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Yom Kippur War: An American remembers being 17 in a kibbutz bunker

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I felt almost immediately at home there. Perhaps it was the sense of being at a perpetual overnight camp: the rows of squat little bungalows and rooms; the communal dining hall; the swimming pool; laundry; clinic. A self-contained miniature hamlet where, in the waning half-light of sunset, the sad-sweet singsong of the muezzin’s call to evening prayer wafted across from a mosque in the Arab village on a nearby hill.

On Oct. 6, Yom Kippur, I awoke to a khamsin. Simcha said there was always one on the holiday, just to add to the misery of fasting-to-atone-for-all-our sins. The suffocatingly hot wind that blew in from the Arabian desert shot the temperature to over 100 degrees F and left a sandy veneer on everything. My teeth were crunchy with grit. Khamsin means 50 in Arabic: the number of days that the wind supposedly blows. It drives people to madness. During the Ottoman Empire, when Turkey ruled this part of the world, a man wouldn’t be held responsible for killing his wife during a khamsin.

I was already knee-wobbly faint from lack of food and drink; the heat was a vise-grip that made it difficult to breathe. I sat in a chair in my room in front of a uselessly whirring little fan, then flopped on the bed because it looked more comfortable, then changed to another chair because it might be cooler. Finally I gave up and slowly trudged to the main building.

The kibbutz was echo-quiet; no one worked on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The little paths that criss-crossed the settlement, usually filled with people walking or riding bicycles or pushing carts with children in them, were deserted. Even the day-and-night radio chatter that wafted out from buildings with the hourly beeping time signal for news was silent. The Voice of Israel had gone dead for the day.

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