Israel, Egypt, Syria Yom Kippur War
Israel News Agency
Israel --- October 6, 2011 .... The following memories of the
Yom Kippur War were first written and published on October 3,
2003 and are now being published by the Israel News Agency.
As I write
the diary below, the first time retracing steps taken thirty years
ago in Israel in October 1973, memories begin to pour back along
with the anxiety and tears that we all experienced at the time.
For many of us, the scars of war will never heal. Nor should they.
Due in part
to faulty intelligence and arrogance, Israel was unprepared for
a surprise attack by Syria and Egypt. The Yom Kippur War took
the lives of 2,688 Israeli troops.
the relative safety of a suburban Long Island home, I first heard
news reports of Arab armies attacking Israel on October 6, 1973.
It was not
exactly clear what was transpiring in the Middle-East. News reports
were censored and the media was not overly kind to Israel. I heard
my father say that Israel's UN Ambassador Abba Eban was to address
the United Nations General Assembly. I did not know of Abba Eban,
I was expecting an Israeli to speak with a thick Israeli accent
that most would not understand.
We had just
extended our tree lined, middle-upper class home in Westbury.
Our living room was now twice the size, with white marble floors,
a bear rug, antique chandeliers and the latest TV and radio players.
I sat down on one of the soft couches with my father to watch
Abba Eban address the world on a color television set. I watched
as this portly man in a neat two piece suit wearing large black
glasses walked down an aisle at the UN and took his place at the
podium. He spoke clearly with an English accent. A voice which
embraced all of the desperate passion of the moment.
accent was a surprise. To an American, we are seduced by this
English UK mother tongue twisting of vowels and nouns. It says
to the American ear that the speaker is authoritative.
and every word that Eban smoothly articulated, I awaited the latest
news of what the Israelis were facing. Then I heard a defining
was a brutal and unprovoked attack in great mass by Egypt and
Syria across the cease-fire lines," said Eban.
speak like this. They never admit weakness. To use the word "brutal"
meant that Israel was bleeding. At that point I knew that Israel's
very survival was in jeopardy. I said to my father that I was
going to go to Israel to help out. He shrugged with disbelief.
He must have asked himself where would a 20-year-old find the
money and an aircraft which would fly a young boy into a war zone.
was a Jewish activist, he was and remains a Zionist. He served
as the Chairman of the Transportation fund raising division of
the United Jewish Appeal, was the president of his Temple and
was a consultant to Israel's Ministry of Defense in New York.
I had been
in Israel only the year before as a Kibbutz volunteer. It was
the most romantic summer of my life. To wake up at sunrise, to
be driven by tractor into the lush green banana fields and then
to sit down for a breakfast of fresh scrambled eggs with halvah
was paradise. It was Ma'ayan Baruch, a kibbutz located directly
on the Israeli-Lebanese border which was founded before the War
of Independence by South Africans and Americans.
I also had
family in Tel Aviv, warm people who greeted me as if I was one
of their sons. Israel was all that I expected it to be. A romantic,
exotic and pioneering state where all of the people pulled together.
The collective warmth was infectious. As I left my many months
on kibbutz, I promised that one day I would return to this Jewish
state and make it my home.
As Eban walked
off the UN podium and the news anchors began to deliver commentary,
I walked into my bedroom, closed my door and called Kibbutz Aliya
Desk - a center for volunteers to Israel located in New York City.
I asked if I could immediately volunteer for a kibbutz in Israel.
I expected a negative response. Who had time for some kid from
New York who wanted to pick apples at a time of war? "If
you come to Israel to assist us and promise us that you are not
coming to fight, then we may have room for you on a flight in
the next few days."
