Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Holocaust Remembrance Day: Who He Stands For

It's a custom in Israel, to remember the Holocaust on one specific day, though many in Israel remember it every day, as it continues to haunt, to hurt, to hunt them through the day and deprive them of sleep at night. It's ridiculous to assume that someone who has lived, even survived, the depths of hell, could come out unchanged.

There was an article recently that Holocaust survivors living in the southern cities of Sderot and Ashkelon are experiencing more flashbacks and nightmares. Little wonder, when they hear the loud explosions of incoming kassem rockets and mortars fired from Gaza at Israel's cities. They go on, but they never get over, what happened so long ago.

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day comes on May 1. Elie will be up north, still on patrol near the Lebanese border. Throughout the country, in schools, on the radio, on the television, the day focuses on what was done. A speaker on the radio this morning spoke of how, as the survivors who witnessed the Holocaust first hand are slowly leaving us, we are tasked with becoming the witnesses of the witnesses. We must remember all they told us, all they remember, all they suffered.

At 10:00 a.m., an air raid siren will sound in Israel. No matter where people are, they will stop and stand. In the middle of the streets, the cars will stop and people will get out and stand for two minutes beside their car and listen to the siren cry. In the stores, on the buses, on the army bases. And remember. And mourn.

Who He Stands For

My eldest son is a handsome young man with riveting blue eyes. He was named after his great uncle, who died very shortly after his wedding in 1944. His great uncle was named Binyamin Elimelech and he, like so many others, was murdered by the Nazis for the simple reason that he was a Jew. He was called Yoummy by his family, a shortened version of his name Binyamin. We know little about him other than his name and the fact that he was taken shortly after Passover from his parents' home in Hungary. His mother and father and younger sister did not survive the war. Most of his uncles and aunts died as well. In the end, two of his younger sisters and one brother did survive.

Together, reunited after the war, these three young people made their way to the United States. My mother-in-law, the younger of the two sisters, married and had four children, each her own answer to what was done to her and her family in that darkest of times. Though his name is Binyamin Elimelech, my son is called Elie. He was born on a beautiful, sunny day in May. We asked my father-in-law what name he would have us give this first grandson of his. My father-in-law's father was murdered by the Nazis. His father was named Shaye, and this name was given to his first son, and six other young men of that generation, all grandchildren of the Shaye who died in Auschwitz. Two of his brothers were murdered by the Nazis. Later, he would ask us to give one of those names to our second son, but for this first son, he asked us to speak to his wife, to ask her what name she would give.

She, like my father-in-law, was a Holocaust survivor. She was quiet for a few minutes, and then she asked us to name him Binyamin, after her brother. She told us about how he had just married before being taken away. Her brother's middle name was Elimelech, and thus my son was named.

It's been more than 20 years since she asked us to give him that name. Twenty years in which that baby grew tall and proud. We moved to Israel just after his sixth birthday. As he grew, he knew the day would come, as did we all, when he would be asked to do something that his namesake never had a chance to do. He would be asked to serve the Jewish State, to protect its borders. A little over a year ago, he stood proudly as he completed his basic training and just a few months ago, we watched as he was promoted after completing the Commanders Course.

In a short while, all over Israel, we will remember and mourn again, for the more than six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Personally, like so many others, we will remember our own. We will remember Raizel, and Shaye and Binyamin Elimelech. We will mourn for young Gabriella, and Chaya and Shmuel and Yehoshua. So many others - each with a name, each a story, each a past and a future stolen from them.

Like most in Israel, I will stand and listen to the air raid siren and think of those who died, and those who survived and suffered long after. And this year, I will remember that far up north, on the Lebanese border, my son will stand. I don't know what I will be wearing, but I know Elie will be wearing the green uniform of the Israeli army. I don't know if, at the moment the siren wails, I'll have something in my hand. Once I was reaching for a tomato in a store; once I had my sleeping baby on my shoulder. But I know that Elie will be carrying a gun and looking to the north and to the east, watching our enemies.

Wherever I will be, whatever I will be wearing, whatever I will be carrying, I will stand and promise myself that the choice I made long ago, the one that led to Elie serving in the Israeli army was the right one because, in the end, what it means is that soon, when the sirens wail, Elie will be standing too. He'll stand for the few remaining Jews of Yemen and Syria who still live in fear, like some in France and England and even in Germany, who still experience anti-Semitism. He'll stand so that the world remembers what it once did to the Jew and what, by the strength of the Israeli army, it would never try to do today.

Ultimately, though, for those few moments, Elie will stand on the borders of our country, and remember those who could not stand up for themselves long ago.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A New Twist on Laundry

It's the little things that amuse me, remind me that Elie lives most of his life now on a different plain than we do. During the long Passover holiday, it's a nice custom to avoid doing laundry. You can, if you have to (like when you have small children and simply don't have enough clothes for them or you are seriously running out of towels), but otherwise, you simply try to avoid it and enjoy the holiday.

Elie came home on Thursday (actually, we brought him home after taking him from his base, stopping for a barbecue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and then driving through the Jordan Valley) with his usual bag of dirty clothes. Friday, amid preparations for the last day of the holiday and the Sabbath, we ran Elie's laundry through twice and finally hung it to dry before the Sabbath.

He left early this morning to go back to base, long before I'd awakened. I didn't get a chance to bake him any cookies because I was so busy putting away all the Passover dishes and things and rearranging the house and that makes me a bit sad. He'll be home again, God willing, in two weeks.

So, I woke to this quasi-vacation day in Israel. For most people, the holiday ended yesterday night and people are back at work. For those visiting from abroad, as for Jews living outside of Israel, they celebrate one last day (8 days instead of 7) of Passover and in Israel, children have this last day of vacation after being out of school for more than two weeks. I have a huge pile of laundry in the kitchen waiting to be done and my floor needs a washing terribly.

No time like the present - certainly not once we get back to routine and so I loaded the washing machine for load number 1. There's an elastic band around the side-door of my washer that often catches things (coins, socks, etc.) and I regularly check it to see what's there. Something shiny this time...I reach in and pull out...drum roll please...a bullet.

Yes, there it is. Obviously, it had been in the pants or shirts of one of his uniforms and so it sits beside me now next to my computer. A year ago, I wouldn't have had a clue what gun it would match but because I know a little about Elie's gun, I know it fits an M16. Because I have found others in his room, I know that there isn't a shortage and no, Elie isn't rushing back to base under-armed or missing anything.

No, it isn't a token of his affection - it's simply a part of where he is at this point in his life and the funny thing is that this time, I'm less bothered than I used to be. Last week, while driving home, Elie helped move things with his brother. He handed me his gun because it would have been more difficult to carry it on his back and he certainly couldn't leave it in the car or put it down.

