This past weekend went by very quickly. It started with Elie coming home much earlier than I expected. He'd left his northern base at such an early hour - I hadn't taken that into consideration. The connections were right, it worked out. At 11:00 a.m., I asked my second son to call Elie and ask when he would be home.
I like to know. I offer to get him from the bus stop if he chooses to catch a bus that doesn't come straight to the house. In the winter, I turned the heater on in his room. Now, I make sure his favorite drink is in the refrigerator, or, at very least, something is cooked and ready for him to eat. So, at 11:00 a.m., I looked and thought - I should find out what time he'll get here...and before I could turn thought into action, just a few minutes later, the front door opened and there he was.
He was exhausted. It was the first time that he didn't head straight for the food. Only after he'd slept for several hours, did he later explain that he'd only slept about 2 hours the night before. All I knew, at first, was that he was so tired, he couldn't even eat, and so, straight to bed he went.
When he woke up later, food was indeed his first thought - that and the cold ice tea that waited for him in the refrigerator and the brownies on the counter, and the chicken wings he loves. It was a relaxing weekend; overall, a quiet one.
At one point, Elie asked, "Did it rain here on Thursday morning?" I tried to remember back to Thursday. No, not that I remember. I had a business meeting in the coastal city of Netanya - no rain on the way there. No wet streets, etc.
"No, it didn't rain here. Did it rain up north?"
Elie explained that they had been out in the field that night and he woke to raindrops dripping through the top of the armored personnel carrier, right onto his head. He woke quickly, jumped up and shut the top and went back to sleep. What did the others do? I asked...where were they sleeping when it started to rain?
Elie smiled and said they were sleeping just outside. One of many minor perks the commander of the unit gets, it seems, is that he sleeps in the vehicle. So what happened when it suddenly started pouring? Most scrambled into the vehicle to get out of the rain, but one soldier just zipped himself inside his sleeping bag and went back to sleep.
"Do you know what we ate while we were out in the field?" Elie asked. Army rations, I thought to myself. Field provisions? Canned and packaged meals for the army on the go? He said this as he was going through a plastic container of small packets of ketchup, salad dressing, salt, pepper, mayonnaise and mustard and preparing to pack them for his return on Sunday. It must have been bad if he was already preparing to try to add some taste from these little packets. "Take the whole container," I suggested, already thinking of the bland food that must be inside those army rations.
"So, what did you eat when you were in the field?" I asked.
"Pizza," Elie told me with a grin.
"Pizza?" I asked incredulously. Yup, they ordered pizza to be delivered to the base and then went and got it and ate it in the field. What spoiled children, you are, I said to him, not meaning a word of it, but loving the moment anyway.
Spoiled children don't do what these young men are doing. Drafted they might have been, but each one could have come up with an excuse to get out of a combat unit. So many, too many, others do it here in Israel from all walks of life and all levels of religious persuasion. For all sorts of reasons and too many excuses. But these boys chose to serve in a combat unit. They spend their weeks getting filthy and exhausted, their nights having their sleep interrupted so they can do guard duty.
Each was asked, as my son was asked, "Will you serve in a combat unit?" and each answered that they would. Let them eat pizza, my heart said and I laughed. "Back in my day, soldiers had to eat cardboard and mud," I joked. Back in my day...in America, none of my friends went to the army, none served, none were lost. None served their country, their nation and none were enriched by the responsibility and the reality entrusted to our sons here in Israel.
"Do you know how well the soldiers ate during the Lebanon War?" Elie asked me. He had told me before - yes, they ate better than ever, during the war. Those soldiers who were stationed within Israel, close to the border, were showered with all kinds of foods, pizza, and snacks - it was all most of Israel could do for them as they fought to defend our land and attempt to return two kidnapped soldiers (Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser). We sent them our prayers and all the love and food that could be delivered.
Elie will next be home in two weeks - at least according to the current plan. For some of that time, he will again be tested with his team - this time as their commander to see how well they work together. They will simulate war so that they will be strong enough to be a deterrent against future wars, until our enemies choose to make peace with us, until they accept our right to be here, until our sons no longer have to simulate war or prepare for the real ones.
Elie went back to his base well prepared - he took a large box of sauces (because he will be eating field rations and they do need to be spiced up) and he took a large box filled with homemade brownies that he shares with his unit. And, as always, he took a piece of my heart. But he left me with a smile - pizza in the field - how very Israeli!