I had to pay
a very small fee as the flight was subsidized. I went into New
York City the following day for an interview. They accepted me
and I was to leave from JFK airport to Israel on October 11.
were in disbelief. I remember how my father was proud of my actions,
as my mother cried and begged him not to let me go. But as a young
man, I had decided my course and now had the means to implement
it. I arrived at the El Al terminal with my parents and was rushed
by security up to the El Al VIP lounge. Now it sunk in. Here I
was with a few hundred other people going off to war. We knew
our lives were expendable as soon as we would step on board the
aircraft. Tears flowed in that terminal. It was a quiet, surreal
scene, where I held back my own tears as not wanting to make the
situation more tense.
I kissed my
mother on the cheek, smiled and said I would call her upon arrival.
worry," I said. "I am going to pick apples, I will not
be shooting anyone."
on board the aircraft, now somewhat afraid of what was in front
of me but overshadowing this fear was the knowledge, the Jewish
adage: "If not me, then who?"
no conversation on the plane. It was not as if you were traveling
to Jamaica on vacation. There was no laughter, only quiet reflection.
Many of us thought to ourselves, would we actually make it to
Israel or be shot down in flight?
I sat next
to a medical doctor who had volunteered as well. He assured me
that all would be okay. He said that his specialty was trauma
and that he was now assigned to an army hospital in Israel. I
was in good company. These were people of action. This was the
Jewish nation standing up and being counted when it was most needed.
As we approached
Israel, the pilot made an unusual announcement. He wanted us to
close our window shades. I guess the pilot, as many El Al pilots
who had served as Israeli combat pilots previous to taking these
commercial positions, knew a bit more than we did. Having a "lit
candle" of civilian passengers flying into a war zone was
not the best tactic that one would suggest.
As I looked
outside one final time, I saw a combat fighter flying off our
left wing just yards away. Then I heard the pilot make another
worry - the combat jet which is flying next to us is one of ours."
Now the reality
of war was all around us. There was no turning back. If I lived
through this - so would Israel, if I died then I would have given
my life no different than those who had fought the Nazis.
As the plane's
wheels touched Israeli soil, we applauded. We were not applauding
the pilot and listening to tunes of Hava Nagila - we were applauding
the fact that we were alive. That we had made it past the first
hurdle and that we were only minutes away from physically joining
our brothers and sisters in their defense for Israel's very existence.
Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan consults with
General Ariel Sharon who marches towards Cairo.
was empty and dark. All of Tel Aviv was blacked out. Window shades
were drawn on all of the homes and buildings we past. Even the
headlights of cars and buses were painted blue.
We were a
group of about 40 people. I later found out that we were a few
hundred foreign volunteers accepted from thousands who had applied.
We were the "official Israeli war volunteers" and we
were greeted in the kindest manner. But we never forgot for a
second that we were not on the front line - that there were others
who were in far more danger than us and those Israelis who were
assisting us in Tel Aviv were related to brothers, husbands and
sons now in uniform.
The Yom Kippur
War lasted for 3 weeks, starting on October 6, 1973 and ended
on October 22 on the Syrian front and on October 26 on the Egyptian
It was evening.
We were taken by bus to a large youth hostel in Tel Aviv by the
Hayarkon River. Holding luggage and wearing backpacks we mingled
quietly outside on the grass next to the buildings. Then someone
started to read our names out. As they went through the list,
we were instructed to enter one of the buildings. As I walked
in, I saw several dining tables all with candles burning. This
was not Shabbat. We were in a blackout. The mood was eerie. Little
conversation, no laughter and much reflection.
man in his thirties stood up and made a prayer. He then spoke
in English and thanked us for coming to Israel. He said that we
would face very difficult days ahead, but with god's help, that
we and all of Israel would be fine.
We began to
drink hot matza ball soup. You could not escape the tension and
anxiety. This was not the smiling Israel I had known from a year
ago, neither was this Long Island. We were together, but yet alone
as we sat and ate our first meal in the Yom Kippur War.
our dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes, we again mingled outside
on the grass. We were taken to our rooms by flashlight.
