Metula Diarist: A tribute to Guardians of the Jews

Metula, Israel

Fortunately, no Global March to Jerusalem related clashes occurred at the Israeli-Lebanese border in the city of Metula (the small town where I traveled to cover the story for CiF Watch), as had been expected.  So, I spent some time at the border location where reporters were stationed conversing with a few of the IDF soldiers assigned there.

The conversations with one soldier in particular touched on many topics: some light and humorous (like my difficulties learning Hebrew in contrast with her remarkably fluent, and unaccented, English).  But, others were more weighty, such as the cognitive war against Israel in the context of the GMJ, antisemitism, and the politics of the Middle East more broadly.

She also told me about her late grandfather’s experience surviving the Holocaust.

It was one of the many tales of the suffering and profound strength displayed by those who survived the Shoah most of us have read about, but which, I’ve learned, occasionally possess more meaning in particular times, places and moments in our life.

Here I was, a recent immigrant to Israel, blogging about an organized attempt to erode my nation’s moral legitimacy and (if their long-term wishes are fulfilled) our very existence, with a native Israeli whose own life is as improbable as was the rebirth of the modern Jewish state itself.

Though estimates vary, the latest research suggests that roughly 1 million Jews died in Auschwitz, a good percentage of whom were children. Many Jews who weren’t immediately gassed died from malnutrition, disease, hideously cruel “medical experiments”, or torture – with most inmates surviving merely weeks or a few months.

The late grandfather of the IDF soldier I spoke to somehow survived four years at this Nazi extermination camp.

Shortly before liberation, he was sickened by disease and, no longer able to work, was sent by Nazi guards to be killed.  

However, a Jewish inmate who was working in the camp infirmary noticed that this man minutes away from execution had a number on his arm indicating how long he had survived.  Somehow, the physician was able to rescue my friend’s grandfather and brought him into the infirmary, telling him that to survive this long he must be incredibly strong, and promised to do everything in his power to help him recover from this seemingly fatal disease.

He did survive and, after liberation, was reunited with his wife, who had survived in France by working as a nurse, passing as a non-Jew.

They both soon emigrated to Israel, started a kibbutz and started a family.

The young Israeli woman I was sitting with owed her life to her late grandfather’s unfathomable courage, an indescribable will to survive.

Much of what inspired me to make Aliyah – and to blog for Zion – was more than a desire to protect Israel, informed by a sober understanding of the malevolence of our enemies.  Both were also motivated by a reverence for the heroism of those who came before me, and a desire to honor their memory, those who managed to pass on to future generations the precious gift of continued Jewish existence.  

I’m haunted by the fear of not being worthy of their sacrifices: the brave early Zionist pioneers who gave up so much and endured physical hardships scarcely recognizable to our generation so that a nation may rise; the Soviet Jews who worshiped in secret, often studying Torah under candlelight, in a nation dedicated to eradicating religious observance, so that their thousands year-old traditions would be passed on to future generations; and the Israeli soldiers who fought and, far too often, died so that their children, and their nation, could live.

I am forever in debt to the countless sacrifices of Jewish heroes and heroines over the ages, Guardians of the Jews, for whom words such as valor, determination, duty, and courage (in the face of often impossible odds) weren’t simply vacuous platitudes, but values they lived every day.

These brave souls are for whom I blog.

As Zionist activists we can never assume that victory is assured, but neither can we succumb to the supremely dangerous vices of cynicism, defeatism, fatalism or resignation.

Surrender is never, ever an option.

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