Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Home is Where the Warmth Is

Israel gets hit with a massive storm...not even once per winter. A few times a year (at most), Israelis, at least those in the high elevations, wake up to a white world that lasts for a few days (at most). Jerusalem - maybe once or twice a year. Most other places in Israel - maybe once every few years and in many places, never. It all depends on how high you are. In our case, as our city is built on mountain tops, we have parts of the city that might get snow while other parts see only rain.

Almost exactly eight years ago, before we moved so close to Jerusalem, it began snowing and accumulated to perhaps an inch or two on the ground (5 cm. for those of you who live in meters). Elie's youngest sister was a mere two weeks old and so she stayed inside where it was warm while the others donned coats and gloves (or several layers of socks because it was never really cold enough to remember to buy them gloves).

It didn't matter to them - it was white outside. They rushed out to enjoy the weather. They built a very small snowman (how big can it be when you are staying in your small yard and there's only a few centimeters or an inch to play with?). They threw snowballs and got rosy cheeks. And, as they came in to enjoy hot chocolate - the sun came out and the snow melted. It was a less-than-three-hour affair from start to finish.

Israel is now being pelted with a massive storm system. It's very cold - well below normal for this country and so snow has already covered Jerusalem, much of the Golan Heights and the hills of the northern and southern areas.

It's very cold where Elie is - the desert may be hot during the day, but at night it can be brutally cold. The army had them outside training yesterday, but brought them in by 5:00 when night set in. Elie called last night and when he was explaining about the day of training cut short and the likelihood of going out tomorrow, he said, "and they brought us home by 5:00" and then he quickly "corrected" it to "here." It was an interesting slip.

What is home? For Israelis who have moved here from other countries, some still refer to home as the other country. They'll go back "home" to visit family and friends from their youth. For me, home has always been Israel and particularly the place where I am with my husband and children. But in all cases, home is usually (and hopefully) a place of warmth, a place of security. It's a good place to be at this moment or a place deep in your heart you yearn to be. In either case, for most people (hopefully), home is a positive thing. I didn't mind Elie saying "home" was the base. In one sense, you can never have too many homes.

I hope and believe my home will always be Elie's home, long after (God willing) he goes out and makes a family and home of his own. For now, home is where he comes to when the army lets him out; but apparently he feels content enough to recognize home also where he spends his down time with those around him.

Out in the field, he tests himself and is tested; at home, he can rest. Today, as the storm rages outside, they will likely keep Elie and the others on base where it is warm. He may not be able to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or even drink hot chocolate, but I'll bet he's enjoying himself and the break from routine.

May we all be blessed with the warmth and love of home in our lives, no matter how far we travel, no matter how old we are, and no matter how cold it is outside.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thermal Success

Last week when Elie came home, we went shopping for thermal underwear. I could, perhaps, have bought it without him. But I preferred him to go with me, and so we went together to the camping store in a large mall in Jerusalem. The store has a whole section in green, knowing that many soldiers shop there. In fact, most of the young store attendants are post-army and still serve in the army.

The young man who helped us guided us through the various options. The one Elie chose, which was the one that was most recommended, has an added level of protection against moisture on the outside, while being soft and absorbent on the inside. As Elie went to try it on, I knew it was smart that I had not attempted to purchase this for him on my own.

While I stood outside talking to the sales attendant, I explained about Elie being in the Commanders Course and how, as a relatively new soldier's mother, tend to worry about pretty much everything. "I didn't even tell my parents I was in Homat Magen," he told me.

Operation Homat Magen was launched in 2002 by Israel after a series of terrorist attacks within Israeli cities that took over 125 civilian lives. It was brutal warfare that took place inside Palestinian cities; house to house fighting between many of Israel’s elite soldiers and armed terrorists who had booby-trapped large areas of their cities, knowing that Israel would not take the safe way. Claims were made that hundreds, even thousands of Palestinians had lost their lives – it was all an orchestrated lie, proven false when even the United Nations and other investigating parties found only 52 bodies, almost all of them armed.

Special measures were taken to insure that innocent lives among the Palestinian population were not lost. To take these measures, our soldiers risked their lives by entering each house, searching for armed fighters and terrorist hide-aways hidden among the cities’ populations. This young man was one of them, and at the time, his parents did not know where he was or what he was doing. His mother did not even know what she should be worrying about.

