October 7th

October 7th: Nahal Oz from Terror to Triumph

Between Blue and Blues: Homecoming Through Eyes Haunted by War

Stepping off the plane in Los Angeles, the morning sun kissed the tarmac, and my beloved, Danna, waited to drive us to the ocean, where I marveled at the serenity—looking, as if for the first time, from Lifeguard Station 56 at the meeting line between the blue sea and the bluish sky. As we strolled, friendly greetings of “hello, good morning” echoed around us. I took many deep breaths, thinking, “I am back, and it’s so different.” It felt like a space between spaces, where the dust of Israel still clung to my skin, and the echoes of the October war resonated in my bones. How does one surrender to the black hole of not knowing what’s next? How do I touch the edges of the sadness, sharp as shrapnel yet soft as hummus on my tongue and not getting cut? The experience at Kibbutz Nahal Oz—the rumble of tanks and the quiet resilience of the people—holds the promise of a consciousness shift—a space ripe with wisdom, waiting for me to grasp its pulse. But for days, nothing appears evident but the deep sadness.

I felt the urge to visit the Getty Center to see art and lose myself in what it offers. Art has always been a sanctuary for me. Perhaps, within the enchanting world of the current exhibition of William Blake, I’d encounter the transformative experience I longed for. And maybe I would gain some clarity within this liminal space I tread.

October 7th – From Lucia’s Dance Workshop to the Nova Festival

Saturday, October 7th, the WhatsApp notification pinged in my morning haze, pulling me into a world a continent away. It was Avital, my cousin from Kibbutz Sufa, just a couple of miles from the Gaza border, her words jumping across the screen with stark urgency. “Safe room,” it read, “terrorists,” “Amos at the door.” My cousins’ frantic messages painted a terrifying scene: huddled with Amos, her husband, and the grandkids, fear a thick curtain in the air. Hamas. House to house. Help.

Later, the horror unfolded in horrifying detail. Avital’s son, Yuval, was stationed outside, his young family a stone’s throw away. He and three others ambushed the terrorists from rooftops and other hidden corners, buying time with every bullet and every brave stand. Hours of waiting, trapped in that concrete safe room, the fate of their kibbutz, their future, hanging in the balance. Finally, the army arrived, the wait to be evacuated, another dawn, and then the buses to Eilat, where they remain, to this date three months later.

As the news started filtering through, muted numbers and sanitized headlines couldn’t mask the devastation. Stepping onto the dance floor workshop that October morning, the gravity of it all threatened to swallow me whole—grief, anger, shame – a tangled knot in my chest. “Never Again” was my generation’s mantra, never again another Holocaust like the one my parents endured. The voices echoed in the hollow space between fear and fury. How could we let this happen again? And how could a lyrical pirouette or a jerky staccato be danced in the face of such horror? Each graceful movement felt like a betrayal, a hollow echo against the screams resonating from across the miles.

My body moved, but my heart was in Israel, with Avital, with my people, with the shattered fragments of their normalcy. Every step was a silent promise: to remember, to fight, to never let the terror dim the light of their courage. The dance that day wasn’t a celebration but a lament, a prayer, a whispered vow etched in tears and sweat. This, I realized, was how we danced in the face of the unthinkable – with grief as our partner and hope as our guide, spinning towards a future where “never again” wouldn’t just be a mantra but a reality etched in steel.

On Sunday, marking the final of our three-day dance workshop at the Masonic Lodge on Venice Blvd, I found myself mesmerized by Lucia Horan, our insightful teacher. With eloquence and beauty, she unraveled the healing path’s intricate threads, which I call resilience. Lucia says the healing journey is not a straight line but a wild dance. Resiliency rises above the physical act of rising after a blow; it’s a dynamic process involving stumbling, soaring, evolving from victim to survivor, then healer, and ultimately reaching a more profound state—finding peace in a life dedicated to giving.

Lucia stressed that our greatest strengths are forged within the fiery crucible of our most challenging moments. Our scars, unfiltered honesty, and how we gracefully adapt to life’s unpredictable winds collectively narrate the stories of our resilience. They echo the power of vulnerability, portraying it as a superpower, and emphasize the art of dancing with the present to shape the future we desire. Life’s adversities become the fertile soil where our stories of resilience sprout, whispering tales of triumph over hardship.

Here we are, a hundred of us, men and women, on the path of healing, seeking joy and purpose in life, much like the 3,500 souls at the Nova Festival yesterday in Israel. They gathered to celebrate life, dance, enjoy, and wish for a better world. And then the unthinkable, the brutality of the worst kind—death, rape, humiliation, leaving permanent scars. Could it happen in this very hall? Could someone enter, shotgun in hand, and unleash hate and pain without reason? Madness, I pondered.

From Lincoln’s Gaze to Gaza’s Cries: A Rabbi’s Tale, a Dairy Farmer’s Courage

On Tuesday morning, we boarded a flight to Washington, DC. While Danna immersed herself in an architectural conference, I explored the museums. The National Gallery, in particular, captivated me.

Stepping into a museum gallery and encountering a piece of art for the first time, which has been familiar through years of study in books or online, is a uniquely exhilarating experience. Take, for example, Vincent Van Gogh’s (1889) self-portrait in a dark blue jacket—the colors, textures, and nuances reveal themselves in ways that a digital or printed reproduction could never fully capture. Similarly, with Thomas Cole’s “The White Mountains” (1839) and Jasper Francis Cropsey’s “Autumn on the Hudson River” (1860), the beauty of early American landscape, the colors, the composition’s brushstrokes, and the play of light come alive.

Standing in front of the monumental work “Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” (1812) by Jacques-Louis David is another breathtaking encounter; that emperor, his bravado and guts are at full sensory display—such a depth of storytelling in each brushstroke.

Moreover, the surroundings of the National Gallery Museum, with its classical architectural style and ambiance, contribute to the overall impact.

In the presence of the sculpture depicting Colonel Shaw on horseback leading his troops into battle, I found myself surrounded by the 54th Regiment soldiers marching in formation. This wasn’t just a piece of art; it was a poignant memorial, a powerful symbol commemorating the contributions and sacrifices of African American soldiers during the Civil War. Standing there, I felt a deep reverence and acknowledgment for their courage. It stirred a profound sense of appreciation within me.

