December 26, 2023
Sondra Oster Baras
What is it like to live an ordinary life, to follow routine, in the midst of a war? For most of us in Israel, we do not have the luxury to imagine the answer to that question: we are living it. Since October 7th, we find ourselves in a surrealistic situation — the entire country has been mobilized, the news is on around the clock with updates from the front and from the families most affected by the war. The tragedies are never ending. But in the midst of all of this, life does go on.
One of my sons has been fighting in Gaza for the past few weeks. He was called up on October 7th, but their unit was moved to different places over the first few weeks, ready for whatever development might come their way. But after the temporary cease-fire broke down, his unit went into Gaza. For three weeks, we heard nothing from him. And there is no time like today that the well-known adage rang so true: No news is good news. Indeed, we knew well that if something had happened to him, we would be informed immediately.
Every morning, the news reports the names of soldiers who were killed in battle during the night. And as the day progresses, there are usually more names added to the list. More than 150 soldiers have fallen in battle since we entered Gaza, adding to the more than 1200 civilians and soldiers killed on that bloody Saturday in October. Every name is a person, usually young, who gave his life to protect his people. All too often, we know the person who was killed, or their family members, neighbors, friends. Another one of my sons has been serving in the IDF since October 7th in Judea, protecting one of the vulnerable communities there. He is a high school teacher and has been for 8 years. Several of his former students have been killed in this war. The father of one of his current students was killed in this war. And just the other day, his former commander fell in battle. So much death. So much loss. I feel for every family who has lost a loved one. And I feel for my son who has lost so many he knew and cared for.
More than 100 of the hostages were returned to Israel as a result of a deal brokered with Hamas. Since the fighting began in Gaza, a number of bodies of hostages were found by our soldiers and returned home for burial. So much grief at their loss, but at least their families have closure. There remain 129 hostages in Hamas’ hands, many of whom are elderly, sick, or wounded, and no one knows how much longer they will survive, if they are still alive.
Yesterday, my Christian friends celebrated Christmas, the holiest day of the year for a Christian. I hope you enjoyed your holiday and had the opportunity to celebrate it with family and friends. Through many years of friendship with so many Christians around the world, I have been privileged to learn about your culture and the nature of your Christmas celebrations. It is a holiday suffused with visions of peace and holiness, of harmony and solidarity between families and between human beings all over the world.
At this special time of year, I am turning to you and asking you to envision peace and harmony for the people of Israel. It is not easy, I know. For me, it is particularly difficult as I feel so enmeshed in the war and all its tragedies. But there is something about ordinary life that helps us withstand the pressure.
I listened to an interview with one of the hostages who had returned to Israel, and she described the terrible hardships they suffered in captivity. How hard it was for her to keep hoping, to keep sane. But what kept her going was her children — her two young daughters were held captive with her, and she knew she had to protect them, to help them imagine their return to their family in Israel. Her strength derived from her boundless love for her children. And her love forced her to create a routine, even in prison!
I took my daily walk today around my community and basked in the glory of the winter sunshine following days of rain. The Kana River Valley below my community was beautiful as the rain had cleaned all the dust off the trees. And then I saw it — the valley had filled with water. The normally dry river bed had the beginnings of a river. And I recalled that beautiful verse from Ecclesiastes: “All the rivers run to the sea” (1:7). It is a statement of the constancy of nature. And while Ecclesiastes wallows in his despondence, wondering if there is a purpose in life, he eventually comes to the conclusion that “In the end, when all is said and done, revere God and observe His commandments for this is the whole of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
God created our world for us, and we praise Him for its beauty and for its internal logic and bounty. And when we wonder how we can continue when there is so much sadness around us, we need only remember that all the rivers run to the sea. We must continue to move, to do, to fulfill our purpose on this earth, as the rivers fill their purpose in running to the sea. We must fight for the special moments in an ordinary life. And we must never forget to ensure that the weakest among us, the children, the elderly, and the needy, are looked after and provided for.
And this is where we can all work together to find those moments of love and harmony so prevalent during this holiday season and shower the people of Israel with kindness and hope. God will not abandon us. He will protect us. And you can help the people of Israel hold on to that hope, that belief, by strengthening their everyday moments.