I am so-not a gun person. I believe in the "right to bear arms" - but could never imagine my arms bearing them. I don't want to feel the power of the gun. For me, it symbolizes so much - as a Jew and an Israeli, it reminds me that once my people didn't have guns and even today, too often, we are forced to live with the gun. As a mother, it reminds me that I made a choice long ago to bring my children to a country that I love, but part of that reality meant accepting that this day would come, when my son would dress in the uniform of his country and carry a gun.

All those thoughts, I think, from seeing a bullet in the laundry. More and more, as I enter the second year of Elie's service, I realize I have gotten to a point that I couldn't imagine a year ago. I am so much more at peace with what he is doing. Up until now, I have stood to the side and watched as the army took my beautiful boy and sent home this incredible man. I've searched in the man constantly looking (and consistently happy) to find still within him, the boy I love so much.

They get along well, this boy and this man. The boy spent much of last night hiding in his room playing on the new Portable Sony Playstation (PSP) that I'd ordered over the Internet and his uncle and aunt had brought to Israel. The man came down sometimes to help pack up the Passover dishes and spend some time with his visiting relatives, but the boy called him back again and again to this room. The boy went to bed very late last night, considering how early the man had to get up to return to base.

The man threw his laundry into the washing machine on Friday and the boy hoped his mother would hang it to dry (she did). The man packed his uniforms and army-colored socks late last night; the boy's mother found a bullet in the laundry this morning.

They have no problem sharing a body, this boy and this man and I find, as I stare at this bullet by my computer, that I adore them both and that I have reached this level of contentment and peace within myself.

Of course, later this week, Elie moves bases for training and the fourth round begins. Life is never dull as a soldier's mother - that too I have learned.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shades of Friendship

On a long drive back from the border of Lebanon, past the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and through the Jordan Valley to home, Elie told me about a problem he was having with one of his soldiers. And, in so doing, what he was actually describing to me, was the many shades of friendship he is experiencing and through which, once again, he is being tested.

The greatest test of all to friendship, comes in the very essence of the army's structure. Every four months, the ground shakes and the army shifts. Teams are formed and teams reassigned; teams dismantled and new teams trained. Elie has been through three shifts and is now heading towards the conclusion of his fourth.

In the first and second shift, he and many of the same young men were trained - first to be soldiers and then for the specific task or need of the army. About twelve started with Elie in his small group. Two left for various reasons. Ten went forward and completed the second round together. Bonds were formed, friendships developed and strengthened. The friendships of the first phase did not include the commanding officers. First, during this phase, the young soldiers had to learn the levels of authority.

In the second phase, having learned the discipline that was required of them, their commanding officers became more, not just images of authority, but friends as well. It is quintessential Israel - "follow me" at its best. Here too, friendships and bonds solidified. They were all in it together, moving forward, learning, being challenged.

In the third round, a few went on to be trained to command a unit, as Elie was, and many stayed behind, entering their own phase of service. Without Elie realizing the ramifications, small walls were built between his friends of the first and second round, and those with whom he went through the third period.

After the third round, Elie and the others who completed the Commanders Course were assigned - some to train others and some, as with Elie, to return and begin commanding their own group of soldiers. Elie was thrilled to find himself back with several of those who were with him in the first and second round. Only now, it was Elie's job to command them. For most, this was a gentle shift, one worth some jokes and smiles. For most, this was not a difficult transition. They would still do many things together, but this time, instead of Or telling them what to do, it was Elie. Elie had learned well, not just from the lessons he learned during the course, but also from Or as an example. Part of the Commanders Course, in fact, was conducted by Or, who explained some of the more personal challenges each commander would face. Elie was prepared to return to his unit with a new role, and most accepted this new position of authority for my son. For one, this was a source of challenge.

"You're my friend. You were with me from the beginning. I'm not going to take orders from you," he told Elie in anger.

This is a young man that had personal problems before the army, but slowly but surely, has been finding the path back, straightening out his life, and doing well. He doesn't do drugs in the army and has gotten himself out of the civil charges filed against him. When he asked Elie for permission to come back to the army late one weekend so that he could take care of personal matters, Elie called and did all that he could until he finally secured permission.

It seems, from our discussions in the past few months, that Elie senses something special in this young man and wants to help. Elie gave a personal statement or recommendation that the soldier took to court and the charges were dismissed. They share a similar past, if not a common present.

Elie's friend comes from a religious family, and yet chose to test himself and his family by leaving behind much of what he was taught - and yet, he only shares food from soldiers who are kosher and fasted on the day before the Purim holiday, and went to hear the Megillah being read. He will return one day, both Elie and this boy are sure, but not today, not quite yet. Elie gives him nothing but acceptance in this area, not judging or forcing him in any way and was surprised to find himself suddenly challenged by one he considered a friend.

What did you do when he said that to you, I asked Elie.

"I thought about it and didn't answer him. But next time, when he did something wrong, I gave him an even harder punishment."


"Because that way he saw that I was his commander and that he has to listen." There was anger in the young man's challenge and nothing would have been gained by Elie's arguing back. Elie chose his time, and his method for getting his point across.

It worked for a while, and then this week, the young man once again challenged Elie, openly and in front of the other soldiers.

What did you do?

"He's not going home for Shabbat this week."

My heart hurts for the boy. My heart hurts for his family, and my heart hurts for Elie. It's the last weekend of Passover - the Sabbath and Passover combined, doubly holy, especially special. The last time he had to punish him, he made him stay a few more hours before going home. Now, the young man missed his free time completely.

And if he doesn't listen again? All that is left, Elie tells me, is sending him to military jail for a few days for refusing an order. This will, in effect, stop his service for the period he is in jail and add on the time in jail to the end of his three years in the army. Elie wants to avoid this.

And, once again, in his anger, the boy said to Elie, "you are my friend."

And this time, Elie answered, "Yes, I'm your friend. But I'm also your Commander. Don't make me choose between them. You know what I will choose."

Yes, Elie will choose his role as a commander because he has to, because under real conditions, all depends on his ability to command and be commanded. He'll also speak to his commanding officer about his friend because, as Elie explained, "I think he wants to hurt himself more than anything else." No, not physically, but simply by making bad choices and Elie wants to help him. That, perhaps, is the deepest essence of friendship - not just to be a friend and go along, but be a friend and help when its needed.

That was one shade of friendship we discussed. The other was equally interesting and though Elie discussed it as a completely different topic, I saw immediately that it was the flip side of the coin.

