MY wife and son landed in Israel on Wednesday, October 4, with so much excitement. He was to start school on the following Sunday, before joining his mates for the Israel Study Tour program in November. My family was to spend that first Shabbat together – I have two Australian-born daughters, aged 22 and 20, who had immigrated to Israel to serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
As I write this, everything they did in those first few days seems surreal: driving to our daughters’ army bases to collect them, visiting friends and family, attending an engagement party, and dancing and singing at synagogue; everything seemed perfect.
And then, early on Saturday morning, October 7, everything changed. Sirens sounded across Israel, and my wife and children, like so many other Israelis, spent the day in bomb shelters.
Both girls were immediately called back to their units. Our oldest is a combat officer in the forces based near the Jordanian border, and the younger, a search-and-rescue instructor in the Home Front Command.
There are obviously no words that can describe the depravity and the horror of October 7, 2023. It is impossible to try to process the brutality and sheer evil of these cold-blooded murderers. The events are beyond comprehension, the anguish is palpable, and the emotional and physical toll is horrifying.
Our daughters’ friends are among the murdered, the missing and the injured.
And yet they, like their friends, simply don’t stop; they don’t have time to think; they have a job to do, they are IDF soldiers, so they do it.
We were lucky. We got to spend 24 hours with each of our daughters. It was wonderful to see them, to hug them and to just be comforted that they are okay. Australia is a very long way away during times like these!
Maybe being young makes you more resilient? Yet our daughters are only 20 and 22, and to have seen what they have seen, and to cope with the pressure, the intensity and the terrible toll of war, we do fear for their physical and psychological wellbeing when this all ends.
It is difficult to adequately articulate what it is like to be in Israel right now. I am uncertain if it is even appropriate for me, a proud Jew and Zionist, but not an Israeli, to provide this perspective. I feel sick to my stomach every time I start writing; my heart is shattered.
The citizens of this country are broken, tears are falling, pain is all-encompassing, and the toll on everyone is palpable.
Bustling streets are quiet, restaurants may or may not be open. There are few people on the streets. There is a disturbing, all-embracing sense of sadness. But despite the sadness, there is still a sense of unity, of collective responsibility and an incredible will to survive. This is heartwarming and uplifting for all.
Ordinary citizens have set up 24-hour voluntary command centres in every major region to coordinate food, clothing, housing and other resources for people in need; there are thousands of Israeli volunteers involved in each of these endeavours. There are constant food drops for soldiers, for doctors, for ambulance drivers.
Each day, maybe as therapy, or as some small comfort, I try to say the prayers for the State of Israel, for the IDF and for those IDF and Israeli citizens in captivity. We pray Israel will bring all the hostages home safely, destroy Hamas with minimal loss of life, find long-term peace and stability, and recover emotionally and economically from October 7 and beyond.
Our final prayer is that all the broken and the sad can once again – hopefully sooner than later – live life to the fullest.
At Zahal Disabled Veterans Organisation (ZDVO) in Australia, we have always felt that ZDVO is more than a charity; it is really an obligation on us all, because without the bravery, courage and dedication of Israel’s soldiers, there would be no Israel.
While in Israel, I visited the ZDVO’s Beit Halochem centre in Jerusalem. I sat with the CEO, and we pondered the role ZDVO will need to play in this war. He told me there are already 10 ZDVO members that have been killed, and one member is being held in Gaza. Furthermore, 13 children and grandchildren of ZDVO members are also among the dead.
There are already more than 1800 injured soldiers (many of whom have already been granted temporary disabled veteran status), and many more victims of terror. Besides the physical injuries, the trauma, the PTSD, will unfortunately be huge.
Preparations are already well underway. For the first time in the history of Israel’s wars, the ZDVO is taking care of wounded soldiers while the battle is still going on and not after the war finishes. Our holistic approach encompasses physical, emotional, psychological, financial and social aspects of recovery.
This strategic change is based on the understanding that the sooner the wounded soldiers begin their rehabilitation, the shorter their healing time will be and the better quality the healing itself will have.
Each of the ZDVO’s Beit Halochem centres will need to be upgraded and expanded to manage the increased inflow, and PTSD centres will need to be established within each of the existing facilities. The planned Ashdod centre, to cater for the south of Israel, obviously even more critical now, needs to be completed and operational as soon as possible.
The ZDVO will have a fundamental role to play going forward. As proud as I am of my daughters, and of their commitment and dedication to the IDF and the security of Israel, I am equally proud of the organisation we have created here in Australia, that plays our small part to help each and every injured soldier and victim of terror from this terrible war.
Michael Balkin is president of the
Zahal Disabled Veterans Organisation in Australia