It's very hot in Israel now - we're having one of those "sharav" (heat wave) days where the wind comes from the desert, bringing heat and sand. For most Israelis, it means days where you walk between buildings (to get inside as quickly as possible), where sleeping at night isn't always comfortable, and where the sun just beats down relentlessly until the evening.
For Elie and his group, located "somewhere" in the desert, it's even harder. Not only do they have to deal with the heat and the sun, but they must do it in full military uniforms. They carry guns and equipment and have the added issue of physical exertion on a day where you'd just as soon take a nap in the afternoon and wait for November. Hard to believe it is only May and already so hot. What will happen in July and August?
They are not idle, these soldiers of ours. We can sometimes choose to rest in the hottest moments or find cooler places. They must stand, must patrol, must train and practice. Elie is one of them now and I can't imagine standing out in the desert heat for hours at a time with all that equipment. It shouldn't, but my heart aches for him. It's a silly feeling because truthfully, this is what I want for him. I want him to take pride in knowing he is doing something right, something noble. I want him to always remember that he chose to serve his country when others here - and many around the world, wouldn't choose to follow a similar path. God willing, he will finish his service in health and safety and remember that he gave something to his nation.
During a recent call, Elie told me that his unit has now taken its place in sharing the guarding of the base. At certain times, in certain places, they stand and patrol. They aren't allowed to even sit down for long stretches of time. This is where a mother's head and heart collide. My head says this is good. It strengthens them - there is no pampering in the army. My heart thinks of silly things - he's tired, his feet will hurt, maybe his back will bother him. He's hot and has to wear all that heavy gear. My head wants him where he is; my heart wants him home. I can't imagine the heat and discomfort and yet each conversation with Elie is calm and upbeat.
He is enjoying the bonding that is taking place within his unit. The rigid schedule doesn't seem to bother him and he even finds a good side to the guard duty his unit was supposed to take last night. It was to have been in the middle of the night, but in the end was moved to early morning. It involved standing for hours on his feet - and yet, I can hear in his voice that he is happy. My heart sighs in relief and my head offers a patronizing smile. Of course he is happy. He's 19 years old, has few cares in the world. He's camping out in the desert, gets good and plentiful food and gets to learn new things (like shooting a gun!).
The night before was the national celebration of Lag B'Omer. It is a special once-a-year holiday in which we light bonfires from hill to hill. An announcement of many things - even a call to the world - see us here, on this hill, surrounded by our families. We have come home to Israel. Most often, we go to a community barbecue while we watch a never-ending line of pyromaniacs step up and risk 3rd degree burns.
My middle son decided (once again) to burn his old school notebooks. I believe in allowing children to vent their frustrations at times and truthfully, if I had to deal with what he does, I'd burn my notebooks too!
For the first time since moving to Israel at the age of 6, Elie did not celebrate Lag B'Omer in the traditional way. No bonfires in the desert; no barbecues and chicken wings. I felt lonely for him and imagined him feeling lonely for us. There goes my heart again, aching and missing him and my head once again answers logically - but yes, Elie doesn't need a fire to announce to the world that we are here - he does that every day he serves, every day he wears his uniform.
He called again last night for a few minutes, and he's off again into the desert for several more days and nights of training. This week, he was able to shoot a balloon tied down and floating in the wind - with the first shot. It was something important to him. A milestone that made me smile. Look where we have come to, I thought to myself. It started with the first moment I held him - my first son. Weeks later, another milestone, his first smile. This is our life, I think. I remember when he rolled over, when he crawled and first walked. His first day of school, when he got his first report card, his birthdays, the bar mitzvah celebration where he read the Torah. The moment he grew taller...and stronger...than me. High school graduation and the day he went into the army.
To this ever-growing list of important days, are the days my son learned the basics of being a soldier, the day he first came home in uniform, when he started learning to shoot. And soon come the milestone days the army sets - when he is officially given his gun, when he is officially given his blue beret - a symbol of his division, and when he is finally finished with all levels of training and ready to take his place in the army.
On the downside, for some reason the army seems to have pulled a "fast one" on us as they decided to hold this first ceremony with just the soldiers. Typically, there is a ceremony to which parents are invited. This is when the soldier receives his gun - with pomp and circumstance, he is handed a gun and a Bible. These are, in many ways, the symbols of modern day Israel.
The Bible is what connects us to this land; the gun is what protects us so that we can remain. This week, even though the army is holding the ceremony on the base without parents, Elie will promise his allegiance to the army and receive his gun and Bible and tonight, yet again, he sleeps out in the desert (where it is cool and comfortable).
And for now, my heart and my head will be at peace. This week, my son will receive the essence of what our life in Israel has become - a symbol of our faith (the Bible) and a symbol of our ability to defend ourselves against our enemies (the gun).