Elie's position on his base is such that he is required to answer to two people: his "katzin" or officer for most daily things and a higher officer for operational issues. It's a rare chain, I believe, that gives Elie access not only to a level above him, but one above that. This other officer is very friendly and they get along very well on a personal level. On two major issues recently, Elie has had to go directly to this officer with a report, and both times, the officer backed Elie and supported his position.

Elie could easily turn to him for everything, bypassing the officer immediately above him, and yet he is careful not to do that. Elie explained to me that he would be taking advantage of his friendship, if he were to approach this officer for assistance and he would damage the friendship he has with his immediate commanding officer if he didn't give that officer the respect he has earned.

All in all, it was an interesting ride home, listening to my son explaining the shades of friendship and realizing that there are so many lessons our children learn outside the home and by bringing them home, they enrich us. Even more, they settle us. These lessons are all about what they learn in life and I see that he has learned something that many never learn. He has learned the value of a friend, both being one, and having one.

And, he has learned the value of himself. He will give respect to his commanding officers, both as commanders and as friends, and he will demand it of his men, even at the cost of friendship. As always, I am so humbled by my son, humbled by his wisdom and, though he would never think of it in these terms, his friendship too.

I am friends with my oldest daughter - have been for years. It is something that we both admit (and cherish). As Elie talks to me about his experiences, I begin to believe that we too are friends. Like Elie, this week I was challenged with one of my other children. I could have been their friend, or their parent. It was a hard decision for me, laying down the law when I so wanted to bend. I chose to be a parent, knowing it was the right decision and hoping that in the process, I wouldn't damage this friendship that was growing with another of my children.

Ultimately, I want to be friends with my kids - I want the respect I have earned as a parent, but I want the trust, the sharing, and the acceptance they would give to a friend as well. The very same week I met this challenge at home, Elie met this challenge on base. We both came back apparently that much wiser and I am, once again, so amazed and proud.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What the Army Giveth...

...the army may well take back.

When Elie realized that he would not be home for the Seder (and that his aunt and uncle were visiting from the States), he asked for one extra day to spend with them, extending his weekend off from Sunday morning to Monday morning. His commanding officer told him that if anyone else had asked, he would have immediately refused the request, but in Elie's case, he agreed.

We were all excited to know we'd have that bit of extra time, compensation (in part) for spending the Seder and most of this week apart. And then two days ago, Elie said that it was possible that the other commanding officer would need to go off-base on Monday, which would require Elie to be back on base Sunday.

What the army giveth...all too often, it can take back. We've learned this before; we're likely to learn it again in the future. Elie was quicker to accept this change than I was.

We've decided to drive up north tomorrow; meet Elie at his base, and hopefully go to the shores of the Sea of Galilee for a barbecue and then drive home. Elie asked me to bring regular non-army clothes for him - this allows him to get back to non-army life that much faster.

I was looking forward to Thursday, wishing the week away so that we would all be together. I was wishing the week to slow down. We rarely find time to take vacations as a family; each day is precious. It's a contradiction - to want the week to hurry at the same time you want it to slow down; but this too is something we have learned to live with over the last 14 months or so since Elie went into the army.

This morning, I woke up to find it was Wednesday. Somehow, I'd lost a day - I don't know what happened to Tuesday, but there it is. Tomorrow we'll get up early; tonight I'll organize and pack.

Tomorrow, Elie will come home. He'll boss us around. He'll eat all the food. He'll help where and when he can. The house will feel like a tornado has arrived and then he'll go back to the army on Sunday, taking with him, yet again, a small piece of my heart and a large piece of my peace. So it will go, this week and next, for longer than I care to think about.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My First Away From Home

No, those weren't Elie's words but the words of a guest who came to our home. A young man who is studying here in Israel for a year and came to our home last night to share in the second Seder. Attending two Seders is standard outside of Israel while here in Israel, we only have one Seder per year.

For those who don't know, the Seder is a meal and a ritual combined into one. It is a communal sharing, in the sense that all are encouraged to invite guests and open their homes and none should share the evening alone, if at all possible. It essentially begins with four questions and then the telling of the story of the exodus from Egypt, and all that it means to us as a people. The number four is a significant element in the Passover Seder. There are four questions, four cups of wine, four sons that symbolize all of us in some way, some facet of our observance. Four of my children for the first Seder; one was far from home.

As soon as the holiday ended in Israel, I called Elie and spoke to him. I was about to start a second Seder for my guests, one I attended by choice, not obligation. Before our guests arrived, I stole a few minutes to myself, took my phone outside, and called Elie. I was lonely; I was missing him and I was mature enough to recognize that this call was for me, not for him. I needed to hear his voice. Over the Sabbath and the first day of Passover, Orthodox Jews do not use the telephone (or any electricity, for that matter) and so we were quite out of touch with those far away, as we are very much in touch with those that are close.

I had spent 48 hours with my other children, listening to them, talking, sharing. Reading to my youngest daughter, hearing my youngest son tell us what he had learned about the holiday. My middle son, my oldest daughter, my son-in-law and his family, and my husband's brother and sister who were visiting from the States. It was a period in which I was surrounded by family...and yet a part of me remained separate and aware of those that were not there.

As always, my mind would occasionally wonder - what is Elie doing now, what is he eating, is he safe. Have we been attacked from the north and even now are we under fire. Silly, back up, Elie's fine - probably long asleep while I'm still busy with dishes. My phone beeped twice - something had happened. The north? The south? Later I would find out that terrorists had attacked from the south, attempting to kidnap or murder in the south. Nothing I could do during the holiday; you have to believe and have faith. In my heart, Elie was fine. Minutes after the holiday ended, I quickly checked the Internet.

Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the attempted attack/kidnap plot that included two explosive-laden jeeps. The attack was foiled by alert guards. Not in the north, but in the south. Something happened in the north, but details aren't clear and all in all, it's quiet up there. Elie sounded happy, rested, calm. I needed to hear his voice more than he can imagine, and without knowing, he complied. It was a few stolen moments for me...just what I needed.

He told me about how the current Commanders Course for his specialty had been training in the north and so spent the Seder at his base. A visiting rabbi came and conducted the Seder - all in all, it was very nice and Elie enjoyed it. He mentioned possible "bad" news and then went on to explain that the "powers that be" are kicking around names to lead the Commanders Course in a few months time and his name was being mentioned. If the training base wants someone, explained Elie, they have tremendous power and would likely get the soldier they want.

Elie doesn't want that - though he would go if commanded. Like his first commanding officer, Or, Elie wants to command a unit, as he is now, rather than training. Why, I asked him and he explained that it means he wouldn't have a "team" and that would be lonelier, I think. A "team" is a bond; you go with them and they go with you. You don't really bond with the others in your course because you are there to train and move on. If he is taken to the Commanders Course, he will once again be pulled out of his unit. He was pulled out to take the Commanders Course and then he was thrilled to be re-assigned back to his same unit as a Commander. Pulled out again, he would again be uncertain about where he would end up.

