“Israel was not created for Jews to run around in bomb shelters.” How the war turned the peaceful life of Israelis upside down

In Israel there has been a war for three months, which has nev­er hap­pened before. Since the for­ma­tion of the state, Israel has not known so many civil­ian casu­al­ties — more than 1,200 killed, more than 250 hostages and dozens of miss­ing peo­ple. For the first time, 135 thou­sand Israelis found them­selves refugees in their own coun­try. For the first time, the army, togeth­er with con­script­ed reservists, exceed­ed 500 thou­sand. Thousands of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ortho­dox reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties, who until now had large­ly avoid­ed mil­i­tary ser­vice, vol­un­teered to join the army for the first time.

The war is felt through­out the coun­try not only in the form of reg­u­lar raids, but also in every­day life: research and study at uni­ver­si­ties have stopped (stu­dents and teach­ers at the front), you have to wait six months for an appoint­ment with a doc­tor (doc­tors are more need­ed at the front) , some gov­ern­ment agen­cies are not work­ing (employ­ees are at war), small busi­ness­es that sup­port Israel have lost clients (peo­ple have kept expens­es to a minimum).

This mate­r­i­al is a repub­li­ca­tion of a text by Olga Orlova, edi­tor-in-chief of T-invari­ant, post­ed on Important Stories.

Universities and schools. “A third of students went to war”

In Israel there is no fixed start date for the school year. Traditionally, it begins in mid-October after a series of long hol­i­days, the last of which is Simchat Torah. In 2023, this day fell on October 7. As soon as the news chan­nels report­ed what hap­pened on the Gaza bor­der, tens of thou­sands of stu­dents real­ized that instead of class­rooms, mil­i­tary bases await­ed them. Most young Israelis enter uni­ver­si­ties after serv­ing in the army, so they form the bulk of the reservists who are sent to the front in the event of hostilities.

“At our uni­ver­si­ty, a third of the stu­dents went to war,” says Bar-Ilan University pro­fes­sor Elena Bunina. “The local stu­dents with whom I cor­re­spond are in a very bad emo­tion­al state — like every­one else here. Everyone has dead acquain­tances, there are a lot of friends serv­ing. From time to time we receive let­ters about the death of chil­dren among fel­low teach­ers at our uni­ver­si­ty. Grief is very, very close.”

Elena Bunina, pro­fes­sor at Bar-Ilan University

“The Technion is emp­ty,” says Yakov Krasik, head of the plas­ma physics lab­o­ra­to­ry. “There are almost no young peo­ple in our lab­o­ra­to­ry now: two are at the front, and one girl is in such a dif­fi­cult psy­cho­log­i­cal state that she can­not con­tin­ue work­ing. Three years ago, dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, we also reg­u­lar­ly received news in the uni­ver­si­ty mail about the death of employ­ees, but now it is much hard­er to go through it, because we are not bury­ing the old, but the young.”

Yakov Krasik, pro­fes­sor at the Technion

For the first month, schools and kinder­gartens were closed, but then it became clear that it was impos­si­ble to keep chil­dren at home, par­ents began to go to work, and chil­dren began to get used to the sirens. Elena Bunina’s son goes to school, and her daugh­ter goes to kinder­garten. “My chil­dren are expe­ri­enc­ing the bomb­ings quite calm­ly — com­pared to oth­er chil­dren I hear about. Tel Aviv is often bombed.

In the first days they were very scared, but now they are used to it, they go to the bomb shel­ter with dis­ci­pline, and you can even take the youngest one there when she is sleeping.

True, my school­boy son’s edu­ca­tion­al process was very dis­rupt­ed: some of the teach­ers went to war, so he only stud­ies a few times a week for five lessons, which is logis­ti­cal­ly dif­fi­cult, of course. But our dif­fi­cul­ties are incom­pa­ra­ble with those fam­i­lies where chil­dren com­plete­ly left their schools and moved to oth­er cities due to hos­til­i­ties. I’m not even talk­ing about Ukrainian fam­i­lies who took their chil­dren away from one war and end­ed up in another.”

