I was never adamant about my kids not playing with guns, though the only ones I ever bought them were of the water kind. I've seen many kids whose parents refuse to allow them to touch toy guns...simply pick up a stick and pretend. A child's mind can compensate and imagine. Better to teach children the "rights" and "wrongs" of things, rather than believe you can protect them by ignoring something. I remember when my second son was in nursery school, the teacher was overwhelmed with the number of boys to girls ratio (19 boys and only 6 girls) and was amazed to report that in the "home" area, the boys had invaded and turned a simple banana into a gun.
We live in a society that has been forced to protect itself on a constant basis from the day we declared statehood in 1948 until this day. Guns cannot be ignored or denied. Barely a day goes by that I don't see a gun somewhere - on a soldier, a policeman, a civilian who believes he or she needs one. Even my children go to school guarded by someone carrying a gun. I enter the mall and go through a security check; the bank; the post office; and every restaurant. If I wish to pray in the holiest of all places for the Jewish religion, there too, I pass through intensive security and more guns.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the prevalence that guns have in our lives. But for all the arguments and debates, guns in Israel are considered a necessity and are treated with respect. They are not toys and we do not live our lives playing a game. For as long as I have known my sons would serve in the army, I have known the day would come when my sons would learn to shoot, to carry a gun, to bring it into my home.
So, last week, Elie received his gun from the army. Artillery units don't need guns, but in the months when his unit will not be training with the larger equipment, they will be patrolling Israel's borders, as most soldiers do. During those months, Elie will be required to carry a weapon and so part of his basic training includes - the gun. The first step in the army was to teach the soldier the responsibility of the gun. This is his personal weapon and his responsibility. Soldiers will go to jail if they misplace their gun, certainly if they misuse it.
Because Elie and his fellow soldiers have not yet had any training in the army, they were not given any bullets, nor were they allowed to take their guns off base. For the few days they had off during the holiday of Passover, they returned their guns, only to get them back today. The first thing Elie had to do was memorize the serial number of his gun - this is his personal weapon.
Over the long semi-vacation time (home in the evenings, days training closer to home), Elie told us some of what would be expected of him in the next few weeks. He explained about the type of gun he'll have and how he will be trained to use it. Of course, being a person who is gun-aphobic, I don't remember much other than it's "short" - so it is either a short M-16 or a short Uzi. Of course, if one of those types don't come in a short version, clearly it is the other type that Elie now has.
The first thing they will have done today, is to have each soldier shoot 5 bullets at a cardboard target. This allows them to configure the gun to the soldier's eye. I'm sure that "configure" is a technical writer's word and not a soldier's word, but here too, I show how the army is about learning. It's a process for all of us. Elie is learning what it means to be a soldier as I am learning what it is to be a soldier's mother.
After shooting the 5 bullets, they check how many hit a relative area and are able to adjust the gun's sights to match the shooter. I don't understand all the technical issues involved, but what I do know is that this gun and this soldier become attuned to each other - the best person to shoot this gun becomes the person to whom the gun was adjusted and that is my Elie.
What amazes me above all else, I think, is the process of education that is taking place. The army of Israel is incredible in that it enters all facets of the boy's life - his family, his relationships with others, his discipline, his self-worth. Long before the boys enter the army, they are tested and interviewed to find what interests them most, where they have the most talent, where they can excel. Like the gun, the position for which this boy is destined in the army is selected for him, adjusted to his talents. The army cannot consider all facets and the gun cannot do all things. The gun, like the army, has a purpose - both are used in the defense of the land. But the boy, the soldier is an integral part. Without him, the gun is useless, the army less efficient and able to do its job.
The gun is matched to the soldier; the soldier matched to the needs of the army. Those who have an interest and talent in computers are often steered to the computer and hi-tech areas of the army. Elie has a friend who has volunteered for years in the local fire department and despite a number of health issues that might have limited him, he was able to join the fire department of the air force.
Many who volunteer for the local ambulance squads become medics in the army, as those who dream of flying might become pilots and those who love the water enter the navy. Elie was tested and asked if he would be willing to enter a combat unit and his answer was positive. His interest in computers, his ability to handle "situations" as they occur, and his willingness to be part of a team - all lead him to where he is now. I am amazed that the army could see my son and understand him. Was it luck that made this match or was it some great amount of experience? I don't yet know the answer to that. I only know that Elie seems to be on a road that will make him a better soldier, which is the army's concern; but a better person too - which is my concern.
More than that, the army understands something that I never gave them credit for - they understand that they must take a boy and turn him into a man, but to do that, they must consider the family, the individual. And, most important, they seem to understand that this isn't something that happens overnight. The army understands the concept of a process and so the boys are taught slowly what is expected of them - each in its time and its own way.
What I have learned, in so short a period of time, is that the army is alive in many ways - it is constantly changing. What becomes evident is that our family too is changing - as Elie begins his basic training and takes on the knowledge and responsibility that comes with the gun he is shooting somewhere at this moment.