In the nighttime hush, the Lincoln Memorial loomed against the Washington skyline, columns casting long shadows in the lamplight’s muted glow. Silent and stoic, Abraham Lincoln’s figure emerged in its somber stillness and quiet power. His stern countenance spoke of trials endured. Dignified simplicity blended with history’s echoes, creating a scene that resonated with endurance and timeless contemplation.

Police and First Aid cars filled the streets, heightened alertness in the air. As I wandered, I’d pause to check the news from Israel, where it seemed something new was happening every ten minutes, or more correctly, a reflection of my concerned mind. My WhatsApp groups were buzzing with activity; in one, my friend Momo posted that dairy farm volunteers are needed in the abandoned kibbutzim near the Gaza border.

In the Holocaust museum, I step into a cattle train—like the one that transported my family to the camps. I can’t count how many times I dreamed of those rides. It fueled my imagination for years. Within the replica’s confines, I’m reminded that the history etched into those train rides isn’t confined to the past. It echoes through the present, urging us to witness and ensure such atrocities never repeat. This transcends a mere museum visit; it’s a pilgrimage into the heart of human resilience, remembrance, and an enduring commitment to justice and compassion.

On Friday evening, still in Washington, we listened to our Rabbi, Naomi Levy, telling the story of Reuven Heinik. On October 9th, two days after Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel and massacred more than 1,200 civilians, Reuven Heinik, the dairy farm manager of Kibbutz Kissufim, a rural community perched along the eastern edge of the Gaza border, received special permission to enter the military zone and returned to the kibbutz to care for its cows. The cattle had not been fed or milked since the October 7th attack, and Heinik was worried. He went to the farm despite the danger because he could not leave them without food, without water, and with sore udders. While inside the milking parlor, a Hamas terrorist who had been hiding at the kibbutz amongst the livestock for 48 hours shot Heinik dead.

Once again, art unveiled hidden facets of my journey, like a mirror reflecting unexpected connections. It ignited a fire within. The flight back to Los Angeles on Saturday may have closed the door on museum halls, but the art I absorbed kindled a flame within. No longer could I settle for simply reading the news. A loud, firm voice within demanded action, ringing loud and clear – there are moments when a person must take action, and I knew this was one of them.

Adrenaline and Duty: Boots on the Ground

We returned to our home in Los Angeles, and an unsettling sense of impatience and insecurity pervaded everything. Restlessness consumed me as I repeatedly questioned, “What am I doing here?” Amidst this uncertainty, I realized there might not be much I could do to change the broader situation, but I could attempt to save some lives – specifically, the cows facing agonizing deaths if not properly cared for.

I called Gal, the lady handling dairy farm volunteer assignments. She asked, “Got any experience?” I replied, “No, but I’m a quick learner.” She said, “We prefer experience, but considering you are arriving all the way from Los Angeles, I will assign you to Kibbutz Nirim; please arrive at Saad Junction on Sunday at 8:30 am. The army will escort you in.”

“Great, thank you,” I replied, a wave of relief washing over me at having a clear assignment before boarding the flight. Stepping into El Al, the sole airline operating in light of the situation, the stewardess remarked, “You look ready.” Dressed in my travel outfit – high-walking boots and U.S. Army khaki-colored pants – I replied affirmatively, “You have no idea.”

Later, Gal changed my assignment to Kibbutz Nahal Oz. It didn’t matter to me, but a friend half-jokingly remarked, “You just got promoted to the special forces; Nahal Oz is half a mile from Gaza; you can’t get much closer than that.” “Okay!” I said.

A friend called before my departure and asked, “Aren’t you afraid?” I didn’t have an answer; I hadn’t thought about it. Perhaps I was, but fear wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. Strangely, I left Danna to do the worrying and be more thoughtful about the danger of it all. What I felt was a surge of adrenaline and excitement, accompanied by a strong sense of duty and commitment to the mission.

Udder Chaos and Red Alerts: When Resilience Meets Reality in a Dairy Farm

We made it to the assigned junction—Moti, a fellow volunteer, and me, the hitchhiker. A handful of soldiers guarded the roadblock; two young female soldiers, engrossed in their mobile phones, struggled to coordinate escort vehicles with the command post. It felt chaotic. “Alright,” I mused, “This is a military zone,” and Moti added, “There’s nothing to do but remain patient.” Finally, when we were allowed through, a large trailer obstructed us, causing us to lose connection with our escorted convoy. On the road to Nahal Oz, we encountered several bullet-ridden and glass-shattered cars. Cleaning crews were washing and scraping away the gruesome traces of violence.

We reached the dairy farm, and the initial sight was of the entrance glass doors covered in holes and the charred, black-stained walls—a poignant reminder of the recent events. Had we arrived a few days earlier, milking the cows would have been impossible due to the vandalism and fire that partially damaged the milking parlor. Despite the damage, the milking parlor stood brightly lit and fully operational. A group of seasoned gentlemen welcomed us, some armed with handguns and one even carrying a short M-16. They had swiftly arrived as soon as permitted, each holding deep ties to the kibbutz from long ago. These individuals took the lead in addressing immediate concerns—freeing the calves to roam in the kibbutz, ensuring the cows were fed, and restoring the parlor to working order. Our milking operation kicked off immediately, with no formalities or speeches. The atmosphere was charged with intensity. I observed and followed closely, marking the beginning of my adventure.

Approximately 100 Hamas terrorists attacked the Kibbutz on October 7th, infiltrating homes, carrying out massacres, and annihilating entire families. They entered the milking parlor during the early morning shift, violently assaulting and kidnapping the primarily Thai workers. A few cows were enclosed in their milking stations, unable to move for several days. It took Israeli troops five days to regain full control of the area. During this period, the cows, accustomed to being milked three times a day, were left unattended, leading to various infections.

Additionally, a rocket struck one of the main livestock barns, resulting in the deaths of 20 cows. Upon our arrival, some lay outside, bloated and lifeless, awaiting collection and removal. The lingering scent persisted for a few more days.