We spoke of how things were in the north, and once again, aware that ears of the enemies are listening, Elie couldn't say much. It felt better, having heard his voice, and we said goodbye - Elie to finish his responsibilities and me to go host the second Seder for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and two guests of a friend here in the neighborhood. For now, I was once again "in control" - knowing Elie would soon finish and go to sleep, safe, happy, safe, there.

Aware that we were holding a second Seder anyway (something rare in Israel and only done for guests who do not live here), our friends asked if we could host these two young men as well. They are spending this year studying, far from their families. Experiencing life in Israel is a special and significant rite of passage for many young Jews from outside Israel. Many later choose to live here, but all are changed and enriched by the experience.

It was a nice evening, more relaxed for me than the first Seder in many ways and when it was done, as the two young men graciously offered their thanks, one said that it was the first time he'd been away from home for the Passover Seder and thanked us for welcoming him to our home. It made me think of Elie - and his first time away from home too.

I don't know where Elie will be next year for the Seder; I'm not even sure that my next son will be home either. It's a strange feeling, to be on the edge of change knowing that your life is shifting in so many ways, so quickly, in such a short period of time. Our family has grown - we have added a son-in-law but also changed. They, by themselves, are their own little family now.

A little over a year ago, life seemed so simple...perhaps not at the time, but the last year has seen so many changes and knowing that the next year will see even more, makes life...interesting at least.

But there is a difference in feeling when a child isn't home because they are married or off learning somewhere. Over meal preparations and kitchen duty, my oldest daughter and I discussed it.

"It's a 'worried' thing," she offered, and I agreed. It's a hole in your heart when you have a son in the army and he isn't home for major holidays. And that's the difference. When your children are with you, you have a sense that they are safe, tucked into their beds, all evil kept away. During the week, I worry less. I would hear almost immediately, if something happened. And, of course, I'm busier at work and home. Holidays and Shabbat are about slowing down, relaxing, taking time with family and not working...and that's when the hole seems bigger, the missing that much more acute.

Then too, there is the innate sense I have always had deep down that people often say they were never prepared for really bad news, and so, in the twisted logic of a mother's heart, I can admit to believing that if I can just worry and "be prepared," bad things won't happen. It's hard to explain - I really don't live in fear all the time and don't worry more than half the time (smile, here).

It will come in a wave, and leave almost as quickly. The nice part about Elie being in the army for more than a year now, is that overall, I'm calmer and more confident. Calmer because I've learned more about all the army does to watch our sons and keep them safe and more confident because I see that the army doesn't trust recklessly.

Responsibilities are given after training is received. Elie knows, actually knows what he is doing - they reached into the boy and found the leadership qualities I knew were there. They found much more as well. Some aspects of his personality I knew about; others I suspected and others I had no idea were buried deep inside the complex personality of this young man.

I didn't know Elie could be patient, though I knew he could analyze situations and come to quick decisions. I suspected that Elie could review and weigh options and hand out just punishments, but I didn't know if he could command not just with authority, but with respect. There is a depth to the man he is becoming that simply amazes me.

It was Elie's first Passover away from home - and perhaps the hard part is that this is just the beginning. There will be others, perhaps more away than at "home" - and at some point, just as my daughter's "home" has switched, Elie's will too. When our guest told me it was his first Passover away from home, it struck deep inside. His mother is somewhere far away, wondering where he is, what he is doing. She too must know that he is safe in Israel and that others are caring for him as if he was their own.

For now, Elie has two homes, as my daughter does and the call last night that I made, was, I think now, my way of reminding myself that in a much larger sense, though Elie may be far from this house, he will never be far from this home.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Prayer for Israel's Soldiers in Captivity

Passover is the time of freedom - a celebration of our release from the bondages of slavery; a beginning of the long journey we took through the desert to become a free nation in our land.

Soon we will sit down to celebrate this freedom...and when we do, we will say a prayer for those who are not free.

May it be your will, Hashem, our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, that these Psalms that we have read, will find favor before You, as if King David, your servant, had recited them himself. For the sake of Your Holy Name, may our prayer and request be accepted with mercy and favor, and may our supplication come before You, to show mercy and loving kindness for our captives and missing soldiers:

Ehud ben Malka Goldwasser
Eldad ben Tova Regev
Gilad ben Aviva Schalit
Guy ben Rina Hever
Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel
Yekutiel Yehudah Nachman ban Sarah Katz
Zvi ben Pnina Feldman
Ron ben Batya Arad

Mercifully save them, together with all the captives and prisoners of your people Israel. He who redeems prisoners shall save them from captivity and take them out of slavery to freedom, and from oppression to redemption, and from darkness to
light, and He shall heal them fully in soul and body, and grant them strength,
happiness and joy, so they shall be strong, healthy and content.

May the merit and cries of prayer of the many, who beseech You on their behalf, from all corners of the earth, serve as a mighty shield and annul any evil decree, and
may their merits and deeds for the sake of our people and homeland, be presented
before You.

May the following verse be realized for them: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Click here to download the prayer, in English and Hebrew as a word

Reprinted from the Israel National News Website.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Day for Me

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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Next Soldier Returns

Somewhere along the way, I realized that while I am the mother of a soldier named Elie, someday soon (too soon), I will also be the mother of another soldier, and another after that. I love the comments people send to me; they encourage me, comfort me, and sometimes remind me that things I take for granted, aren't obvious to those living outside Israel. At some point, I'll try to go back and sum up and clarify, for now, I'll focus on one point.

Elie didn't choose to become a soldier - though there were things he might have done to avoid it (so one could argue that by not avoiding the army, he chose to be a soldier). In Israel, there is a mandatory draft, made necessary by the fact that we have, for all intents and purposes, been a nation at war for 60 years. We all have an obligation to defend this land, if we are to continue living here. There are those who do not serve - and I have now come to believe it is their lose as much as Israel's. To defend your land, your nation, your people, your way of life, your beliefs - is to commit yourself and to say to others that your way is right and just. There are armies built on force or bribery; but the strongest armies are those built on determination and belief. For this reason, Israel educates its soldiers. They are taken to historical places throughout the land of Israel so they understand the ancient (and modern) connection we have here.

They are taken to memorials for other soldiers, so that they are taught the price we have paid to be in our land. And, they are taken to several locations commemorating the Holocaust that cost the lives of more than 6 million Jews during World War II. Here, they learn the cost of not serving, the price of being unable to fight. Here, they learn the meaning of helplessness and despair.

