Monday, September 29, 2008

A Short One

As you can probably tell, I love to write and tend to write long. Most blog postings are very short and I probably take too much of your time with these long posts, so here's a short one -

Wherever you are - may you be blessed with the blessings of home. May you gather your family around you and enjoy each precious moment. May you be granted a full year of life and health and happiness and may the State of Israel and the Jewish people be granted a year of peace, a year free from hatred and violence and may God bless us with leaders who are wise, compassionate, and just.

Shana tova - from Elie and me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Blessings of Rain and Home

It rained today. Poured, actually. My husband and youngest son walked our guests home and as they returned, the heavens opened above them. As they walked, they saw young teenagers in the streets, running and then sliding on the street because this was the first rain and the roads were treacherous for cars, heaven for children.

We returned from the synagogue this afternoon and sat down to lunch. My oldest daughter is with her husband in Jerusalem. Elie is on base. My middle son is at his Hesder yeshiva for shabbat, and we are, for the first time in 18 years, basically a couple with two children at home. It is an astounding shift that I have yet to understand. I need to learn to make less food on those weekends when we have only the two "little" ones (or invite more guests).

As we sat for lunch, the skies again opened and we watched the road to Jerusalem as cars in the distance drove slowly and carefully. The first good rain of the season brings out all the oil that has accumulated and drivers that normally zoom down the highway far below our living room window slow to a crawl.

Personally, I love walking in the rain. I love watching the rain from inside a warm room. In short, I love the rain and never tire of its beauty, its strength, its promise. We stopped our lunch to step outside and get wet, to watch as the skies poured down. "I love the smell," my young daughter said as she put her hand outside the door and caught a few raindrops.

In Israel, it barely rains (at least by American standards). If it is a good year, we have rain fairly regularly from around late October to the end of March. Give or take a few weeks, but I don't remember a good solid drenching like this one in September ever happening. We've had four bad years, one more will be a huge problem for Israel's already depleted reserves.

Rain is very different here in Israel than in most countries. With the freedom of abundant water, people in countries like England and most of the US are free to curse the rain as an inconvenience. Nasty weather puts a damper on carefully made plans.

In Israel, the rain is celebrated, well, mostly. We'll say something like, "it's miserable out there, thank God." The almost constant response in Israel when someone says it is raining is "Baruch, HaShem" or God is blessed - essentially meaning that God has blessed us.

In the end, Elie could not come home for Shabbat, but got permission to leave Saturday night instead of Sunday. To help soften the blow, I told him I would come and pick him up from his base. What would have taken him several hours to get home over 3-4 buses, would be accomplished in a third of the time, in an air-conditioned car. I called him after the Sabbath had ended to check when I could leave. He was not in a happy mood, "I have to complete some reports," was all he said. "I don't know how long it will take."

I told him I would leave and get there when I could and he shouldn't worry if I waited outside the base. He was exhausted when he finally came to the car, uptight, hungry, dirty, miserable. There'd been a problem with food so instead of getting a good hot lunch at the checkpoint, they brought them a melon, some yogurts, a loaf of bread and some hummus. They thought it was a nice treat, until they realized that was all they were getting. They'd skipped breakfast and eaten Bamba (Israel peanut-flavored snack that kids love) and not much more.

I told him we had rice and chicken and meat strips waiting for him at home and that seemed to cheer him to some extent. Food and home was getting closer by the minute as the miles zoomed past. We talked about the terrorist attack. He told me that the army was sending the boys who had been there to counseling to make sure they are OK.

"Are they OK?" I asked Elie.

"Mostly. It's good when they are on base. During the day, they have too much to do to think about it and at night, they're too exhausted to dream about it."

I asked him if he knew that the car had been bullet-proof (the terrorist's family bought it used from the American Consulate in Jerusalem). No, he hadn't known that, but it didn't matter.

"What does bulletproof mean?" Elie asked, and then answered it immediately. "It just means that a bullet will crack the glass instead of shatter it. It can't hold up against an M16."

