Swords of Iron

War comes to my ultra-Orthodox community

My first thought: If the rabbi permitted my husband to ride in a car on Shabbat, something horrible must have happened

Last Shabbat I got up early, wanting to say the special prayers for Simchat Torah before the children woke up. I went up to the roof, because our sukkah was on the balcony, blocking the view of the sun rising over the Jerusalem hills. After about an hour, the rumble of explosions could be heard. We always hear the Iron Dome’s rocket interceptions, but this was especially massive and I was scared.

I went back down into the house and woke up my husband. He can’t use a phone on Shabbat to find out what’s going on, so he hurried over to the town’s security officer. I haven’t seen him much since. Between air-raid sirens, as the children peeked out of the windows, they shouted, “Mom, I saw Dad. He’s riding in the security officer’s car.” My first thought: If the rabbi permitted him to ride in a car on Shabbat, something horrible must have happened. I didn’t put down my book of Psalms the whole day.

The kids and I had the holiday meals alone. Between meals he came in briefly with the Home Front regional commanders. They said they weren’t hungry, but when I filled their plates with cholent and meat, they wiped them clean pretty quickly. It was only at this point that I began to comprehend the magnitude of the horror. In shock,  I failed to notice that my four-year-old was sitting in a corner of the room listening, eyes wide with horror, to the accounts of how little children, entire families, and even the elderly had been kidnapped. Since then, he won’t go into the bathroom alone, afraid that terrorists might pop out of a tunnel and abduct him.

My husband hasn’t been home since – three and half days. He spends his time shuttling between the local council office and the town command post. There were many seniors alone and in need of help; many families whose fathers went off on reserve duty. The local health clinic wasn’t protected, and it took almost an entire day just to take care of that. Mobilizing a rapid response team and dealing with a lack of weapons (a matter ultimately addressed by an American philanthropist) consumed many long hours as well. And so, like many other Israeli mothers, I have led my kids in and out of the fortified “safe room,” where the frightened children of my Haredi community shelter together, well aware of the tragedy that has befallen us and waiting for the booms of Iron Dome interceptions.

In between sirens, I’ve cooked big pots of food and passed them on to my good friend Rachel. She divides the food into portions and transports them to places where soldiers long for hot meals because the speed of the call-up left them with only battlefield rations. Her two-story house in an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood looks like an army kitchen.

All my friends in the Haredi WhatsApp group are looking for ways to contribute. Some pack meals for the front lines; some are fundraising, and when a few hundred shekels have accumulated they go out to buy clothing and toiletries for soldiers who’ve sent notifications about the things they lack. Every few hours a lively discussion develops in the group on the issue of Haredi IDF conscription.

My children sit and study and recite Psalms non-stop for the success of the soldiers and the speedy release of those being held captive. The central yeshiva cut its holiday vacation short and all have returned today to the Torah halls, out of a clear and unshakable belief that the Torah protects and redeems.

Yesterday I got a WhatsApp message from a friend, someone I first met at the palace of the King of Spain, during a state visit. He asked how I was. In response, I sent him a video of us dancing, 14 people, in our tiny safe room. Dancing to the strains of Ani Ma’amin – “I Believe” – my four-year-old on my shoulders. Whenever a siren sounds, we dance so he won’t hear it, or the echoes of the explosions that shake the house.

“My G-d,” my friend messaged me back, “The world’s gone mad.”

Rivka Ravitz is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). The mother of 12 children, she is a member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. Ravitz served as chief-of-staff to the 10th president of the State of Israel, Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin. 

First published by Times of Israel