Our responsibilities included milking the cows once a day and undertaking efforts to repair the damage inflicted on the dairy farm. We had to meticulously inspect each udder, determining whether it yielded milk, a yellow substance reminiscent of cottage cheese, or if it was entirely blocked. The Nahal Oz dairy farm houses over 600 cows, with 320 being milking cows and the rest comprising calves, heifers, and dry cows. Numerous udders were found to be producing cottage cheese, indicating a progression toward complete blockage. Consequently, we had to exert further pressure, hoping that the udders would unclog once the pumping machinery was engaged.

Now, picture this: we’re in the milking parlor, a mix of seasoned hands and newcomers, diving headfirst into the rhythmic dance of milking cows. It’s a symphony of spray, squeeze, pump attachment, and another spray – a sensory overload, and for me, a first-time adventure of getting down and dirty, hands-on with udders. The action absorbed me, lost in a whirlwind of emotions and physical sensations.

Then, out of the blue, the tranquility is shattered by the blaring Red Color Alert. It’s a sound I haven’t heard since the Yom Kippur War back in ’73. Suddenly, we’re thrust into a high-stakes scenario – 15 seconds on the clock to make it to the safe room before the rockets touch down. And just like that, we’re off, running against time.

The Red Color Alert interrupted our daily rhythm, striking four or five times a day in the early weeks. Gradually, the interruptions grew less frequent. The routine was clear-cut—swiftly head for the closest safe room. In Nahal Oz, these rooms dotted the landscape, each with its unique appearance—some akin to a halved egg, others more boxy. Fundamentally, they were constructs of solid concrete walls and iron doors.

Alerts buzzed on our phone’s Red Color Application; unfortunately, it never appeared on everyone’s phone. Thus, those who heard it ensured we all did, triggering the mad dash for safety. With short breaths, we waited for about half a minute, then emerged to pick up where we left off. Laughter was the unsung hero in our battle against stress. It made frequent appearances, offering sweet relief in the midst of tension. I was on a video call with Danna several times when the alert went off, and she virtually joined us. All my fellow volunteers came to know Danna. She was a much-appreciated presence.

Our first milking shift finished, and we gathered outside, savoring coffee, food, and cigarettes, gazing at the vast golden brown agricultural fields between us and the border fence. In the distance, white-gray houses cling to the hillside like a cluster of pebbles tossed against the fence. They remain nameless to me, these houses just half a mile away. Only after I left Nahal Oz did I learn this neighborhood’s name – Shuja’iyya. A name heavy with history, known as a Hamas stronghold, its largest training camp. A name that whispers of tension, of conflict simmering just beyond our peaceful coffee mugs.

Our tranquil camaraderie is abruptly shattered. A thunderous roar tears through the air, an aircraft’s predatory cry ripping at the fabric of the day. We flinch, our eyes snapping towards the source. Over the fields, amidst the nameless houses, a white bloom erupts against the blue sky. Black and billowing smoke plumes carry the echo of destruction on the wind. Amidst this chaos, one of the older gentlemen fixes a penetrating stare into my eyes. He wears a red t-shirt with the slogan, “Once a paratrooper, always a paratrooper.” For some reason, the image of his gazing eyes is etched in my memory. I recall that intense look, pondering what might be going through his mind.

In that moment, the boundary separating what I perceived as real and the fantastical had blurred, creating an atmosphere that resonated with the very essence of a dream. I was not surprised; it was as I had expected, yet I couldn’t help but marvel at the intricacies of this surreal journey. It was as if the universe had granted me passage into a realm where the boundaries of possibility were expanded, and the ordinary narratives of life were replaced with a tapestry of vivid and unpredictable experiences. In this suspended state between reality and a dream, I found myself navigating uncharted territories of perception, where the surreal became the norm.

Beyond Mooing and Milk: Learning the Ropes in a Dairy Farm

Our first milking shift concluded, and our leader, Idan, said, “Now, let’s go and separate the dry cows.” Dry cows? I mused, What’s that? Unfamiliar with the term, I casually brushed off my perplexity, not wanting to appear completely clueless and inexperienced. I decided to play it cool, opting to observe and follow Idan’s lead. “Let’s start with 4503,” Idan instructed as we gathered in one of the livestock sheds. Ohad located 4503 and pointed to her. Idan said, “Okay, let’s get her out and into the shed at the end of the farm.” Thus began the lively, amusing, and exhausting task of directing one dry cow at a time into her new shelter—running, waving hands, and strategically blocking escape routes—all while I remained clueless about what exactly a dry cow was.

Later in the evening, I shared my amusing experience, and we all had a good laugh. With his penchant for sharing knowledge, Idan became my go-to for questions. He explained that dry cows are pregnant females not currently producing milk. Because, he said, a few months before their next birth, we inject antibiotics into their udders to make them dry, allowing them time to rest and focus on growing the fetus. He further announced that one of our tasks the next day would be to locate these cows and administer the injections. Exciting, I thought, an opportunity to practice my medical skills.

Heifers, on the other hand, are female cows aged six months to two years who haven’t yet given birth. They eventually become milking cows after their first birth. Calves encompass both male and female young cows, ranging from birth to approximately six months old.

“And where are the bulls?” I asked, to which Idan responded, “There are no bulls on the farm—all insemination processes are done artificially.”

One of our tasks was to synchronize the location of each milking cow, dry cow, heifer, and calf with their assigned positions in the computer system. Each cow is assigned a specific number, and the Afimilk software diligently monitors each animal through a wearable device, capturing a multitude of data points. Following the chaos of October 7th, it was a minor miracle that the system returned, yet extensive restoration work lay ahead.

Reflecting on my interactions with Idan and later with Hans, the two dairy farm managers I worked under, I gleaned valuable insights—fundamentally, a dairy farm is a profit-maximizing business, and the strategies and intricacies involved in this trade are a combination of science, technology, and art.

Swiftly, I adapted, making no effort to avoid the ever-present manure, unflinching even when it sporadically marked my hands and face. This adjustment signified not only a physical accommodation but also a mental shift.

We settled into assignments: Ohad took care of the calves, Yaniv handled bringing in and returning the cows to their shades, and in between, he repaired damaged water pipes. Andrew, Moti, and I were consistently on the parlor floor, while Idan seemed to be everywhere at once.

