I was very young, but I have a clear memory of arriving with my mother a”h at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on Yom Kippur morning in 1973 and being told by the guard that war had broken out in Israel. I did not fully understand the implications of the news, but based on my mother’s reaction, I knew it wasn’t good. Fifty years later, I had a déjà vu experience when I arrived at shul on Simchas Torah morning. This time I understood the implications more than I would have liked.

We spent Simchas Torah with my son and his family in Beit El. After davening at an early minyan, we arranged to meet with my son and family at the yeshivah a bit later. My husband and I were still in the apartment when my son came home to “get a pacifier for his baby.” Later, I found out that he had come home to get his phone.

When we arrived at the yeshivah, our son approached us and told us that war had broken out. He was keeping his phone on. He may get called up. Those are words no mother wants to hear.

Unfortunately, we have had many “rounds” with Gaza over the years, but those battles were not called “wars.” They were called “operations.” I assumed that although my son speaks Hebrew and English fluently, he was not being precise in his choice of words. It happens sometimes. But even if it was “just an operation,” I was concerned. Unfortunately, if his words were not precise, they were an understatement.

From that moment, the normally cheerful mood of Simchas Torah was replaced by heaviness and worry. Despite that, hakafos went on as usual. But, in reality, things were not usual at all. Boys from the yeshivah were pulling their phones out of their pockets and quickly walking out the door. Boys who had earlier been dressed for Yom Tov were entering the beis midrash in uniform. I noticed a young married woman walk into the men’s section and approach the rosh yeshivah. I’d never seen that before.

During my years of watching hakafos, I never gave much thought to the meaning of the words. This year, the words took on added significance: “Ana Hashem, hoshiah na!” “Hashem, Hoshiah; HaMelech yaaneinu b’yom kar’einu.” Ordinarily, I would have been charmed by the scene of all the single boys in Fourth Year and up standing under talleisim during the “Ozer Dalim, Hoshiah Na” hakafah, but I wasn’t in the mood to be charmed. I was not the only one in the women’s section to tear up. The disparity between the leibedik hakafos inside the yeshivah and what was going on outside was unbridgeable.

Outside the building, boys were on their phones arranging rides for soldiers who were getting into cars. People huddled in small groups, trying unsuccessfully to distinguish between fact and rumor. I heard the words “fighting.” “Hostages.” Something big had happened, but what it was exactly was not clear.

By the time we left yeshivah, my son still had not gotten the call, but the denial began to fade. We slowly began to absorb the reality that the call would not be long in coming. My heart pounded. My stomach was filled with dread. We went home and ate our s’udah. Later, while we were resting, he got the call. In a flash, he packed up his gear, got brachos from his parents, and left.

I can’t describe the feeling in the apartment when he closed the door, but you can just imagine. From that point, we sat and waited for Yom Tov to end so that we could finally find out what had happened.

After all that waiting, once Yom Tov ended, I was afraid to check the news. I washed the dishes and straightened up. When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I braced myself and turned on my phone. My daughter-in-law and I checked the news simultaneously and were both shocked. It was much worse than anything we had imagined. I had difficulty absorbing the words I was reading: Surprise. Murder. Massacre. Missing.

Men and women. Old and young. High-ranking officers. As the night progressed, the death toll that had started high continued to climb even higher.

We spoke to our children in Ramat Beit Shemesh and learned that they had been in and out of shelters all day. Their Yom Tov davening was interrupted by sirens. They moved their minyan outside, switched the order of davening, and rushed through hakafos.

It was time to go home. But that, too, was complicated. We don’t usually relish the drive between Beit El and our home, but now, because of the fear that terror could spread to other areas, we were especially concerned. We called security and they advised us not to travel. We drove home the following morning on empty roads.

Now we are home. I wish I could stop myself from reading the news, but I can’t. But I won’t watch videos or look at gruesome photos.  The roaring sounds of planes overhead are practically constant. But I like that I can say a perek of T’hilim every time a plane flies over.

I try not to bother my son too much, but I reach out to him a few times a day. He and his unit are enjoying the outpouring of love and support that they are receiving from all over the country and abroad.

If there is a silver lining to this mess, it is the reawakening of the spirit of unity among us. Unfortunately, this is what it took for us to reach this point, but we are here. Together. Reservists who threatened to stop serving in the army are back in action. All segments of our nation are working side by side to support our brave soldiers. Israeli citizens line the roads to cheer on the chayalim traveling to their posts. The amount of food, money, and supplies being donated is mind-blowing. Someone described the goods collected in one area as enough to open a supermarket. The Osher Ad receipt, for a purchase worth tens of thousands of shekels, made by Belzer chasidim for chayalim was meters long. A branch of Aroma welcomes chayalim to come in and order anything they want. On the house. Non-kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv have been kashering their kitchens so that they can send food to soldiers. Several communities in America purchased much-needed equipment and chartered planes to send it all to Israel. The list goes on and on. Mi k’amcha Yisrael? The chayalim feel the warm embrace of am Yisrael and it should accompany them in their work on our behalf.

Please daven for the recovery of the wounded, the release of the hostages, and for the soldiers and security personnel to be successful in their missions and return home safely.

Suzie Steinberg, (nee Schapiro), CSW, is a native of Kew Gardens Hills and resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh who publishes articles regularly in various newspapers and magazines about life in general, and about life in Israel in particular. Her recently published children’s book titled Hashem is Always With Me can be purchased in local Judaica stores as well as online. Suzie can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and would love to hear from you.