He told me about how the commander had fired through the back window. We spoke of the family's complaint that the terrorist could have been neutralized without killing him and Elie said the army rule is that so long as there is potential for additional harm - and there was - the kill was just. His words. The terrorist had injured almost two dozen people in a deliberate attack. So long as he moved, he had the ability to put the car in reverse and do more damage. People were on the ground and couldn't be moved fast enough. The commander followed the rules of combat, and combat this was.

He fired only while the terrorist was moving, when he could have put the car in reverse to kill and injure others. We spoke of the family's claim that it was an accident and not an attack, "Ima, he swerved the car deliberately into the people. He aimed the car. It was no accident."

We talked about many things, including what he'd done that day and several recent incidents that required him to write a report (an Arab refused to show him his identification, an Arab demanded that Elie allow him to take his truck through the checkpoint even though he had no permission).

We drove and once again, for no good reason, I chose to take the old road out of Jerusalem. Late at night, it's usually clear and when I'm tired, it just seems easier than driving through the city. In the last 5 months, I have not gotten stuck on the road once. Back then, I was with Elie and the reason was a car accident (you can read about that one: Don't you trust me?). This time, again, almost at the same place, we saw there was a long line of cars.

"What is it about going with you?" I joked with Elie. "You aren't going to go out again, are you?"

"Maybe," he said with a smile as he too remembered. He straightened up in the seat and lowered the window. He was listening for an ambulance, but we didn't hear anything and suddenly it opened up and began moving. In the end, we passed a truck rolled on its side. Clearly, the driver had taken the turn too fast. No ambulance and the delay was caused by a tow truck maneuvering into place. At first he asked me to pull over so he could see if he could help, but quickly realized this was the post-accident clean-up stage. No reason for Elie to get out of the car.

We got home and Elie went straight to his room to dump his stuff, then down to the kitchen for food. I sat with him for a few minutes while he ate. I told him that I wanted to leave early for work the next morning because he needs me to drive him to Herzilya to pick up the inserts for his boots and this way I could put in a full day and still take him. We talked of the rain that had come over the Sabbath. I told him that his younger brother had left his bicycle chained to the school.

"It's still out there? When it rained?" Elie asked and when I confirmed that it had indeed been out in the rain, Elie said, "I'll go with him and get it and then I'll spray it with the oil I use for my gun." I thanked him for his concern - how sweet, I thought to myself, though of course, I wouldn't dare accuse him of being sweet to his face.

"Wake me up and I'll drive the kids to school," he volunteered. "I haven't seen them for a while."
How I love this child. That last admission went straight to my heart. The "kids" are Elie's two younger siblings. There was a six year break between my third and fourth children and so the older three refer to the younger two as the "kids."

"I haven't seen them for a while," is as close to an admission that Elie had missed them as I'm likely to get. So, I have one day of work until I go home to my family for the New Year holiday. It's a celebration of a new year, of being together, of pulling into ourselves and being so grateful. They say that how you begin the year is a sign of the year to come. Many people don't sleep during this holiday, afraid that their luck will sleep as well.

Personally, I hope it will be a year of rest, but more importantly, we begin this year together and I can only pray and hope that this is truly a sign for the whole year; that we will have many times to be together, to relax and enjoy each minute.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Reflections as A Week Closes, A Year Closes

It's been a busy and emotional week. Considering I was on vacation for most of the week, that's pretty sad. I've been thinking a lot about the blog lately. It's almost a responsibility, to come back and report what you are feeling or what is happening. I've gotten so many incredible notes on and off the blog, wonderful compliments on how I write (which I don't ignore, I just don't know how to respond to them).

I love writing. Words flow for me and it took me many years to understand that it isn't this way with everyone. What I can write in five or ten minutes will take others long periods of time playing with and manipulating words. I don't take this for granted; I just enjoy it. I also find it easiest (and fastest) to write about the things I love - like my family, my country, my people. For as long as I can remember, I've used writing and words to help me sort out my feelings. Writing helps clarify my thoughts and allows me to move beyond them.

