Earlier this year, as I was doing my patriotic duty by socially distancing and scrolling through HBO Max, I found myself watching an Israeli war series titled Valley of Tears. The show focuses on the Yom Kippur War, a traumatic and tumultuous period in Israel that saw the country lose faith in the government and suffer staggering losses in a conflict that lasted only a little more than two weeks.
A smash hit in Israel, Valley of Tears follows three interwoven narratives of a tank crew, intelligence officers, and civilians as they navigate a disorganized and dangerous Golan Heights in the face of Syrian invasion. Each storyline explores the camaraderie of the Israeli people in the face of an aggressor but also spends time examining the divisions. The most prominent storyline is of a Mizrahi tank crew who feel exploited and abandoned by Israeli society even as they face an enemy who sees them as part of the Jewish monolith. Throughout the series, the crew argues about their responsibilities to the country and what they are willing to sacrifice, even as they bond with non-Mizrahi soldiers. Valley of Tears also spends time looking at the nature of international Jews who came to the country for family or faith and pick up arms to defend what they barely know.
It is in no way a light hearted or whitewashed look back that shows Israel in a fantastic light. Instead Valley of Tears leans into the sense of loss and dread that was prevalent during the war as Israel seemed on the brink of defeat. The failure of the leaders to pay heed to warnings of war from low level intelligence officers has a direct and painful effect in the show, while the toll of the war is shown by a growing list of dead and missing soldiers on a command room wall. The show ends with the titular Valley of Tears battle, which saw a handful of Israeli tanks route the Syrian advance, giving the country time to call up its reserves and reorganize after the initial collapse. But the hopeful note is undercut by the death our characters, and Israel as a whole, experience and suffer.
The show boasts the biggest budget for an Israeli television program ever, at over $1 million per episode, or $10 million total. This budget was put to good use, as the show uses actual tanks and vehicles from the era that had to be rebuilt and includes realistic clothes and effects that maintain the immersive experience for the entire show. Combat itself is rather scarce, with the show preferring to focus on dialogue and the reactions of the characters to their predicament.
The show is significantly better in its original Hebrew: the raw emotion and the weight of conflict feel much more real with the intended language and it showcases some of Israel’s best actors.
Rumors of a second season that focuses on the Egyptian assault on the Sinai have swirled, but there is currently no official word.