Schools in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try oper­ate in dif­fer­ent modes. In some places class­es are ongo­ing, in oth­ers they can only be held in secure rooms, and in oth­ers they have gone online. Israel has long expe­ri­enced a seri­ous teacher short­age; even before the war, it was one of the coun­tries with high class sizes of up to 40 peo­ple. Now, due to the mobi­liza­tion of teach­ers, pre­vi­ous­ly over­crowd­ed class­es are filled with chil­dren beyond the norm.

Refugees. “Evacuate everyone who does not have access to shelter”

During the first weeks of the war, the gov­ern­ment could not decide what to do with civil­ians in the com­bat zone, so vol­un­teers car­ried res­i­dents out from under shelling.

“Evacuation is not an eco­nom­ic problem.problem. The state has mon­ey to take peo­ple out of the dan­ger zone. A polit­i­cal solu­tion is nec­es­sary,” demand­ed the may­or of Sderot (a city locat­ed on the bor­der with Gaza) in the Knesset. However, the Minister of Finance vetoed the allo­ca­tion of mon­ey for the evac­u­a­tion of res­i­dents of cities that were par­tial­ly destroyed, but were not legal­ly clas­si­fied as bor­der areas with Gaza. Things moved for­ward only after the may­or of Ashkelon (anoth­er city near Gaza) yelled at the Knesset Minister: “For sev­en years I have been shout­ing: “Kibenimat!” (Russian curse in Hebrew). Include Ashkelon in the Gaza bor­der zone! Evacuate any­one who does not have access to shel­ter. I’m talk­ing about those who have no mon­ey for shel­ter and no mon­ey for evac­u­a­tion. What answers do you have for these peo­ple oth­er than pray­ing that they don’t die…?

Ashkelon has become a ghost town, shops and oth­er busi­ness­es are closed, loss­es from mil­i­tary oper­a­tions amount to hun­dreds of mil­lions of shekels, the Ministry of Defense gave the go-ahead for the trans­fer of funds, but the Ministry of Finance vetoed it.

And explain to me what to do if the evac­u­a­tion of the city has to cost 300 mil­lion shekels?” As a result, the deci­sion to evac­u­ate was made, more than 135 thou­sand Israelis from the north and south were tak­en out from under shelling. Most of them were placed in hotels, which are still emp­ty — there are few peo­ple wish­ing to relax in Israel today.

The state pays the hotels, but it’s free for refugees. But most hotels are not suit­able for long-term stays of fam­i­lies with chil­dren, since there are no schools or kinder­gartens near­by. And those that exist are not able to accept such a num­ber of new stu­dents at the same time. Therefore, many refugees try to go and live with those rel­a­tives or friends where they can get help and nego­ti­ate tem­po­rary admis­sion of a child to a kinder­garten or school. However, this tem­po­rary solu­tion does not answer the ques­tion: what will hap­pen to these peo­ple next? The gov­ern­ment has not yet pro­posed any solu­tions for the displaced.

Business. “We are left alone with the war”

Pavel Popelyukhin is 44 years old, 18 of which he has been work­ing in the Israeli office of an American IT com­pa­ny and every six months he goes to miluim for mil­i­tary train­ing for two to three weeks. He returned from the last miluim in September, and two weeks after the start of the war he again found him­self in the army. Of his com­pa­ny’s 300 peo­ple, about 15 of them are now in com­bat units. “In our com­pa­ny, we have no prob­lems with pay­ing reservists; they keep our salaries in full, because high-tech is a spe­cial world. But in oth­er com­pa­nies, employ­ers began pay­ing my co-work­ers the min­i­mum wage. They sim­ply don’t have the mon­ey to main­tain wages for those who don’t work for the third month. People are freak­ing out: not only have they not seen home for three months, with the excep­tion of rare week­ends every two or three weeks, but they also can­not pro­vide for their fam­i­lies. The nerves of the fam­i­ly can’t stand it, some fam­i­lies are start­ing to fall apart.”

Pavel Popelyukhin is an IT spe­cial­ist in civil­ian life, and a truck dri­ver in mil­i­tary life

Usually in Israel the num­ber of busi­ness­es is grow­ing, but this year there will be few­er 20 thou­sand less. In the first weeks of the war, almost all cafes and most shops in shop­ping cen­ters were closed. Some of them nev­er opened.

