Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rambling Thoughts

My thoughts are rambling today. It was a series of of those perfect moments with your family, not really all together, but in pieces here and there. Elie came home on Friday to a house that was mostly ready, and some of his favorite foods already cooked. His younger brother and sister made signs for his birthday and I bought a cake and decorated it because it had been a long week and I decided to focus on foods and brownies.

The clear star of the day, beyond Elie, was Davidi. Davidi had walked to the local stores several times over the previous week, carefully purchasing several small gifts for his older brother. Some were incredibly thoughtful and personalized - like the 11-tools-in-one screwdriver and some were just for fun, like the "Barrel of Slime." Elie opened the barrel and played it for all it was worth.

It was - as the small black can said, a "barrel of slime" and Elie laughed and let it ooze through his fingers as we all smiled and made jokes. When he'd shown enough appreciation, he let his younger sister play with the slime. Not to be outdone, even Elie's middle brother came along and touched it and thought it was great.

Elie liked the two PSP (Portable Sony Playstation) games we bought him and as soon as he could sneak off to his room, he began playing with them. In short, each of us were rewarded by Elie's appreciation for what we had bought. After things calmed down, Elie told me about the recent exercise that he's seen and participated in.

As the news had said, it took place close to the Syrian border, well within hearing distance for miles and miles, and countries in several directions. It was a training exercise to help confirm that the various divisions - air force, tanks, artillery and engineering - could work together for a common goal. "It was amazing," Elie told me as he described the action.

It was loud. Planes flew low overhead and dropped "bombs." Tanks and artillery shot at the target. Engineering moved in and created a bridge over which the tanks and artillery easily moved. All coordinated, all meant to send a message in many directions.

Look at us, Israel - we have learned, we have bettered ourselves. We are prepared to defend you.

Look at us, Syria. Listen to us, Lebanon - Hizbollah, and even Hamas. We are ready to defend ourselves. The exercise took place on the anniversary of the Six Day War. In that too, there was a message.

Elie was quick to explain the importance of the exercise and the massive scale of the endeavor. And when he'd finished, he talked more about his unit. They spent most of the week out in the field practicing. This coming week will be very similar. Elie went out Saturday night to buy a camping burner and a pot. Other boys will bring noodles next week.

"Who will cook?" I asked Elie. Elie is a great cook - something that always amazes me. He is quick to throw together all sorts of meals when the mood strikes. He'll quickly come into the kitchen where I am cooking. Look what I am making, and move to the freezer where he'll decide to add some additional dish (most especially if it contains meat).

"Not me," said Elie. No, he'll be in commander mode and so apparently his men will be cooking.

"Guess what we are doing next week," he announced at one point. So many things went through my mind - all things I didn't want to think about. Will he go back to the border? Back to guarding one of the checkpoints? Where else would they send my son?

"To a hotel."

"A hotel?" I asked incredulously.

"Nofesh g'dud," he answered with a smile. The army will take the g'dud - the whole large group to a hotel for a week's break. Swimming, hiking, relaxing. There's a pool in the hotel. Great food. Soft beds and pillows. Even some free time. Vacation.

The army could have sent them home for a week, as they do several times a year - but this is an additional gift and very much a part of army life. You are a unit, a group, a cohesive group. That's the message here. You serve together. You guard together. You train together. Too often, they end up mourning together. This week, soon, they will rest together. They will have fun, swim and play together. I don't know if other armies do this, but it seems so right that ours does.

The army will soon shift again. Elie and his group will soon find out where they will be, what they will guard for the next few months. But for now, all they focus on is a week in which the army will allow them to rest, when they won't be tested and challenged, when they will sleep and eat and swim and simply be.

The tomorrows will beckon soon enough, but next week will be filled with a series of "todays" - each a precious and fun moment for Elie to spend with his men, his team, his friends and, in many ways, his brothers.

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