Then, there’s the remarkable Rani, a 71-year-old who defies age, maintaining fitness and agility by cycling 120 km every week. Many years ago, he was a member of Nahal Oz, eventually leaving, but his son remained in the kibbutz. On October 7th, Rani’s son and family sought refuge in the safe room, clutching the doorknob and exchanging texts with Rani every 20 minutes. When I inquired, “What was going through your mind?” his response was, “We did not grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe; we were confident the military would arrive within minutes.” Rani arrived at the kibbutz two days ahead of the rest of us. Owing to his extensive experience, he demonstrated proficiency in operating machinery and executing tasks that were unfamiliar to the rest of us. He remained in the kibbutz when I departed three weeks later and has since made several return trips.

During our brief stroll from our residence at Gidi’s house, now ours, to the dairy farm, we passed several houses with their contents spilled outside, revealing the aftermath of the events on October 7th. Along the way, we passed a few vehicles bearing heavy damage—bullet holes, shattered windshields, and contorted doors. Despite these unsettling sights, Nahal Oz retained its pastoral beauty. Walking through the kibbutz, you traverse well-maintained pathways enveloped by greenery and meticulously tended gardens. The atmosphere remains serene, although the heavy hum of war overshadows the usual natural sounds of birds.

In the milking parlor, Moti swiftly became my go-to for troubleshooting any technical glitches. Drawing on his extensive experience milking cows at his grandparents’ farm in Kfar Vitkin, Moti, an electrical engineer and graduate of the prestigious Technion, stood out as the one with the sharpest mind among us. Behind his thick glasses, you could practically witness his mental gears in action, processing numbers and probability equations. With a physique reminiscent of a swimmer, Moti emerged as the undisputed expert in kickstarting the milking parlor’s machinery, ensuring the seamless flow of our operations. When he departed, the responsibility for this crucial task shifted to me.

Hubris and the Abyss: Navigating Sorrow in Israel’s Collective Mourning

In the evenings, we’d gather to talk or watch the news. We processed our grief, pain, anger, and astonishment along with the rest of Israel. The T.V. news channels broadcast new stories of horrors and heroism, murder, and survival every day. It was a tender Israeli moment unfolding gradually.

None of this was supposed to happen, we lamented, there’s an army, there’s a state. There’s a fence, warnings, obstacles, battalions, tanks, and helicopters. Our nightmares were shielded from all of this. However, reality proves to be a far more unsafe terrain than any nightmare, especially when reality is cloaked in ample words and fantasy.

History shows us that excessive pride and self-confidence lead to a downfall, which, in English, is called hubris. Hubris is characterized by a belief in one’s strength and reliability. It is often accompanied by a disregard for rules, norms, and conventions, as well as a tendency to take unnecessary risks. Hubris can lead to catastrophic failures and ruin, as exemplified by the Greek myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death. It was also exemplified on October 7th.

How does a nation, collectively and individually, declare defiance against this outrageous calamity? How do we forge a rebirth from the abyss of howls and the depth of sorrow’s grandeur? Like a resilient flower rising from the cracked concrete of sorrow. In this phase of collective mourning, we stand at a crossroads where resilience is not just a response but a declaration against a profound, morally challenging calamity.

The imperative to believe took root in me long ago, a legacy handed down from Holocaust survivors. This piece of earth called Israel, uniquely crafted for the Jewish people, is a sanctified terrain that calls for our unwavering dedication, devotion, and ceaseless pursuit of excellence and security, for this place is our destined sanctuary.

This is part five of the essay “Between October 7th and William Blake.” Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Living with the Thunder: Connections in a Time of Conflict

We were seven civilian volunteers in the kibbutz, but we were far from being alone. The military’s grip was firm, essentially turning the kibbutz into a military base. Many soldiers were stationed in and around the kibbutz. Their presence wasn’t just visible but also intensely audible. The sounds of the bombing became commonplace. And when ground operations commenced, the decibel level increased significantly. Amidst the symphony, distinctions emerged—the tank’s rumble, artillery’s thunder, aircraft’s roar, the Apache’s whir, or a soldier unleashing some steam. The ground artillery bombings roared the loudest, making the house we inhabited vibrate with every explosive eruption. I wondered how one could endure and raise kids in such an existence.

At the dairy farm’s edge, a hill was crowned by a military improvised guard and observation point manned by a platoon of young reservist soldiers. These individuals specialized in operating advanced wire-guided missiles, utilizing wires to transmit commands from the operator to the missile during its flight, providing precise control over its direction. They remind me of my platoon brothers, embodied youth, good looks, fitness, motivation, intelligence, and friendliness. We often shared lighthearted banter about the prospect of me joining their ranks. Occasionally, I would ascend the hill to visit with them, peering through binoculars at the houses and water tower across the field. I’d listen to their observations about the changes they noticed, forging connections.

Chasing Calves and Sirens

“Two calves on the loose just passed by our house!” the text from our soldier friends crackled with mischief. Yaniv and I couldn’t resist a good search and rescue mission. Off we went, laughter swirling like autumn leaves under our feet, the kibbutz trails stretching out before us like sun-drenched veins.

But suddenly, the peaceful hum of the afternoon shattered with the ear-splitting shriek of a Red Alert siren. Adrenaline jolted through us. “Shelter? Where?” I said anxiously, eyes scanning the landscape. “There!” Yaniv hollered, pointing towards a rectangular concrete structure. We darted like gazelles pursued by a lion, laughter turning into breathless gasps. Yaniv tripped, his phone tumbling onto the dusty path. “Leave it!” I yelled, a nervous chuckle bubbling up. “We’ll find it later!” We kept running, legs pumping, the urgency fueling a strange, hysterical mix of fear and humor.

When we emerged, looking above, a wispy white trail traced across the blue sky, the Iron Dome’s triumphant plume against the threat. We watched, awestruck, as the danger dissolved, replaced by a renewed sense of calm.

Two playful calves transformed into two heart-pounding sirens, a stark reminder of life’s sudden shifts. Yet, amid the ensuing chaos, laughter and trust prevailed, bolstered by the unwavering shield of the Iron Dome, guarding the sky against impending darkness. As two individuals who had only recently crossed paths, we emerged as friends, standing a little taller and closer, basking in the comforting embrace of camaraderie.

