"Ima, do you remember the soldiers that came out to meet us at the Tekes Kumta?" Elie asked me last night.
"Sure," I answered, remembering the group of soldiers that came out from the base at the last minute and walked out to greet the tired and dirty soldiers who had walked all night. The soldiers looked fresh and clean, and cheered as Elie's group came into sight. Not content to wait on the top of the hill as we were instructed to do, they set off into the distance to meet up with them and encourage them, re-energize them. We stood and watched as they met somewhere in the middle. There were hugs and high-5s...and then the small group escorted the larger group back to the top of the hill where we waited.
"Well, we did that this week," Elie explained.
Back in July, it was Elie walking through the night with several hundred others soldiers in his division and another. It was one of several "rites of passage" marking the end of the grueling basic training. But who were these soldiers who set out to meet them? I didn't know at the time, but was touched by the warmth and encouragement they offered.
And now I know. The other group of soldiers were young men, only 4 more months in the army than Elie was at that time, and they were taking the Commanders Course. The army released them from the course so that they could come out and greet Elie's unit and bring them home, the last few kilometers to the base.
Now, it was a new group of recruits marking the end of their basic training by walking through the night and about to celebrate by receiving the blue berets that mark their membership in the artillery division and this time it was Elie, 4 months older and 4 months wiser, who left the base to cheer them on, to encourage them and greet them after an exhausting night.
It's part of the never ending chain of army service in our country. Boys are inducted into the army, put through basic training as their parents stand back and watch them change. They wonder, as I did, who will love them and take care of them. They worry and fear. They watch them march from behind a hill and they celebrate the victory with them. The boys become men before our eyes, continuing their training, just as we learn more and more. Or will love them, and Yedidyah. Whatever their names, they will guide our sons along the path, come out to greet them and encourage them.
For Elie's group, four months after the Tekes Kumta, they have finished the full scope of their training and are now soldiers in the regular army. Some go to Commanders Courses, others to the Medic Training. It's all part of the path they walk and as they do, the army gave them a moment to look back and see some of the soldiers who are where they were four months ago.
The soldiers who walked out to greet Elie four months ago are now fully trained commanders, ready to take on fresh recruits and teach them what they need to know. Elie's group is now ready to take the place of those soldiers, just as the boys who celebrated their Tekes Kumta in the desert this week are about to move into the phase that Elie has just completed.
It's all a circle, but the beauty of it is the way that the army freezes the moment and says - look where you were once...look where you will be one day. Smile, greet each other. You are soldiers in the army of Israel.