Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar, is a day of fasting and reflection. We all have fond memories of breaking the fast with family at the end of the Day of Atonement and looking forward to celebrating Sukkot. This day is so revered that it is never postponed, even when it lands on the Shabbat. It is central to the Jewish faith.
Though the holiday has been honoured and celebrated for centuries, Yom Kippur of 1973 stands out as a painful and tragic date. This day will be talked about for decades, via stories that hold immense pain, courage, and heroism. On Shabbat, October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted, bringing a dark memory to this otherwise blessed day.
The war began as Egyptian and Syrian soldiers advanced to reclaim land that they had lost during the famous Six-Day war of 1967. Israel was attacked simultaneously on the northern and southern borders. The attack was ordered by the president of Egypt at the time, Anwar el-Sadat. Though he wanted to make peace with Israel, he knew that his country’s poor economy and lost land would create unfavourable peacetime conditions for the Egyptians. He decided instead to attack Israel on the holiest of days.
Because most Israeli soldiers were observing Yom Kippur with their families, there were fewer ready to fight the incoming armies. What happened next is destruction and desolation like we have never known.
Batya shares her memories from this war: “I lived two houses from the Prime Minister's residence. Like every Yom Kippur, the streets were deserted, and there was not a single vehicle on the roads. There were no means of communication, as all the channels were off. Only the worshipers who come and go to the synagogue were seen on the streets from time to time. Everyone was weak and tired from the fast.
At noon I heard vehicles driving on the road at breakneck speed. They just kept coming. I went out on the porch to see who dared to drive on Yom Kippur and found that the drivers were personnel and government ministers who had arrived at the home of Prime Minister Golda Meir.
We knew something was wrong, so we turned on the radio to find out what was happening.“
An IDF spokesman on the radio said: "As of 2:00 PM, Egyptian and Syrian forces are attacking Sinai and the Golan Heights in the air and on land. After a series of airstrikes on our outposts and force camps, the infantry launched a ground attack. Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal in several places, and Syrian forces launched an armoured and infantry attack along the line in the Golan Heights. IDF forces are working against the attackers, and in both sectors there are battles in the air and on land."
The rest is history. Though its enemies tried to destroy Israel through this surprise attack, Israel gained territories that it had never intended to capture. Egypt had lost the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Jordan lost the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and East Jerusalem, and Syria lost the Golan Heights. Israel’s victory came at the cost of heavy casualties, and Israelis criticized the government’s lack of preparedness. That time is now described as "a war heavy with days, and heavy with blood.”
Testimony of an Israeli pilot:
"I was on a flight over the Suez Canal. We were on a mission to stop the Egyptian forces that tried in the masses of tanks and soldiers to enter the borders of Israel. I saw from the cockpit the incomparable balance of power, hundreds of enemy army tanks and thousands of Egyptian soldiers approaching and fighting. On the Israeli side, there were very few military forces to provide protection for the borders. From above it seemed shocking. It could end in a Holocaust and the destruction of an entire state, the State of Israel. I did not believe what I saw, and I said to myself, it can not be. Where is the balance of power?
Air Force planes continued with continuous shelling and I saw the thousands of Egyptian soldiers advancing with almost no interruption and few forces of soldiers and tanks on the Israeli side.
Then I sat in the cockpit and prayed for a miracle. I am a kibbutznik, and I was educated in a non-religious kibbutz. But suddenly I see an amazing spectacle. Masses of Egyptian soldiers returning towards Egypt, tanks retreating. Some of the enemy fighters raise a white flag and surrender, and I do not understand what is happening. I'm stunned and ask myself, what's going on down there?
This scene has not been erased from my memory and I remember that later when the war was forgotten in the warriors' discourse, I heard what had happened from the testimony of the Egyptian prisoners.
Here is the story from the Egyptian side: As the Egyptians advanced toward Israel, they suddenly saw masses of Israeli soldiers. They were sure they were falling into a trap from which they wouldn’t come out alive. They did not understand where all these soldiers came from. Out of fear and anxiety they decided to surrender.
I am the pilot. I saw from above the balance of power. I knew that there is a God in heaven, that he guards us with all his angels. Thanks to his defence and intervention we were able to win the difficult and bloody war."
The formerly unbelieving pilot who gave the testimony became an observant and God-fearing believer after the miracle he saw that day.
Israel is surrounded by enemies. Our existence is a testimony for God’s wonders and miracles since the creation, an everlasting covenant He made with Abraham and our forefathers. Let the Lord continue to fight for us.
May we always remember times of tragedy, so that we may honor those who died and ensure that the evil of war does not repeat itself.