Yaniv, with his dark hair and beard, has whispers of laughter lines. He possessed a heart laid bare; whether simmering with righteous anger or radiating warmth, his emotions painted his world in vivid hues. His words, often woven into poetic tapestries, held a surprising depth. “A comfort zone,” he once uttered, a wry smile playing on his lips, “becomes a gilded cage.” Though lost in translation, the Hebrew rhyme resonated with a truth that lingered long after his words faded. He often pulled something light and funny like, “While most professors have baldness, not everyone with baldness is a professor.”

Yaniv is part of the Nova Festival crowd; by chance, he was not there. His sadness and grief were very personal. He is a farmer with extensive knowledge of flowers and plants, able to recount their names, medicinal benefits, and how to prepare them. He is deeply engaged in urban farming, exploring cutting-edge techniques such as rooftop gardens, permaculture, vertical farming, and aquaponics.

Upon our return to the dairy farm, we encountered two calves standing outside one of the sheds— they found us before we found them. Directing them to their designated shelter presented another challenge, one we opted to address the following morning, considering we had enough for one day.

Brotherhood and Boots

Moshe, accompanied by a three-car entourage, paid a visit. My acquaintance with Colonel Moshe Havivian dates back to 1978, when we served in the same paratrooper platoon. While most individuals his age have retired from reserve duties, Moshe remains devoted, dedicating over 70 days annually to serving as a battalion commander. His unwavering commitment to duty is truly commendable. Moshe’s leadership qualities are exceptional; he exudes charisma, compassion, and kindness. One can sense these qualities in his company, reflected not only in his substantial physical presence but also in the warmth of his broad smile.

Moshe’s battalion plays a crucial role in securing the Iron Dome. They escort re-ammunition, technicians, and other personnel vital to maintaining the missile defense system. On October 7th, the service call reached the entire battalion, and within a few hours, everyone promptly reported for duty—a response that would typically have taken much longer in different circumstances. Despite facing logistical challenges and the urgent need for 300,000 reserves that day, individuals and volunteer groups had to bridge the gap between the required supplies and what was available in the military arsenals. The people of Israel, aided by generous donations from around the world, particularly the USA, swiftly filled this void.

Moshe expressed a need for unified boots for his battalion. Thus, the “Moshe’s Boots” fund operation commenced, and Danna started a fundraising campaign with a group of her girlfriends. Although the efforts to acquire the necessary boots faced challenges, we contributed over $12,000 to help with the urgent requirement for warm clothing items.

Moshe paid me two visits, and Amir, another friend from our military company, joined him on one occasion. Amir, a seasoned dairy farm manager with extensive experience and expertise with the Afimilk software, came to help Hans sort things out. Amir pointed out the “Map” feature within the program, which was a breakthrough. Hans, originally from the Netherlands, has lived in Israel for 40 years. He is not a man of many words, but when he spoke, I thought he is an Israeli through and through with an intriguing outsider perspective on us.

Throughout my stay at Nahal Oz, I felt remarkably safe and secure. Not only was the military presence massive, but I had the comforting belief that in the unfortunate event of any crisis, I could rely on the support of a few trusted friends, first and foremost, my brother Israel. It’s a true blessing to navigate through life with such unwavering trust in your heart.

Lion Cubs, Love, and Life Lessons

During the initial week, I evaluated my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, feeling confident enough to request a two-week extension from Gidi, who graciously approved. As the week drew to a close, I braced myself for the upcoming transition, mindful of the challenges accompanying such comings and goings. This group of men, with whom I’ve forged deep connections, is preparing to depart, making way for a new set of faces. The prospect of this change evoked a sense of apprehension, especially learning that most of them hail from the same kibbutz and share the same age. They’ve known each other since childhood, raising the question of where I’ll fit into this tight-knit group.

Five young lion cubs – Ofir, Ravid, Shai, Yam, and Yahly – led by Hans, a tall, older gentleman with flowing hair, entered the milking parlor. As we exchanged handshakes, I couldn’t help but notice the disapproving look in Ravid’s eyes. The following day, the new group introduced several changes driven by their wealth of experience. We transitioned from working bare-handed to wearing gloves, preferably with long-sleeved shirts. Additionally, we began using special paper cloths to clean each udder before milking, and the post-milking disinfection method was switched to spraying. I welcomed these changes, as they streamlined the process, making it quicker and undoubtedly cleaner. By the end of the week, our shift had been shortened by 30 minutes, which was helpful as we moved to two milkings a day at 5:45 in the morning and 2:30 in the afternoon.

My fears of fitting in with a group of young lions quickly dissipated as they proved to be the most welcoming, friendly, and cheerful bunch I had ever encountered, exuding genuine affection. Their practice of “pirgun,” an informal Israeli term for effusive praise, deeply impressed me. Forget “good job;” this was praise on steroids! It pulsed with sympathy, encouragement, and support, building someone up like a superhero suit. Imagine Ofir, mid-conversation, booming, “Give Ravid some respect! Forget the chubby cherub days; he’s all muscle now! Oh, and did I mention he managed a big construction project in Africa?” The conversation flowed like an uplifting mantra. Witnessing this heartwarming camaraderie was like sunshine on my soul. It reminded me that I should embody my inner Ofir more frequently and reflect the best qualities of my loved ones because who wouldn’t thrive under a shower of “you’re amazing!”?

Nahal Oz’s Dairy Farm Inspiring Comeback

Signs of rebirth began to emerge after ten days. Like a phoenix, it rose from the ashes of hardship, its resilient spirit soaring above the challenges. The large tank that stores the milk has been repaired, and the cooling system has been fixed. Instead of being discarded, the first batch of milk was collected and sent for quality testing. It passed, and daily collection resumed—a momentous occasion! With his weary look and the ever-present cigarette, Gidi, Nahal Oz’s dairy farm manager, came to witness the event; his embrace with the truck driver is a picture of shared victory.

Before October 7th, cows underwent milking three times daily, with each cow providing approximately 40 liters of milk daily. But when I arrived at Nahal Oz, the reality was bleaker. We milked only once a day, and cows gave barely 20 liters. By the time I departed three weeks later, we had transitioned to milking twice daily, and the average production had increased to around 25 liters per day, signifying improvement.