My Israeli friends are often more distressed at having a son in the army than I am. I chose to come here, to bring my sons here, knowing that part of the commitment to move here involved willingly sending my sons to the army. What that meant, in very real terms, has only become real and more understandable in the last year, but the concept was one I lived with even before we moved.

For these Israeli friends, they fought so their children wouldn't have to; they enlisted and served in the army so that the Arabs would understand that we were not going to allow ourselves to be defeated and exiled again from our homeland. They fought for peace, so that their children would never have to fight in a war, as they had. Now, as their children enter the army, they look back and wonder why it didn't work out that way.

For us, it is all new. Elie received his draft letters, as all high school boys do - as his middle brother now has. Elie took the tests that told the army where he excelled, where he could best serve the army's needs and, in turn, what would be best for Elie. I am not naive enough to believe that Elie's needs were paramount, but the army is quick to understand - an unhappy soldier isn't a good one. Elie is not a gun-toting maniac, far from it - but he is enjoying the challenges the army presents to him; the responsibility behind it; the commitment to it.

So, why is this called "The Next Soldier Returns,"? Because - despite these previous paragraphs, what I want to write about is something else. Elie's brother returned from Poland yesterday after spending eight days there. It is an agonizing trip for a young Israeli. It is a humbling trip.

Israel is a relatively small country - tiny, even, compared to most. Roughly the size of New Jersey, one of the smallest states in the United States, it is easy to drive from north to south within a day, from east to west within an hour or so. Poland is, by comparison, so very vast. I was in Poland several years ago on a similar trip with my daughter. That made these last 8 days that much more difficult for me, as I knew what he would be seeing and feeling.

Those 8 days changed me as a person, solidified much of what I have always believed. There is, within mankind, the capacity for unimaginable evil. You know this when you stand in a gas chamber. There is the capacity for sudden anger - you know this when you visit Poland and feel the evil. My son knew this (and I remembered it), when he told me that someone had criticized his group for singing a song in memory of those who died in Auschwitz.

"You aren't the only ones who are here!" my son was told. They did the right thing in Auschwitz - they ignored the rude person who came to visit, but not understand. When I heard this, I felt such anger and words bubbled into my head. Oh, the things I would say to such a person...and then knew I had to leave them unsaid. The place is holy and deserves our respect. That one person would disrespect the holiness of the place does not justify our lowering ourselves to such insensitivity.

What is important in Auschwitz is not what the living say, but what the dead feel. Yes, I felt them in Auschwitz. I came to give them my respect and honor. To tell them about Israel, a place that would have saved them, if it had existed, and a place that shelters those who survived. Perhaps, like me, I told my great-grandmother and great-aunts and all the others, the descendents of those who died in Auschwitz can live in Israel, free as they never were.

You learn about evil and anger in Poland. You also learn an incredible lesson - one of helplessness. There is nothing that can be done to help people murdered 60 years ago. We can remember them; we can honor them. But we cannot defeat the evil that was defeated and yet still thrives in many places around the world. Sometimes, that evil is given a different name, but it is the same as we have always known it.

Shmulik returned from Poland yesterday. Clearly, it effected him greatly and as he looks at the pictures (which he showed to me and then to a friend yesterday), he is continuing to internalize the lessons he learned there.

Being a Jew in the Israeli army is a liberating experience. Had there been an Israel with an Israeli army during World War II, it's first priority would have been to rescue the Jews, to bring them home. They would have had a place to escape; a nation willing to accept them unconditionally and we would all be different. Elie might have a different name - he was named after his grandmother's brother who was murdered just after Passover in 1944 by the Nazis. Newly married, he was pulled from his home. Unarmed, unable to defend himself. I know nothing of his personality; nothing of who he was before his death. Nothing remains but his name, which Elie carries, and perhaps a picture in an album.

Shmulik also carries the name of another of my husband's brothers. He too died helpless and virtually alone. His last act was one of courage. He told his cousin to leave him in the forest when he didn't have any more strength to go on. My Shmulik carries his name, and hopefully his courage and concern for others.

My youngest son carries the name of his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who was able to go on with his life, marry and bring four children into the world. But all that he did and all that he was, remained shadowed, in part, by his experiences as a very young man during the Holocaust. In a very real sense, today's Israeli soldiers too remain shadowed by the knowledge that once we as a people were helpless.

Yesterday, I stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the last remaining part of what was once our Holy Temple and watched a ceremony attended by parents and family members, who welcomed back the boys who had gone to Poland. In a very real sense, they came back with so much to think about and so much to remember. Many waved the large Israeli flags they had taken to Poland and brought back home. They spoke briefly of what they had experienced, sang the Israeli national anthem with pride, and hugged each other and their parents throughout.

The motions were the same, the pats on the shoulders, the brief hugs. It was the same greeting Elie and his soldiers share each time they part and each time they return. A need to touch. A need to remember. Already, the shaping of the next soldier in our family has started.

In part, it began with an important lesson - once we were helpless. And it continued at the Western Wall - now we have a homeland again, and a state, and an army. As I stood there, with the Israeli flags gently swaying in the wind, my son and his friends standing there at attention as they spoke to those who had come to greet them, I thought - next year or soon after that, they will all be soldiers. It was a heart-wrenching moment for me, thinking of him that way and knowing that I have to find a way to prepare myself.

I had thought it would be easier, and maybe it will, now that Elie has paved the way. I guess we will all find that out. For now, I realized that these young men, tall and proud and so Israeli, had gone to Poland and returned. It reminded me of what our guide had told us moments before we entered the gas chambers in Maidanek.

"Remember," he said, "they went in and never came out. You will come out. You WILL come out." My son came out of Poland - perhaps, a stronger Israeli and a stronger Jew and, perhaps in the future, he will be a stronger soldier in the Israeli army because of what he experienced these past 8 days. The evil he saw, the helplessness he confronted, the commitment he formed there to the future of his people.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Checking In - Knowing Where Your Soldiers Are

Right after the Sabbath ended, Elie got a phone call. In a real war situation, it would be his responsibility to call his soldiers and mobilize them to the front. This is tested, even under non-war conditions. So Elie got a call - tell your soldiers to mobilize "drill".

This meant that Elie had to call his soldiers and confirm that he could reach them. The phone was busy for one soldier, two others didn't answer. He continued to call. The busy line returned the call; another accounted for. When Elie completes the list, he will call his commanding officer, who will, in turn, call his. All accounted for; exercise complete.

"What happens if you can't reach someone?" I asked Elie. He looked at me strangely. Impossible. A soldier has a responsibility to be ready at all times, within reach within a certain period of time.

