were investing in activism for the release of other family members. I shared my guilt that I was no longer in a full combat role.

They spoke of a family ripped apart by unspeakable tragedy. A family photo they showed us was accompanied by explanations of who had been murdered, who kidnapped, and who was still held hostage by Hamas terrorists.

I spoke about life on the front lines. About our arrival into a war zone and the operations we were undertaking. We spoke of our mutual thoughts — and questions — about the day after.

Together, we reflected on the strange moments of poetic beauty in the midst of tragedy. The bright color of plastic straws left on their sister’s table in the middle of a blackened dining room. The burnt pages of holy text, a passage from the story of King David, which lay in a box.

We embraced and wished each other better times. And then we drove home, in the rain.