Ekaterina Biryukova and her hus­band Alexey are engaged in land­scape design — they improve areas, bal­conies, etc. Since the start of the war they have no new clients. Only the old ones remain, who pay a sub­scrip­tion to care for the already reg­is­tered ter­ri­to­ry. However, this income does not even pro­vide the fam­i­ly with the mort­gage pay­ment, not to men­tion the usu­al stan­dard of liv­ing: “Now I have a choice: go to the hair­dress­er or add 200 shekels to the mashkan­ta (mort­gage). And the same sit­u­a­tion is with my friends, artists and design­ers. True, our clients are very sup­port­ive of us: for exam­ple, we are afraid to trav­el to the cen­ter of the coun­try, to areas where there is fre­quent shelling. But our clients from those areas still pay for the sub­scrip­tion. Because peo­ple try to help each other.”

To help col­leagues suf­fer­ing loss­es, a well-known entre­pre­neur in Israel, the own­er of the Yoffi com­pa­ny, Arkady Mayofis, orga­nized the “Support Your Own” cam­paign: become free pub­lish adver­tise­ments for var­i­ous busi­ness­es in your accounts This helped many entre­pre­neurs not go bank­rupt in the first months of the war .

Arkady Mayofis sup­port­ed small busi­ness­es with adver­tis­ing in dif­fi­cult times

Until October 2023, Marina Badashina was such a famous man­i­curist in Haifa that she no longer took on new clients. You had to make an appoint­ment with her sev­er­al months in advance. In the first month of the war, she lost half of her clients: “Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple were left with­out work or went on unpaid leave. Manicure is not a mat­ter of first neces­si­ty, it is not food or med­i­cine. We work for beau­ty and joy. But peo­ple don’t have any joy now, but they still have kinder­gartens and apart­ments that they have to pay for.”

Marina works as a vol­un­teer in the chil­dren’s oncol­o­gy depart­ment of the Rambam hos­pi­tal, and also gives free med­ical pedi­cures to sol­diers (their prob­lems are bro­ken feet, cal­lus­es, ingrown nails, fun­gal infec­tions). All this does not bring mon­ey. “My col­leagues have a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. A mas­ter works next to me, to whom clients have been going for gen­er­a­tions for 40 years. I had nev­er seen him sit idle for hours before. On the oth­er side of me is the office of one of the best col­orists in Haifa. All her clients dis­ap­peared alto­geth­er. She tried to record videos and increase adver­tis­ing on social net­works. But this does­n’t help. When there’s war, you don’t go dye your hair. You sim­ply have no time for it. My friends who sell clothes from Italy and Turkey are in an even more dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. All logis­tics have been dis­rupt­ed and it is impos­si­ble to deliv­er goods. And sales of the remain­ing goods since the begin­ning of the war do not even cov­er the cost of rent­ing a store. That’s why a lot of stores closed after two months.”

It is believed that the Israelis are accus­tomed to wars. But Marina, who came to Israel 13 years ago from Kyiv, says that this is the first time she has had such a ter­ri­ble expe­ri­ence: “Yes, we know what the arrivals, sirens, and rock­et crash­es are. We can dis­tin­guish by sound what exact­ly is fly­ing in the sky. Nevertheless, psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly we always felt protected.

We have always known that there is a state and there is an ene­my. And my state will always pro­tect me. And now I sit and think: what can I do for my own safe­ty? We know that ter­ror­ists have infil­trat­ed all areas, I feel that they are in the coun­try, and I do not rely on any­one anymore.

I bought gas cans for myself and my moth­er. I try to avoid white pick­up trucks — these are the cars in which the ter­ror­ists drove from Gaza. I also keep sev­er­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment in my office. I am ready to resist at any moment. We were left alone with the war. And no one will pro­tect Israel except ourselves.”

According to data National Institute for Health Policy after October 7, the num­ber of Israelis suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety dis­or­ders increased by 50%, and cas­es of acute stress reac­tions increased by 900%.

But not every­one can han­dle the stress on the home front. Some vet­er­an reservists who can­not fight with new tanks decid­ed to restore decom­mis­sioned old tanks. Theycreated their own bat­tal­ion,named its Of Ha-Chol (Phoenix bird) and went to the front.