"They could go to jail if they don't respond within x hours," Elie told me. He continued to call - all accounted for; the "mobilization" was successful - not it's back to a week off.

Tonight, Elie arranged to be on-call with the ambulance squad all night. If there are any problems, they'll call him and he'll run out and catch the ambulance as it races to its destination.

Tonight, Elie also checked, like a mother hen, where his soldiers are - it's an element of his personality - to volunteer, to want to help and an element of the sense of responsibility the army wants its commanders to feel - to know where their men are, to know how to reach them, at all times.

Like a mother who sometimes does an internal accounting to know where her children are, I thought to myself. Breathe deep, relax. All present and accounted for, all within reach, all aware that though they are home, they still remain soldiers responsible for Israel's safety and should there be a threat, they will be called, they will have to run.

Finally all clear, Elie phoned his commanding officer back. The pretend mobilization behind him, Elie went back to being Elie...on call for the ambulance, playing on his computer, and relaxing in his room.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Elie's "Vacation"

Elie's real first day of vacation began yesterday. Immediately after he had awakened and said his morning prayers (something he does differently than he did before the army - where once it was forced and now it comes more easily to him), he went with me to my Jerusalem office. While I worked for a few hours to clear off important issues on my desk before (hopefully) taking off for the Passover holiday, Elie put together chairs for the conference room and ran some errands for me.

When I finally finished, later than expected, Elie and I went shopping for the Passover holidays. This is always a long, expensive, and difficult task. Everything we use, even items that are kosher for Passover all year long - still are not used if they were opened before the holidays, and so it is a major purchase. To make things more complicated, a dear friend's young son was hit by a car this week. While she is with her son, I offered to do her Passover shopping as well. Armed with her list and mine, Elie and I attempted to shop for two families in a store that is largely unfamiliar to me. I didn't know where things were, but the prices and selection are good and I decided to try that as my first stop (typically, I can go to several stores before really completing my list).

It took hours to accomplish and then we had to stuff it into the car's trunk and back seat. We came home to find more needed to be done, dinner warmed up and then, after all of the shopping we had done, we both realized we hadn't even bought the things we would need for the Sabbath, which comes today. Our focus had been only on the upcoming holiday next week.

"I'd rather do it now," Elie told me - as if it were a foregone conclusion that he would be the one to go shopping and so, another short list, another trip to the store. This time he went alone while I stayed and put dinner on the table.

That was his first day of vacation. Today is his second day - Friday - and he will likely help around the house and prepare for the Sabbath and help clean the house for Passover (it's an almost never-ending task...which thankfully must end as the Passover holiday arrives next week).

Tomorrow is the Sabbath. As Orthodox Jews, we don't drive and so tomorrow too, Elie will be home. Half his vacation gone, I hope he will do something special on Sunday - something for himself. We spent so much time together talking that I can't remember all the bits and pieces I knew I wanted to catch and write down.

"Are you lonely there? Sometimes I think I hear it in your voice," I confided to him (what you all know, but he's never heard).

"No. Some of the guys always want to be home, but I'm not like that," he said.

"Great thing to tell you mother," I said and was quick enough to catch his smile.

He told me about how there is always someone in the lookout post - often more than one - and a commander. At night, a commander must be there and so there's a mattress on the floor where the commander can sleep, ready should there be a problem. He sleeps in uniform, with his boots on, and a radio endlessly droning on.

"Can you sleep with all that noise?" And again that smile.

"Sure. No problem," he said. It's true - it's something he has learned in the army - the ability to fall asleep wherever he can, whenever he allows his body to sleep. I take hours to fall asleep sometimes, my brain constantly churning over events and facts. Elie has but to close his eyes and tell his body to sleep. I envy him that.

Last night, I couldn't sleep in the middle of the night. I woke after a bad dream - a silly dream that was as obvious in its source as it was to interpret. I don't drive that way and so there's no reason to believe I would lose control speeding around a turn I have driven thousands of times. But as my car spun out of control I realized that there was time to pray, time to beg God to let me live, that there was so much I wanted to do.

I woke with that thought and immediately checked my phone. My friend had promised to send me a message about her son, who was having the operation even as I went to bed to rest last night and long past the time I'd fallen asleep. They fixed his leg and his jaw; the prognosis very good - but still long and hard for such a little boy. In many ways, her son is like Elie - or as Elie was 12 years ago. He's so bright and energetic and sweet. He can be a tyrant when he wants his way and it is hard for my friend, but there is such sweetness inside of him. Elie was like that. It seems amazing to write this now, but Elie was the hardest of my children - right from birth until...oh, about a year ago.

So, in the middle of the night, I thought of my friend sitting by her son and I thought of Elie and I realized that there are such blessings in a son. It's a long haul, from birth to 20 years, filled with so many things - the wonders, the growth, the worries and fears - but most of all, there is the joy. The simple joy of looking at him and saying -God, how you have blesssed me with this boy. There are no words that can express the gratitude.

May God send a speedy and complete recovery to Chaim Zvi ben Henya Devra. Please keep him in your prayers.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Week of Elie

It's just started and already I am enjoying it so much. He walked in yesterday, utterly exhausted, hungry, dirty. They had taken a 9 kilometer walk before leaving on this week's vacation and only later did I realize what it was. A town in the north was having a city-wide march (I still don't know in honor of what), and Elie's group was selected to march along with them - not for protection, but for the presence. To say - we are the army, but we are part of you and your city too.

So they walked and enjoyed the slow pace compared to what they normally have to do. They walked only with their guns and yes, in the hotter dress uniforms, but no heavy backpacks, no bulletproof vests. For them, it was, almost literally, a walk in the park. If anything, the soldiers would have wanted the people, the children and families, to walk faster - because the sooner they finished it, fun though it was, the sooner they could leave and get home.

But it wasn't quite to be - once they had finished this 9 kilometer walk, not very tired compared to what other training they have had - they found that the mayor wanted to thank them and hand out medallions honoring the occasion. Elie and his soldiers smiled. Elie and his soldiers were honored. Elie and his soldiers took the medallions - and then, Elie and his soldiers hurried home for a week of being what they so rarely have a chance to be anymore - free, irresponsible if they want, answerable to few or none, able to sleep when they want, eat when they want, do what they want, go where they want - in short - ahead of Elie is a week in which he gets to be himself (and I have the joy of watching it).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Buttons, Batteries, and Bullets

What do buttons, batteries and bullets have in common?

Let me explain...Passover is the one time of year that I become a fanatic in the realm of cleanliness, though that isn't really what the holiday is about. Lost in the quest to eradicate all sorts of things we don't want in our house (bread, leavened products, wheat, rye, barley, etc.), we become distracted by clutter and non-related issues.

