Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Where Elie Is...And Where He Is Not

The Israeli army, like Israeli society, understands the need for families to have family time, but it is also an army that needs its soldiers to be there, to train, to protect, to patrol. Elie is coming to the end of his first year in the army. With the conclusion of this Commanders Course, he will have reached a level where he is now ready to begin training others.

For the next two years, his service will shift into the protect and patrol elements of the army during those times when he is not actively training others. During this last phase of training, he's been able to come home almost every other weekend, and in one case was home two weekends in a row. Now, as he enters the "final stretch," he's away for 21 days. It's ridiculous that it feels like such a long period of time, but it does.

This week, if all goes according to plan, I might be able to drive down on Friday for a quick visit. If this happens, it will be because Elie has asked special permission to be released a few hours early so that he can visit with his uncle and cousin (who are visiting from the States). This will also help break up the long period where we won't see him. In anticipation of this long period, I shipped him a box of "stuff." I overdid it, as I do too often. Knowing that I was going overboard didn't help and sure enough, when I told him that I'd sent it...and that it was heavy, he asked what I'd sent. Three bottles of his favorite ice tea drink, the gloves he's asked for, several bags of Doritos, a large box of homemake cookies, a large box or homemade brownies, several packages of different kinds of nuts, the local newspaper. Yes, I'd overdone it.

Elie started to show a little annoyance. "But I'm going out in the field most of this week. I might not even get it in time and if I am able to come home, what will I do with it all?"

He was right. I'd overdone it. "Give it away," I told him. "I don't mind. Share it with the others."

I could tell he was about to say something and then a new side of Elie showed itself. He didn't argue back. He didn't complain, He simply said, "Thank you, Ima."

He realized so much in that moment, and it all came through. I meant well. There was nothing I could do about it anyway. Yes, I'd overdone it, but I did it out of love. "Thank you, Ima."

Friday, if I do go down, I'll ask him what (if anything) he wants me to bring and I'll do my best to really stick to what he requests. I really will. This time, I may well take his younger sister as well. She's gotten better at understanding that Elie is away from long stretches. But not always. A few nights ago, her middle brother came home late from school while Aliza was with me in my room. We heard voices and I knew from the sound and the time that it was Shmulik, but Aliza heard differently, "Is Elie home? I hear him."

I explained that it was Shmulik "Elie's in the army. That's Shmulik," I told her, but she insisted on going and checking herself. "I think it's Elie. I think he came home." And she took herself off to check. She came back a few minutes later and didn't say a word. It was Shmulik. Elie's in the army.

A few weeks ago, I took the two younger children shopping in the center of Jerusalem. Across the street, we saw a large group of soldiers. Aliza's eyes, like mine, followed the soldiers. Her thoughts, like mine, were on our soldier. As we waited to cross, Aliza said, "Elie's not there."

I looked at the soldiers and then back at her. No, Elie was not there. Their boots were not black, but red. Their berets were not blue, but dark green. I don't know what division they were from, where they were going, why they were there, but I knew that Elie wasn't there.

"No, Elie's not there," I told his sister. "He's on his base and he's fine."

She didn't say anything more, but I saw her watch the soldiers as they continued walking down the street. Yes, I may well take his little sister when I go to see him this weekend.

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