It's been 40 days since that fateful Saturday when the lives of countless men, women, the elderly, infants and children were shattered. Hamas terrorists, fueled by intense hatred and spite, massacred families within their own homes, parents before their children's eyes, and children in front of their parents. Innocent individuals attending the Nova music festival were violated and murdered. The assailants pursued and gunned them down with the glee of hunters, as if they were merely characters in a video game.
Haim Gouri once reflected during a different war – or perhaps it's the same unending war – "Here lie our bodies in a long, long row," he wrote. "Our faces have been altered; death is mirrored in our eyes."
Indeed, our visage has been altered. We will never return to who we once were. The sights we encountered during those times, the terrors we endured, and the face of hatred – those who survive will not forget these. It's as though a gaping abyss opened in the heart of our existence, drawing us into its depths.
Yet, on the flip side, the tales of bravery and self-sacrifice that have emerged during this time are astounding. Stories about the noble acts that individuals performed for their fellow humans. The extraordinary courage of those who literally risked their lives – indeed, gave them away – to safeguard others. To shield their family, their home, their kibbutz and, often, people they didn't even know.
Time and time again, individuals have demonstrated courage of an inexpressible magnitude, risking their lives for others. In a single moment, they carry out an act as astounding as leaping onto a live grenade tossed into a shelter or safe room, with the sole purpose of preserving the lives of their fellow kin within.
When they committed such acts, when they cast their very souls aside, they effectively rattled the foundations of the world we have come to know – a world often marked by cynicism, self-interest and utilitarianism.
Since that fateful day of October 7, my thoughts have frequently turned to these extraordinary individuals. We crossed paths with them in our everyday routines, during the seemingly insignificant moments on the street. Yet, astonishingly, in a single instant, they were thrust from the mundane, familiar daily existence into one of the most grueling trials a human being could ever confront – a true test of life and death.
We shall hold in our hearts the vestiges of a world that vanished along with our dear ones.
For with the departure of each and every individual, we indeed lost an entire world - one might even argue, an entire culture. A deeply personal and private culture, akin to a small civilization that belonged solely to one family, complete with its unique, intimate memories, its little inside jokes and shared laughter. It embodied sensitivities and subtleties, moments of kindness, and an inner language comprehensible only to its members – all of which vanished.
That is to say, not completely vanished, but henceforth these will resonate almost solely within the echo chamber of loss.
And it is arduous. One must acclimate to this new reality. Adjust to the fact that, henceforth, nearly everything will arrive swathed in pain.
That existence will be rendered binary: either a void or an existence. It is not, or it is.
And within this inner realm, governed by its own laws, we will keep alive the memories of our dearly departed. In remembering, we bequeath to them movement. For death freezes, petrifies, and in movement there is life.
We shall enshrine in our hearts their countenances, their facial expressions, the illumination of their visages, the rhythm of life manifested in their gestures, their laughter, their sorrow. We will remember the timbre of their voice, and the flicker of light that once sparkled in their eyes. The worth we assigned to people, to deeds.
Above all, our hearts grieve profoundly for the young lives cruelly extinguished.
Throughout our lives, we will lament the shared experiences with them. The potential future they were robbed of. The promise of what could have been. The small and grand pleasures life had to offer. The joys, as well as the trials and tribulations: the hallmark of life, in all its magnificent complexity.
And what of the children, who have faced and continue to endure the horrors of captivity in Hamas' grasp? Our cherished children, about whom articulation becomes nearly impossible due to the overwhelming sorrow that the soul struggles to hold.
Yet it has been pronounced: A child should never be a hostage. A child should never be held captive. Those who make a hostage of a child extricate themselves from the realm of humanity.
We are also confronted with the question: who will we become – what sort of people, what kind of society will we shape, on what principles will we rear our children henceforth once we arise from the ashes?
And from where does one summon the strength to stand once more, to build a home, to till a field, to bring a child into this world? Into such a world.
Over the past month, I have observed you, the residents of the Gaza border region, the inhabitants of the south. Like all Israelis, I have spent countless hours watching you on television, day and night. I have reflected on the fact that for nearly your entire existence, Israel has been engaged in war or in violent conflict, in one way or another, with its neighbors. And you, you have nearly always found yourselves on the frontline of these confrontations. You have paid an immense price for your life here. And yet, the war did not taint you. This was my impression as I watched and listened to you.
You were, and still are, people of integrity. Individuals whose intellect and hearts are harmoniously aligned. People who yearn for peace, aspire towards goodness and frequently extend kindness even toward their enemies.