Yesterday, as we entered our city and drove towards the house, I saw a young man carrying a very large backpack. He was standing on the side of the road, trying to get a ride. I thought of Elie's backpack, stuffed as much as it could be stuffed and recognized the similarities. The young man was wearing regular clothes; no gun in sight. Probably not a soldier, I thought, but a soldier nonetheless. We pulled over and after he got in and confirmed that he was, in fact, going to our neighborhood, I asked him if he was a soldier (despite his not being in uniform).
"I finished the army today," he told me.
Instantaneously, I felt the joy his mother must be feeling, the relief. It's over for him, I thought. He got through it safely. "Mazel tov," I told him. Congratulations.
"Do you say 'congratulations' when someone finished the army?" I asked him, and he smiled. I asked him about his unit and immediately recognized that he was in one of the more dangerous divisions. I told him my son was in artillery and that the army had been so kind to me. By putting him in artillery, he would, I was told, regularly be far back from the front lines of a war.
"Artillery is important," he said to me. "They do important work."
Yes, they do and it was kind of him to say it, to recognize it, to believe it.
"Your mother must be so happy," I said to him.
Again he smiled, "yes, but I have to go to reserve duty in three weeks."
So soon, I thought. So little time and already he was starting the next phase in his service. It hardly seemed fair to me - that he would be released from the army, only to have to go back in only 3 weeks, but then I remembered that this is what life is about in Israel and that a man isn't actually discharged from the army until he is in his 40s.
So this young man's mother and I continue to share this part of our lives - our sons remain soldiers in the army of Israel while we take the pride and joy, the fear and the worry with us.