MY SAVIOR LIVES
On the 40th Anniversary of Israel’s Yom Kippur War:
The Story of a Soldier
A WEDDING & HONEYMOON IN EUROPE
June 1973 was a particularly hot and humid month in Tel Aviv. Yet, my fiancé and I had made our plans to get married that summer, no matter what the temperature… I was only 23 years old, and my wife-to-be was 21. Though we were both young in years, we had already finished our compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces. I served in Sinai, a real desert-mouse. She served in an Air Force base near Tel Aviv. Our service was during the War of Attrition (1968-1971) between Egypt and Israel, on the Suez Canal. We both already knew first-hand the cost of war!
For our honeymoon, we flew to Switzerland at the beginning of September 1973. We returned to Israel on the last El Al flight, Friday, October 5th, the eve of Yom Kippur, just before the airport was closed for about 30 hours. You see, during the Day of Atonement, everything closes down for a day: air and sea ports, buses, trains, taxis, radio, TV, restaurants and cinema houses. All traffic on the roads ceases, too. Yom Kippur is a very solemn Day of Awe in Judaism, especially when it falls on a Sabbath, which was the case in 1973.
6TH OF OCTOBER 1973: THE BITTER REALIZATION
So, there I was, elated after the wonderful time in Zurich, coming back to the serenity, silence and awe of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv. I had hardly managed to unpack my suitcase. I remember that Saturday morning, sitting snug on the couch, near the coffee table, savouring the wonderful flavour and aroma of our preferred blend of good Israeli coffee…
After finishing the coffee, and as a confirmed News Bulletin freak, I had a “nudge” from inside to go to my portable transistor-radio. I tried to get BBC World Service, since Israel Broadcasting Authority was shut down for Yom Kippur, with no radio transmission.
And there I heard it, on the British News: Israel had been attacked simultaneously, with no prior ultimatum, by two Arab countries: Egypt in Sinai, in the south, and Syria, on the Golan Heights, in the north. Nobody in Israel seemed to have been ready for it: neither the government nor the army!
By then, the Egyptians had managed to cross the Suez Canal from Egypt back into the Sinai, from where they had been driven out six years before during the Six-day-war of 1967. They were storming the vast peninsula, almost unhindered. The Syrians were doing the same on the Golan Heights, from where they had been driven out, also in ‘67. If not stopped, they could have reached Galilee in Israel, and only God knows what could have been the result of this…
The majority of the IDF’s combat personnel is not made up of mandatory military conscripts, but rather of civilian reservists, called up routinely to do training and maneuvers. In the case of an emergency call-up they need to report immediately! This was the case on Yom Kippur 1973.
As I went outside, I started seeing men running in the streets, leaving the synagogues in the middle of the prayers, running home to get their combat-gear. Not long after that, I started noticing army vehicles, an unusual sight on Yom Kippur, driving up and down the deserted streets, going from house to house to pick up the men from their homes.
And then came the blood-curdling siren.
FROM HONEYMOON TO HELL!
I called my father, as my military gear and uniforms were still with my parents. Being a reporter, he had a “PRESS” tag on his car, permitting him to drive his car without the risk of being stoned by the ultra-Orthodox…
At that point I already knew, deep inside, that my Honeymoon was indeed over, in more ways that one!
SINAI, 8TH – 24TH OF OCTOBER: MY YOM KIPPUR WAR
What I did not know though, was the extent and magnitude of the hell I would enter. I was positioned to do what I knew best: to drive a tank, an American M48A3 Patton, modified and improved by Israel.
I had the honor of driving the tank for the Second in Command to the Battalion Commander – Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in the IDF. In 1991 Barak became Israel’s Chief of the General Staff, during which time the United States Armed Forces awarded him the US Legion of Merit Medal. Barak then proceeded to become our Prime Minister, and in recent years was Israel’s Minister of Defense. But in October ’73 Barak was called back from his studies at Stanford University in California to help in the efforts of survival!
There were many other Israeli men in the same position as Barak: scattered all over the world for business, study or vacation. Yet – when the going in the Land gets tough – the tough get going back to do their duties – even if nobody called them to do so!
Most of those men had not even been assigned to specific units. Neither was I. Barak hastily formed a new armoured-battalion from scratch – The 100th Battalion, Armoured Division 460, all of us non-assigned reservists.