Even though Israeli dairy farms are subject to production quotas, Nahal Oz’s dairy farm stood out as exceptionally successful. Notably, while two farms may meet the same production quotas, one may receive higher compensation due to a higher percentage of fat and protein. In this regard, Nahal Oz excelled, securing its reputation as a thriving enterprise. The secret, some say, lies in insemination. While specifics remain elusive, I suspect it’s a blend of carefully chosen genetics and perhaps even an element of art.

Life, Birth, and Milk: Understanding the Art of Cow Reproduction

I never stopped to consider the intricate cycles of cow milk production. I naively envisioned it as continuous – attach the pumps daily, and out comes a constant quantity of creamy liquid. Oh, the extent of my ignorance!

Just like humans, cows produce more milk immediately after giving birth; its production gradually decreases from there on. Most Israeli dairy farms utilize the Israeli-Holstein breed, known for its high milk production but potentially shorter lifespans. Thus, if Holstein’s life span is five to six years, and she starts ovulation at the age of two, the maximum number of nine-month-long pregnancies she can have is four to five. Knowing when to inseminate a cow is critical in optimizing milk production.

Software solutions, such as Afimilk, are crucial in tracking reproductive data. Monitoring signs of heat (estrus) is crucial for identifying the optimal time for insemination. This can include behavioral changes, such as increased activity and mounting, as well as physical signs like vaginal discharge. The art lies in determining the precise timing for insemination to maximize the chances of conception. Inseminating too early or too late in the estrous cycle can reduce the likelihood of successful fertilization. Reproductive management involves selecting the right genetics to improve the herd’s overall performance over generations.

Tapestry of Hope

Signs of hope continued to unfold like a tapestry. When Rani voiced the need for a full-size tool cabinet stocked with essential equipment, it seemed like a distant wish. However, to our amazement, the cabinet materialized within a mere three hours—meticulously organized and promptly delivered by a dedicated group committed to lending a helping hand wherever needed. This generosity and solidarity, akin to the blossoming of spring flowers across Israel, truly warms the heart and is a testament to the unwavering spirit of camaraderie and support.

Between Birth and Loss

Among the volunteers, Yahly, a charismatic 20-year-old from Kibbutz Beit Zera, excelled as the youngest. He was in the interim period before his military recruitment posting, and with a few months to spare, he chose to contribute at Nahal Oz. A natural with dairy farming tasks, Yahly ingeniously built a makeshift workstation that enhanced calf care. But then, with a bittersweet farewell, he was gone, leaving the calves’ feeding in my hands.

Yahly left me instructions on milk rationing. Did I, a responsible yet slightly rebellious volunteer, adhere to them? Well, let’s just say the calves developed a taste for the finer things in life during my reign. Hey, I was leaving in a week! Think of it as a farewell feast.

Working with the calves brought the stark reality of life and death to the surface. Newly born calves symbolized renewal and the resilience of life amidst the darkness of war. However, not all calves survived their first few days, and witnessing the loss was heart-wrenching. While it didn’t compare to the anguish of hearing the names of young soldiers killed in battles on the morning news bulletin, it still pierced my heart because I wanted them to live.

There was one calf, in particular, that left a lasting impression. Hans and I stood witness to her mother’s efforts as she labored to bring her into the world. As I reached for my camera to capture the glorious moment of new life, Hans urgently called out to me, “What are you doing? Come help me,” he yelled. Unsure of what was needed, I asked, “What should I do?” “Help me pull!” he said, with his hand already on the emerging calf. He directed me to support her legs, and together, we guided her into the world. The mother immediately began tending to her newborn, licking her clean with affectionate care. It was an exhilarating moment, witnessing the miracle of birth amidst the chaos of our surroundings.

Within an hour of birth, the objective was to settle the newborn calf in its designated area, cushioned with straw, and administer colostrum from a bottle. Colostrum, the initial milk produced by the cow after giving birth, is packed with antibodies and vital nutrients essential for bolstering the calf’s immune system. This nutrient-rich elixir serves as a protective shield against diseases and infections, laying a sturdy foundation for the calf’s health during its early days. Moreover, colostrum is abundant in proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, providing a nourishing boost crucial for the calf’s growth and development.

Feeding the newborn calf for the first time filled me with excitement. However, right from the start, I could sense that she wasn’t a vigorous drinker. Despite the challenges, I persisted in feeding her in the days that followed. Unfortunately, my efforts ended in disappointment when Hans delivered the somber news of the calf’s untimely passing one evening.

Jersey Boy, Hockey Wisdom, and Quiet House

Andrew returned during the third week, joined by Golan and Iddo, while Hans decided to stay. I was thrilled to have Andrew back; we had formed a strong connection during the first week. The dynamic of our new group, leaning towards introverted personalities, brought a sense of calm to the once boisterous house. This shift in the atmosphere was palpable. Instead of lively group conversations, quiet reading, and solo excursions became the norm. It wasn’t a negative change, just a noticeable shift in the overall energy of the place.

Andrew, a Jersey boy at heart but Israeli by choice, traded his Springsteen tapes for IDF fatigues at 20. After his service, he stuck around, still searching for his own personal “Miracle on Ice” – a love story with a happy ending. He’s a hockey player with a slapshot that could make even the Dead Sea part. One day, Andrew dropped some wisdom, saying, “Picture this: you’re flying down the ice, laser-focused on the puck. Suddenly, some goon tries to lay you out. You ain’t got time to think, Shakespeare! It’s pure reaction, baby!” This hockey analogy, while seemingly out of left field, actually highlights a deeper truth: in high-pressure situations, our brains often hit the “panic button” before our thinking caps even get a chance.

The Culinary Crusaders: Majors Tom and Shay’s Daily Deliveries

Majors Tom and Shay, in their white pickup truck, became the daily saviors of our hunger cramps, rolling in every afternoon with steaming hot meals. While the setup resembled the convenience of a microwave meal, there was one crucial difference — theirs were freshly prepared and, more often than not, downright delectable.

One memorable occasion stands out in my culinary adventures with Tom and Shay. I lifted the tray cover with the excitement of a kid at Christmas, only to discover a dish I hadn’t laid eyes on since the days of my dear old mother’s kitchen — fried chicken liver with onions and mashed potatoes. My taste buds threw a wild party, and I dove into that plate with the gusto of a famished bear emerging from hibernation.

