After being away for 21 days, Elie came home to...well, if not a hero's welcome, at least a hero's hug. Within minutes of walking through the door, while still in uniform, Elie's youngest sister heard his voice and came running down the steps. As we were talking to Elie, she got to the bottom step, happily called out his name, and literally launched herself at him. She was caught in waiting arms and lifted high into the air to receive a hug.
She clung to him; he clung to her. It had been a long time for both and reminded me that if we go visit him again, we will take her with us for the trip. I had hesitated last week, not relishing the idea of 6 hours of driving with a 7-year old who would get bored and want to be entertained, would need to stop and want to move around. It was a mistake, overall, and that single, almost -desperate hug was proof.
Elie got home early enough to help run errands and do things around the house. We drove down to the neighborhood local store, where Elie was greeted along the way and asked how he was doing, what he was doing. There's a funny custom in Israel to abbreviate common phrases. The newspapers are filled with them (Racham - stands for Rosh HaMemshalah, or Prime Minister). Elie has begun talking in abbreviations, assuming we will understand them.
On Thursday, I'd done the weekly shopping and there had been a sale on ice cream popsicles. Taking a break on Friday afternoon, we pulled out the ice cream and everyone started claiming a flavor. Only one vanilla was left, and that was what a few people wanted - and out came Elie's claim that he should get it because, "I'm in the army."
It was just another sign that the army has become a part of our lives, something integrated into our family, no longer something strange and foreign, but accepted enough to be used (and ignored) by Elie and his siblings. Elie still got the vanilla, but more because of strength and being the first one to grab the popsicle in question, rather than any feeling that we had to cater to him.
We learned more about what Elie has been doing and will be doing, what he has learned and what he will learn. In a few weeks, he will have completed his basic training completely and there will be a ceremony in which he will be given the beret of his division - sort of a turquoise color. At first, the army was talking about having this ceremony further north, near a memorial for the artillery division. According to the latest thinking, the ceremony may take place at Elie's current base in the south, as a culmination to a long overnight march. They may even invite the parents to march along with the soldiers for the last 2 kilometers or so to reach the site of the ceremony. Then Elie will get a week of vacation - a whole week.
Of course, all this depends on Hizbollah and Hamas and their plans for the summer. A week off - training in the south, possible plans for training in the north later in the summer. It is all plans right now, as Israel and the army wait to see what will happen in the days and weeks ahead. We had guests for lunch and at some point, I tuned into the conversation that the young people at the table were having. For much of the conversation, it seemed an accepted idea that a war this summer is inevitable.
And finally, tonight after the Sabbath ended, I drove Elie into Jerusalem to buy him sneakers. Each soldier gets a coupon from the army allowing him to purchase sneakers at a much discounted price. What should have cost 850 shekels (about $210), cost only 180 NIS (about $45). I asked Elie if he would be taking his new sneakers back to the army with him and he said he wanted to ruin his current pair of sneakers first and save these. This is another example of how the army is very attentive to the physical needs of the soldiers. Elie told me one story of a young soldier who has a bump or a lump on the side of his foot. When his commanding officer saw the lump that was causing the soldier pain when wearing the heavy and hard boots, the officer told the soldier to go to the doctor where, according to the commanding officer, the soldier would be scheduled for an operation to remove the lump.
The soldier went to the doctor who was quite amused by the concept that the soldier should have his foot adapted to the boot, rather than the other way around. The doctor gave the soldier written orders to have a boot made to his foot, and this is what the army did.
As the weekend comes to an end, we prepare to slip back into what has become routine. Tomorrow morning, Elie will get up early (he's already packed a large container of homemade cookies rather than risk forgetting them again) and head back to his base to continue his "classroom" and simulation training. His next time home is expected to be in 2 weeks. During that time, he will miss the end-of-the-school year celebrations of his sister and brothers, a family birthday celebration of his new brother-in-law, and numerous other little things that seem silly to mention during those short evening conversations.
But what we have come to accept is that the little things we don't get to mention while he is away often catch up when he gets home. And what we truly remember are the bigger things, like his sister's joyous greeting. This is enough to see us through...till he comes home again.