Amidst the often-frantic preparations for Passover, I took a day for myself and drove Elie to his base in the north. I wanted to see where he was stationed, see for myself the beautiful views he told me about and the road he'd described.
We (Elie, his middle brother and I) loaded the car and took off for the north. Years of vacationing in the north have given us our regular "stop-off" point midway between here and there or there and here. I drove for the first part of the trip, simply enjoying my time with my young men.
They bonded together for all the typical mother jokes, knowing that I was as amused as they were. With so much to do before the holiday, a stolen day is almost impossible to take. Having told Elie I would take him, the thought crossed my mind to cancel, and Elie even offered to take the bus.
"I need this day," I told him quite honestly. I'd been working so hard and just needed to escape. Nothing is better for that, I believe, than simply driving free in a land you love. We passed the beautiful Judean Desert and the Jordan Valley. Elie noticed the border fence with Jordan and its security-related equipment - a sign that even in peace, the threat of war with our closest neighbor remains.
In the distance we saw the flag of Jordan flying proudly over an army base on their border, and the surveillance equipment that watches them on our side. We saw the Humvee vehicle that patrols our border and I remembered Elie telling me that the funny-looking vehicle (extremely wide and low and specifically designed not to flip) had come to Israel with the proud reputation and slogan that informed all who bought it - this car never flips over...until it came to Israel where, within one week of its arrival, our army flipped it over and has continued to do so too often ever since.
We passed the ancient city of Beit Shean and drove up the side of the Golan Heights, seeing the city of Tiberias perched on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. North we traveled, and I enjoyed each minute.
We passed through Kiryat Shemona, where Elie would have met a bus to take him to the base, and agreed we would travel there ourselves (if Elie could remember the way). He was driving, looking for the markers that showed him where to turn.
We finally arrived and the view was, indeed, breath-taking. Magnificent. Majestic. Towering. So many words for such a simple and beautiful place. A guard at the gate saw Elie and immediately waved in greeting. We got out; Elie loaded himself up with the case of drinks (kosher for Passover) that he'd brought, his backback, his gun, and another small case and thanked me again for driving him (I even got a hug).
I watched as I prepared to back up and turn around on the narrow road, as Elie entered the gate, put down the small case and the drinks - and greeted the soldier at the gate with a few words, a quick hug, a joke about the case of drinks and some smiles. I drove away thinking that Elie had traveled today from home to home; from family to family.
Saturday night, we will sit down, as Jews all around the world will sit, at our Seder table and recount the story of our freedom; of a time when God took us out of the land of Egypt and gave us this land that to this day has been ours. We have guarded this land, cherished it, prayed to return to it when we were forced away from it, and finally stand today defending it so that it is never taken from us again.
Saturday night, Elie will sit down - and know that the exodus from Egypt was the beginning of the history that led us to this day, to his sitting on a mountain close to the Lebanese border - watching what they do so that far below him, much of Israel is safe and celebrating.
May we all have be blessed to spend next year in Jerusalem, in peace.