As I savored every delectable bite, I couldn’t help but ponder the potential consequences for my digestive system the next morning. But in that moment of gastronomic bliss, I decided that the pleasure of indulgence outweighed any future discomfort. After all, sometimes you have to live a little, even if it means facing the consequences later!

Throughout our stay, Ronii and Boaz, Nahal Oz’s dedicated secretaries, served as our logistical lifelines. Appearing daily since our arrival at the evacuated kibbutz, they tirelessly oversaw the revitalization efforts. They coordinated diverse tasks like arranging livestock feed deliveries, removing deceased animals and burnt vehicles, and much more. Their constant behind-the-scenes work ensured we were never short of food.

The Petting Zoo Rescue

Discovering the forgotten animals in the petting zoo stirred a protective instinct within us. On our first feeding mission, Yaniv, Andrew, and I, with Danna cheering us on via video call, felt like participants in a miniature live-streamed rescue operation. We provided them with whatever sustenance we could muster, including our bountiful leftovers, determined to nourish these neglected creatures. Their grateful snorts and eager munching filled us with a profound sense of accomplishment.

However, that feeling dissipated when Andrew and I returned to feed them one afternoon in the third week; the enclosures were vacant. They had been collected and transported to an animal shelter, marking a bittersweet conclusion to our impromptu caretaking adventure.

Lesson in Patience

My initial assessment of the cows as unintelligent creatures was colored by their seemingly simple routine. “Pretty stupid, aren’t they?” I remarked to Rani, a seasoned farmer expecting agreement. Instead, his gaze softened, “They’re actually quite smart,” he said with a knowing smile. “Just observe closely.” Intrigued, I started paying closer attention, surprised by the subtle nuances in their behavior.

In the first week, the cows intimidated me, so large, heavy, and tall, they stood up to my shoulders. I would make a wide circle around them, reaching over their backs, and only then lift my hands to maneuver them into the milking stations.

By the second week, I felt a newfound confidence. “I’m in charge here,” I thought, confidently striding between the cows and giving them a firm tap to get them moving. I felt like I was finally getting the hang of things.

But by the third week, things changed again. Hans pointed out that we were rushing the cows too fast and aggressively from the waiting ramp to the milking station. He emphasized the importance of gentle handling because a calm cow gives more milk. So, I decided to try a different approach. Instead of the taps, I began walking alongside them, placing my hand lightly on their soft bodies. It felt almost like a dance. To my surprise, the cows responded positively to this gentler approach.

While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on cow’s intelligence, there was one particular cow who stood out for her apparent intelligence. Her size presented a challenge – she couldn’t fit entirely into the milking station. The best she could manage was an awkward diagonal position, blocking two spaces and requiring creative maneuvering on our part. Interestingly, she consistently waited until all the other 80 cows in her group had moved in, often being the last to enter herself. It seemed like she instinctively understood how to minimize disruption and ensure everyone got milked efficiently. Witnessing this display of patience and problem-solving ability made me reconsider my initial assessment of their intelligence. It was a reminder to approach all beings with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

“Finish it strong, Dudi”

By the middle of the third week, a cloud of fatigue descended upon me. The constant physical demands and mental strain took their toll. I felt utterly drained, both physically and mentally. Worried about my ability to continue, I confided in Izi, my childhood friend and close confidant.

True to form, Izi offered a characteristically positive and uplifting response. “Finish it strong, Dudi,” he said with unwavering confidence. His words resonated deeply. It was the simple yet powerful encouragement I needed to push through the exhaustion. At that moment, I knew what I had to do, and so I remained strong until the end.

By the middle of the third week, a cloud of fatigue descended upon me. The constant physical demands and mental strain took their toll. I felt utterly drained, both physically and mentally. Worried about my ability to continue, I confided in Izi, my childhood friend and close confidant.

True to form, Izi offered a characteristically positive and uplifting response. “Finish it strong, Dudi,” he said with unwavering confidence. His words resonated deeply. It was the simple yet powerful encouragement I needed to push through the exhaustion. At that moment, I knew what I had to do, and so I remained strong until the end.

Friends, Bibi, and Frustration: A Returning Visitor’s Perspective

A week later, I bid farewell to Israel. Before departing, I spent quality time with family and friends. One particularly memorable visit was to Anat and Avi at their serene bed and breakfast village. Another day was dedicated to catching up with Izi, where we visited the family of a fallen soldier and the volunteering center, Shlomi Abutbul, set up in Kadima Zoran. I also attended a family gathering in Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu with my many cousins. Moreover, I enjoyed meeting and engaging in conversations with many others.

However, amidst the joy of reconnecting with loved ones, I couldn’t help but notice a recurring theme in our discussions. Nearly every conversation veered into criticisms of Bibi, the political figurehead. While I understand that these discussions stem from genuine concerns and care for the country, the pervasive negativity was overwhelming. It seemed as though a constant barrage of grievances consumed many.

While it’s essential to be critical and hold leaders accountable, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this overwhelming focus on negativity was taking a toll on everyone’s well-being. The constant immersion in pessimism and cynicism seemed like a health hazard, dampening spirits and overshadowing the positive aspects of life. Seeing so many dear friends caught in this cycle of negativity saddened me.

Dreaming for Change: The Dual Dimensions of Jihad

People frequently inquire about the resolution of the ongoing conflict, pondering both the current war’s conclusion and the eventual advent of peace. This inquiry reflects the predominant Western viewpoint, suggesting that diplomatic dialogue could unveil solutions or lead to honorable compromises between nations. However, I argue that this question may not be the most pertinent one, considering the profound divide reminiscent of the parallel realities in the Matrix that remain unintersected.

One perspective regards the land as a final sanctuary post-Holocaust, open to compromises, while the other perceives it as occupied by a colonial power, anticipating eventual liberation from the river to the sea.

Achieving genuine progress requires influential Islamic leaders to step forward and declare a shift in the interpretation and emphasis of the concept of Jihad. The Quran employs the term to describe the struggle against those who reject Islam’s message, and Holy War is its most common association. Throughout Islamic history, conflicts against non-Muslims, even when politically motivated, were labeled as jihads to legitimize them religiously.

