Washington Stand

Israel: On Our Minds and Hearts

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom
Family and friends attend the funeral of an Israeli soldier who was killed in the Gaza war on November 8, 2023. (Amir Levy via Getty Images)
Family and friends attend the funeral of an Israeli soldier who was killed in the Gaza war on November 8, 2023. (Amir Levy via Getty Images)

Since October 7, Israel has continuously been in our thoughts and prayers. The exposure of Hamas’s brutal hatred for Israel’s Jewish people continues to distress us. We’ve both spent considerable time in the Jewish State during different decades and for different reasons. And now, following Hamas’s diabolical massacre in southern Israel and its military aftermath, we are reflecting on beloved Israeli friends — some who have passed on, and others who are still fighting today.

Israel’s establishment as a sovereign nation occurred on May 14, 1948. The Jewish State was uniquely significant in many ways. Most importantly, the State of Israel took responsibility for maintaining what God had promised them centuries before: a safe homeland for the Jewish people.

However, beginning in 1948 — within hours of Israel’s formal establishment — and still today, the Jewish State has to fight for every inch of ground that Israelis call their home. Success has not come without a price; it has been bought of thousands of lives. Israel has sometimes fought against five nations at a time — nations that have been larger, wealthier, and more influential. And miraculously, the Jewish State has always prevailed.

Along with major conflicts such as the War of Independence in 1948, the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the first and second Lebanon Wars in 1982-85 and 2006, there have been repeated incidents during which Israel has successfully defended her people. But spectacular as these operations have been, success has always come at a high price. As Israelis have fought with all the strength they could muster, and with great success, they have lost countless loved ones in the process.

Tragically, that same hostility continues today, and it was viciously exposed on October 7. And for us, our love for Israel and its people resonates with us both yesterday and today as we recall the strength, love, and tenacity of friends we’ve made along the way. During our separate opportunities to live in Israel, we’ve observed the people’s courage and dignity — qualities that make the nation of Israel as strong as it is today.

General Boykin recalls:

“When I lived with the Golani Brigade for a time, I came to know Amir Mytal, deputy commander of a reconnaissance company, and for a time, I lived with him. There was a powerful bond between us; becoming close as brothers, we were grateful to serve side by side.

“Shortly after leaving Israel, I was in the jungle of Guatemala when I received a brief and shocking satellite radio message: ‘Major Mytal was killed last night on a raid in Lebanon.’ My heart was broken by this devastating news. I soon learned the full story: Amir had been killed by a single bullet to his head as he led a raid against Hezbollah in South Lebanon. He had died immediately.

“I was deeply grieved, and as soon as I could possibly do so, I returned to Israel to pay a condolence visit to Amir’s parents. As I sat at a Shabbat dinner with them, I noticed a painting on their wall: It was the portrait of a table set with four plates, but there was no food on one plate. I quickly understood that this was a portrait of the loss to Amir’s family.

“But I had a question: ‘What are the red streaks on the painting?’ Amir’s father explained that the deputy commanding officer in the operation had carried Amir off the target area, slung over his own shoulder. The red streaks represented Amir’s blood, which had stained the uniforms of both men. The tears began to flow as I embraced both his parents. That’s why, when Amir’s father created the painting, he also paid his respects to that surviving commander.

“It was a classic Israeli tribute — both to the living and the dead.”

Lela’s experiences during more than a decade in Israel included time spent with friends and families who had experienced indescribable hurts and losses.

“One close friend of mine, Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt, was critically burned and remains heavily scarred. After surviving a 1997 Hamas bombing in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yahuda market, her clothes were still in flames when she was rushed to the closest hospital in a taxi. Her two-year burn recovery was agonizing. But to this day, she works diligently to educate international students about Israel’s God-given role in the world.”

More recently, Lela’s ongoing conversations with Israeli friends engaged in today’s battle against Hamas have exposed the harsh realities of war and its effects on close loved ones. One friend from Tel Aviv sent a photo of her daughter and her newborn baby girl just minutes after delivery; an attached note explained that the baby’s father is deployed somewhere in Gaza and doesn’t yet know about his daughter’s birth.

Another close friend from Jerusalem wrote just days ago about her son Josh’s combat experience.

“Josh has had a traumatic time, experiencing things I’d hoped he’d never have to face. During their first week of combat, Josh’s best friend was fighting right next to him. He suddenly crumpled beside him; he was killed instantly — shot dead. Their commander was seriously injured as well. Josh is fine in body and determined to carry on. But he is deeply shaken.”

Today, similar stories reach into nearly every Israeli home. Israel’s assault on Gaza was necessary and its victory is essential. Yet questions remain: Will the IDF successfully rescue the 240 Israeli hostages held by Hamas? Will the world finally wake up to the genocidal intentions of Hamas? Or will Iran and its proxies simply continue their quest to destroy Israel, with no permanent resolution at hand?

At the time of this writing there are far more questions than answers. But those of us who love Israel — and worship the God of Israel — are pledged to stand with her people and their defenders during this unprecedented time of danger and vulnerability. For now, let’s respond to the Psalmist’s ancient prayer:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.
For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you’ (Psalm 122:7-8).

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