Forty Years Later

There are certain happenings in life that one never forgets.

For me and countless others, the Yom Kippur War is a perfect example.

As a rule, Yom Kippur in Israel was always an unusually quiet day, with the silence in the streets of Yerushalayim practically tangible.

There is no traffic, as no one is driving. The secular stay home out of respect for this holy day.

In all directions men, women and children, many, especially the Sephardim, dressed in white, can be seen going to and from shul.

The seriousness and kedushah of the day is palpable.

Yom Kippur 1973

The silence was broken.

Through the windows of the old Gerrer beis medrash in Geula where I stood davening sudden unusual activity was noticed starting at around 11:00 a.m. Military vehicles could be seen heading to the old Shneller army base, which was situated right across from the beis medrash. It was obvious that something serious was going on.

Musaf comes to an end. The mispallelim head home to take advantage of the short break until Minchah.

Messengers can be seen looking for different addresses in search of different people. They find some, others are not at home. No one speaks. Everyone is concerned. Uncertainty hangs in the air.

Someone asks me what time it is. Barely do I answer, “Two o’clock” when suddenly, without warning, the silence is pierced by a wailing siren, sounding much like the cry of a wounded animal.

All are shocked, terrified and confused.

What’s going on? Can it possibly mean war?

The neighbors come running out of their houses. Some have already heard the news.

The Israeli radio which had always remained silent on Yom Kippur is silent no longer.

The bitter news spreads like wildfire.

The Egyptian and Syrian armies have invaded turning the North and South into a battlefield.

We feel like we are choking.

Resting is forgotten.

Fasting is forgotten.

Everyone hurries back to shul to daven with renewed fervor.

Minchah begins.

Outside a military car stops, some mispallelim get in, still dressed in their kapotes, kittels and talleisim.

A chill crawls up my spine.

We cry openly.


There is no need for anyone to be prompted to concentrate on their tefillos. Everyone is hysterical.

6:00 p.m. It is dark in Yerushalayim.

Maariv is over.

The fast is over.

We start to walk home in the darkness.

The deep darkness of the Yom Kippur War hits us full force.

All night everyone is glued to the radio. The IDF spokesmen try to sound encouraging in order to prevent hysteria. “We are fighting them. We are stopping them.”

It will take more than a week for us to find out how they fooled us all in order to prevent the civilian population from losing all hope.

Only later on will we learn how desperate the state of affairs really was.

Only later on will we be aware of how the Syrians nearly got to the Kinneret.

Only later will we find out how the Egyptians were deep in the Sinai desert, leaving hundreds of Israeli soldiers trapped at their posts between Egyptians and Egyptians who had crossed the Suez canal advancing deeply into the Sinai desert.

The myth of kochi v’otzem yadi is shattered.

Many try to relive the victory of the Six-Day War, claiming that in a day or two news will arrive from the battlefield that the battles have been reversed in Israel’s favor.

But the only thing that comes from the battlefield are long lists of more and more casualties.

Another death notice, and another. This one’s son, that one’s grandson, the other one’s nephew are missing in action.

In Syria, people bit their lips with real worry as Syria is infamous for its brutality.

Sukkos turns into darkness. There is a curfew and no simchas beis hasho’eivah.

The war is not coming to an end, after all. It continues on for weeks and months. Some reservists serve for as long as a year before they are allowed to return home.

On the political scene, it’s as if an earthquake has struck. The Chief of Staff is turned into one of the scapegoats. He is fired and dies of a heart attack at the age of 51. Famous political leaders are forced to retire.

Forty years later.

It would be correct to say that for some the Yom Kippur War never really came to an end. The wounds did not heal. The lessons were not learned.

Forty years later, the new generation has aged and matured. A huge teshuvah movement has been started as a result of the war and is spreading far and wide.

Forty years later, a third generation has been born. For them, whether secular or chareidi, the Yom Kippur War is just a story, no more than an article in a newspaper.

Forty years later, the veterans still suffer from shell-shock, they never recover. The only ones who remain young are the victims in their photographs, most of whose parents are no longer alive to cry for them.

Forty years later, only the timeless message was left for us:

V’da ess asher Hashem Elokecha rotzeh mimcha.

Gmar chasimah tovah.

Shanah Tovah Umevorach

Ruth Lichtenstein,