It’s Yom Kippur today, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. 50 years ago Yom Kippur was on a Saturday, and my dad wad 20 years old. He was a scrawny, nerdy kid from Haifa who liked to play piano, with square glasses and thick 70s hair, and on that Yom Kippur he went to war.
My dad never talks about that war. It’s been 50 years and he’s 70 years old now, a father and a grandfather, but he doesn’t talk about that war. He does mention it sometimes, a little more in recent years. We stumble around it, don’t know if we should probe or let it be. Not wanting to ask too many or too few questions, show interest without pushing.
Over the years, these are some of the thing he did tell me about that war:
- He fought on the northern front. It was bad.
- He’s not scared of missiles now. During the war, he said, there would be constant attacks, explosions, missiles, and there was no 90 seconds warning siren and shelter room to run to. That was something to be scared about.
- His cousin got injured on the 1st day of the war. And on the 4th day he got injured worse and was sent to a hospital for the rest of the war. My grandma told his mom that she was lucky. They never knew where my dad was for the entire war or if he was alive at all.
- The people who fought with him went in opposite directions after the war. They either became more patriotic, more religious, more militant, or they swung the other way and became more liberal, opposing wars, dreaming about peace.
- His younger brother was in high school during the war, and when the war started he worked (or volunteered? I’m not quite sure) at the hospital, carrying stretchers here and there. He said he never looked at the faces of the soldiers he was carrying, scared he’ll look down and see my dad’s face looking back, or not looking back, at him.
- He doesn’t understand how anyone who’s actually been to war could ever think war is the solution for anything. That they would ever support putting other people in that situation.
My dad is not some big pacifist. Just a 70 year old man who used to be a kid who went to war. Just a 70 year old man who knows a basic truth: war is hell. It’s hell and it makes no sense. It’s hell and it never leaves you.
I don’t think my dad will ever start really talking about the war. Some people do, 50 years later, as the tv shows start getting made and sealed documents get released, now a part of history, suddenly they feel an urge to talk about the things they kept for so long. I’m not sure my dad will ever be one of those people. I’ll keep asking gently, rarely, making sure he knows there’s someone who will listen. Never push, always worried to shake something loose that’s holding him together, a load-bearing avoidance that got him this far, mostly intact. Functioning, with a good life and just an unfortunate inability to sleep at night.
I’ll keep filling in the gaps with google and wikipedia, and facebook groups where others share what happened in that war, waiting to see if I ever recognize him in a blurry picture or a story that ends with “I wonder where that guy is today”. I’ll watch the tv shows and read the articles and piece together a very general but hopefully mostly correct picture of my dad, the 20 year old kid, before he knew my mom or guessed that one day he’ll be a father and a grandfather, and those 19 days he spent in hell.