Elie comes home tomorrow for a week. His room...well, it was its usual disaster and it would likely take most of his vacation to really clean it, never mind prepare it for the holiday. I started cleaning it a few days ago, determined to shock him when he comes home. Today, I put in more time and his youngest sister asked to help.

Elie had (note the past tense), a wood night stand next to his bed with three drawers. The weight of the contents broke one of the drawers long ago and jammed another. The overflow...well, went into boxes and bags and, well, everywhere. I went in armed with more than a dozen plastic containers...and an 8-year-old who loves order. We worked amazingly well together. We determined which boxes we needed and then she began sorting as I refolded all of his clothes and organized his closet.

Here is where I am divided in which story to tell first - the clothes, or the boxes...I'll start with the clothes...for no other reason than they left me with a profound feeling, while the boxes left me with a smile.

So - Elie's clothes come in several varieties...and some new ones. He has a mountain of jeans - I had no idea he had so many pairs - no idea when he got them and I'm pretty sure most won't fit him anymore. He went into the army weighing more than he does now and with all the running and exercise he has gotten, he's tightened himself up. The jeans will probably be too large...some of the shirts too small. He's got more muscle despite the weight loss. In short, his body has changed almost as much as his personality and character have matured.

He has short sleeve shirts and long sleeve shirts...and a mountain of green things. Undershirts (in three different types - no sleeves, short sleeves and long sleeves), shirts, and pants - all green. He has a green army coat and green thermal shirts. He's got a green hat too. One whole side of his closet is...simply green.

I don't know why that struck me...but it seemed to be such an intrusive, intrinsic part of his room...seen even more so by the contents of those boxes.

Elie doesn’t love to write. He has an excellent memory and rarely needs to actually take notes. We found many notebooks – most ¾ empty…but we found dozens of pens – perhaps even hundreds. Enough to fill two full containers. There were markers and crayons, pens and pencils. That was two boxes.

Afraid to throw anything out – at all – if it wasn’t clearly garbage, we created a string box for all manner of pieces of string.

We found all sorts of tools – screwdrivers and pieces of drills and we weren’t sure what, so we created a tools box.
We found about 5 toothbrushes and 3 tubes of toothpaste along with several containers of lip balm – so we created a tooth box.

We found a whole bunch of watches and flashlights so we put these together and created a box for that.

We found … well, we called them army things. We put a gun strap in there, some dog tags (yes, they better be extras), spare string for sewing uniforms, extra buttons and just – green things – that was the army box.

We found dozens of batteries in all shapes and forms – that was the battery box.

We found some bullets…that went into the army box (with a note to self to ask him why he leaves some bullets at home).

We found all sorts of medical stuff – bandages, plastic gloves, tourniquets, gauze, and more – that became the medical box.

Elie loves gadgets – but gadgets was too hard a word for Elie’s little sister, so we called it the phone box and put some old cellular phones, extra phone panels, and “stuff” in there.

And we found toys – young children’s toys and partial decks of cards – toy dinosaurs and broken cars, part of an electronic game, and the back cover of another electronic game (too bad they didn’t match) – that went into the “toy” box.

And finally, there were the things that we simply could not identify - tool or toy, army or not. What is it, what part of a thing was it. We simply didn't know - and so - it went into the "I don't know" box - we hope Elie will help us identify them all at some point.

It went on and on. Perhaps the funniest moment was when I found a small box with some buttons, some batteries, and a few bullets. Without thinking, I said to his sister, “this must be the B box.” But she was born in Israel and while she understands English, it was too much for her to put it all together. Why DID he have bullets, buttons and batteries in the box? Maybe I’ll ask him tomorrow.

When we finished emptying out the drawers, Elie’s sister washed them all around, scrubbing at the dirt marks to make it clean. It was, in all ways, an endeavor of love for her. She is excited that Elie is coming home tomorrow.

She was touched when she unfolded a piece of paper and found a picture she had made for him and she wants me to remember to tell him that she worked hard in his room too.

When he recovers from the shock of seeing such a lovely room, I will remember to tell him. Passover isn’t about cleaning your homes from the dirt – only about removing bread and leavened products. We clean our homes as a sign of love for the God of Israel, who protects us and watches over us. We do this in memory and gratitude for what God did for the Jewish people – by taking us out of slavery and out of Egypt and bringing us home to this land. More than 2,000 years after that exodus, we are again home in that land. Here in Israel, Passover is our time to show that we are so very glad to be here.

Having just about finished it and knowing that the Passover cleaning part of his room could have been accomplished in a fraction of the time, I can only conclude that cleaning Elie’s room wasn’t really about Passover – it was about showing Elie our love, our way of telling him we are glad he is coming home.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Not Elie?

I'm sometimes so busy with my feelings in relation to Elie being a soldier that I forget, or push to second place, the feelings of others. In some ways, I think I act like it is Elie (and me) against all things he must face and that others, even his father and siblings, are somehow less involved or less connected. That somehow, I believe that I can be there, that I have to be there, if he needs me - if not physically, than in spirit. I don't want him to be lonely, so I'll call more if I begin to hear something in his voice. If he mentions something that he feels he needs, I do what I can to get it (within, I still haven't bought him a sports car).

Elie and I go and buy it - without involving the others in the family. I don't know why this is - perhaps I feel that they should do what they want, as I am, and not be forced to doing more. My daughter has just finished her first year of marriage and is busy at university. My second son is in his senior year in high school, making major decisions on what he will do and where he will go next year. My next son is already preparing for his bar mitzvah, less than a year away, and my youngest daughter, at only 8, is simply involved in being 8.

My husband has his own relationship with Elie that lives on a level of its own. They talk mechanical and computer things and build a world I don't enter and so, I have my world with Elie that centers around him telling me what he needs to talk about, my sharing with him news of the family; what cookies or food he wants, what clothes he needs. Sometimes it is superficial, sometimes it is deeper - always at a level that I think he needs.

I've seen this in my personality before - sometimes I feel that we all have to deal with our emotions on our own - and I'll do what I can...but maybe sometimes I feel that just dealing with my own emotions and not putting them on others is enough of a contribution. Twice now, in the middle of the night, I've been terrified - once with cause, as Israel had apparently just attacked a Syrian nuclear reactor (don't take that as confirmation, I'm only going by the New York Times), and once when Elie repeatedly rolled on his phone and called the house in his sleep. Both times, I was left terrified and upset, alone in the night, not wanting to burden others with what I was sure was unreasonable fears...or was once I knew Elie was fine.

