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The Land of the Bible, Still a Land of Heroes

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Photo credit: Chen Schimmel

ANALYSIS

For thousands of years, Israel has been known as the land of our forefathers, the land of the Bible, and the land of God— yet what has been made inspiringly clear to everyone the past eight weeks, is that this miraculous country is inhabited by a land of heroes.

Throughout my life, I have been studying and finding life lessons from the heroes of Israel from thousands of years ago—King David, Deborah, Joshua and Caleb. From the time I was a baby, I was raised on stories of the Zionist champions from this past century—Golda Meir, Yoni Netanyahu, and the countless other Israelis who worked to make the modern Jewish state what it is today. 

And sadly, in the past few years, I have been hearing people ask the same questions on the future of Israel, with a sense of despair:

 'Where have the visionary Ben Gurions of Israel gone?' 

'Do the people of Israel still possess the strength found in our national symbol, the Lion of Judah?'

'Do we have the traditional idealistic, selfless, spirit of Zionism still burning in our soul?'

'Does the younger generation understand what our older heroes knew: that we must be willing and able to transition from enjoying coffee in Tel Aviv, to fighting on the battlefield for our survival, in a moment's notice?'

In the past 10 years, it has become clear that the benefits of being the only Western democracy in the Middle East come with challenges as well. 
On one hand, Israel made the coveted list of 'top 5 happiest countries in the world', by possessing a national spirit of joy, despite the hardships, which is palpable to anyone who visits. 

Yet on the other hand, we have all wondered if this next generation – who haven't experienced any wars that threatened Israel's existence – would be able to drop their smartphones, high-tech jobs, and comfortable lives, to crawl in the mud and defend this homeland, if they needed to. 
If this horrendous war has taught me one thing, it's that we have sinned, by being so naïve and blind to the heroism that surrounds us at every coffee shop, in every synagogue, in the cafeteria of every high-tech hub, and in the spirit of every single person – both young and old – in this beloved country. 

Woe to us, who have underestimated the unexplainable heroic spirit of Israel, which in many ways, is more alive than ever before.
This past Shabbat, as I read the biblical story of Joseph who heroically saved the people of Egypt from famine thousands of years ago, I looked at my 17-year-old daughter who very soon will be an Israeli soldier, and reminded her that the heroes of this land are not just people of the past. Rather, they are people in the present, who are acting heroically.

Heroes like Keith Isaacson, a South African immigrant to Israel, and the Chief Security Officer for the Eshkol Regional Council, who I visited in the burnt ashes of Be'eri, just a few days ago.

On October 7, Keith was riding in the bulletproof, shrapnel-proof truck that The Fellowship donated to him a few months ago, when he realized that Israel was under terrorist attack. It was 7:30 a.m. when he found himself driving directly towards two Toyota trucks full of terrorists heavily armed with RPGs, anti-tank missiles, and lots of guns. As they passed Keith's truck in the opposite direction, the terrorists fired dozens of rounds his way. They tried to shoot his tires, but the fortified trucks have special tires that retain their air for a full day after being shot. By sheer miracle, Keith survived.

As the terrorists fired dozens of bullets at Keith's windshield and windows, Keith alerted everyone in his town and the security establishment, that Israel was under attack. These few minutes they had to prepare before the terrorists reached their city, saved countless lives.

Keith didn't leave the war zone to protect himself, but rather drove to a sheltered area in the heart of the terrorist's onslaught, in order to help. He ended up organizing and overseeing the army's heroic rescue of thousands of Israeli citizens on the Gaza border.

Photo credit: Chen Schimmel
Photo credit: Chen Schimmel

Eight weeks later, he hasn't put down his gun for a second, and remains on the front lines protecting this Holy Land and her people.

The people who he is dedicated to protect, are people like Riva, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor in Sderot, who is unable to evacuate the Gaza border town, which is bombarded by rockets on a daily basis. As I went to the ghost town of Sderot to visit Riva and bring her food, she told me how on October 7 she looked out her window and saw groups of Hamas terrorists, wearing green headbands and holding machine guns, coming at her home from every direction. They were on her lawn, outside her building, yelling in Arabic. "I was sure I was going to die," Riva whispered, with shaking hands and teary eyes.

As terrorists swarmed her apartment building on October 7, and she saw dead bodies of her friends on the street, Riva simply sat down on her kitchen floor… and for seven hours, she waited to die. "I sat down so that at least if the terrorists came in, they would shoot me right away, because I couldn't even stand up to run away." 

But God's hedge of protection was over Riva that day. 

After those terrifying hours of waiting, the terrorists moved on… and, somehow, Riva survived when so many others didn't. "The Nazi's almost killed me when I was two years old, but I miraculously lived," Riva said. "At least if I would have been killed by Hamas, it would have been in my own homeland. That's the only comfort I have."

