Photo Credit: Flash90

It was a sweet and joyful Simchat Torah at my son-in-law’s shul in the charedi neighborhood of Neve Yaakov at the northern end of Jerusalem. The shul had about 50 men, a mixed group of mostly Litvish yeshivish fellows and a few chasidim. The group was almost all native Israeli, and most had spent some years in yeshiva in Israel. A few, like my son-in-law, were born elsewhere. The rabbi was a kindly-looking gentleman with a sense of humor.

There was much to be joyful about. The holiday season had gone well for us. We had spent a lot of time with the children and grandchildren who live in Neve Yaakov as well as with the children and grandchildren who live in Nachlaot. In the shuls my wife and I usually attend, Mercaz HaRav (The Rav Kook Yeshiva) and a local community shul in our neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, the davening had been lively and the cycle of the holiday had been meaningful. In addition, we had spent a day with friends in Ashkelon and taken an overnight trip to Haifa during Chol Hamoed Sukkot. The country was calm and there was no reason to believe that an invasion by Hamas, the army of Gaza, was imminent.


But when my son-in-law and I returned to shul for Ma’ariv on Shabbos Simchat Torah, we were a little bit early. There was a group of men at shul saying Tehillim. We thought something must have happened. Something must be wrong. We asked. We were told there had been trouble in the South. Something about 200 dead and Jewish captives – prisoners. No one knew more than that. These are all people who don’t use electronics on Shabbos or the holidays. It is not the kind of neighborhood where maybe some of the neighbors watch TV or listen to the radio or use their phones or computers on Shabbos Simchat Torah and can tell you what happened. It is also, sadly in my view, not the kind of neighborhood where most of the men have served in the army and would be called on for reserve duty.

My wife has a smartphone. She turned it on after Havdalah. We were horrified. Hamas had launched a massive rocket attack followed by an invasion. Over 200 killed, over 1,000 wounded, over 50 taken captive by Hamas. We read it out loud to the family. Everyone was shocked and sad. We asked ourselves the questions you would expect.

“How could this happen?”

“Where was the army?”

“Why didn’t they see this coming?”

Yet those were largely the wrong questions. Our fellow Jews were suffering, and the right question was, “What can we do to help them.”
My wife and I wanted to return home by bus or a combination of bus and light rail, depending on which was running faster at that time. We left the kids and went to the bus stop near their house. We and ultimately a large group of others who were returning to other parts of the city and to other cities waited for 40 or 50 minutes. No buses came and only one or two taxis went by. Despite how common the use of smartphones is, no one at the bus companies thought to post a notice that the buses were not running because of the national emergency. And so we remained with the kids Saturday night.

When we got up Sunday morning the news was worse. A much larger number dead. Now they were talking about maybe 500. A larger number wounded, now they were saying almost 2,000. A larger number taken captive including toddlers and the elderly, maybe 100. Hamas soldiers had gone from house to house in some southern communities killing everyone they could find and in other places selectively taking prisoners. The news was hard to read because it was so awful. And then the videos of captives started showing up on social media with people shouting “Allah Akbar” as they punched and kicked captives and dragged them through Gaza. In the most heartbreaking of all, a little Jewish boy, maybe 6 years old, is placed in a circle of Arab children about the same age who curse and berate and push and shove him. It was clearly designed to humiliate Israelis and terrorize not only this child but all Israeli parents and grandparents.

The buses were not running on Sunday morning in Neve Yaakov. It seems there were two reasons for this. First, the government was asking that everyone stay inside and off the roads. That did not mean to not go home but to leave the roads open and unclogged for official business, like moving soldiers and materiel. Second, many of the bus drivers on the lines that run to Neve Yaakov are Arabs. Despite the frequently-told lie that Israel is an apartheid state, many Arabs have good jobs as bus drivers, heavy equipment operators, nurses, doctors, dentists and pharmacists as well as having jobs in other professions and in retail. But it was probably a bad time to be an Arab out on the streets in Israel and I think many had wisely decided to stay home.

On Sunday morning we waited at the bus stop for about 40 minutes. Finally, a cab came by and we hailed it. The driver asked where we wanted to go and we told him Kiryat Moshe near the Rav Kook Yeshiva. He told us to get in and explained that taking us this morning would probably be his only paying fare of the day because he had decided to go to the central bus station (not far from our home) and pick up soldiers who were arriving there and reporting for duty, and that he would drive them to their bases (within a certain radius from Jerusalem) for free. He had asked the same question we had: “What can I do to help my fellow Jews?” Realizing that we were relatively new olim he felt free to advise us to stay home that day, lock our door and listen to the news.

