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Out for a walk with God on The Day of Atonement

war Israeli pontoon bridge sections on the way to the Suez Canal

It was just like any other day, with a dawn and a beautiful morning, except that most of the grown-ups and older people had already been in the synagogue long before dawn had broken. They were holding their ritual prayers, chanting, all clothed in white, skull-caps and prayer shawls and tefilin. A rabbi was reciting prayers at the podium. Others at home were dressing up at their ease getting ready to join the worshippers at the synagogue or just to go outside to meet friends, neighbors, acquaintances and thus celebrate another Holy Day for it was YOM KIPPUR (the Day of Atonement – the holiest day in the Jewish calendar) on an autumn day on October 6 of in a never-forgotten year -1973.

Emil Murad remembers October 6 1973, the day the Yom Kippur War erupted

I was 42 years old. I woke up early to take my usual morning walk and then get prepared to go to pray at the communal neighborhood synagogue for an hour or so until my wife and sons would join us, and to mix and mingle with people as is the Yom Kippur tradition. The ages-long tradition was passed to me by my father and to him by his father.

The children and the youngsters rode their bicycles freely on the streets, not minding the traffic lights since traffic was suspended altogether on that very Holy Day. Again, this was the tradition for the children and youngsters who had been waiting for this day for the last couple of months. Their elders ritually fast 25 hours, from the eve of Yom Kippur to the end of the Holy Day when the shofar announces the termination of fast, and hold prayers at synagogues or at their own homes to atone for their sins and trespasses.

Already dressed decently and properly to fulfill my obligations at the synagogue, I started out with the Holy Books tucked under my arm. But being an avid consumer of all nature stories, and a great nature-lover I had the desire to enjoy a short walk through the orchard and the alleys and the lanes flanked by the evergreen trees, before going into the synagogue.

How I love the early days of autumn. I was in good spirits and chose my way through the nearby orchard enjoying the early morning breeze. Thoughts began to file by in my head. It seemed only yesterday, I thought, that I had graduated from school, weaved so many dreams and aspirations, got married, my elder son was born, then five years later another son.

I am still that young boy just embarking upon the years, standing by a stream, wishing I could be like a tree beside the running waters with my roots running deep, existing but not seen. I watch the rose petals that I disperse as they float over the clear waters. They look so much like our young lives going with the current, over the ever-flowing stream of life, going, all and each, one by one to a known destination. I know there are broken dreams and drudgeries, but in spite of that it is a beautiful world. Live for today and you are not alone on this road, a pilgrim till you reach your destination where you will be no more.

I listen to the silence of nature, God by my side, and I sing to myself, to the birds of the air, the rustling water, the whisper of the trees. Like the hordes that graze off leftovers on terraces, I crave to cling to a distant past, dead but not forgotten, biding my time to catch a glimpse of the might-have-beens though it seems a daredevil challenge.

Take a deep breath, sit and watch the pictures file by in your memory, see them as they mix and mingle with the reality of the present. Close your eyes for a second and see with your mind's eye what the future has in store for you, and believe that one day, after you are gone, another one will be sitting there watching different pictures as a new day will dawn.

You dreamt of castles you built in air, you heard the hiss of the snake, soft and seductive, perfectly pitched to the ear of a wanton, young boy. Now you compose your own prayers in the company of God. You enjoy talking to Him. His are the only attentive ears. He will listen and keep silent, for His silence speaks louder than any speech.

I checked my time, doubled my steps and started back to the synagogue to join the other praying people, unobserved lest they would note that I was late for prayer, though I was and had never been an ardent religious person who observed meticulously the prayers hours. Yet Yom Kippur was a special day that needed to be observed accordingly - yes, a special day. But that Yom Kippur was different.

Different, I said? I was hardly out in the open for over an hour when…

Suddenly a siren was heard, and another, then another. People stared at one another not knowing what was going wrong. The stunned worshippers held their breath to grasp what was going on that special day. Aghast, confounded, the Holy Books in their hands remained open. The siren went on and on… Megaphones announced the horrible news that Israel was being attacked. It took less than an hour and trucks were in the streets to call the young people to arms. Israeli soldiers were away from their posts observing Yom Kippur, and the entire army was caught unprepared.

Knowing my duty, I hurried back home. In ten minutes I was dressed in my military uniform, the truck outside honked for the second time, and all I managed to say to my family was: "There is war. I am going …" And so I did.

We headed south. Other trucks were heading north. We learnt that a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria had launched early that very day a joint surprise attack on Israel.

I am not going to tell you about the war that began with a massive successful Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal in the south, coordinated with a Syrian attack on the Golan Heights in the north. The Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula, and this offensive that coincided with the Syrian attack made threatening gains into Israel-held territory.

I was deeply enveloped with my thoughts about that morning walk with God, and I began to ask Him questions as the truck drove on and on to the front. Do I have to see flowers flicker and die? Do I have to hear people whine and cry? Children play with toy guns, and when they grow the guns become real, and the dead lie row by row.

Turning swords into plowshares, is that possible in this ugly world? I wanted to peacefully worship the earth, and live anywhere, in a tree house or in the middle of the ocean, or up above the crest of a mountain. Why don't babies pronounce the word "love" when they first see the daylight of this world? The truck crammed with so many soldiers drove on through the desert while I kept asking, who will return alive and who will die there. I asked God, the Almighty Creator of this Universe why He can't make people avoid wars with one magic touch.

I thought of an autumn day in October when leaves begin to fall, the trees shiver and sadly wear a frown, each tree like a body stripped of soul, each like a king without a crown. When the morning of October 7 dawned, I lifted my eyes to the pacing dawn as darkness began to break apart. Like the trees I felt naked and shorn, but within my chest was beating a heart. Like the dead strolling among the graves or like feathers in a wild wind my thoughts ran over the waves of time. All I remembered was that winter was close-at-hand and that the rains of December would soon wash away the memories each and every soldier reluctantly had left on the summer sand, or they will wash away the blood stains, like poppies, on the battlefield.

Here comes the dawn, I said to myself. It plants a foot over the trees, the tops of mountains. Is there hope coming riding over the balmy breeze? I had to return alive to my family. I wanted so much to embrace the whole world with my short arms, I missed my long walks with God…God, are you there? I asked.

War taught me so many lessons. Millions of pictures kept recurring like an incessant dream. How could I approach life with a more pugilistic approach? I wasn't master of myself. I had to submit with deference. This was a world without laws, a world without the right to live freely and in love and peace, a world where laws are like spider webs when if some poor creature comes up against them, it is caught; but a bigger one can break through and get away. I was a suppliant, a worshipper where love and peace can exist only in his imagination. The lessons we learnt from war cost too much bloodshed.

October 25 - ceasefire. Ten days later I was sitting in my living room with my family solemnly watching TV. So many cannons, so many dead soldiers, so many coffins, so many salutes to the dead, to the young soldiers who weren't lucky to return alive like me, so many bereaved families, so many young dreams nipped in the bud …so many tears shed …there was a lump choking me in the throat. The only words I could utter as I lifted my eyes to the sky were: "God, why?" Silence …

I heard Him whispering in my ears: "I was with you all these horrible days we were out there. One day we shall again take a walk together, hand in Hand, and …."

Yes…"and what? Another war?" I thought to myself. 

 

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Monday, 02 August 2021

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