Unsplash, Avi Theret

Last Saturday Morning.

Lilith online is proud to be sharing the sermons, prayers and writing of a diverse group of clergy, poets, activists and writers in Israel and the United States. This is the first of a series of stories by longtime Lilith contributor Dr. Elana Sztokman. Read more at lilith.org.

Last Saturday morning at around 6:30, I was lying in bed thinking to myself, “Wow, my upstairs neighbor is doing quite a workout this morning.” It felt like massive weights kept dropping on the floor above me. Weights so large that the walls and windows would shake. It made no sense, but to be fair, I also wasn’t fully conscious. 

My phone, charging next to my bed, kept beeping. I mostly ignored it, assuming it was some news notification. But then it became more frequent, in rapid pace. Boom. Windows shake. Ping. Ping. Ping. Boom. Windows shake. Ping. Ping. Ping.

I opened my eyes and sat up. I grabbed my phone. 

It was my daughter who lives in Ashkelon whatsapping me.

Ima, we’re being attacked. 

We’re on our way to you. 

We’ll be there in an hour. 

I responded:


Okay of course. Come over. 

Bring food. 

That’s where my head was for that first moment. I wasn’t thinking war. I was thinking chag. I hadn’t cooked much on Friday because it was just my husband and me for the holiday, the synagogue was planning a communal lunch, and anyway I was a bit under the weather and had spent most of Friday sleeping on the couch. So, yeah, my biggest worry at the time was that I wasn’t prepared for company, even my kids, and wouldn’t have what to feed them. 

Then I looked at the news. 

Non-stop rocket barrages. Infiltrations. Something not normal was happening.

I jumped out of bed and got busy. Within the hour, we had set up the guest room for my daughter, her husband, and their 3-month-old baby. I had managed to pull together food for them (and deleted my message. Why add stress?) Busy, busy, busy — and controlling my shock while checking for updates. 

They arrived an hour later, a bit shaky but calm. They had passed by some terrifying things on the road — a bullet-ridden car, a few fires, fallen rockets. 

Then my son-in-law said he was going back to Ashkelon. 

What?! Why?! You can’t go back there!

He had to.

I have to get my brother.

He went to go fetch his 17-year-old brother who was stranded. His brother had been staying with friends who ran from the city and left him alone. He showed up at his brother’s house (and my daughter’s), not knowing that they were already in Modi’in. 

My son-in-law ran out. Back to the front. 

I tried reaching my other daughter who lives in Beersheva — a little further away from Gaza but still in the south where there was heavy rocket fire. It took a while but I eventually reached her. She, her husband, and twin toddlers were spending all morning in their bomb shelters. 

There is a siren every ten minutes. No point in leaving the safe room

The bomb shelter was also the girls’ bedroom, which was now also furnished with breakfast, extra toys, and two little potties. 

I wanted them to come to Modi’in, where there were far fewer sirens. But I was also very nervous about them driving on the roads. The Hamas terrorists were roaming everywhere. I was glued to the news, and it was becoming clear that no place was safe. 

By the afternoon, they realized that they had to leave. Staying in a rocket barrage like this was unsustainable. I chatted with my son-in-law in Ashkelon, who was now stuck there with his family because of closed roads. I checked Waze to see which roads might still be open. There was a route which seemed safe — straight up Road 6. 

Drive fast. No stopping for anything. Nothing. Hamas terrorists were masquerading as people needing help. Just go. Just drive. Safely but fast. Whatever you do don’t stop. 

Conversations I would have never imagined having. 

It took them hours to get here, as apparently all of Beersheva was leaving at the same time. Those were the longest hours of my life. But they arrived. Baruch Hashem. Miracles….

By the afternoon, my son who lives in Haifa was called to duty. He stopped by our house on the way down south to pick up gear and food and a few big hugs. Then one son-in-law got called up and left. Then another got a call to report the next day. Just like that. Tak-tak-tak. Reporting for duty.

My husband was still trying to keep Shabbat. I had long given up on that, and could not stop looking at my phone. The news kept pouring in. My husband kept asking how bad things were. I was his channel to the outside world. It was all a bit bizarre. 

Bad. Really bad. Then worse. Then even worse than you can imagine. Worse than they are even reporting. 

I was trying to keep up with these developments, absorbing the shock minute by minute. My husband was get it in packages. It was a lot of information…. Unbelievable information.

Are you sure?

Pretty sure.


I’m afraid so. 

That can’t be right. 

I know how you feel. 

Meanwhile, social media was far ahead of the traditional news outlets. I was chatting with a friend of mine who lives in Kibbutz Nirim, one of the spots that was immediately infiltrated. She was in her safe room. Alone. For hours. We chatted for a while and then she said she had to go because she was running out of battery. It was terrifying. But she made it out alive at the end. Miracle

And then the reports started coming in about what happened to the soldiers. Rumors about the girls in tatzpitanut — the “watchers”, the ones in charge of the screens with the cameras on the fence. Talk about a slaughter on their base in Re’im. Unofficial and unconfirmed.

My youngest daughter is in tatzpi. On a different base. By chance. Luck of the draw where they get placed. Thank God she is fine. You know, more or less, as fine as well all are. Miracles

Well, miracles among horror. What do you call that? Miracles amid horror?


We all now know the rest of the story. All week long we have been learning that it was, in fact, worse than any of us could have imagined. Every time we thought it couldn’t be worse, it got worse. And now, with over 1200 Israelis dead, including 250 soldiers, kibbutzim destroyed, hundreds missing, and worst of all anywhere from 150-300 captive in Gaza including dozens of children and babies, we are entering a long war. 

With no leadership in sight. 

There has not been enough talk about the hostages. Nobody has a plan. Nobody has a thought. Nobody has spoken to the country about what we’re going to do for them. It’s beyond sickening. It is gut-wretchingly infuriating. 

I have been posting about Bibi’s completely self-serving lack of leadership. You can read a post here. I cannot even describe how upsetting this is, that we are in the midst of this crisis in which the government is entirely at fault for not protecting the people from this horror, and there is nobody in charge taking any responsibility. I can’t even. 

Today, I plan to do something I have never done in the 30 years that I’ve been living in Israel. I am going to put up a massive banner outside my home. I am searching for a printer that is open, and I am going to spend money to print up a huge banner that calls for Bibi to resign because he has blood on his hands. 

Yes. In between helping my daughters look after babies, scrolling the news, following schedules of funerals and shivas, and keeping tabs the many ways that people are helping others and making sure I’m doing my part — in between all that, I’m going to print a banner and put it on my outside wall, that happens to face a major intersection in Modi’in, to make sure that I’m helping get this message out.


Meanwhile, though, you want to know how I’m doing really?

I will tell you. 

First of all, I am in shock and trauma, like everyone else here. 

And, like everyone else here, I’m going about my life anyway. 

Getting on with things. That’s how Israelis cope. You just keep going. There are always traumas. Never at this scale, or even close to this scale. But always traumas. And you just get on with it. You organize, you keep busy, you make food, you get involved, you chat with your friends. And get on with it. 

But deep down, you’re a bit of a mess. That is Israeli life in a nutshell.


Originally published on substack.