Riva is one of 500 elderly who stayed behind in Sderot, preferring to die in her home than live as a refugee. All supermarkets are closed. All neighbors are gone. All streets are empty, besides the army and security officials who protect these elderly and ensure that organizations like mine, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), can safely deliver weekly food and companionship to them.

The security personnel are selfless and inspiring. But what moved me to my core, was seeing how this heroism has been passed down to the next generation as well.

Amnon, the Chief Security Officer of Hof Ashkelon, might not be as well known as Israeli heroes Menachem Begin or Shimon Peres, but I can assure you, he is nothing short of a modern hero of Israel. The Fellowship has known this amazing man for 10 years, and security gear—including bulletproof vests and an armored vehicle—we provided his team has helped save their lives numerous times.

But on October 7th, it wasn't just Amnon who was fighting terrorists and putting his life on the line, in order to protect the people of Israel. It was his grown son – a high tech professional from Tel Aviv – whose heroism literally moved me to tears. 

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It was a surreal scene. 

In Netiv Ha'asara, a small Israeli town on the border with Gaza, Amnon and I stood inside a 'frozen in time' family home which was attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7th. The holes in the living room walls showed where the grenades exploded, the huge black footprint left by the terrorists who kicked in the door was a wound to the heart, and the charred ceiling was testimony to the destruction which ensued. 

The broken glass on the family photos of the two little smiling children, coupled with the scorched schoolbags on the floor…made me desperately aware of the battle which was fought in the exact location I was standing.

We stood in silence, because the gut wrenching scene spoke for itself. 

And then, after a few long minutes, Amnon looked at me, took out his phone, and played me three voice messages from October 7th, which brought me to my knees. 

The first message was sent around 7:00 a.m. "Dad, I just heard about the terrorist invasion. I'm leaving Tel Aviv now on my way to you. I'll be by your side very soon to help you protect the people." 

The second message came less than an hour later, in a strong – yet stressed – voice: "I'm sorry, Dad, I'm not coming to the small town which you're defending, but instead I'm going straight to Sderot, where there are even more terrorists who are executing women and children. I need to try to help them first. I'm sorry, Dad, but you're on your own."

And, an hour later, Amnon got the third message from his son. "Dad, I have been shot. I have two bullets in my chest. I'm going to try to get to the hospital, but there are terrorists everywhere. I don't know if I'll be alive in another half hour, so I want you to know I love you and I'm proud of you. Keep fighting and protecting this land."

With tears streaming down my face, I asked how he responded. Amnon hugged me and played me the voicemail he sent his son in response: 

"My son, I'm proud of you. Be strong. As soon as the people in my town are safe and the terrorists are gone, I'll come be with you."

Thankfully, both of these heroes survived that awful day.

Both of those heroes survived. And both—like so many on October 7 and every day since—lived by the words of Amnon's heroic son: "Keep fighting and protecting this land."

Our board member's three sons who grew up in London, yet insisted on making aliyah and serving in elite combat units, are living by those words.

My 17-year-old daughter who registered to be a combat medic 'because the country needs me,' is living by those words.

And The Fellowship's countless volunteers and staff who have distributed over $18 million in aid since October 7, are living by those words.

As I traveled to southern Israel to see the destruction caused by Hamas, I prepared myself for the horrific things I would see and hear—and I will, in fact, never forget the scenes I witnessed and stories I was told. 

But what I came away with was a renewed awe for the humble and heroic defenders of Israel, who might not have books written about them or buildings in their name…but live a life of meaning and courage, the likes of which this modern world has never seen. 

There was one amplified message which followed me from the ashes of Be'eri where 10% of the population was killed or kidnapped, to the burnt home in Netiv Ha'asarah where the only recovered remains of the elderly couple who lived there was two ribs, to the rocket ridden streets of Sderot:

Yes, Israel experienced a tragedy which will stay with us for generations. But, Israel is not a defeated people. Rather, we are a land of heroes.

The entire country of Israel has unified – despite our political, religious, and cultural differences – to recognize that we are not fighting an enemy that is thousands of miles away, but rather an enemy who is unapologetically bent on our destruction, less than half a mile away from our children's bedrooms.

We have looked to our biblical and national heroes. We have mobilized, despite our differences, to fight for this homeland, in unity. We have come together for a new story of Israel—one of strength and peace—written by a new, prophetic generation.

Am I scared for the future of Israel? I look around me, and the answer is a definitive no.

From the coffee shops of Tel Aviv to the synagogues of Jerusalem, to the tech hubs of Haifa and the nightclubs of Eilat, I know that we will persevere and be stronger than ever.

Because Israel is a land of heroes. 
 

 

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About The Author

Yael
Eckstein

Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As President, Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the organization’s international spokesperson. She can be heard on The Fellowship’s daily radio program airing on 1,500 stations worldwide. Before her present duties, Yael served as global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Based in Jerusalem, Yael is a published writer, leading international advocate for persecuted religious minorities, and a respected social services