Personal Reflections on the Yom Kippur War: Beforehand and what followed
By David Bedein
Turning 60 two weeks ago, on the day that marked the 40th anniversary of my arrival in Israel, provided an appropriate pause for reflection.
After all, there is the well known tradition that a Jew is reborn upon arrival in Israel, when the Jew chooses to assume the inheritance of the land that God has given to every Jew.
In 1970, three years after the six day war, there was a post miracle atmosphere that enveloped Jerusalem in that period of time. People would recall the three week wait before the war and openly shared the fright of what it was like to live through the trauma of wondering whether the Jewish people would face yet another holocaust - this time in Israel.
To arrive in Israel in 1970 was to experience a nation which experienced some kind of "Post Miracle Traumatic Stress Syndrome".
Kibbutz Merom Hagolan. Summer 1971. My first kibbutz experience.
My friend Shaul Weber from the Hebrew University, a founder of the Kibbutz, had invited me to join him on the Kibbutz for a few weeks.
After each day in the field, Shaul took me walking - through the abandoned Syrian Army camp in Kunetra, which was adjacent to the nascent kibbutz.
And that we would ride in the Kibbutz jeep, from one abandoned Syrian bunker to another.
The Golan, only four years after being wrested from Syria, still looked like one massive great abandoned Syrian army camp.
That first night on Kibbutz was the longest.
I was treated to my first artillery barrage.
Shaul was up in a guard post somewhere. I will never forget the night in the Kibbutz shelter, listening to the Israeli record "Ish Chasid Hayah", and sitting with Shaul's wife Yael and their three little kids. Yael, who had grown up in a kibbutz at the foot of the Golan, mentioned to me that she had grown up listening to hasidic records in the shelter, which she would listen to whenever the Syrians would let loose a barrage on her kibbutz in the Galilee.
Now, Yael told me, her kibbutz "down there" was out of range, and Merom Hagolan was in range.
And until the ceasefire that Israel signed with Syria in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Merom HaGolan remained within range of the Syrian gun.
On the last day on the Kibbutz, Yehudah Fichtman, the kibbutz secretary, had the patience to spend time with me, explaining why he had come to live in the Golan Heights.
What Yehudah said to me has remained with me ever since.
He explained that he had fought for the Golan in 1967 , and that he wanted to raise a family in the place where he had risked his life. "We fought for it. Now we will live for it", said Yehudah.
Yehudah was killed in an artillery barrage while he was working in the field, only a few months after I left. His wife and three children never left the kibbutz.
His grandchildren now serve in the IDF on the Golan.
May 1973. Nearing the close of a third year in Israel, and a student at the Pardes Institute, was a time when I looked forward to getting together with four of my closest friends who "single soldiers, without families in Israel".
I felt kind of guilty, not yet in the army, but stomach illnesses would not go away.
Three years of Alyah nervousness, you might say, kept me out of the IDF for yet another decade.
Well, on Israel's 25th birthday, five of us got together for a "kumsitz" � the Israeli version of a barbecue, on the hill overlooking the Israel Museum, on the night before Israel Independence day in Jerusalem.
Each friend had returned to Jerusalem to march the IDF military parade, in full ALEPH regalia.
All four friends served on the front lines and each friend reported matter of factly that Syrians and Egyptians were poised to attack. They could not tell that to anyone.
The attitude in Israel at the time was that Arabs are not capable of attacking Israel.
Until the attack finally occurred on Yom Kippur.
These single soldiers were not surprised. Their commanders were.
David, whose Golani unit got the award for the "best marchers" in the parade, said that their "marching prize" was that they would get "more activities" and see more action. It was no coincidence that it was the Golani brigade was selected to scale Mount Hermon six months later. Three young men around David were killed in that battle.
The sudden attack on the Golan Heights in 1973 hit home in a strange way.
I had been having terrible stomach problems my first few years in Israel, always nervous about the Israeli reality that I was living in.
On the first day of the Yom Kippur War, the man whom I called "my tummy doctor", Dr Moshe Ramon, the former Dr. Murray Raymond of Seattle, lost his oldest son.
I remember walking into his living room which doubled as a waiting room where I had been writhing in pain a few weeks before. I would never again feel the stomach pains that I had felt before. I said to myself, instinctively, that Moshe would have more pain than I ever would.
There were his son's friends from their Nachal kibbutz describing the sudden Syrian attack, how the Syrian soldiers had scaled the fence of their settlement and mowed down the young and surprised Nachal soldiers, young men and young women, with automatic machine gun fire, snuffing out fifteen lives in a matter of minutes.
To this day, by the way, it has never been publicized that the Syrians killed a group of young women soldiers.
After the initial ceasefire, I hitched up to the Golan Heights and file a news story. It was there that I witnessed the enormity of the Syrian advance. Rows of Syrian tanks and ever possible vehicle stopped in its tracks, strafed and bombed and left for any photographer to use his imagination as to just close the Syrians had come to conquering the Golan Heights. Yet they had mysteriously stopped in their tracks.