A similar situation recently came to light when a young Israeli soldier died during training. He was in the final stages of joining one of Israel’s most elite units. His family had no idea he was training for that special unit and might never have known, if he hadn’t died tragically.

“I told them nothing,” the young man in the store told me. Don’t tell Elie that, I asked the man. I want to know. “It must makes you worry,” he countered back. How could I make him understand that mothers will worry anyway and it’s far better to worry about the simple things like cold than what his mother might have had to worry about. I think, deep down, that his mother probably knew where he was, knew he was in danger, and worried the whole time anyway. He needs to believe that his mother was saved worrying because he didn’t tell her but the reality is that worry becomes a part of your every waking minute, a companion that never quite leaves until your son walks through the door.

By contrast, so far in Elie’s military service, I know where he is and what he is doing…at least for the most part. I didn’t know the night Israel bombed something in Syria, at least until the main danger had passed, but within hours, I knew that my son and tens of thousands of other soldiers were on alert and waiting.

I know, at least for the next few weeks, where Elie will be and what he will be doing. After that, with the next regular army shake-up, there will be a change. There are many possibilities for what the army will do with Elie after he completes his first year. So far, he has spent most of his time in training: first at the most basic level, then the more specialized part for his unit, and now as a possible Commander for new soldiers coming into his type of unit.

If Elie agrees to go through Officer training, he would have another course and training period. So far, Elie is resisting this additional level, which would add more than a year to his required service time. If he continues on this track, he will finish his national service in 2 years and a few weeks. What road he will take during this time is not yet known to us. Elie accepts this lack of information as part and parcel of army life. “The army sometimes doesn’t even tell you until the night before,” Elie explained. Each soldier, each unit has a task or assignment…and they will find out, when the army gets around to telling them. They will probably know a little before they finish the Commanders Course, but, as Elie told me, there is even the possibility that they will not know until the night before they finish. What Elie was really saying was that there isn’t much we can do about it and there’s no sense in thinking beyond what we know today.

Tonight, Elie is going out on another navigation exercise. It’s cold and rainy, so perhaps the army will cancel it. Had it not been planned, Elie explained, he could have come home for the Sabbath. My guess, given the cold and the rain, is that it will not take place. But I am miles away, on the edge of a different desert and the weather here is quite different from what he experiences.

At this moment, I don’t really know where he is – out walking somewhere or inside warm and relaxed? I could probably call him, but I want to leave him to call me when he wants. He is past the age where I can check up on him; past the time in his life when he needs to report to his mother. I’ll wait and wonder, and yes, worry just a little.

“The thermal shirts are great,” he told me Friday when we spoke. He was doing his laundry; explaining about the huge sinks in the bathroom where he washes his clothes each week so that he doesn’t have to bring everything home. “They barely got dirty and they were really warm.”

One success story. I may not know where my son is right now, but I know that if he is out in the desert finding his way from one point to another, he is probably warm and relatively dry. If he is in his sleeping quarters or with his unit, he’s fine as well. He isn’t out on Israel’s borders tonight; he isn’t up north in the freezing temperatures on guard. He isn’t going into Palestinian villages hoping to stop terrorists before they strike, as they did a few days ago. He isn’t on a bomb squad somewhere going to check a suspicious object that may or may not be dangerous. He’s safe; probably warm; well protected; fed. He’s challenging his mind and body and learning so much. He’s happy and among brothers. It is the most I can hope for at times.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What is a War?

This weekend was a funny time for us. Elie was in a very strange and wonderful mood for much of the time. When he would first come home from the army, in the early months of his service, the soldier in him remained with us for much of the time. He was more serious; more responsible; just more mature. Same Elie, just different – calmer at times, more in touch in some ways, older.

More recently, I’ve noticed that within a short time, he often comes back to the Elie that was. He’ll tease and be wild and play, but it still takes time - a few hours at least. First the uniform comes off and the laundry goes in and then, slowly, as the day progresses, he eases up, opens up. He’s less likely to lose his temper or get angry and more likely to reason through or accept frustrations now than before he went into the army, and those traits remain as a reminder that he's still a soldier, still part of this army for most of his days and nights.

