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The Crack of Dawn    

Operation Breaking Dawn. When the army gives the skirmish a name, you know it’s serious


he army’s started a new operation, get ready for missile activity. The word goes around our neighborhood in Ashdod some two hours before Shabbos.

This is Mivtza Alot Hashachar. Operation Breaking Dawn. When the army gives the skirmish a name, you know it’s serious.

Which kids to tell, who to prepare… it’s stressful, this awareness that we’re soon entering 25 hours of no news. Stressful not to know how serious is serious. Do I let my teen go down with the little ones to the neighborhood park after lighting? Should my husband daven nearby or in his usual minyan?

And, most importantly for us…what’s with Tova’s volunteers? Tova’s special needs make staying home for endless hours on Shabbos a very challenging prospect. We have a host of volunteers who are amazing enough to dedicate time to taking her out on walks. But when there are missiles raining down, that’s no longer feasible.

One after the other they call me, these angels. They’re fine looking after Tova. The Friday night pair say they’ll stay near buildings. The Shabbos morning one tells me that she’ll come as usual and take Tova to her house for a change of scenery. The Shabbos afternoon volunteer says she’ll come as usual, too.

But that’s Plan A. If there are no sirens.

Plan B — if there’s even one siren, Friday night no, Shabbos afternoon no. Shabbos morning if we bring Tova to her house, with the greatest of pleasure.

That’s going to have to be enough.

A few minutes before lighting, we get an automated call from the mayor: please only daven in shuls with safe rooms.

I light Shabbos candles, anxious and worried. This is a strange Shabbos as it is — it’s the ninth of Av, but it’s a Shabbos, no mourning. Still, I find it hard not to think of the upcoming fast, not to feel heavyhearted during this temporary reprieve from the sorrow of the week. And now, with war hanging over our heads, it’s even harder not to give in to the dark.

I put on a smile and we sing our regular songs, play games, tell stories.

My husband sings Shalom Aleichem and the siren goes off. I’m just grateful we’re all safely home. Ten precious minutes between us calmly going into the safe room, and running helter-skelter in the streets!

The seudah after that is uninterrupted, but we’re in the other mode now. The undercurrent is there, pricking up your ears, the shhhhh… was that—?

The night, disrupted by nothing but our alertness, faint sirens from other areas, Iron Dome activity. A far-off thud. But quiet in our immediate vicinity.

In the morning, my husband and son go to shul and take Tova to her volunteer’s house on the way. I send them off with a prayer, thinking of our soldiers farther south taking part in Alot Hashachar. And suddenly, an old Mordechai ben David song steals itself into my brain.

Trembling in the darkness… It tells of a soldier struggling through the deepest of nights in battle, in desperate fear as those around him fall. And wait — the crack of dawn… he manages to make it through, to daylight, to victory.

Then comes the parallel, how we in galus struggle through battle, the long, dark night. Soon, soon the crack of dawn — the past is but a dream, in Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash

I don’t find it difficult to tap into the imagery, the lyrics. This is a welcome earworm, and I give into it, hum it under my breath, and think of us soldiers trembling at the darkest of the night, waiting for that crack of dawn.

The intrepid menfolk and Tova all come home for Kiddush safe, no sirens — but a blast nearby makes our windows rattle. My husband tells me that the volunteer offered to have Tova again for two hours in the afternoon if I’ll take her there. Is that a question?

As I get ready to leave, one of my kids asks me if I’m scared.

No, I reassure them all. Look, I’ve got comfortable shoes in case I have to run. I’ve planned exactly how to get there with almost no breaks in buildings. I’m being careful and safe. I don’t say, at this point, it’s a question of sanity more than safety.

It’s broiling outside, the peak of an Av afternoon. The streets are deserted, roads shimmering in the heat.

A battlefield, unknown, I hum that song again. No one’s around to hear me anyway. I’m sweating already, palms slick against the wheelchair’s handles. Imagining that soldier, covered in mud, crawling along on his stomach. He whispers words of prayer…

As I turn onto the main road, I see another human being. Like a mirage, a man dressed from head to toe in full black chassidish regalia on his way to shul. And two minutes later, another. How can it be, in this heat from the sun, from the threat of missiles? A third and fourth brave soldier leaving the safety of home.

My eyes burn, and it’s not from the heat. See, Hashem, in spite of all this, Uvechol zos, Shimcha lo shachachnu. We have not forgotten You! Never! Here we are, in the thick of battle, marching to learn Your Torah.

I deliver Tova safely and make my way back home. And now, on the eerily quiet streets I meet girls. A teenager I know, slipping into her building with a special needs child in tow. Some minutes later another one, pushing a child with Down syndrome in a stroller. Close on her heels yet another girl, braving the same conditions that I am, a smile on her face while she holds a special needs teen by the hand.

Can there be anything more powerful, more moving, than the chesed by which I am surrounded?

I don’t slow my pace, but the underlying desperation to be home has disappeared. I hear the whispers of the angels as they spread their wings above us all in a canopy of protection, more sound than the Iron Dome. Torah, gemilus chasadim.

I don’t remember ever feeling safer than this, I tell everyone when I get home, barely conscious of my dripping face.

Wait, I hear those angels whisper. Soon, soon. Not too much longer now.

The crack of dawn.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 806)

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