It took a couple of days before we could reach the battlefields in the Sinai. Moving an entire tank-battalion, including 36 tanks, 15 APC’s, kitchens, mechanics, ammunition trucks, fuel delivery trucks, parts and food is a mammoth operation! We only caught up with the war on day-3 of 18!
EGYPT, 24TH OF OCTOBER: MY SAVIOUR’S GRACE WAS UPON ME…
Just an hour before the war officially ended, on the 24th of October 1973, we were told to “take five” before entering the Egyptian City of Suez. It was then that my participation in the war came to an abrupt halt. I sustained a shrapnel injury to my head from a mortar barrage while resting on the wing of my tank.
I felt the impact but wasn’t aware I was injured. It was only when I returned to my tank and began driving in a weaving manner, did my commander realize I was injured and ordered me to stop. I became one of Israel’s 7,200 wounded soldiers.
Not long after I had been removed from my tank, just minutes before the Cease Fire and an official Cessation of All Hostilities was declared by the UN, my tank was directly hit by another Israeli tank!! The soldier that took my place as a driver was killed instantly! He was one of 2297 Israeli soldiers who died in that war. Our faithful gunner, Isaac, lost his left arm with my wrist-watch on it – my precious wedding gift…
You can imagine that taking part in such a cruel war, straight after the Alps, did not injure me in body only. The sheer contrast between a honeymoon and a hellish war was enough to drive anyone insane!
My injury, high in the nervous system, caused an unusual phenomenon: paralysis in both of my legs, loss of control of the urinary bladder, orientation problems and speech impediment. Yet, this unpleasant injury also saved my life – in more than one way!
NEW BIRTH IN SOUTH AFRICA
Seventeen years later, in 1990, at the age of 40, I left Israel as a man broken in body and spirit. I had recovered my speech and other areas of injury, but I was not able to walk without braces or crutches, and had absolutely no feeling in my left leg from the hip down.
I had received a contract for a hi-tech job in South Africa. I left behind a marriage in ashes and my 10-year-old daughter. Arriving in Johannesburg, I met a neighbor near the hotel where my company had placed me and she began to witness to me about salvation and eternal life. Three weeks later, I gave my heart and my life to Yeshua – Jesus.
Three months later – exactly the 17th year anniversary of my injury, I was in Rhema Church and the pastor laid hands on me and prayed for healing. I fell to the floor, and then I felt terrible pain in my left leg – the leg in which I had felt nothing from the hip down for 17 years. I then lifted that leg in the air even with the weight of my brace. The right leg, less injured, also went straight up into the air. I was healed!
THOUGHTS OF AN OLDER, WISER BELIEVER…
Today, as a 63 year-old believer living in the Land, my relation to this anniversary is a two-pronged response: personal and national.
I have my own, personal Yom Kippur saga to tell: of how God, in His Mercy, took a 40-year-old paralytic from Israel, and by grace led him to salvation and healing in South Africa, after 17 years of torment and hatred towards God! Torment ceased at the moment of salvation. Healing, in body and spirit, followed shortly after! He is still in the process of healing my memories of the awful smell of burning human flesh, shouts of comrades on the radio crying for help, and other issues – a lengthier process it seems…
But I also have my thoughts and sentiments concerning the national aspects. I know, like the majority of Israeli citizens, what led Israel to the near-catastrophic results right at the beginning of the war. We were not ready. We were not dependent on our God. We were asleep. All of us, who lived here at the time, remember well how Israel was taken by surprise on the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar, not even 50 years after the Holocaust. How Israel was nearly wiped off the map in the first 48 hours of the war. We also know that if the Keeper of Israel had not intervened – Israel would not have won that war!
Having unfolded my candid, somewhat somber thoughts before you, I am still convinced of one major thing: this Beloved Nation of mine, inhabiting the Land where the story of the Gospel began, and where the feet of our victorious Lord are going to stand firm one day – has no other way but to recognize Yeshua and turn to Him! He is the only Glorious Prince of Peace; the Sun of Righteousness who brings healing in His wings!
God has ordained that His people among the nations will participate in our salvation. I pray that during these Days of Awe, our High Holidays, God will reveal Himself to more Israelis seeking the Truth. And I pray that as you continue to bless Israel, the God of Israel will bless you.
Uzi Lotan is director of Maoz Hebrew Publishing and elder in Congregation HaMaayan Kfar Saba, Israel.
*Jewish holidays which are fixed according to the Hebrew calendar, fall on different dates of the Gregorian calendar. In 1973, Yom Kippur fell on October 6.