I've written articles in the past about how upset I was about one thing or another. One such article was published in two major newspapers in Israel (Haaretz and Jerusalem Post). A few weeks after I'd written it, people were touched enough to seek my phone number and actually call to tell me that I shouldn't feel the way I did; that those who had treated me a certain way were not typical of Israel, etc. The funny part was that having written the article, I had exorcised the bad feelings from within and though these well-meaning people wanted to help because they thought I was upset, I felt like a fraud because I was better - I'd found my balance again.

So, having finally gained back my balance this week (though still having 6 loads of dirty laundry to deal with and food to cook for the Sabbath), I'll turn briefly to something else on my mind.

The High Holidays are a time of reflection for the Jewish people and this year, life has gotten in the way of preparing myself enough. I suddenly woke up last night to the reality that I had done nothing to prepare and the holidays were almost upon us. The holiday of Passover, which comes in the spring, is all about cleaning your house. Well, actually, it shouldn't be just about that at all - it should be a celebration of freedom as we left Egypt, of becoming a people, of unity and so much more. And yet, it often comes down to cleaning your house.

On these holidays, there is little pretense of this mad dash to sanitize your environment. Instead, you try to "sanitize" your soul. You clean out the bad feelings you are harboring; you clean up those nasty disagreements and misunderstandings as best you can. You assess your life; see where you might have gone off track, and seek to realign it.

When you've cleaned internally as much as you can, you turn your prayers to the heavens and ask God to accept you as you are because you simply can't do better. There's this fear, as Yom Kippur arrives, that maybe as good as you can be, it just won't be good enough.

You make a bargain - take this, but not that. When my middle son was celebrating his bar mitzvah, a most amazing thing happened. A cousin lost her diamond engagement ring and wedding band. Thirty-five years they were married. I was horrified for her. I felt terrible. I apologized that it had happened, though it was she who had left her rings by the sink, not I.

She looked at me for a moment like I was crazy and said, "kaparah."

"Kaparah?" I was astounded. Loosely translated, this means "scapegoat." She's just lost her rings. Imagine the emotional devastation (never mind the financial loss). Kaparah?

"Paula," she said to me as one would say to a child, "every year we pray that God takes our punishment in money and not in sickness. Now that he has, I should complain?"

Her rings. Thirty-five years of having those rings. Kaparah?

"Besides," she said with a smile, "Yaakov has already said he'll buy me new rings for Pesach." Yaakov is her husband. Pesach is Hebrew for Passover, and these people live in a small apartment where they raised nine children. Most of their children were married, but still, they help them as they can. They don't have money for this. Kaparah?

But even as I thought of these things, I realized she was so right. Kaparah - it's a wonderful concept. It means prioritizing and realizing what is really important in life. And it wasn't her rings. Wouldn't you give your rings (or your wife's rings) to know your children would be safe and healthy another year? I would. I would give all that I am, all that I possess. She later found her rings but the lesson for me has lasted more than 5 years and continues to effect how I react to "bad" things (or try to). Kaparah.

I haven't had enough time to internalize the holidays this year, so I'll work harder in the next few days to think over what I've done and how I feel about all the facets of my life. When I look at my children - all my children and not just Elie, I know that I must have done something right; something so amazing. I don't know what it is or why I have been so blessed. Maybe all I can do is ask God to protect all that I love. To keep my husband and my children safe and healthy. To protect my country (even from the foolish government we had, have and likely will have).

Since this blog centers around Elie, I'll add one more prayer. Please God, please, please, please watch over him day and night and keep him safe. When he is awake and when he sleeps; when he stands guard and when he is at rest. Don't let me ever, ever, ever get that call. Keep him and his friends and his friend's friends and all the soldiers safe and please, please, please - let this be the year that our captives come home (those held by our enemies, and those held by our friends).

And to those of you reading the blog - wherever you are - may it be a year of peace and health and happiness. May you be safe in your travels and at home. May your family know only good things and be blessed. May you all be written in the Book of Life for a long and happy and meaningful year. Shana tova and shabbat shalom.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Voices of Truth

One final word on the terrorist attack in Jerusalem several days ago (OK, two...):

Almost immediately after the attack, several Arab leaders claimed that it was an accident; that the driver lost control of the car. The young man's father is threatening to go to court if the army doesn't bring charges against the lieutenant that is said to have fired the fatal shots that stopped the terrorist.

