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 explosion seemed especially massive, and I was scared.
I went back down to the house and woke up my husband [he serves as the mayor of Telz-Stone]. As it was Shabbat, he hurried over to the town’s security officer. 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 my husband 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.
I’m writing this three days after we heard the explosion—my husband hasn’t been home much since. 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 secure, 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 took my kids in and out of the fortified “safe room,” where the frightened children of my Chareidi community shelter together, well-aware of the tragedy that has befallen us, waiting for the booms of Iron Dome interceptions.
In between sirens, I’ve cooked large 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 a Chareidi suburb of Jerusalem looks like an army kitchen.
All my friends in a Chareidi 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 Chareidi 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 yeshivah cut its bein hazemanim vacation short and all have returned today to the Torah halls, with faith in the protection and deliverance that the Torah affords.
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, fourteen 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.”
Adapted from a blog posting that appeared in the Times of Israel on October 12, 2023.
Rivka Ravitz, the former chief of staff to Reuven Rivlin, the tenth president of Israel, has served as a government administrator and advisor, researcher and author for nearly twenty years. Currently, Rivka, a Chareidi mother of twelve, is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and is pursuing a PhD in public policy at the University of Haifa.