Heartfelt tribute to a fallen friend, and faith

It is clear now that the Yom Kippur War could have been the death of Israel. As it was, the unprovoked attack on Israel by Egypt, Syria and Iraq did shatter the illusion of Israel as an invincible state. For author Haim Saboto, who in 1973 was 20 years old and in the tank corps, the war meant the loss of his closest friend.

“Adjusting Sights” is a memoir with the power of a novel. The author goes back 30 years in order to describe and relive what once was. His blood-soaked, nightmarish descriptions of the battlefield evoke other writers of war: Ernest Hemingway’s sketches of World War I in “In Our Time” and Isaac Babel’s vignettes in “Red Cavalry.”

But unlike Hemingway and Babel, Sabato is a religious believer and his faith in God — tested by the reality of war — leads him not to disillusionment but toward the mysteries of faith.

Yet his faith offers as many questions as answers.

Why was he spared and his friend, Dov, not? What is the purpose of the physical and emotional torture of war? What is the obligation of those who survive?

Sabato, and his Israeli comrades, have no doubt that they fought, in 1973, a war of national survival.

Yet, despite their knowledge of Judaism and Jewish history, the young men, as the war begins, enter the conflict with no concrete understanding of how monstrous war is. It is the older generations who know what the soldiers will be facing.

Sabato remembers: “And together we had parted from Dov’s mother on Brazil Street in Beit Mazmil an hour before.”

“‘War,’ she had said. ‘War! What do you know about it? I know. And I know no one knows when you’ll be home again.'”

Dov’s mother speaks with the understanding of one who has lost her whole family to the Nazis during World War II. Dov answers his mother with all of the confidence of the innocent.

“Ima!” he said. “This isn’t Rumania or World War II. Think of it as a school outing — we’ll be back in a few days.”

The war itself is given in a series of impressionistic snapshots. Total exhaustion, men afire in their tanks, the randomness of death, the hope of finding the wounded and saving friends from death, the quick coming of age are all given play in the most simple and accurate language.

Sabato, who comes from a long line of rabbis, now teaches at a yeshiva near Jerusalem. He seeks and finds answers to human suffering in Judaism. Finally, he remembers his best friend with humility and faith. Sabato writes:

“I looked at the moon and saw Dov … It was true, I thought. Sometimes God had mercy on the undeserving and shed His light on them. The mercy and that light stayed with you forever. They were a debt you had to repay …”

Sabato’s repayment to Dov and to his other fallen friends is in the form of this book. As he has stated in an interview: “… I went back in time … and as I began to write, I had an immense sensation of tension, and found myself in tears. … It got to the point that my wife became truly concerned for my health. I remember that while writing about the injury my right eye received when I was adjusting sights in the tank, I felt that same pain in my eye …”

“Adjusting Sights” gives life to the fallen. Sabato’s faith is that his friends’ deaths were for the defense of Israel and thus sanctified by God. His touching book is a work of art, as well as a testimony of religious faith.

Adjusting Sights” by Haim Sabato (168 pages, The Toby Press, $19.95).