October 1973, Ramat Gan, Israel.
Mother and daughter had not seen each other for over two decades. It was before the internet, skype or any form of easy communication. Even calling overseas was a big deal then.
It’s hard for me to imagine how they felt. My grandmother was a non-effusive, very practical person. I’m sure she hadn’t intended to stay away so long. She had moved to America in 1951 and life kept getting in the way of coming back to the country she had helped establish.
What did my great-grandmother Rivka feel? Her granddaughter, my mother, grew up an American, far away, with different experiences and understandings.
In a terribly annoying twist of fate, my grandmother Dvora told me fascinating tidbits of her life, but only that. I am left with bits. Now that I am old enough to understand, thirsty for more details, she is longer here for me to ask (not that she was the type to volunteer information).
What she told me of that fateful day was nothing more than a snapshot:
My grandmother was sitting on the window ledge of her mother’s apartment in Ramat Gan, looking outside. To her shock, she saw cars driving swiftly down the street.
Then there weren’t that many cars and no one, absolutely no one drove on Yom Kippur.
My swift thinking, ever articulate grandmother watched dumbfounded as the cars screeched to a stop in front of the synagogue, men got out, ran in and came out with other men, who had been in the midst of prayers on the holiest day of the year.
She turned to her mother, Rivka and told her: “Turn on the radio.”
Rivka: “What do you mean, turn on the radio? There’s nothing on the radio. It’s Yom Kippur!”
“Turn on the radio! Something horrible is happening.” My grandmother needed no one to explain to her. Understanding was immediate, reality inescapable. She had stepped off the airplane, back into the turmoil of the Jewish nation, struggling to survive.
They turned on the radio and heard the announcement that the war had begun.
That fleeting Yom Kippur snapshot is nothing compared to the horror of the war itself:
Those who fought and watched their friends die.
Those who saw the enemy coming and had to choose between suicide or falling captive to the enemy.
Those waiting at home, not knowing if their loved ones were dead or alive.
Those who saw other soldiers come back and waiting for their soldier, not knowing if he had been killed or was a hostage.
Those who dug graves. So many, many graves…
Those who thought the country would not survive.
Those who survived, with the horrors they experienced entrenched on their souls.
These are the people who picked themselves up and created the country we have today – for better and for worse. We live with the results of their trauma and their heroism.
Those of us who were not there, need the stories of those who came before us. Without them, we don’t understand the experiences of those who came before us and making decisions without context or knowledge can be very dangerous.
If we have nothing better, we have to piece together snapshots.