In America, war stories usually focus on individual exploits. The main point of such stories is what had happened to the soldier.
In Israel, war stories are very different. Yes, they still involve the individual soldier. But the soldier is not the main point of an Israeli war story.
The main point of an Israeli’s war story is ‘miracle’.
Here are four stories I heard this week. The first three come from a friend who stopped me as we were both leaving our synagogue after morning prayers. The fourth is from one of my daughters who, upon hearing these stories, told me she had received a text message about another war story.
My friend told me that he had recently attended a meeting about a topic that had nothing to do with the current war with Gaza. A Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of a religious Seminary) was at the meeting. My friend told me the two following stories were from the Rosh Yeshiva.
First, some background about a ‘Rosh Yeshiva’. A Rosh Yeshiva is not just a Dean or a leader; he is also a man who has developed a reputation as a Torah scholar. Young men go to a Yeshiva (religious seminary) because of the reputation of the Rosh Yeshiva. When a young man leaves a Yeshiva, perhaps at age 20-24, he doesn’t just ‘leave’. He maintains contact with his teachers and most especially with his ‘Rosh Yeshiva’, who by then has usually become that young man’s spiritual mentor and life guide. The connections a young man makes with his Rosh Yeshiva will often be life-long.
This particular Rosh Yeshiva told those at the meeting that he had just received two calls from former students who have been IDF (Israel Defence Force) soldiers fighting in Gaza. One told him that, on one occasion, he (and other soldiers) had entered a building in Gaza to search for terrorists and weapons. Seconds after clearing one room, a shell crashed into that room. It had come, they later discovered, from an Israeli tank that had been aiming at a different house. The shell did not explode. None of the IDF soldiers was injured. It was, the soldier said, a miracle no one was killed.
The second soldier told a similar story dealing with an Arab rocket. He and a number of IDF soldiers had entered another Arab house in Gaza. Carefully, they made their way through the house, looking for terrorists, weapons—and booby traps. They went slowly. They mounted a set of stairs to check out the second story. As the last soldier cleared the staircase, a rocket shot into the house and demolished the staircase. It was a miracle, the soldier said, that no soldier was killed.
The third story comes from my friend. He said his wife had received a picture of a soldier in a combat outfit ‘wearing’ (as soldiers do) a hand grenade on the front of his ‘jacket’. In the picture, the grenade clearly had a bullet piercing it. The grenade had not exploded.
To explain what this meant, my friend told me this story. There is a woman in Israel who, like too many others, had lost two sons in the IDF. Her two boys had been killed in action against the enemy. She travels around Israel speaking to audiences. She says, look at me. I have buried two of my children. I tell you I miss them every day. The pain I feel has never gone away. But I also stand here to tell you, never give up. Be strong. You must continue to fight. Fight with courage.
One of this woman’s sons had been killed, my friend said, because a grenade he had been ‘wearing’ had been struck by a bullet—and had exploded, killing him. There have been rumours, my friend said, that Israel had been trying to develop a grenade that would not explode if struck by shrapnel or a bullet. He said, I guess they succeeded.
My daughter told me the following story, from a soldier who helped to man one of the anti-missile stations called Iron Dome. It’s a story that has since appeared online. Perhaps you have seen it: recently, the Iron Dome system this soldier was working at spotted a missile heading to Tel Aviv. Their unit fired at the missile. It missed. This happened more than once. Such a thing had occurred only twice before in the entire Iron Dome network. Now, the missile seemed clearly headed not just to Tel Aviv, but to that section of Tel Aviv holding a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings.
At this point, time moved very quickly. The soldiers at the station watched, helplessly, as the missile pointed towards Tel Aviv.
The Iron Dome is a sophisticated system. It tracks missiles. But it also tracks wind direction and speed because the wind can play a role in a missile’s trajectory.
Someone at the station suddenly called out, we’ve got wind gusts. They’re really strong! Everyone watched in utter amazement as the incoming missile veered away from Tel Aviv’s high-rise buildings—and crash into the Mediterranean Sea.
Someone jumped up and cried out, ‘There is a G-d! There is a G-d! We have seen the hand of G-d push the missile away!’
Americans, including many American Jews, simply refuse to believe these stories. The stories seem too corny. That’s too bad—because the Arabs believe them.
The blog, EmunahSpeak, has posted a story many of us have heard. This post went up July 22, 2014. I have done limited editing:
Apparently, one of the top people in the Hamas leadership was interviewed by CNN. When asked by the interviewer why his missiles never seemed to hit anything of substance, he answered that all of their missiles are tested and that those who launch them are experts, but their G-d (our G-d) stops them. Then he was asked the obvious question:
“If you understand that their G-d is protecting them why do you keep launching missiles?”
“We’re probing for a weak moment,” he answered, “when their G-d doesn’t favour them.”
These are the war stories Israel hears. They are not just stories of soldiers in combat. They are stories of the G-d of Israel.
Israel is a land of miracles. It is a holy land. On one level, that’s why the Arab fights for it. He wants that holiness.
That’s also why women who bury their children give speeches. They know that holiness. They don’t want us to forget it.Happy is the nation that recognizes the G-d of Israel.