He was always one to order his younger siblings around, but now he does it with more determination, but also with more logic than force. Once, when he was home for five days, on the third day, he was arguing with his older sister. They were bickering as they did in the past, before she was married, before he went to the army. But it had taken him days to go back to the pre-army Elie. Most of the time, with only a short weekend visit, there isn't enough time for him to truly uncover this inner self.

To be a soldier means being a person of action. You run, you learn, you think, you train. You are challenged to push the borders of the person you were, until you reach the person you can become. Perhaps part of this is an issue of age. Young men and women, as they enter the army in Israel, are on the edge of their childhood.

They are rushing towards being adults, hurrying towards freedom and independence. But the army is the opposite of independence. Your every move is controlled, especially at first. What you wear; the color of your socks and shoes; whether you wear a hat, and when; when you eat and what you eat; how far you run. It's all determined by someone else.

And yet, in the midst of this, the greatest freedom is found. Elie has learned so much in so short a period of time. He's learned the most, I think, about himself, his capabilities. He has always been told that he is special and smart and quick...and he's proved this to himself and others. He’s learned to control his anger, his frustrations. He’s learned to think his way through. He reasons more with his youngest brother and sister, but is there to demand with a booming voice if they don’t see HIS reason.

He has also learned more about the world around him than he (or I) could have ever imagined. Before going into the army, he could tell you so much about cars and assembling things. He is truly his engineer father's son so much more than his political science mother's son. History never interested him, nor politics, nor the happenings of the world. He only watched the news when there was a terrorist attack and he, like all of Israel, waited for the worst of the information to be told.

This weekend, he slipped back into the pre-army Elie quickly and with ease, but not in anger. He was teasing his brothers and sisters, running through the house. He was louder, wilder. He was mischievous and funny and laughing. He was happy and easy. He walked into the kitchen and started with the brownies, ignoring the real food until after. “I’ll get to it,” he assured me with the smile I can never quite resist and a twinkle in his eyes that is guaranteed to twist even the most hardened mother's heart around his finger.

Shabbat afternoon after others had gone off to rest, we sat for a short while and talked about rockets and weapons and missiles and armored personnel carriers. We talked of guns and bullets and war. Shabbat is a day of peace; a day when we leave the world and pull into ourselves. But Elie was talking and I wanted to listen. I wanted to give him the time to open and share what is in his mind. I don't remember half the details - of how far this can fly, how long, how many. Of weapons and navigation and guns. Of war.

Now, the army teaches him about other nations - how strong they are, their motivations and intentions. Syria and Egypt are his focus; they pose the greatest threat: Syria for its ongoing aggression and support of terrorism and Egypt for its strong army and probable insecurity when President Mubarak dies or leaves office. Lebanon is a puppet of Syria, Elie explained this past Shabbat. Jordan and the possibility of war was mentioned. They have the largest border with us, Elie said, and so they too are a topic for discussion.

What of Iran? I asked, interested to hear his perspective. "It won't be a war," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because you can't go to war with a country that far away." They might throw missiles at us and we might throw missiles at them - but that's a battle or a mission, explained my son, the artillery soldier, "that's not war."

I don't know what war is. I have lived in a country at war, but the war was in the distance. First two summers ago in the north, and now, every day, in Sderot and its surrounding areas.

Elie explained the difference between a mission or operation versus a war. "A war has specific goals and a set time to accomplish it." Not the last war, I wanted to say, but Elie was ahead of me, "they told us not to mention the last war; that they would talk about it after."

But as I sat there listening to his voice (trying to let him think I was listening to his words), I thought that while I don't know what war is, the possibility that Elie will some day know is more than I can bear.

The political scientist in me knows very well the chances of the Arabs ever accepting a peaceful settlement that includes our continued existence are somewhere between dim and non-existent. That part of me can marvel at my son's capacity to absorb these political facts and apply them to today's realities. But another part of me sat there listening and remembered when he had once explained about chemical warfare. He was 15 years old and America was about to invade Iraq with the very real possibility that Iraq would attempt to send chemical weapons against us in retaliation. Elie explained that if it happens, we have to make sure to throw flour on ourselves, and not water. Water will just spread the chemicals, he explained, while flour will absorb it. I listened to him then, too, wondering at his maturity even then. But even more, I kept thinking (then and now), these are things I don’t want my son to have to know. I didn’t want him to know about gas masks and chemical weapons when he was 15 years old, but that was what was necessary, if we were to make our homes in this land of our fathers. I don’t want him to know about missiles and rockets and guns, but this is necessary, if he is to live his life here.

