Toviah Responds to the War

By Toviah Botwinnick, HDNA Boger, Rakaz of HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed at Ramat David Vocational School

During the beginning of the war, there was a sense of panic and urgency, and a kind of disbelief both at what's happening and the speed at which things were developing, both in the atrocities in the south, and the mobilization of the miluim (reserve duty). I felt a little disconnected, as I usually do when conflicts heat up, because it usually doesn't affect me directly. Once my bat garin (kvutsa member) got called up to the northern border, I knew that things were getting serious. 

The first days were spent glued to the television, walking around the neighborhood trying to donate blood and checking and cleaning miklatim (public shelters). Afterwards, we began to feel the itch of boredom and stasis get to us, because the whole education system (and youth movements) are shut down. We started to go and visit chanichim, volunteer, and start trying to find our place as educators and madrichim in HaNoar HaOVed in our response to the war. Now that a few more days have passed, some of us are going to Eilat, or to other cities that have taken on displaced families from the south of Israel. I've stayed in Haifa working with Eritrean kids whose parents came to Israel as asylum seekers, who are also out of school and need things to do, and have their own trauma that they're dealing with.

As an oleh, I've experienced a lot of things for the first time - an air raid siren that wasn't a drill (I'm used to the sound because my day-to-day mesima is at a school outside of an Air Force base). I'm experiencing a war that is bringing up memories of the Holocaust and pogroms, and that I think for many Israelis is shaping their view of the essence of the State of Israel, and its importance as the only safe place for Jews. I've found myself connecting this to events in the United States, or in Europe - of antisemitic hate crimes, and the general air of apathy about the death of Jewish people in the world. When listening to Biden's speech about the war, I felt like this was the first time that a U.S. president has ever said anything that struck at the actual essence of what Israel is and the experience of Jewish people in the world. Of course, it also made me feel like although diplomatically and militarily, the United States has our back, that I know that the general American population does not care enough to connect it to a sense of urgency about the local antisemitism that the war will inevitably create. I've also started to understand the way that the trauma of war shapes the Israeli mindset, and I've found myself and my friends expressing opinions about Gaza and Hamas that we wouldn't have said before - about our desire to permanently end this situation, broken trust in a more peaceful solution, and how this war is a deciding moment in the continuation of the Jewish people.

I've thankfully been disconnected from all social media, and I've been mainly consulting Israeli and Jewish news, with the occasional Al Jazeera. I think that it's important to remember the experiences of the day-to-day of war, and that Western media will generally report in a way that serves the narrative that this is another war that's a part of a regional conflict, and not something integral to the existence of the Jewish state. I think that people who are not experiencing the war as Jewish people in Israel won't have this context.