Friday, March 28, 2008

Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Growing up in America, each night at 10:00 p.m. or so, the television station would ask, "Do you know where your children are?"

Before coming to Israel, it was almost an obsession of mine. I knew, to the minute, where my children were, where they were going, who they were with. Pure and uncontrolled panic would set in if, even for a split second, one of my children was someplace unknown. My children got the usual admonishments - don't talk to strangers, don't go too far away, don't go alone.

Coming to Israel was an enlightening experience. Israel is very different than the US and other countries in many fundamental ways, though at times I think it is simply that Israel is behind the times and may catch up. Technologically, we are at the forefront of innovation and development. Medically, our hospitals are among the best in the world. Economically, our country is doing well. Socially...well, never mind. We are much isolated in that department.

But children-wise, we are behind - or maybe way ahead. Our children are rarely in danger of being snatched and rarely must they be warned to avoid strangers. So, I'm sitting here, on Friday morning in Israel, thinking about the question - do you know where your children are?

My oldest daughter is married. She is at her home with her husband; together they are preparing to welcome the sabbath at their apartment in Jerusalem. My middle son is out shopping; buying the special sweet bread (challah) that we eat on the sabbath and other treats for our family. My youngest son and daughter are in school. And Elie...Elie is asleep in his bed upstairs.

He came home yesterday - so dirty and tired. They had them moving their base and the work was grueling. The new base is a better location, more able to view what our enemies across the border might do and so better able to protect our citizens. In the last base, the places that they slept were not nearly as nice; here, they even have access to a room where they can rest at off-duty times (with cable and a TV, no less).

They slept outside the last night, taking turns patrolling. Elie talked about how he took care of "my soldiers" - getting up every three hours to check that all was well. He made them hot tea, checked that they were patrolling, and went back to sleep during the long night. The other soldiers each got 6 hours of sleep and each stood watch for 3 hours - Elie says he got more sleep than them, but his was broken up by the times he got up to verify the situation. The commander checking his soldiers.

I met Elie and another soldier about a two hour drive from our home. I was at a business meeting and the only bus leaving Kiryat Shemona came close to where I was - faster than waiting three hours to get a direct bus. I pulled up behind the bus to collect Elie and one of "his" soldiers who lives near Jerusalem.

Elie got off the bus, as did several other soldiers. They leave on Thursday and come back on Sunday, and yet they said goodbye as deeply as if they would go for much longer. A shake of the hands, a pat on the shoulders, even a slight hug that is typical of Israeli society. Shabbat shalom - a peaceful sabbath, they wished each other. See you Sunday.

Elie and the other young man got in the car. They looked so tired, so dirty. Elie showed me the new attachment to his gun - a powerful flashlight that they'd used well the night before to light up the area. He talked about having to wash his laundry - at least two times through, he said with a grin. His arms were blackened with dirt; even his face needed to be washed. The showers had moved to the new base and there wasn't even time or place to wash up before they were released and hurried to catch the bus. It becomes a single goal - get home.

They were almost too tired to even know where to begin to unwind. They weren't even hungry (and that should tell you how tired they were). The traffic was slow. I thought they would go to sleep, but they talked about nothing in particular or listened to music - time to unwind.

We finally got home and as I'd expected...a shower, food and sleep.

I am at such peace at this moment. Yes, I know where my children are, and feel incredibly blessed for this simple occurrence.

Shabbat shalom.

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