I don't know what war is...but I am going to have to accept that my sons will know and I have to trust the army to educate them in the things I don't know, so that they will be strong and brave and defend all that we have built here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Call and a Cough

I had a conversation with my second son yesterday. He's almost 18 and contemplating what he will do next year. He wants to go into the army directly after high school; I want him to take a year and grow a little as a person. He's very mature...as far as 17-year-olds go, but put him against the army...and the army will win. One year of preparation, one year of being told what the army will do and how it works makes a world of difference. They go in knowing what to expect. It is better for them...and for the army.

"I'll worry less," I explained to Shmulik. To which he explained that he isn't going to do what Elie does.

"What do you mean?" I asked him, genuinely perplexed.

"Elie worries you. I'm not going to tell you anything."

Suddenly, after writing all the things a son shouldn't tell his mother, I was faced with an even worse possibility - the chance that I might have to worry about EVERYTHING.

"No, no!" I told him - "that's even worse. At least with Elie, I know what to worry about." And, I can quickly rationalize most of it away, write it away on the blog, or find someway, anyway, to take it more easily. I told him that I don't mind worrying. I like worrying. I live to worry...no, please, don't ever hold back what I need to worry about because then I'll worry about everything and I truly will drive myself crazy!

I also think, deep down, that I like worrying because...there isn't much more I can do. I no longer feed him; I barely do his laundry. I'm not there to soothe his anger (or even know if he is angry or lonely or down). I can't advise him on much because he is doing and learning things I've never experienced. No, all I have to give is my love and my worry.

To some extent, I'm on standby as a mother until Elie calls. I give him "mother" doses when he needs it; try to leave him alone on weekends when he seems to need space. I answer the phone when he calls and try to figure out as quickly as possible if this is a call he feels he should make (like before the Sabbath) or it if is a call he needs to make (because he feels like talking or is bored). What does he need today? Very quickly, I have to assess whether he knows that he needs to talk...or the need is just inside him. Some calls, he doesn't have anything to say, but he needs to hear - about home, about the family, about this other part of his world.

Shmulik is a very different kind of person than Elie - much more introverted, much quieter. Even if he would feel a need to call, he might not. He's more difficult because you have to get inside his head and figure out what he needs, sometimes before he even knows it. When all my other children came crying over little bruises and hurts, Shmulik hid them quietly and with little fuss.

So when it is his turn to go to the army, I will likely worry about what I don't hear about, rather than what I do hear. As for Elie, I think the worry comforts me in a strange way; it has become a companion, always with me. It's a little ache deep in my heart, a little fear I carry with me. But what it does is make me feel a part of Elie with me all the time.

I'm also a news-aholic. I check what is happening several times a day. Today there was a news article titled, "IDF Soldiers Injured In Cannon Cleaning Accident" - my heart stopped, as it does whenever a soldier is hurt. I quickly checked the news. Cannons? Elie is with cannons...where??? I quickly scanned the article, once again forgetting that Israel is very careful about first informing families before letting such news hit the press (at least when it can). Today there was an explosion in Haifa on a naval base while soldiers were cleaning and servicing a cannon. Several soldiers were hurt, one severely. Not artitillery. Not in the south. Not a Commanders course. Not Elie.

A little while later one of my colleagues came in and asked, "Where's Elie?"

"Not in Haifa," I answered. "In the south."

"It can be dangerous in the south too," she said, thinking of the rockets and mortars that are sent against Israel every day (today more than 40 rockets were launched against Israel). Yes, it can be very dangerous in the south, but so far, Elie's base seems to be beyond range of the currently used rockets and the chances of the Palestinians aiming for something located in the middle of no where seems remote when they'd rather aim for an Israeli city and try for a higher casualty toll.

As for today's worry, Elie called me this morning. Or at least his phone called me. Once again, when I answered, I could hear talking in the background, but Elie didn't answer when I spoke into the phone. Clearly, he had dialed my number by accident again. I was about to hang up the phone when I heard him cough once, and then again a few times. He was coughing last week and again the other day on the phone. If anything, his cough sounds worse today than yesterday.