“After October 7, a mir­a­cle hap­pened to us,” notes Pavel Popelyukhin, whose com­bat spe­cial­ty in the army is the trans­porta­tion of heavy equip­ment, “Jews, Bedouins, Druze, Israeli Arabs, Muslims and Christians gath­ered and went togeth­er to defend them­selves even before the army and gov­ern­ment woke up.People around meleft every­thing to take part in the evac­u­a­tion and hos­til­i­ties. For usit was a shock how many Israelis who left the coun­try a long time ago returned­back to Israel. Somego straight to the front. Grief has brought the coun­try togeth­er and changed the way we look at how we live here. After all, we serve our­selves, but we can­not under­stand why October 7 became pos­si­ble, how did ithap­pen?.. Israel itself is sur­prised at itself.”

Oxonters. “Of course we will win the war”

The war has tak­en a toll on rur­al areas in the south and north of Israel, where farms rais­ing ani­mals, poul­try, fruits and veg­eta­bles are locat­ed. There were many Palestinian and Thai work­ers there. Israel expelled Palestinians, many Thais left by them­selves. Therefore, in the very first weeks of the war, farm­ers turned to vol­un­teers from the cen­tral part of the coun­try for help. Since then, for the third month, every Shabbat, engi­neers, teach­ers, musi­cians, dri­vers, pen­sion­ers, retired gen­er­als and min­is­ters, instead of rest­ing, trav­el along dif­fi­cult routes to the south­ern and north­ern regions to help farmers.

The famous American biol­o­gist Eugene Koonin reg­u­lar­ly comes to Israel to vis­it his moth­er. Each of his vis­its is an event for col­leagues, he is invit­ed to speak at sem­i­nars and give lectures.

Leading researcher at the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Library of Medicine of the US National Institutes of Health Eugene Koonin (right) helps Israeli farmers

This time, after the lec­ture, he went on Saturday togeth­er with oth­er uni­ver­si­ty employ­ees to pick toma­toes: “Only at first glance, this is rem­i­nis­cent of pota­to-pick­ing trips to the USSR. There it was caused by dis­gust­ing Soviet man­age­ment in agri­cul­ture, and in Israel it is vol­un­tary civ­il sol­i­dar­i­ty and strict neces­si­ty. If the har­vest is lost, peo­ple will have noth­ing to eat.”

There, in the green­hous­es, you can reg­u­lar­ly meet for­mer Defense Minister Moshe Bugi Ya’alon, actors and many oth­er famous Israeli figures.

New and old repa­tri­ates on agri­cul­tur­al work: biol­o­gist Alexander Markov, engi­neer Yan Rybak, biol­o­gy stu­dent Fyodor Voitinsky, biol­o­gist Alexandra Goryashko, music teacher Yana Yut

Logistics and deliv­ery of peo­ple to farms were tak­en over by vol­un­teer orga­ni­za­tions, whose role today is enormous.

Israel had no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence of instant­ly mobi­liz­ing such a num­ber of reservists. Therefore, vol­un­teers were often involved in pro­vid­ing sol­diers with uni­forms, food, and deliv­ery to mil­i­tary units in a mat­ter of days.

Jan Rybak, an engi­neer at the design com­pa­ny, took a leave of absence imme­di­ate­ly after October 7 and began deliv­er­ing aid to the sol­diers. “At the request of my friends, I car­ried every­thing under the sun, from T-shirts and shorts to mil­i­tary equip­ment. He deliv­ered every­thing that rel­a­tives of sol­diers from abroad sent by DHL mail — med­i­cines, things. Then he began to col­lab­o­rate with the vol­un­teer cen­ter that the “Israel Our Home” par­ty set up in Haifa. This is the only Russian par­ty in Israel. They col­lect dona­tions and pur­chase what the com­bat units ask for.”

