Yom Kippur War: 50 years

On anniversary of war, a Golan kibbutz invites visitors for historic, cultural tours

Kibbutz Ortal holds three-day visits with discussions, musical events and visits to battlefields, wineries and farms, where one can see what’s happened over the last half-century

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Kibbutz Ortal in the Golan Heights has created three-day tours commemorating 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, visiting battlefields and wineries, including its own Shifon Winery (Courtesy Kibbutz Ortal)
Kibbutz Ortal in the Golan Heights has created three-day tours commemorating 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, visiting battlefields and wineries, including its own Shifon Winery (Courtesy Kibbutz Ortal)

Heli Jacobs was a year old when her father, Zvi Jacobs, was killed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War on the Sinai front.

Her father died a hero, said Jacobs, but she considers all those who had to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives, including her mother and countless other widows, parents, siblings and children, the biggest heroes.

She thinks of the Golan Heights as part of that trajectory. It was the area where many fierce battles were fought, where soldiers were killed and where the tides of the war eventually shifted.

It’s also now full of wineries and boutique accommodations, cherry orchards, ranches and herds of carefully raised cattle.

“There’s a real dissonance in the Golan,” said Jacobs. “There’s the nearly impossible beauty, the views, the peace and quiet, and every 100 meters a memorial or an army base.”

As the 50th anniversary of the war approached, Jacobs, who chairs Kibbutz Ortal Tourism, and her team created a series of three-day tours at this Golan Heights community, called “50 Years Later,” looking forward as well as backward at what has taken place here over the last half century.

Tel Saki, a Yom Kippur War site, part of the Kibbutz Ortal three-day tours commemorating 50 years since the war (Courtesy Ortal)

Scheduled to take place October 8-10, as well as in November, December and March, the three-day tours offer participants the opportunity to stay in the Golan and take a critical look at the war that changed Israel.

Each day will take groups to different locations in the Golan Heights, from battlefields such as Mount Bental and ancient sites like Ein Keshatot to local wineries and specialty farms. There will be conversations with people from the area, those who survived the war and others who have reflections to share.

Heli Jacobs, a Yom Kippur War orphan who chairs Kibbutz Ortal Tourism and has different events to mark 50 years since the war (Courtesy Heli Jacobs)

“Everyone will speak about stories of heroism and the fallen, and that’s obvious,” said Jacobs. “I wanted to do something about life after the war, about what happened here in the 50 years since, the wineries and tourism and archaeology and the relationships between people, the kibbutzim, the secular, the religious, the music, what happened to all of us.”

One of the events in “50 Years Later” is a musical evening with Mika Einav, a singer born after the war who grew up on Kibbutz Ginegar in the Jezreel Valley, where members were killed in battle but no one ever spoke about what had happened.

“My dad was a fighter in that war, but no one really spoke about it. We were just supposed to go on and live,” said Einav.

Einav researched the music of the period, interviewing surviving songwriters and building a performance out of the music written during the war.

“Remembering the Songs” is the name of the show she’s performing at Ortal and around the country this year. There’s also a podcast, Soundtrack 1973, with radio broadcaster Noam Gil-Or, in which the two discuss the songs of the period, many of which became classics.

Mika Einav, whose concert of Yom Kippur War songs will be performed throughout the 50th year since the war (Courtesy Mika Einav)

“People get very emotional in the audience and there’s a big conversation going on,” said Einav. “People are finally ready to talk about it and the show is an invitation to talk about it.”

There were songs of encouragement, songs for people who were broken, songs of morale, said Einav, pointing out classics such as Naomi Shemer’s “Lu Yehi” (All We Pray For) sung by Chava Alberstein, and Yehoram Gaon’s “The Last War.”

There were also works that pointed to a loss of hope and of the Israeliness that had been present from the sense of victory in the 1967 Six Day War, just six years earlier.

A selection of the songs written during and after the Yom Kippur War were gathered into one album, “Songs of the Yom Kippur War,” produced by CBS Records’ Carla Kimhi, a Viennese World War II refugee who made it to Israel as a teen and later brought classical music performers to Israel.

It was an album that resonated deeply among the Jewish community outside Israel, with simple liner notes typed in English explaining the identities of the singers and the meaning of the songs.

“1973 was a strategic win but so many people were killed,” said Einav. “It was a win but with losses of more than 2,000 people, that’s what songwriters were reacting to.”

Everyone in Israel has to find their way to connect to this moment, said Jacobs. Music is one way, visiting and talking about the area is another method.

“50 Years Later” will run throughout the year and can be customized for private groups who want a different date or a tour fitted to their needs.

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