Next Monday, Yom Kippur, marks on the Jewish calendar the 50th anniversary of the simultaneous Syrian and Egyptian surprise attack on Israel. The rabbi and novelist Haim Sabato was one of the hundreds of young Israeli men rushed to the Golan Heights to fight a series of desperate tank battles against overwhelmingly superior numbers; among those in his unit was the late Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, who later became a beloved Talmud teacher and innovative theologian known to his acolytes as Rav Shagar. Sabato fictionalized his wartime experiences in his novel Adjusting Sights. In a 2014 essay—or perhaps, a work of metafiction—recently translated into English by Jeffrey Saks, Sabato recounts how his brothers in arms reacted to the book. The essay begins thus:
Twenty-five years had passed since the Yom Kippur War. That’s when I met him. Two days after my book Adjusting Sights was published in 1999, I attended the wedding of an old student of mine. An energetic wedding band of eight musicians played with full force. The drummer pounded away mercilessly and, while doing so, would crash the cymbal and shake the maracas. Three trumpets blasted loudly. Circles of young people full of gaiety danced with youthful vigor, encircling the bride and groom, stomping their feet with all their might, waving their hands in the air and singing loudly. Older guests chatted at the tables about this and that, raising their voices, and repeating ever more loudly, trying to talk over the sound of the deafening drums. Young waiters, not much older than children, walked cautiously, with measured steps, squeezing between round tables and crowded guests, carrying full platters on one hand that were more than they could handle, struggling to steady themselves, to keep their balance, so that towering stacks of plates and dishes wouldn’t topple over.
There, among the trays of colored soft drinks and guests tucking in to taste fish delicacies on toothpicks, that’s where I met him. His face was covered in scars from severe burns. I barely recognized him. He approached me with great agitation, his body shaking, his eyes burning, and he stood in front of me gripping my shoulders in his two hands with severe force. At that moment it felt like pliers were cinching my body.
“You know!” he said. “I knew all along that you knew! Now tell me! Right now. You can’t dodge me anymore.”
“What am I dodging? What do you mean? What are you asking?” I quietly inquired, drawing out the words, trying to keep calm, trying to identify the speaker with certainty.