We awoke early
in the morning and after a brief breakfast, again heard our names
called out. We were taken to buses which would take us to Tel
Aviv's Central Bus Station. It was a busy scene of soldiers coming
Then I spotted
a long line of dark green ambulances with the white and red Magan
David stars on their sides. These were military ambulances. With
curiosity, I slowly walked over to one of the vehicles. I discovered
that it was an emergency mobile blood donation station. I looked
at the soldier in charge and gestured that I too wanted to donate
blood. He wrote my name down and I stood in line. Next to me was
another young war volunteer from France. He spoke no English and
I knew no French.
We just smiled
at one another. We were both asked to enter the ambulance at the
same time. There were two cots on either side of the ambulance.
We rolled up our sleeves and as our blood began to drip into plastic
bags, we again smiled at one another, tears began to form, we
did not need words.
As we both
stepped off the IDF ambulance, we shook hands. I said good luck
in English and he said the same in French. We now looked for our
buses which were to be identified by number. Buses which were
to take us somewhere in Israel, it was anyone's guess. After a
few hours I found myself on the Israel Jordan border.
wasting anytime the Kibbutz Secretary said these words to
us: "The situation has become very bad. We will be lucky
to see the sun set this evening
even luckier to see
the sun rise tomorrow morning. I thank you from my heart for
being here, for helping us, now I wish all of you and us good
It was a quiet
journey. The dusty roads were vacant except for an occasional
IDF truck, jeep or tank quickly rolling by.
of us stepped off the bus at Kibbutz Beit Zera. Located in the
Jordan Valley about 15 minutes south of Tiberius, Beit Zera was
another Ma'ayan Baruch, another magical, romantic kibbutz with
palm trees, apple orchards and haystacks.
past the main gate and were greeted by the head of the volunteers.
A one-armed Israeli Kibbutznik in his late twenties. His warmth
was evident from first eye contact. A warmth which remained consistent
throughout the ugly, dark days ahead. He led us across a large,
open grassy field to a group of wooden huts.
This was to
be home for the next several weeks. All seemed tranquil, as this
is the normal environment for a Kibbutz. But the tranquility lasted
less than 24 hours.
At first it
was the super sonic booms of low flying IDF aircraft intercepting
Syrian fighters. We would run out of our shacks after being rattled
by these heavy thuds, thinking that the Kibbutz was being bombed.
We would stand out in the open field, point our binoculars towards
the sky and watch dogfights taking place above us. We could make
out the Israeli planes from the Syrian MIGs. It was always the
Syrian MIG which would be seen exploding or going down in a trail
of grey smoke.
We would yell
in exhilaration for our brave brothers in the sky, we would laugh
and walk proudly back to our work or beds. But this Hollywood
show where the good guy would always win, would not last for long.
Another dogfight, more missiles, but this time through the binoculars
you could clearly see the Magan David Star painted on the tail
or was it a wing, drop from the sky.
We fell silent.
We cried. We walked back to our beds for a sleepless night.
days on the kibbutz I sensed something was wrong. There were almost
no men on the kibbutz. They were all in the reserves. Our job
was to keep the kibbutz functioning. Whether it was in the factory,
the cotton fields or in the kitchen we did our best to keep morale
On the third
day, I walked over to the volunteers' bulletin board and my mouth
opened. On a piece of yellow ruled paper tacked onto the cork
was a sign stating: Premilitary Training for Volunteers. One of
the conditions for which many of us were not pleased to accept
was that we were not going to Israel to fight.
Now they were
offering us weapons training. Within 24 hours we were taught how
to fire World War 2 carbines, instructed where we could find mortars
and grenades and the positions around the kibbutz that we should
take up if the kibbutz was attacked. There was no more magic or
romanticism associated with this kibbutz. The war was not going
well and we felt it.
I spent one
day working at the kibbutz pool and became friendly with the man
who managed it. I didn't see him for a few days and then I spotted
him in the kibbutz dining room. He was sitting at a table by himself.
With a big smile I walked over to him and asked him how he was.
He responded: "my son is dead." I had no words. I was
in shock. We were all in shock.
