Learning From Sins: Remembering Sirens on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur War (Image credit: Government Press Office of Israel)

It was October 6th.

Forty seven years ago, I was napping in my dorm room at the Hebrew University after Musaf service on Yom Kippur/Shabbat; Oct 6, 1973. I was doing a year in Israel as an exchange student.

At 2:00 pm I woke up to the sounds of sirens. Sirens? On Yom Kippur? Didn't make any sense. Was this a local malfunction? Strange. I turned over.

The sirens continued and did not stop for many long minutes. At this point, many students were out of their rooms seeking an explanation. I went to our floor counselor, an Israeli who spent Yom Kippur in his room listening to music tapes. He turned on the radio and heard the news. Egyptian troops had crossed the Suez canal!

I will never forget the look on his face. In his heavily accented but rather good English, he exclaimed, "Sheet (sic) man, dis is war!” I didn’t see him again until a few months later when he was demobilized. He was one of the lucky ones; he came back, and in one piece.

We students were asked that evening to go to the hospital and give blood. We were sent to farms and factories to replace men sent to the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

We still did not know that Israel was on the brink of destruction.

When I learned that this was indeed war, I thought, “How stupid are these Arabs - now our air force will make mincemeat of them once again!”

I learned some weeks later that in those same moments, our planes were being shot out of the sky at an alarming pace by Soviet SAM-6 missiles - the ones that the Egyptians had placed along the Suez Canal a year earlier, in contradiction to the cease-fire agreement. We allowed that infringement to occur.

The best tank corps in the world was being stopped in its tracks, literally, by a forest of Strela anti-tank rockets held by thousands of mainly illiterate peasants. We were not prepared.

Worse, we made sure that we were not.

Only a handful of people in Israel knew how bad it really was at the time. Prime Minister Golda Meir was led to believe there was no call for concern before the attack by her defense chief Moshe Dayan. Dayan said that Israel was on the brink of "the destruction of the Third Temple." He could not function.

How did this happen? Israel was guilty of two sins before the war.

One was hubris - arrogance. Israel was overconfident after three amazing victories over her Arab neighbors, and thus thought that she could take great risks and still come out on top. The Torah specifically warns us not to believe in our power, but rather that: “You have girded me with strength unto the battle; You have subdued under me those that rose up against me.” (Psalms 18:40). But we did believe that it was us...

The second sin was an overarching desire to find favor with the world community; to be accepted finally by the goyim (non-Jews). It seems that the establishment of a "normal" country like all other countries did not solve the problem of antisemitism after all. It only retrained the focus.

We were determined to be seen favorably. Most importantly, we wanted our best friend and benefactor, the USA, to be pleased with us. Henry Kissinger had plans for the Middle East and they did not include a dominant Israel. That got in the way of a larger strategy. The Soviet Union was to be weakened in the area by buying Arab goodwill, even if it meant Jewish blood. Israel was to be knocked down a few pegs and fall into line with American plans. Israel felt she had to submit.

Our Torah continually reminds us and pleads with us not to rely on any earthly powers but rather on Him for our salvation (Psalms 118:8-9). We are unlike other nations. But we wanted to be just like them. That was sin number two.

Time to Learn the Lessons

The Yom Kippur war changed me, as it decided for me where I was going to live. I understood then that America can get along very well without me, but little bruised and confused Israel needed all the help it could get.

Discussion still abounds and books are written about this war; the war in which Israel almost ceased to exist. How did Israel pull it off in the end?

Military experts, politicians, and historians have spilled oceans of ink and endless words on this subject, but in the end it was yet another miraculous extradition from the jaws of certain annihilation.

All Israelis, despite the failed politicians and the politician/generals, knew there was no choice. One war lost is the last one Israel fights, and their families will face a fate far worse than the Yazidis in Iraq.

As Kissinger (the Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany) dragged his feet and let Israel bleed, Golda Meir made a call to President Nixon. Nixon gave orders to empty NATO stocks in Europe and fly them to Israel immediately. I saw the C-130s flying overhead then.

What did Israel learn from this experience? The rivers of ink still flow in answering this question. Both the Left and Right draw their own - and opposite - conclusions, just as those who engage in theological discussions.

What did G-d want? Everyone has an opinion, so I have one too.

We should not have fallen to the two sins mentioned above and should never do so again. Our excellent and brave pilots should not have been ordered to stand down and leave their cockpits to allow an enemy to strike first. They should have taken off and mowed down their enemies until the cows came home.

After that, we should all have thrown the biggest seudat hodaya ever (a banquet of thanksgiving to G-d) on the Temple Mount, and taken back the keys that Dayan gave the enemy in 1967.

The time is approaching, G-d willing. Chag sameach!

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...הָרִימִי בַכֹּחַ קוֹלֵךְ מְבַשֶּׂרֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם הָרִימִי אַל תִּירָאִי אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה הִנֵּה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם! (ישעיה  מ:ט)

...Raise your voice with strength, herald of Jerusalem; raise it, do not be afraid; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your G-d!"

(Isaiah 40:9)

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