The other day, I was worried about the cold weather. Today's worry is his cough. I didn't like the sound of it. This time, I welcomed the worry like a friend that I knew would see me through the next few years. Come, Worry, let's send Elie a message and get him to smile. He doesn't know that we know about his cough. Last time we spoke, Elie told me that he wasn't feeling well and one day when it was cold and rainyhe got permission to miss the outdoor training. He said he was already feeling better.

And so, I pulled to the side of the road and quickly typed a text message into my phone, "Drink tea. Your cough sounds much worse. Oh, and you just called me by mistake. Love you."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The UPs, The DOWNs, and the COLD

I'll start with the COLD. It's cold in Israel. Not much when compared against those cold winter days in the US Northeast and nothing compared to the US Midwest. But for Israel, which rarely has winter days that are cold unless it is raining also, we've had almost a week of sunny days that are simply cold. Temperatures have, at the coldest times, just touched freezing and mostly hover slightly above during the night and even during the day, there's a nip in the air and a need for sweaters and coats.

Days in the desert are still wonderful, sunny and comfortable. Not hot, but nice. But the nights are very cold. Israelis are more accustomed to hot weather than cold and so the army has ratings for the levels of hot days. The highest level requires the army to cancel all outdoor activities. Soldiers are monitored and reminded that they must drink often to avoid dehydration, which can quickly turn deadly in the heat of the Middle East.

Elie even told me that during basic training, before going out on one of their long marches, at one point the soldiers in his unit were told to stand in a circle and given time to drink a full 3/4 of a liter of water in one standing. Their commanding officer then instructed the soldiers to hold the empty bottle above them and turn it upside down (spilling whatever they didn't drink onto their heads).

It turns out there are also levels or ratings for the cold. In the "extreme" cold, as in the extreme heat, the army alters its training program. Elie was supposed to have slept outside in the field two nights this week, but his unit was brought in because of the cold. During the day, they are still out in the field training, but at night, wary of the cold, the army takes extra precautions and this teaches the soldiers a message they will likely remember all their lives. Respect the weather and the land.

A few nights ago, I sent Elie a message on his phone, wanting to know how the Navigation went last Saturday night. It was an off time - he was still in the course, so he called me back later that night and told me that he'd found all three points and it was indeed both fun and successful. He told me about how he met up with the jeep and was given something warm to drink. He told me the other soldier had found two of the points but apparently missed one - still, a success all around. That's when he told me about the cold and asked me to buy him thermal underwear. We made plans to meet Friday morning on his way home so that I could quickly take him shopping.

He told me that his unit has a huge water thermos that contains hot tea and that where he is sleeping has two heaters working to keep the place warm. As for when they are outside, he's wearing several layers, a constant in the Israeli weather and, at the worst, two pairs of socks. He's wearing long underwear under his army pants; an extra warm undershirt; the heavy army fleece, etc.

It was silly, but long after we hung up, I thought about Elie in the COLD. That was my "DOWN". I fell asleep missing him and feeling just a little sad that he's far away...and cold. It is clear that the army is responsive and responsible, understanding and addressing the needs of the soldiers to meet whatever challenge the weather presents so I know there is no logic to these feelings - but that's what makes them feelings.

I tend to suffer from the cold. My kids think it is funny (and it is), that sometimes - most often on Friday nights when I have reached the end of my week and I'm just so tired, that I come to the Sabbath table with layers and layers of clothes, while the boys stand there in their white, short-sleeved shirts. I often tell them, "Please, put a sweater on. I'm cold just looking at you." And they laugh and pile another blanket or sweatshirt on top of me. Elie's youngest brother sleeps, even in the winter, in shorts and sometimes no shirt. I can't stand it...I freeze just thinking about it.

After talking to Elie, I went to sleep thinking about him and the desert cold, and in the morning, I woke up his little sister to get ready for school. The heater in her room isn't very strong and on the coldest of nights, there's a chill in the room. In her warm pajamas and her blanket, her body is warm and sleepy. And like any child, she didn't want to wake up and come out of the warm bed. So I cuddled her into my arms, wrapped in the blanket, and slowly coaxed her into dressing for school. She's very petite, but the day will soon come where she is too big for this, and so I enjoy these last few times when I can still pull her onto my lap, snuggle and cuddle.

