Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement and is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with a 24-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. But in 1973, on this holiest of days, an Arab coalition of Egypt and Syria launched a joint surprise attack that nearly destroyed the tiny country of Israel.

The enemies of God and Israel attacked that Yom Kippur day and were at first successful. The coordinated attack by Egypt from the south and Syria from the north made threatening gains against the greatly outnumbered Israelis and came close to overwhelming the Jewish country. Crossing at three major points, Israel forces were outnumbered 12 to 1.

Prime Minister Golda Meir made this bold declaration: “This people … small as it is, surrounded as it is by enemies, has decided to live. And if we have to pay the price for living, we have to pay it. This is not a people that can give in. We know that giving up means death, means destruction of our sovereignty and physical destruction of our entire people. We will not be destroyed … we dare not be destroyed. The spirit of our people in every home, in every city and in every village is a spirit of a people that hates war but knows that in order to live, it must win the war that has been forced upon us.”

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The Israeli Air Force fought back with its superior air power and Israel’s Navy was in command of the sea, winning the first “missile to missile” battle in the history of naval war. Israel’s ground forces fought valiantly but at a very high cost. One of the largest tank battles in history was fought with 800 Syrian tanks destroyed and in the south 250 Egyptian tanks were destroyed, as they were driven out of the land.

Israel had realized that it was a people who, if they did not fight, would not survive. The whole country mobilized and focused all of its energy and resources on one single thing … to stay alive and win the war. Save for God’s intervention and miracles, Israel could not have overcome such an attack and beaten back such overwhelming forces.

Special guest Rabbi Pesach Lerner offers a unique perspective and insight as a man who was there when the war broke out and lived to tell of it. Rabbi Lerner is the executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel founded in 1912 as a non-profit organization that provides religious, educational, Zionistic, social and communal programming for its over 200 member synagogues.

He recalled he knew something was wrong when the airspace above the rabbinical school became busy but could not have imagined what would come – “that Israel would be attacked on Yom Kippur.” He had several close friends killed in the war. He made a personal decision to “give back” by joining with Israel to keep protecting, expanding and building, so that they did not die in vain.

The Yom Kippur War made it clear that Israel must be strong militarily, socially and economically in order to survive in a hostile Middle East.

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