As I passed his shop on my way to shul, the shoemaker on Kingston Avenue told me that a war had broken out in Israel that Yom Kippur morning, 1973. There was nothing I could do with that information once I arrived in shul except to tell my father what Carmen, the shoemaker, had said.
The odd thing is that 28 years later I first learned about the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center from one of the men who worked behind the counter of an all-night convenience store in Far Rockaway in the pre-Seasons Express days.
Maybe I went in there after shul on that Tuesday morning for a cup of coffee. The man behind the counter mumbled something to me about the World Trade Center, and as I left the store I was thinking, “Why is he bringing up the attack on the WTC that took place eight years ago, in 1993?” As the kids say, that was kind of random.
Until that Yom Kippur, when I walked by Carmen’s shoe repair shop, he would just signal thumbs-up or thumbs-down, which was his way of telling me whether the Mets won or lost on Friday night. On that Yom Kippur day I knew that it was about more than just a mundane ballgame. When he saw me walking up the street he put his little shoe hammer down, walked out from behind his counter, and told me that war had erupted in Israel.
Now with the gross Biden debacle in Afghanistan, it is as if we have rewound history back to pre-9/11, with terrorists in control of the country and now in a race with al-Qaeda and ISIS on the matter of how to damage the United States in any way they can devise.
In Israel, novice Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is attempting to breathe life and relevance into Palestinian Arab leader Mahmoud Abbas, the successor of the inventor of modern-day terrorism, Yasser Arafat. It’s a useless exercise that may pacify the tottering Biden administration, but if we can be assured of anything, it is that this will be the restart of a diplomatic journey that goes nowhere. And that just might be the goal—that is, to look like you are moving forward but really remain stationary.
It is still difficult to believe that Israel was caught by surprise with the multi-front attack, especially by Egypt, which launched the Yom Kippur War. The price they paid in lives lost was huge. Israel lost 2,656 soldiers in that war; unlike the 1967 war, it carried on for several weeks until a ceasefire was achieved.
Perhaps after the miraculous victory in the Six Day War six years earlier, Israel developed an air of complacency, the political leaders in particular, that they would be able to score an almost automatic victory in any future conflict.
So Israel almost lost this war, but led by General Ariel Sharon they managed to surround the Egyptian Army. The Israelis were ready to decimate them; however, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger intervened, negotiating a cessation of hostilities and thereby saving the Egyptians.
We call it the Yom Kippur War, but in Egypt it is commemorated as the October War. Though Egypt was eventually soundly defeated, they still celebrate the war as if they were the victors. So what does Egypt celebrate at this time of year? That they almost won.
Here is one of my favorite stories of the Yom Kippur War. It took place in the Golan Heights, where Israel was also caught off guard by a line of Syrian tanks crossing the Golan with almost no Israeli resistance. According to the book written by former Knesset Member and Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani, The Heights of Courage (1993), the tank commander and his team were in the lone tank patrolling the Golan on Yom Kippur morning
He writes that a line of Syrian tanks was headed for Israel, meeting just about zero resistance. Kahalani says that about halfway through the Golan on the way to sovereign Israel, the lead Syrian tank stopped. A few minutes later, the lead tanks turned around, with the others following back to Syria.
Years later, that Syrian tank commander was asked why he decided to stop suddenly and turn around. He responded that the fact that there was no sign of any Israeli defense or resistance led him to believe that Israel was setting a trap and that at any moment there would be an assault that would destroy the Syrian planned invasion from the Golan into Israel.
The Yom Kippur War took place 48 years ago, and while things are stable, it’s odd that whenever there is a Democratic administration in Washington, the tenuous status of the Golan is always placed back on the agenda. No one here or in Israel—or probably even in Syria, with their collection of problems—believes that someday Israel will withdraw from the Golan and return the strategic position to the Syrians.
The Jewish communities on the Golan are vibrant. Aside from the communities that have been there for decades, there are resorts, hotels, restaurants, yeshivas, and much more. It was President Trump who finally recognized legitimate Israeli sovereignty over the Golan during his presidency. It’s like everything else that Trump implemented—except for the agreement to withdraw from Afghanistan properly. The Biden folks are attempting to reverse, or already did reverse, all that Trump effectuated.
And that is true of Jerusalem, too. The Democrats, even our supposed friends like Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (she’s been very quiet), are trying to do their part to keep the status of Jerusalem up in the air. It’s only a matter of a little more time until the campaign for the midterm elections gets underway and the extreme positions on two states, the Golan, and Jerusalem get rolled back to the middle so that these folks can assure themselves of reelection. But we are onto their disingenuousness and duplicity. How long do they think they can carry on with that act?
It is now 20 years since that beautiful sunny morning when the lower Manhattan rush hour hustle and bustle was shattered by two passenger airlines directed by hijacker terrorists to crash into the Twin Towers. This year, 9/11 was on Shabbos Shuvah, the day heralded as a high point in our personal introspection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The terrorist breeding ground back then was in Afghanistan, and that is why shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush sent in U.S. forces to uproot the terror networks and Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks on the U.S.
Now 20 years later, we know that Afghanistan is nothing but a quagmire and a massive sinkhole. We were all hoping for an appropriate memorial observance for the events of September 11, 2001. But now that anniversary is clouded by the victory of the terrorists back where it all started in Afghanistan. President Bush wrongly believed that all solutions to the world’s problems were found in nation-building and teaching archaic countries about democracy. That theory has been disproved. Democracy is not for everyone.
In last week’s Torah portion we read, “The blessing and the curse which I have set before you, you will take it to your heart (Devarim 30:1).” The context there is how “the blessing and the curse” lead us to teshuvah. But how do the berachos that are showered upon us lead us to rethink parts of our lives and do teshuvah?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains: “When is a person most distressed? When all these things come upon you … the blessing and the curse. When a person first has blessings and then loses them, the feeling of pain is more profound than if he never would have had the blessings in the first place.”
It is a momentous and memorable time of year. G’mar chasimah tovah to all.
Larry Gordon is editor in chief of the Five Towns Jewish Times.