That's when I thought of Elie and the cold and realized that it was very likely his sister was colder than he was. The difference, again, was that I could reach her, cuddle with her and know that she would be warm soon. And that's when the UP started, when I laughed to myself thinking of trying to pull Elie (who is taller and stronger and bigger than I am) onto my lap. Even if he were not in the army, he'd be cold here too. Or he'd warm himself; dress with more layers; make himself tea. In short, he's a man now (and how hard that is for a mother to admit).

The army is responsible, but so is Elie. That means, as per my son's very intelligent request, this Friday we will go and buy him thermal underwear which might be even warmer than the long underwear (pants and undershirts) that he already has. He'll dress in layers, as we all do. He'll drink tea when he's chilled and he'll warm himself by the heater in his room.

And he will never know that I had even a moment's worry about the cold...he's probably still laughing about me worrying about his going out on the navigation exercise last week...so maybe I'll skip telling him about the ups, the downs, and the cold that mother's worry about when their sons are in the army.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Will Not Worry...Yes I Will

This weekend, Elie is on base. Another weekend that he won't be home and another family celebration postponed. Sunday is his youngest sister's 8th birthday - we'll wait until next weekend to celebrate together. She doesn't mind, really, because it means one more cake (one on Sunday because we can't ignore the day; one at school; one at a party at home; and yet another with Elie next weekend).

A short while ago, Elie called to wish us a shabbat shalom. He still has more of the course after lunch, but decided to call when he had a moment free. I told him this morning I had shipped him another box of brownies, drinks and snacks. I had wanted it to be a surprise, but found myself telling him anyway. Many calls are like that, but I accept that I feel like I have to keep him informed (but no, I haven't told him yet that I can't figure this GPS thing out!).

As I was clarifying that he would be home next weekend, he began explaining that this weekend, right after the Sabbath ends, he'll be going out on a "navigation" training exercise. Although he will have others with him, it will be his job to read the map and navigate (at night) from Point A to Point B. At Point B, there will be people waiting for them with sandwiches and snacks and a chance to rest before they begin again with another soldier navigating from Point B to Point C. From there, Elie will be in charge of the walkie-talkie while another soldier chooses the path they will take. The exercise will end in the middle of the night.

As always, my mind filled with worries - what could I ask him? What should I say? Maybe if I know more details, I'll worry less. Will you be alone? No. Ok, one less worry.

I know that the army is very careful about them taking water with them. Two less worries.

What about wild animals? "Ima, we have guns and [number] of magazines with us." I think that means I am supposed to cross that worry off my list.

What about the Bedouins? They are nomadic tribes that wonder the desert. For the most part, they wouldn't make trouble. While they are notorious for stealing whatever they can (believing that if they can steal it, it is their right and that they aren't doing anything wrong), they aren't likely to attack armed soldiers...right? "Ima, we have guns and [number] of magazines with us." Yes, he definitely thinks I should cross that worry off my list.

It will be so dark. That is so lame I was almost ashamed of myself, but Elie, to his credit, answered with patience. "There are no lights anywhere so your eyes adjust." But. But. But. "And anyway, if we need it, we have flashlights with us." Yes, but won't the wild animals and the Bedouins see the light...and right back to the answer about the guns and magazines.

What if you can't find Point B or Point C or..."That's why one of the guys has a walkie talkie with him." This boy is not going to let me worry, is he? I think to myself.

But what Elie doesn't take into account is that a mother doesn't need a reason to worry. It isn't about logic. It's about my baby wondering around alone, unarmed, and with no means of communication in the dark in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. And all the logical explanations about him certainly not being alone, certainly not being unarmed, certainly not being without means of communication means nothing because...he's still my baby.

Be safe, Elie - and somewhere in all the walking and the learning, enjoy the beautiful walk in the desert! You have nothing to worry about; I'm taking care of that for you!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Life's Recalculations

Part of Elie's training as a commander involves being able to navigate for himself and for his unit. This means not only being able to find his way using the latest electronic equipment, but even, perhaps, learning things that would enable him to survive without the more obvious aids.

Even before Elie joined the Commanders Course, there were signs that his commanding officers had chosen this path for him. At one point, his commanding officer's commanding officer took Elie and another soldier out into the desert in a Humvee and tested them on their ability to pinpoint their location. They were tested with GPS (Global Positioning System) points and even without.

