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As Syrian artillery shells fell, they just kept walking

A quiet and peaceful feeling surrounded me all those years ago.

The cotton lay white in the fields, in stark contrast to the brown stalks and soil. A long and hot summer was about to transition into a milder season, and the first late September flowers, the squill (known in Hebrew as hatzavim) were beginning to bloom.

I was part of a unique family, a brotherhood like no other. We shared everything, letters from home, little packages sent by parents or friends or future fiancees. We shared the unique fears of front-line combat warriors and just for that reason alone we felt reassured. The calm before the storm.

I was sent home, home at that time being a kibbutz some two or three kilometers from the Gaza Strip. Within 24 hours, my life would change. Forever.

Fear of the unknown is a powerful fear. I had never experienced such a terrible fear, but once faced, that fear became a feeling of resignation. What would be would be. A windbreaker caked with dried blood became my windbreaker. Perhaps it would bring me better luck than its previous owner. I wore it for many months after October 6, 1973. I put it away only on those very rare occasions when, for a day or two days at the most, I was allowed to travel to the other end of Israel for a brief moment of calm, and to catch up on the fate of others, and to mourn them.

During those first days of the Yom Kippur War, my brothers and I were in outpost (motzav) 104 and the Syrian bombardments were relentless. I could not believe my eyes when I saw them, clad in black. Black hats, bearded men with sidelocks flowing from their faces, walking towards the gate. Syrian artillery shells were falling all around them. They walked toward us, with one goal: to bring us the lulav and the etrog necessary for the Sukkot celebration. And their calm, their belief in something beyond the physical, their faith that whatever would happen was already preordained, just absolutely amazed me.

Excerpts –  Yuval Krausz

Illustration – Avi Katz