I feel frozen in a time warp that seems unreal. I need to document what has happened from the perspective of a parent of a lone soldier sharing my views, insights, and experiences as they unfold.
The world has already begun justifying the horrific acts committed on October 7, so this will serve as a first-hand account of what I witnessed. I will not be telling you what I heard via anyone but only our son’s experience and my thoughts.
We were visiting Israel and going to spend a couple of days with our son who is a soldier in an elite commando unit. On Shabbat, October 7, after spending just 36 hours in Israel with him, he was suddenly called back to base. We dropped him off on a day which will forever be recalled in Jewish history.
My husband and I took refuge with friends in central Israel as we anxiously awaited news from our son. Many of the parents from the various units had heard from their children by Monday, October 9, even if it was just a text with a heart emoji. The parents from our son’s unit did not hear anything, they didn’t even receive an emoji. There was only a single tick on any WhatsApp that was sent by the parents to their children. No matter how many times we all looked through our tear-soaked eyes, the one tick did not turn into two blue ticks. We waited anxiously for an agonising four days.
My husband and I were standing in a grocery store when suddenly a text came through from the commander of the unit. With shaking hands, I gave my phone over to the shopkeeper who appeared to speak English and asked her to please explain the text.
The woman read the message and said that the commander of his unit writes that “the boys are okay, they fought like lions and saved many lives and that he, the commander, has been shot in the leg and is recovering in hospital”. He said that they will not have their phones for security reasons, but he assures us that our boys are okay. We had all the staff and customers at the grocery store assuring us that this was good news and in true Israeli style giving us hugs and showering us with blessings.
As the days passed, and parents from other units were in contact with their children via text and phone, I started to have a bad feeling that something was wrong. Was everything really okay in their unit, or was the army hiding something from us? Some other mums were sharing this sentiment on the WhatsApp group when a text came to the group from a father who had served in a special forces unit many years before. He explained to us that the commanders and soldiers are trying to do their job and he gave us the following advice: stop texting the officers, commanders, or soldiers as they should not be distracted. Don’t look at social media, and if necessary, take tranquillisers.
On Wednesday, October 11 at lunch time, after an agonising 105 hours of only “one tick” on our phones, we received a text from our son which stated: “I will phone you in five minutes.”
The blood drained from my arms as we received this text. We anxiously awaited and five minutes later the phone rang. It was his voice … I cannot explain in words the feelings I had at hearing him as he said: “Hi guys, I am okay, how are you?” I am still astounded that he had the emotional regulation, as a very young man, to sound so composed. The next sentence he said will stay with me forever: “Mom and Dad, Yotam is dead”.
My husband had met Yotam and spoke about him often. My husband recalled that he had said that he will visit us in Australia one day. We have photos of him on our phones. I asked our son how the unit is doing emotionally, and he said, “We can’t dwell at this stage, we have to fight in Yotam’s honour.”
He told us that they were safe on a base. I then asked him where he had been serving for the past five days. He was now allowed to tell us. “Kfar Aza,” he said. Did I hear correctly? I, of course, knew about the horrific massacre that had taken place there on the 7th. I asked him to repeat to ensure I hadn’t misheard, while my husband glared at me as if to say don’t make him repeat it, it’s hard enough to hear it once. Our son told us that the only time he had seen anything like this was when he went to Poland and visited Auschwitz. “The difference is in World War II, they wanted to kill the Jews. Now they are prepared to die to kill the Jews.” These are words that I cannot forget no matter how hard I try.
When I asked him how they ended up in Kfar Aza, he said they were sent there as the army called in as many troops as possible and they managed to gather his unit quite quickly. I asked him: “So was your unit at the wrong place at the wrong time?”, to which he replied: “Or the right place at the right time. That is where we were supposed to be and that is where we were needed. We saved lives.”
I also asked a question that only a Jewish mother could ask: “Did you manage to eat at all?” His reply shocked me. He said once they had saved families from their homes on the kibbutz and were given the all-clear from their superiors, the soldiers who had evacuated each home were told to go into the kitchens and find food so that they could sustain themselves to move on to rescue the next innocent family. He added: “No movie producer could write a script as horrific as that terrorist attack.”
For the next couple of days, we heard from our son regularly via text. We visited the home of the friends whose son’s wedding we came for. The groom is recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg and his brother has since been confirmed to have been kidnapped. Only one tick is found on the WhatsApp messages his parents have sent him. One tick for the last 25 days.
The reunion with our friends was exceptionally emotional. We all let out a wail releasing the suffering we were holding inside. Our very special friends, together with the families of the other missing, injured, and dead victims of the war are so brave, but the pain is excruciating.
On the same day as we visited our dear friends, my husband attended the funeral of Yotam. It was at 9pm at night and the wounded commander spoke. He came out of hospital to pay his respects and recalled the horrific terrorists that so senselessly took the life of a young man in the prime of his life. It was clear that Hamas killed because their ideology had taught them how to be violent and vile, because they value death over life, and simply because they could. There were thousands of people at the funeral shouting Amen to Kaddish that was said by his bereft family.
I managed to get onto a repatriation flight as I needed to get back to the rest of our family in Australia. My husband remained on in Israel just in case our son needs him as he can work remotely. I am back now but my heart is still in Israel. I have been blown away by the support of Sydney Jewry – thanks to each and every one of you. I want to finish by saying, there really is no nation like our nation and especially our soldiers. I challenge any other country in the world to have the response our people have shown.
Our nationhood is at a level beyond anything we can comprehend. Stand strong, stand proud, stand together! Am Yisrael chai!
Names have been withheld for security reasons.