As with many things in the Middle East, the absurdity can bring you to laughter or tears. I've had enough tears for the last few days but I don't think I'm ready to laugh about it yet. The police are saying the motive was unrequited love. At least, that's what was in the mind of the 19-year-old. Turned down as a potential husband for his cousin, he decided to kill. I'm sure that somewhere in that twisted logic there is some concept that Kassem Mugrabi thought made sense.

As to his father's claim that it was an accident, the proof that it was not comes from dozens of eyewitnesses. Among those witnesses, are our innocents. Too young to think of political reasons to lie, they simply explain what they saw. A fellow technical writer's daughter was on the bus behind the black BMW. She and her friends were on their way to the Western Wall for the special late night prayers Jews around the world say as the current year ends and the new one arrives.

This young witness, only 12-years-old, and her school friends, saw the car, the black BMW in front of them. There had been a lot of traffic by the Old City of Jerusalem and it finally began to open up, just as a group of soldiers were walking ahead of them on the side. Suddenly she saw the black car right in front speed up, aim itself towards the long line of soldiers, and smash into them. She saw the bodies flying, the impact, the horror, and understood what was happening.

What this amounts to, is more traumatized people. Once, years ago, I saw a woman hit by a taxi in New York City. It wasn't a terror attack. It wasn't intentional and some 25+ years later, I can still close my eyes and hear and see the event. It's one more trauma; one more terrorist attack - no matter what lies the family and others would have you believe. For me, as with all attacks, the immediate reaction has dimmed. Not the horror or the anger, but the panic. The heart no longer screams; the eyes don't fill with tears. It is part of the process of accepting and choosing. Even with this, despite this, because of this, we choose to live here.

More quickly than you can imagine, our conversations go back to "normal." In our last conversation last night, Elie said, "guess what?"

For Elie, this is usually something good. He doesn't give bad news by saying "guess what?" and so I played my part, "What?"

He told me he saw the make and model of a car (color, year, type, etc.) that he recognized. For Elie, like his younger brother, this is no big deal. They can walk down the street and call out the names of every car for blocks in advance. Make, manufacturer, even the year it was produced. I've seen them do this. As a mother, I have two reactions: pride and regret. Pride that they can remember so much; regret that they are wasting precious brain cells with what I firmly believe is useless information, but then again, I'm not a 21-year-old or 18-year-old male, so I clearly don't understand the great importance of this information.

But this time, Elie's great memory of all things related to cars came with special recognition because it was not just recognizing the type of car, but the car itself. He immediately thought of friends of ours and was delighted to find that the car did indeed belong to them. They have a daughter and son-in-law who live further down the road from the checkpoint.

Though I'd already heard from Elie, our friend wrote to me as well, explaining that he'd picked up his daughter and family and "who stops us at the machsom [checkpoint], with a big, big smile on his face, but this no longer small kid from around the block: rather the big soldier protecting our homeland." My friend also wrote, "I felt so bad not having some chocolates / cookies / anything to give him."

And so, I wrote back the truth, "You gave him a smile and a taste of home - trust me, the cookies or chocolate is great, but the piece of home was even better."

And back for one final word on the attack in Jerusalem. My first thought when I saw the blue beret in the news alert, as a wounded soldier climbed into an ambulance and as they wheeled another away, also with the blue artillery beret, was not of Elie. I was sure he was safe. It never occurred to me that it was his unit until I found out that it was...and then the "what ifs" exploded in my mind and heart.

Instead, my thoughts were of two others in artillery in different units: my nephew, and my neighbor's daughter. This past summer, Ya'ara entered the artillery unit as a combat soldier. Her task is one that would keep her far from the front lines and it is how she chooses to serve her country. We have known the family for years, shared holidays and Sabbath meals together and when she had chosen her path, she asked Elie many questions before finalizing her decision. In the end, the army placed her in the same unit as Elie serves, the same division and brigade number. She is learning the same specialized tasks that Elie has learned in the event of a war.

