Treasure Trove: David Matlow recalls the toll of the 1973 Yom Kippur War

Fifty years ago, on Yom Kippur in 1973, a coalition of Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated surprise attack on Israel. 

Along the Suez Canal, fewer than 500 Israeli soldiers were attacked by 80,000 Egyptians. On the Golan Heights, approximately 180 Israeli tanks fought off 1,400 Syrian tanks. The position of Israel during the first few days of the war was so perilous that Defence Minister Moshe Dayan despondently said that “the Third Temple is in danger” (the Third Temple being a metaphor for the modern State of Israel).

Israel suffered very heavy losses, but once the army reserves arrived at their positions the tide of the war changed. Ultimately Israel won the war on the battlefield at an enormous cost of 2,668 soldiers killed.

Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer had decided before the Yom Kippur War to write Hebrew words for the Beatles’ “Let it Be”. Instead of a direct translation, when the war began, she wrote a hopeful prayer for a quick end to the war. Her husband said that her words should not be wasted on the “tune of strangers” and so she wrote a tune to fit the Hebrew words. Shemer’s song Lu Yehi (May it Be) became one of the symbols of the war. The song ends:

Then grant tranquility and also grant strength

To all those we love

All that we seek, may it be.

May it be indeed, and may all of the heroes who died in the defence of Israel 50 years ago be remembered for a blessing.