Last week, I got a new car. It's not something that happens often (somewhere around once in a blue moon) and I've been enjoying the car quite a bit. Unlike my last car, this one is new, clean, strong (and won't break down every week...and no, you shouldn't ask me what kind of car I last drove). So, with my new car, I decided to give myself a treat. Last week, Elie called to say that while they were letting him out for the weekend, they had arranged to take those in his course to an old age home to have the soldiers spend time with the elderly. It's a very common occurrence in Israel - often high schools (and apparently army units) volunteer to spend some time with those who enjoy sitting, talking, and seeing these young men in their uniforms.

So, instead of leaving his army base and coming straight home, Elie and his group were taken by bus to Kfar Sava (about an hour from here), where they spent time sitting and talking with the residents of the nursing center. By the rules of the army, Elie had to be released in time to get back to his house at least two hours before Shabbat set in. I decided to drive and pick him up, so that he was home several hours before that.

Elie was suitably impressed with the car, recognizing that it is indeed high on the "cool" level. And then I showed him the GPS. I have no idea how to use a GPS - and wasn't anxious to read the user manual (something a technical writer should not be admitting). But Elie uses a GPS quite a bit - and began clicking away at the touch screen (I'm not sure I even realized there was a touch screen, but never mind).

Soon Elie had Jason (that's the narrator of the GPS unit) explaining how we should get home. Jason told us to go left - we decided to go right. "Route recalculation. Route recalculation," Jason said and proceeded to tell us to continue as we were going. All was going well, until we decided to take a new road that has recently connected the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to a northern Jerusalem road. It saves at least 15 minutes of driving and avoids the often crowded main entrance. But Jason didn't know about this new road, "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

Suddenly, Jason went wild. The image on the touch screen began to shake and then it whirled around. It seemed, according to Jason, that we were driving through a field (which is exactly what was there before they put in this new road). "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

The part I enjoyed the most was sharing this moment with Elie - his laughing about how inaccurate it was. "Civilian GPS units are 20-100 meters off," he explained. Military ones are obviously much more accurate. We also laughed at how upset Jason was getting each time we didn't listen to his instructions.

After finally joining up with a road he recognized, Jason was once again calm and in command. "Prepare to turn right in 600 meters." Not one to relax after clearly having his instructions obeyed, Jason continued to instruct us to turn right at 300 meters, 200 meters, 100 meters. "Turn right," he insisted, and so we did.

He led us out of Jerusalem by the new tunnel roads, avoiding the older road. He led us up the hill and through the city of Maaleh Adumim quite professionally, until we decided to detour and get the mail. Once again, Jason was upset, "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

"Enter roundabout and take the fourth exit," he instructed us, and again we ignored him. "Route recalculation. Route recalculation."

We finally made it home, almost as happy to be home as Jason was. From there, Elie went into his usual routine of finding food, doing his laundry, and ordering his brother and sister around.

Over the weekend, we talked about what was to be in the next few months and Elie explained that there really was no way to know what the army had in mind for him after he finishes the course in 2 months. He accepts this not knowing with a calmness that bewilders me. I want to know, but he is fine. "Ima, everything changes in the army every 4 months. It's known."

Ok, I know. But I've always been a planner. It's my nature to know what I'll be doing. I keep lists of days and plans and meetings and things I need to do. Life is complicated and busy and full of endless responsibilities. But all of these lists and requirements help make my life predictable and planned. Elie's life, by comparison, is not predictable (at least not for any great length of time) and yet he faces it with an amazing sense of acceptance. The army ordered him to go to an old age home and volunteer, and so he went. The army ordered him to take the Commanders course and he did.

But at the same time, while the army may have taken away his ability to choose his path, they have given him a tremendous amount. A sense of confidence in himself and his physical abilities. He can run farther than ever before; he is stronger than he was, leaner, thinner.

Elie was always the one who stayed awake on long drives. I would look into the rear view mirror while the others were sleeping, and see him looking at me, almost daring me to get lost. I thought of his eyes in the mirror as I heard him clicking away at the GPS.

Now, a week later, I still have no clue as to what buttons to press. Half the time, I get the thing working and half the time I don't.

But Elie found his way with confidence and with ease - as he's handled much of what the army has thrown his way. No matter where he goes, no matter what he learns, may he always find his path in life, whether it is known to him in advance or not. May he chart his way with confidence and ease...and may all the route recalculations he makes in life...lead him back home to us safely.

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