I spoke to Ya'ara a little while ago. She had pulled kitchen duty when word of the attack came in. Word spread quickly - our division, our unit. Each year, as soldiers finish their three year service and leave the g'dud, a new group is brought in and trained. Elie is midway through his service, Ya'ara was brought in to replace the ones going out. After you finish training, you are considered a "vatik" - a veteran fighter in the sense that you have experience and knowledge you didn't have when you started. You are no longer in training.

When word came about the attack, it came in bits of information. Artillery. Our g'dud. The "vatikim" - the "experienced" soldiers, not the new ones - Elie's g'dud. Her commanding officer knows Elie and told her that it was Elie's unit. Because he didn't mention Elie among the wounded, she assumed he wasn't there. She called her mother and told her. Her mother called me. I'd hesitated to call her because I didn't want her to worry. When she realized it was Elie's group, she called me. It's such a small country we have here, so intertwined. I thought of her. She thought of Elie.

Ya'ara and her family will be coming to our home for one meal during the upcoming Rosh Hashana festival. She and Elie will talk about the artillery unit and what they are experiencing. Mostly, I think, they will just enjoy being home. It's what you do after an attack like this. You pull into yourself, hug what you have and thank God that you still have it.

This Rosh Hashana, as we begin a new year, we do so with tremendous gratitude. Each day is a miracle, a blessing from above. As a mother, I know this, as a soldier's mother, I live it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Quick Update

I spoke to Elie two days ago and again last night. He's fine. Ten of the thirteen who were hospitalized are from his g'dud (platoon, I think...I keep forgetting what this is called in English). The most serious has several badly broken bones, not that there is any good way to break bones, but apparently, there are some decidedly bad ways, and this is what has happened to this one soldier. He will need extensive care and rehabilitation in the months to come, but his parents must be so grateful. He's alive.

Another has a broken hip - can you imagine a 20 year old with a broken hip? Three others remain hospitalized with broken ribs and other issues consistent with being rammed by a BMW driven by someone hoping to inflict pain and injury.

Several have been released from hospital but have not arrived back to base. Elie assumes they are home for a week or so, depending on their injuries. We went out to dinner again tonight, still in Eilat, still trying to find my balance, but feeling it return already. My heart has stopped screaming. That alone is progress. I try to think of the words, usually not a limitation of mine, that can describe the sensation. I keep coming back to the same words, the concept of a screaming heart, and wonder if others can understand what I mean.

In the first call, I didn't want to question Elie, so I let him talk and when he finished, he was tired and told me he had to get up at 5:00 a.m. so we said goodbye. I couldn't translate the job of the injured soldier and figured another soldier might understand. To find a soldier, or at least a former soldier, you only really have to look around you. Two young men were serving as waiters in the restaurant and so I approached and asked if I could ask them a question.

I explained the word, what had happened, why I asked.

"I was in artillery," said one and so we talked. He was in the same unit Elie is in today; he was a paramedic. As is often the case with Israelis, not only did he help give me the information I was seeking, he also gave me advice. Elie shouldn't worry about not being a paramedic. When he was in the army, he was a paramedic and it isn't all that fun or exciting. "You think it will be, but it really isn't. Except for the war...but that wasn't fun either."

More than anything today, that small talk helped return much of my balance, my sense that things are good and will be okay. Elie sounded tired but fine and he'll be home soon. I offered to pick him up (6:00 a.m. on Friday, but I don't care). We go home tomorrow. It's been a long vacation, more stressful than restful and all I can think at this time was that I was right not to leave the country. My husband said that we never would have known or heard about this attack if we'd been out of the country, but I saw some of the attack on Fox News - one image of the blue beret would have been enough.

Finally, spoke to Elie last night. He sounded tired and not too happy. For reasons not explained, Elie cannot come home for the Sabbath. While the others are going home as scheduled, they need an extra commander on base, and that will be Elie. He's trying to get home Saturday night or Sunday morning at the latest. We will still have the holiday with him and for now, that's the most important.