Yet, a broader interpretation of Jihad encompasses spiritual and personal struggles for self-improvement—an ongoing endeavor to refine one’s character, skills, and overall well-being within Islamic principles. According to this view, the personal quest for self-improvement is seen as a form of Jihad against internal challenges. This interpretation underscores the spiritual dimension, depicting an individual’s commitment to surmounting obstacles and aspiring to lead a better, more righteous life.

Mevlana Rumi, the great Islamic poet and mystic, one of the greatest spiritual teachers in history, said, “The lion who breaks the enemy’s ranks is a minor hero compared to the lion who overcomes himself.”  

If voices advocating this perspective gain prominence, a transformative change becomes plausible. Otherwise, accepting the current reality is the only pragmatic option, which entails the maintenance of military superiority through technological advancements and constant readiness for any eventuality. When I shared this perspective with my friend Amir, he responded, “This is a dream.” To which I countered, “We must continue to dream.”

The Lingering Shadows of Terror: The (Funny, Scary) Story of One Man’s Panic Attack

How deeply does the trauma experienced manifest for those who had a close encounter with the events of October 7th? For those who endured the fire and horrors of that day, the battle continues to consume their spirit and body. Allow me to illustrate with a story that, though it may carry a humorous tone, is underscored by a heavy undertone.

My cousin Avital, her husband Amos, and their children and grandchildren were evacuated to a hotel in Eilat. Ten days later, Amos experienced a sharp pain in his chest, fearing it was a heart issue. He was hastily taken by taxi to the main hospital in Jerusalem, a five to six-hour drive—a journey made more challenging by the less-than-friendly Arab towns they had to pass through.

Now, picture this: three medical workers swarmed around Amos, attaching monitoring devices to his body and conversing in their native language, Arabic. For Amos, who had recently spent hours waiting for military rescue while overhearing, or attempting to overhear, the Arabic conversations of the terrorists (which he speaks as well), this was overwhelming. Like a scene from a sitcom, he leaped off the stretcher, shouting, “I cannot take it anymore!”

Can you imagine the chaos? Nurses scrambling, doctors bewildered, and poor Amos making a run for it, all in the name of avoiding a language-induced panic attack. Arabic stands as Israel’s second official language, alongside Hebrew. Many Israeli Arabs hold positions as medical professionals, showcasing a diversity that serves as a model of peaceful coexistence.

But here’s the twist: when the hospital’s bigwig psychiatrist arrived to smooth things over, guess what? He’s an Arab Israeli, too! Amos received the care he needed, albeit with a side order of adrenaline and hilarity. Yet, beneath the laughter, there’s a poignant reminder of the lingering trauma that will take years, if ever, to shake off.

Finding William Blake Amidst Personal Disquiet

A week back in Los Angeles, I found myself adrift, my mind caught between the turmoil of Israel and the familiar embrace of home. Trapped in this liminal space, I yearned for the disquiet to subside. Seeking solace, I ascended the mountaintop to the Getty Center. The tram ride feels like an ascent to a Greek temple, a pilgrimage to a sanctuary of awe-inspiring beauty.

Here, amidst breathtaking landscapes, art, and meticulously tended gardens, I encountered the works of William Blake, an obscure 18th-century English poet and printer whose fame and appreciation have steadily grown since his time. His story resonated deeply. A self-taught innovator, Blake invented the “relief etching” printing technique, and his work was admired by a small but devoted circle. Later I found that my friend Mark, a pastor, is carrying Blake’s words close to his heart.


He who bends to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Blake’s unique vision, often dismissed as madness, is still debated by scholars. He didn’t merely depict reality; he opened portals to fantastical realms where angels grappled with serpents and children danced with fairies. In his world, the ordinary transcended the mundane, soaring on wings of imagination. Even centuries later, Blake remains a beacon in the fog of convention, reminding us that creativity demands daring, a willingness to see beyond the expected, and the courage to fly on our own.

Leaving the exhibition, I felt a peculiar heaviness, as if Blake’s art exuded an unsettling aura. Was it a reflection of his inner turmoil or a searing commentary on a world perpetually on the brink? Perhaps, amidst the maelstrom of his art, I caught a glimpse of my own disquiet, a distorted reflection of the brutality, grief, and lingering echoes of war etched in my memory.

This raw pain, this restless unease, felt like fragments of a shattered dream woven into the fabric of waking life. The world seemed to shimmer with an unsettling dissonance, a stark contrast between the serenity of the Getty Center and the chaos gnawing at my soul. Was it Blake’s supposed madness I sensed, or was the madness of our times mirrored in the tortured imagery he created?

Here, the lines blur between artist and observer, reflection and reality. Perhaps Blake’s true genius lies not in pronouncements but in his ability to stir within us these uncomfortable questions, forcing us to confront the shadows that lurk at the edges of our perception.

Stockdale’s Compass: Navigating Life’s Labyrinth with Faith and Surrender

Descending from the Getty Center’s upper platform, I was captivated by the contrasting perspectives. The building’s stark, geometric lines in light beige stood in sharp relief to the organic shapes and muted hues of the winter foliage. Yet, amidst this beauty, shadows seemed to cling to me, reflecting the turmoil within. My mind churned with anxieties about the unknown and the inability to predict the future.

In this reflective moment, the concept of faith surfaced – a steady force anchoring all my endeavors, even when doubts cloud the horizon. It is a promise, especially when the ground feels unsteady and threatens to give way. It’s the compass guiding me back to the light.

Admiral James Stockdale, a decorated U.S. Navy officer and Vietnam War POW, offered profound insights on survival, strength, and faith during his seven-year ordeal. His perspective, now known as the Stockdale Paradox, emphasizes the unwavering faith in eventual triumph while simultaneously confronting the present’s harsh realities. Stockdale stated, “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

I resonate deeply with the expression “surrender without giving up.” It suggests letting go of control or resistance, not abandoning aspirations or goals. It doesn’t signify ceasing effort but embracing a more flexible and open approach to challenges. Surrendering without giving up involves acknowledging the limitations of control, adapting to unexpected circumstances, and finding harmony between persistence and acceptance. It’s about navigating challenges with resilience, recognizing life’s inherent uncertainties, and maintaining inner peace despite external anxieties.