Throughout Sunday the news became even worse. More dead. More wounded. More captured. But at least now the army had arrived, the reserves had been called up, and the army was engaging the enemy on the ground. Throughout the day it was difficult to concentrate on anything else. I went to my computer every fifteen or twenty minutes during breaks from taking down my sukkah. And also, throughout the day, we heard warplanes overhead at a steady clip. Passenger planes don’t frequently fly over our part of Jerusalem, at least not at an altitude where we can hear them. Warplanes also sound distinctly different. There was almost no traffic in our neighborhood, on the edge of a busy commercial neighborhood, on Sunday. Sunday night we could hear the warplanes almost constantly.

On Facebook and other social media, the messages began showing up about noon on Sunday. People posted pictures of their missing sons and daughters, their missing husbands and wives, their missing parents, asking for information. Many did not know whether their relative was alive or dead, wounded or captured. Many of the messages were factual but overlaid with grief. Here is one:

“Hello. My name is Y.A. [I have just used initials. He stated his full name.] I’m 37 years old and living in the Sharon area. My two daughters, R. 4.5 years old and A. 2.5 years old, my wife D. and my mother-in-law E.K were taken as live captives by Hamas. They were kidnapped on Saturday morning, the seventh of October, from Kibbutz N. After I located my wife’s phone, I found out they were taken to Han Younis [in Gaza]. My fear that they were kidnapped into Gaza was verified by a video. I saw them transported into Gaza with lots of other people to the sounds of people shouting Allahu Akbar.

He attached pictures of his wife and small daughters. He wanted help. But what help can anyone give him?

At the same time, Hamas gleefully announced publicly that yes, it had taken many civilians including senior citizens, women and children including toddlers, as captives for the express purpose of trading them for the Hamas terrorists and other prisoners in Israeli prisons, and other concessions. Besides sending soldiers south, the government has responded by leveling significant parts of Gaza. We heard warplanes all through Sunday night and throughout today as if the Israeli Air Force is constantly flying missions. I am not sure how effective that is because I have heard that Hamas has a vast underground network in Gaza, almost an underground city, specifically to avoid being knocked out by the Israeli Air Force. Hamas has boasted that it is holding its captives in such tunnels.

Today, Monday October 9, the streets of Jerusalem are still very quiet although there is a little more traffic than yesterday. Fewer buses are running than usual. Many stores are closed. This morning the newspapers reported that a new wave of Hamas soldiers had entered Israel last night, but this time the Israeli army was ready for them and killed most of them along with the few hundred Hamas soldiers they had killed since Saturday morning.

Netanyahu now says we are going to fight the last war we will fight with Hamas to end their existence. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has seconded that proposal, saying Hamas needs to be done and finished. My understanding is that until now Israel has avoided a ground war in Gaza because that country – and it is an independent country with its own government, its own army (Hamas) and its own sources of revenue (Iran, Syria and UNRWA) – is a rat’s nest of combatants and potential combatants and if the Israeli army ends up in house-to-house fighting in enemy territory it will be a particularly bloody matter with many Israeli casualties from booby traps, improvised explosive devices and other non-conventional weapons.

The problem is also somewhat larger than Hamas. As pointed out in a recent article in The Times of Israel, the Arab world doesn’t believe we Jews have any business in the Middle East other than as dhimmis. This isn’t about who owns Judea and Samaria, “The West Bank,” the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, or any other specific place. This is about their view that the Middle East belongs to Arabs and Muslims and not to Jews and so long as there is a Jewish state, they will find a pretext to fight against it, to try to deconstruct it, to diminish it, to eliminate it. They teach their children that we are either the spawn of Satan (if they are traditional Muslims) or that we Jews are “settler colonialists” (if they have access to modern ideas about why to hate Jews). There has been a boom in the teaching of Holocaust studies in American schools lately, but they rarely teach that genocidal antisemitism is alive and well in the Arab world. No matter how you shuffle that deck, the Arab world is convinced that Jewish lives don’t matter and that we don’t belong here in our tiny Jewish state which is smaller than Fremont County, Wyoming.

The government is in a difficult position. Hamas will ask for a lot for the hostages. Hamas will rightly believe that there will be intense political pressure to rescue the captives at almost any price. Although we think that no price is too high for the return of Jewish hostages, there may be some prices that are too high. To solve this the government will need an innovative, paradigm-changing solution that does not involve giving away national integrity and that does everything it can to rescue the hostages. I do not know what that solution is. In the meantime, I will find some opportunity to volunteer later today and in the days to come, and will daven with extra intensity the words of the morning bracha, “who frees the captives.” There have been and there will be many funerals and much to mourn during the next few weeks and, who knows, maybe longer. We will mourn not only the dead and wounded but the loss of the sense of normalcy and security we have had these last few years. My commitment during this period of mourning is to help my fellow Jews rather than just deciding who, in the Jewish world, to blame.


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Mike Krampner, a retired American trial lawyer who also holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland, moved to Jerusalem in 2021, where he and his wife are surrounded by children and grandchildren. He spends his time there improving his Hebrew, reading history and traditional Jewish texts and engaged with family.