After visiting the Golan, I went to stay in the mystical city of Tzfat for a few days. It was there that I met a Rabbi HaLevi who told me a story that he later put in a book. As soon as he had heard of the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights that he had organized a special group of women to chant from the book of Psalms and to invoke the memory of Channah and her seven sons, who martyred themselves rather than convert from Judaism.
By legend, Channah and her seven sons are buried on a slope just below the Old City of Tzfat.
We associate the act of Channah and her seven sons with the Chanukah story and the war with the Hellenists. Yet there is an additional part of the story that is mentioned in the talmud, which is that Channah and her seven sons ask God for a favor in their merit. They ask that, in the merit of their self-sacrifice, that God save a Jewish city under siege. Well, the first time that Rabbi HaLevy had asked for a group of women to invoke Channah and her seven sons was when the 2,000 member Jewish community of Tzfat was under siege in 1948 from an army of more than 12,000. The withdrawal of that army had no rational reason. So now in 1973 the women had prayed again. The Syrian army stopped in its tracks, for no rational reason. Why the Syrian army stopped its advance remains one of the unknown factors of middle eastern warfare that is discussed today in war colleges around the globe.
It was in February, 1974 that I returned to the Golan as a writer for the Jewish Student Press Service to capture the spirit of the people who returned to the Golan Heights after their kibbutzim had been overrun in the war.
Kibbutz Ramat Magshimim, on the southern tip of the Golan, seemed to be a logical place to travel to. Their kibbutz had been the first to be overrun.
After ascending to the Golan with the one bus that got there on a Friday morning, it took seventeen different rides until I got to Kibbutz Ramat Magshimim, where my postcard had gotten arrived the day before saying that I would like to visit.
They had no way of calling me, but I knew that this was the nation of miracles and I hoped that it would work out.
Moshe Ben Tzvi's family with their four children welcomed me to their home.
The kids seemed to be regular kids. During the Shabbat meal, two of the kids began to cry.
Moshe took me aside and said that they had cried almost constantly every Shabbat, since that terrible Yom Kippur in 1973, also on a Shabbat, when the families had been told by the regional IDF commander in the middle of the night to suddenly abandon the kibbutz because of the sudden advance of a Syrian tank column. The family came back to a badly damaged home, and Moshe explained that the kids were still disoriented.
Possibly the calmest moments on the Kibbutz Ramat Magshimim was the gathering of many of the families in a modest, improvised "moadon" clubhouse on Saturday night.
The children, all the children, sang popular Israeli folk songs at the top of their lungs, while a young mother, Esther Ben David from Los Angeles, was playing the accordian and leading the children in communal singing.
I left on the bus back to Bar Ilan University the next morning with a "song in my heart", so to speak.
Esther had told me that she was determined to wipe the tears from every nervous kid on that kibbutz. Now that is a good Kibbutz mother, I thought.
On Monday morning, following class at Bar Ilan social work school, I walked by the Bar Ilan mensa cafeteria. I heard the lunchtime newsreel on the radio.
An artillery bombardment had hit suddenly hit Kibbutz Ramat Magshimim. After the dust had cleared, Esther Ben David was found dead in a ditch near the baby clinic that she had just emerged from, where she was getting medicine for her baby boy, whom she was clutching in her hands.
Esther was struck by a direct hit, yet had the presence of mind to hold that boy so that no harm would come to him.
No harm came to that baby, who was found cuddled in Esther's lifeless arms.
Esther, who brought so much happiness to the children in her kibbutz, had saved the life of her little boy in those terrible seconds of an artillery barrage.
That little boy, saved in a ditch on the Golan while his dying mother hovered over him, lived to marry a neighbor of mine a few years ago.
A year after the Yom Kippur, Israel witnessed a series of brutal PLO attacks. One of these attacks was the Maalot massacre, where high school students were held hostage by the PLO, with carnage taking place at the end of the day. The PLO has started the day with a slaughter of the family were they took refuge. At the end of the day, 22 youngsters were dead and 72 injured.
Our social work class volunteered to go to Tzfat to help the students who had survived.
One girl sobbed hat the doctor said to her that she would survive, not to worry, but that she would not be able to have children. It was hard to console the young girl.
Ten years later, as a social worker in Tzfat, the same girl walked by with a baby carriage. She had given birth to her first child, a girl.
Without flinching, she said that the baby had been born with the shrapnel, and that she had recited psalms for ten years, never missing a day of prayer.
That miracle baby represents, for me, the era of the Yom Kippur War.
As one of my less than observant Israeli friends said at the time, the outbreak of the war on Yom Kippur imposed a permanent solemnity on Yom Kippur for all of Israeli society.
No longer could any Israeli ever again deny the weight of Yom Kippur on every Jew in the land of Israel.
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