As the war
worsened for Israel, one afternoon all of the volunteers were
called into a meeting set for 5:00 p.m. Having been on a kibbutz,
I thought nothing of this meeting except for some Kibbutz bureaucracy
about to take place or the Kibbutz secretary was now, finally
going to introduce himself. I was right, it was the kibbutz secretary,
but it was not about bureaucracy or introductions.
anytime he said these words: "The situation has become very
bad. We will be lucky to see the sun set this evening
luckier to see the sun rise tomorrow morning. I thank you from
my heart for being here, for helping us, now I wish all of you
and us good luck."
hear the proverbial pin drop on the floor. What was actually happening
in the south that for which we were completely unaware of was
that Israeli troops had successfully crossed the Suez Canal. They
were now marching towards Cairo and Moscow had just told the US
that if the Israelis did not immediately leave Egyptian soil,
that they would deploy paratroopers within 24 hours against the
We were facing
World War Three. The Kibbutz secretary, having been briefed by
IDF home front command intelligence, expected the Jordanians to
enter the war and over run the Kibbutz.
slowly back to our shacks. Not a word was muttered. We were just
told that we were living our last hours. All we could do was look
at one another. We began talking about our families in the States,
in the UK and Australia. All of our radios were on. We tried to
maintain contact with the kibbutz secretary, but to no avail.
We were alone.
When we stepped
on board that El Al aircraft we knew very well that this scenario
could take place. But none of us ever imagined that this could
or would happen. We were not prepared.
How does one
prepare to die?
It was the
longest night of my life. As the sun's first rays began to peak
over the Jordan mountains, over the Golan Heights which were nestled
at our very door, I remember hearing the sounds of birds singing.
The sound of factory machinery drilling and cutting metal and
wood. The sun rose and we were alive.
I put on a
pair of running shoes, as I did often to start my day and set
out with a run to the kibbutz entrance and then around the Kibbutz.
As I approached the entrance of the Kibbutz I saw a mass of people.
I slowed to a walk. Then as I got nearer I saw that they were
carrying an Israeli flag draped coffin into the Kibbutz. I stared
and cried. I turned around and again retreated to my wooden Kibbutz
shack. I took off my shoes and just lay in bed.
By this point
a very deep cloud of depression hung over the Kibbutz.
whose job it was to keep the Kibbutz functioning and keep morale
high could no longer manage a smile.
suggested to my roommate Jeffery, a schoolteacher from London,
to hitchhike into Tiberius. We needed to get out of this environment.
we grabbed our shoes and some money and made our way to the Kibbutz
entrance. An army truck stopped and we got into the back. It was
a bumpy ride but it was heaven just to leave Beit Zeir.
wall to wall soldiers. Some preparing to go the Syrian front,
others with mud stained shirts enjoying some Rest and Relaxation
in the many pubs.
and I walked into one of the pubs, we realized that we were the
only civilians there. We ordered some beer. Many of the soldiers
stared at us. In retrospect, they were most likely thinking to
themselves why we were not in uniform.
walked over to us and said something in Hebrew. I responded by
asking him if he spoke English. The tension immediately turned
are the volunteers, you are the volunteers who have come from
the States and England - yes?"
I was not quite sure if "we" were the volunteers he
was speaking about. "You are the heroes who left your homes
to help us. What do you want to eat? What do you want to drink?
You pay for nothing," he said.
soldier walked over to us and took out a plastic bag of green
these peppers just outside of Damascus - I want you to have some,"
the soldier smiled. This was an ambush. A friendly ambush for
as we placed the peppers in our mouths our throats began to burn
and eyes began to tear.
weary soldiers were having a joke on us and we could not be happier.
This is why we had come to Israel. We were finally home. And we
days, the IDF, now fully deployed, blocked the Egyptian and Syrian
advances and took the offensive in the Yom Kippur War.
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as a volunteer in the Yom Kippur War, please join our Facebook
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