“Anyone I ran into on the bus would want to know where I had been, and where I was going, and what I had been doing, and what did I think. What would I say? That I had been in the war? That I had met my own self there?”
Rabbi Haim Sabato’s roman à clef takes us back to the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Childhood friends and study-partners Haim and Dov leave the synagogue services to join their tank battalion. Separated in the chaos of soldiers searching for their gear and divisions, Haim faces battle alone, all the time wondering what happened to his friend.
Sabato captures the confusion and fear that war brings, as well as the comfort that religion and ritual offer. His lyrical writing draws youinside the hearts and minds of young men fighting for their lives and the life of their country, documenting how even those who survive war must mourn a part of themselves that dies, as a new part is born.
Sabato conveys the preciousness of Shabbat observance under grueling conditions, how he searches for hot water to bathe in honor of Shabbat and saves a little of his army rations to make a Shabbat feast. We meet soldiers in pain who turn away from G-d, and those for whom war is the impetus to connect with Him. We struggle with Haim to climb the hills to new understandings about fear, war, and the meaning of life. With spare and beautiful writing that interweaves childhood memories, snatches of songs and chants, and Judaic texts, Sabato crafts a whole world. The author does not try to resolve every question he raises, but leaves us – as does real belief – with powerful questions existing alongside equally powerful connections to G-d and faith.
“Peace unto you.” “And unto you peace.” “May there be a good omen and a good Mazal for us and for all Israel. Amen.” With these words, Sabato concludes his tale of Yom Kippur 1973.
In some spiritual sense we find ourselves spiraling back thirty-eight years, as the United Nations considers Palestinian attempts to get a land without peace; this time the weapons pointed at Israel includes the world media. And so my prayer this Yom Kippur is that we all be sealed for a good year, with Israel in the forefront! Peace unto you. And unto you peace. May there be a good omen and a good mazal for us and for all Israel. Amen.
Rabbi Haim Sabato was born in Cairo and hails from an illustrious Syrian rabbinical family. Following the Suez Crisis of 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled the Jews of Egypt. The Sabatos immigrated to Israel, living in a transit camp that was a melting pot of Jewish ethnicities. Today, Sabato heads the Birkat Moshe Yeshivah in Ma’aleh Adumim, and is the author of four books. Tiyum Kavanot (Adjusting Sights) was translated into English by the gifted author Hillel Halkin, and won the Sapir Prize for Literature and the Yitzchak Sadeh Prize for military literature.