Last year, as Elie went into the army, I talked to the teachers of my younger children and told them that I was concerned. That between my older daughter's wedding and Elie going into the army, the two smaller ones (and even the then-16 year old) were most likely going to feel a little pushed to the side. I wasn't sure there was much I could do about it; much more I could handle beyond these two major events happening almost simultaneously.

But, we got through it - Amira got married; Elie went into the army - and we all coped as a family. Through this entire year, we've dealt with it all and I thought rather well.

Today, an assistant to the Public Security Minister was shot in an attack during a visit meant to strengthen local farmers who have been living under the constant threat of rocket attacks. My middle-son's phone and my phone beeped at the same time. Shooting attack - there are wounded, the message came through.

As I often do, I went to the Internet - this time on a laptop sitting on my dining room table. I checked the English news sites, but they weren't very clear and so I went to a Hebrew site. My 8-year-old daughter was beside me as she read that an Israeli had been shot and was in light-to-moderate condition. He was being evacuated to a local hospital.

There was confusion, as my son realized he had misread his note. He thought it had said the Public Minister, when it was his assistant. In practical terms, it makes no difference. The bottom line is that an unarmed man was shot in a terrorist attack. Little difference whether the terrorist knew who he was shooting. A short discussion in the dining room was interrupted when my daughter turned to me with fear in her eyes. She too had read the Hebrew news.

"Not Elie?" she asked...and my world shook just a little. I was quick to comfort her. No! Not Elie. It wasn't a soldier. It was in the south, not the north. Elie's up north. No, not Elie. Elie is fine. In a little while, Elie will likely call to wish us a peaceful shabbat. Maybe I'll tell him what his sister thought, maybe not.

Her world has been made right again - not Elie. Just yesterday, I wrote of one of my greatest fears. I guess what I learned today is that it is not just my fear. No, little one, not Elie.

Shabbat shalom, Elie - and to your friends and brothers in the north and in the south.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Will Elie Get Vacation?

Isn't that a silly way to think of world events? It is, really and I'm even honest enough to recognize that it is a coping mechanism for avoiding the more serious thought that rests just on the edge of my brain.

There are three moments in Elie's army life that I fear...ok, there are four, but the fourth is more than I can manage at the best of times, so I'll confess to three of them. I'm afraid of the moment Israel will go to war. No one comes out of war the same as they go in. No matter what happens...Elie will be different. How can you not? It's very possible Elie will finish his army service without experiencing war. It's even possible that his brothers might as well...but an Israeli's army service doesn't end after 3 years. The three years are really more training and learning than anything else. Much of Israel's real defense is in the hands of the reserve soldiers who give up to a month of their lives each year to defend the country. Elie will leave the army, in very real terms, only when he reaches his 40s. At 20 years of age, this means another good 20 years. Israel has been through at least 6 wars in its 60 years, more if you count our ongoing war with the Palestinians, terrorism and several other incidents. It will can it not?

I'm afraid of the moment when Elie might (God forbid) lose a friend or one of his soldiers either in war or in some terrorist action. Elie and his siblings have been touched by terrorist attacks - everyone in Israel has. A teacher from Elie's school was killed while driving home. Another teacher from Elie's older sister's school and his 3 year old child were wounded. Elie's younger sister's teacher has just spent the last few weeks nursing her husband, who was shot twice in the most recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem while sitting and learning in the yeshiva library. A boy from where we used to live was shot in the leg while driving home. Some young people in our neighborhood had near misses or were in attacks but not severely wounded. The list goes on; it's a small country. I don't know what I'll say, how I can help him. My friend's son, who just completed his army service, has lost several boys from his unit - first during the last Lebanon War and more recently in a battle in Jenin. She told me the army doesn't send the boys home - but let's them help each other, stick together. But they come home eventually and we have to deal with it. It may well happen and I carry that fear deep inside me.

And I'm terrified of a moment I pray will never happen - that Elie will call me, or so much worse, someone will call and say he's been hurt. I think it's a natural fear; I know it is. But knowing doesn't tell me how I'd cope, how I'd even manage to get myself there fast enough to be with him. So many soldiers pass through the army never getting hurt but that doesn't help and so I push the thoughts away because nothing is accomplished by thinking about them other than to make me realize that this isn’t really something you can prepare yourself for in advance.

In the meantime, Elie called last night to tell me about the latest goings-on. He's still on the Lebanese border, at least for another few weeks. This is considered part of active duty, rather than training. In another few weeks, the Passover holiday will be here. He spent the last holiday, Purim, in the army and we were hoping he'd spend the Seder with us, but it looks like it won't be happening. Elie is more philosophical about it than I am, more able to understand the ramifications of his coming home.

"That means another soldier will have to be here for three straight weeks, instead of two," he explains calmly and this time, I am the child, desperately wanting to answer back, "so what." But I don't. That boy needs to go home just as Elie does. Just an unlucky draw that gave the other soldier two holidays and none to Elie.

But Elie will ask for an extra day for the last weekend of Passover as a bit of compensation and hopefully he'll get that. Also, the best news is that the soldiers in his command are due for a week-long vacation. With them on vacation, there is nothing for Elie to do, so he too will get a week off, even though he just got one after finishing the Commanders Course. That alone almost compensates for the Seder he won’t be sharing with us this year – another first. Since the time our first child was born, we have never not all been together on this important night. I know how lonely Elie sounded on Purim, when he could call. I can’t imagine how he will feel on Seder night.

Of course, Elie was quick to remind me that counting on a week off, or any vacation for that matter, all depends on "the situation" (as we like to call it here). Anything can change at any time - as we have seen in the past.

So, we said good night. He sounded good. He's fine. He's safe. He's warm. He's happy. Another day done in the army and my fears remain at bay. And then this morning, as I was driving to work, the radio talked about the Syrians intensifying pressure on the border. THEY think WE are going to attack...and so they are mobilizing their troops, calling up some reserve soldiers and moving them closer to the border.

It could really be that they believe Israel is about to attack...or it could be a guise for an attack from them. The Israeli army knows what it is about to do and what it is not about to do, but the unknown factor here is what the Syrians will do and so we too must be prepared.

Chances are, the army won't call up our reserves - that may well bring on a war, so it will probably fall to the soldiers who are there already to be prepared and that might mean canceling vacations or home-time. Somehow I can't get my mind around the idea that we are on the verge of war and that one of my greatest fears concerning Elie might come true.

More likely, this will all blow over - as it so often does...just after Elie loses his planned vacation. So, here's hoping the Syrians cool down and realize that Israel isn't seeking war. Here's hoping things don't escalate and we can all have a quiet peaceful holiday...and yes, here's hoping that Elie gets to be home for a week and enjoy some quiet time with the family! And, if I am putting in my wishes…here’s hoping the army finds a way to send Elie home for the Seder!

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