At first, Jan trav­eled only to the south, but with­in a week, fight­ing began in the north, on the bor­der with Lebanon. “That’s where I real­ly felt what the prox­im­i­ty of the front was like. Just that day, Hezbollah fired anti-tank mis­siles at pop­u­lat­ed areas, killing a per­son in the morn­ing. When I arrived, they didn’t even want to let me in. We delib­er­at­ed for a long time, called, but in the end they let us through. They said: “Go, but don’t stop any­where.” I reached the vil­lage where I was sup­posed to hand over the food I had brought to the mil­i­tary, and there too: “Don’t stand here - this place is under fire from that hill.” When I was about to leave, I asked for a ride from a sol­dier who had been giv­en leave. While I was wait­ing for him, explo­sions began — every­one rushed to the shel­ter. In gen­er­al, it’s more scary to trav­el north now than to trav­el south.”

Jan has lived in Israel since 1991. He remem­bers count­less con­flicts with Gaza, with Hamas, and the Second Lebanon War. When asked whether vol­un­teers have always been mas­sive­ly involved in pro­vid­ing for reservists, he answers sharply: “No. But there was no such war as now. Not only in my mem­o­ry, but nev­er in the his­to­ry of Israel after the War of Independence. How is this war dif­fer­ent from all pre­vi­ous ones? The Yom Kippur War is con­sid­ered one of the worst Israeli wars; two and a half thou­sand Israelis died in it. But these were mil­i­tary, civilianThere were almost no loss­es. We have nev­er seen more than 250 peo­ple tak­en hostage. Their exact num­ber is still unknown: there are peo­ple who have dis­ap­peared, and we don’t know whether they are hostages or dead. The mur­ders were com­mit­ted with such inhu­man cru­el­ty that all the remains found have not yet been iden­ti­fied. In this regard, although the Yom Kippur War was dif­fi­cult and trau­mat­ic for Israel, no one at that moment thought that Israel could cease to exist, and the war that is hap­pen­ing now is the sec­ond war after the War of Independence of 1948, in which It’s about the sur­vival of the state. There is a war for exis­tence in Israel.

If Israel los­es this war, it will be the begin­ning of a painful end for us that will last two, three, maybe four decades. But this will be the begin­ning of the end. The fact is that the Arabs have not set their goal to cap­ture Israel for a long time. They under­stand per­fect­ly well: no Arab mili­tia, even like Hezbollah, is capa­ble of occu­py­ing Israel. They are just try­ing to sur­vive us, they are try­ing to make peo­ple’s lives unbear­able. The expec­ta­tion is that an ordi­nary Israeli will at some point say: “Well, how much is pos­si­ble? Why do I need this? There will be no end to this. I want my chil­dren to live in calm con­di­tions, so that they are not threat­ened by mis­siles.” Since 2005, since Israel com­plete­ly with­drew from Gaza, an entire gen­er­a­tion has grown up under the con­stant threat of rock­et attacks in the south. They have 20 sec­onds there to run to the shel­ter. But why was Israel cre­at­ed? Israel was cre­at­ed after World War II as a refuge: Jews would have a home in which no one could ever repeat the Holocaust, no one could kill Jews with impunity.

What we have seen over the past 20 years in Israel is not what this coun­try was cre­at­ed for. Not so that Jews in their coun­try run around bomb shel­ters. And now the biggest tragedy since the Holocaust has happened.

And, accord­ing­ly, the force of the reac­tion is pro­por­tion­al to the force of the blow: the lev­el of sol­i­dar­i­ty is incom­pa­ra­ble to any­thing that has hap­pened in my mem­o­ry. Therefore, every­thing is now per­me­at­ed with the spir­it of volunteerism.”

Volunteer Jan Rybak

“We will, of course, win the war,” promis­es Arkady Mil-Man, head of the Russian stud­ies pro­gram at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Just when exact­ly is unclear. As they say, how and when I start a war — I know, how and when I fin­ish — I don’t know. And then the most ter­ri­ble inter­nal strug­gle will begin, because the war raised the ques­tion for Israel: to be or not to be? We approached October 7 with a com­plete split in soci­ety, with enor­mous dis­con­tent among peo­ple who are in var­i­ous posi­tions in the state appa­ra­tus and in the army. Therefore, Israel, if it wants to sur­vive, must begin the bat­tle for the future the day after the war. Either we will live in the Middle Ages, like many of our neigh­bors, or we will be a major league state. One thing is cer­tain: Israel before October 7 and Israel after October 7 will be two dif­fer­ent countries.”

Text: Olga Orlova


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