Far away and very close

Even when you live in a country at war - and are fighting for that country - sometimes you just need to live your life, says our lone soldier blogger, Shira Silkoff

November 21, 2018 09:43

Ask a tourist what the most distinctive thing about Israel is to them, and they might give any one of the following answers: the Old City of  Jerusalem, the beaches of Tel Aviv and Eilat, or the swarms of soldiers in olive green and beige crammed onto public transport every morning.

You can find us crowded into the central bus stations of Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva, right across the country to the most remote outposts of the Negev Desert and the green hills of Ramat Hagolan. We’re in every shawarma store and coffee shop from the earliest hours of the morning until the latest hours of the night. In short, we’re everywhere.

Last week, on the evening of November 12, Hamas fired over 400 rockets into Israel, sending the southern half of the county into bomb shelters for hours at a time. A strange energy filled the air, none of us knowing what this meant for us, for the thousands of soldiers spread across Israel.

I happened to be off from the army that night, along with three other friends, all of them combat soldiers who knew that this number of rockets could cut short their leave and have them travelling down to the Gaza border.

And yet, we laughed about it. Here we were, miles away from the south of the country, our phones going off constantly with red alerts, notifying us every time a rocket was fired into the country. It felt very far away and yet very close all at once. We made plans to go to Jerusalem the next day, like it was another normal evening, and went our separate ways, each of us holding our phones close waiting for a phone call calling us back to our bases if events escalated further.

The next day I woke up to one hundred or so red alerts sent over the course of the night, one hundred rockets fired at the citizens near the Gaza border, and two text messages from friends cancelling plans because they had, as expected, been called to base to prepare to head down to the Gaza border.

And still we joked about it. I told one of them to be safe, but that he owed me a day in Jerusalem next time he was home. Then I went shopping and bought milkshakes with another friend who hadn’t been called in.

Because that’s what you do when just a couple of hours away the sky is ablaze with missiles, and your friends are heading down to the action. Because that’s what you do when you don’t know if you’ll be called too, and you don’t know what will happen next. Because when the thousands of soldiers from the highest points of the Golan to the lowest points of the Negev are travelling to the most dangerous part of the country, and you’re sitting at home knowing that you can’t help, you go out and get milkshakes.

We joked about it, about how we were the only two enlisted people in the country having a nice day, and that we felt guilty about it but also not guilty at all. Because something you learn in this country, and maybe in the army especially, is that life has to continue as normal against all odds, because if it doesn’t, then you’re letting them win.

It could have been very easy to sit at home that day, constantly refreshing my Facebook feed for more news, arguing with strangers online who seemed to be in support of Hamas, and jumping at each rocket alert. But that’s not the way of life here; Israel is a strong country, a resilient country, built by refugees and people looking to start anew, in a better place. We know better here than to sit with our heads down and our voices silenced.

Shira Silkoff is a 20 year-old Lone Soldier in the IDF. She grew up in Golders Green

November 21, 2018 09:43

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