May all of the house of Israel be granted a happy, safe, healthy and prosperous new year.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Finding Balance

It's a funny title, considering that at this moment, I don't have it yet. But the thing is, even though I don't have it now, I know it will return. I'll be calm again, normal again. My stomach won't hurt and my heart will stop screaming. It's also extremely strange to be sitting here in the middle of the mall's food court (the only place I've found free Internet access to date) while everyone is eating and I'm listening to my heart.

It really is screaming. One of those high pitched, hysterical sounds that they make in the movies right before the hero slaps the heroine to calm her (though honestly, I don't think someone slapping me would calm me).

I spoke to Elie. Those not hurt in the attack are back on base. Thirteen are still in hospital; two having operations scheduled for some time today. Elie sounds fine. He still isn't sure who was hurt. They came back late in the night and he's going back on the checkpoint in a few hours.

There's nothing new. Nothing I can say. As the police and army investigate, the infomration is slowly given to the press. Some Arab spokesmen are claiming, yet again, that it was a traffic accident. They said this twice already when bulldozers deliberately rammed into cars and buses and people again and again and apparently the fact that this terrorist deliberately turned his car into this long line of soldiers tells them that it was an accident. If you are missing the logic in this conclusion, don't be concerned. There is none.

According to police investigations so far, the terrorist was 19-years-old. This is a very difficult age and apparently, the 19-year-old terrorist "who attacked a crowd of pedestrians in Jerusalem Monday night was suffering from unrequited love. Kassem Mugrabi apparently wanted to marry his cousin, according to Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby, but when the would-be lover's advances were spurned he decided to turn pour his anger out on the Jewish Israelis instead. " (Israel National News).

Unrequitted love? It never ceases to amaze me the lengths to which someone will go to justify selfish and violent actions. Today, soon, I'll head over to the water and go float for a while. Maybe it will help me understand. On second thought, I don't think that will happen. I can understand a spurned 19-year-old being really upset. I can understand him smashing his fist into the wall, cursing, yelling and crying. But that's about the point where my ability to understand ends.

So maybe, instead of trying to understand, I'll go back to searching for my balance. It has to be here somewhere.

It Could Have Been Elie

Being a soldier’s mother seems to mean a whole bunch of sleepless nights. Some nights there is cause; others are self-induced nights of worry fed by the imagination. Tonight falls somewhere in between. It is after 2:00 in the morning. Elie has just returned from the checkpoint where he has been standing for the last 8 hours checking vehicles, guarding and doing his job. He called me as soon as he got back to base, heard the news.

I forgot to ask if he called me because he saw that I had called him or because he knew that I was worried or simply because he needed to call. I’ll try to remember to ask him (that and other questions I keep saying I’ll ask). But for now, as soon as the phone rang and I saw the time, sleep fled.

While we were in Jerusalem this past weekend, we saw groups and groups of soldiers walking the streets of the Old City. The army has “cultural” days during which it shows our soldiers why they fight, and what they fight for. You are defending your people, your land, your family. But you are also defending this holy place. Feel the connection, understand the link.

I don’t know if other armies in other countries do this, but in Israel it is a natural and logical thing to do. It makes you a better fighter and even more so, a stronger Israeli. Some of the places that the army has taken Elie did help him strengthen this link, but places in Jerusalem were simply like having an unexpected trip home in the middle of the day. It was his playground, streets he knows. There was excitement in being close to home, to the known, to a place he loves. Jerusalem is unlike any city in the world, and Elie loves it.

My husband and I left Jerusalem on Sunday to head to the beautiful seaside city of Eilat secure in the knowledge that we deserved this time, that our children were safe. It is as far from Israel as you can get, while still remaining here. There is security here, but it is more relaxed. Eilat is about sun and water and doing nothing more relaxing than eating, taking naps, and leisurely strolls next to endless stores.

It offers, in the best sense of the word, a fickle vacation dedicated to simply unwinding. There are no great sites to see. God has made the beautiful red mountains in the desert and the crystal clear sea and the most amazing Coral Reef and colorful fish. But these are easy to see, take only as much time as you wish to spend, and little money. The rest is man-made attractions of rides and entertainment. A huge slide that splashes down the side of the building, a kingdom made of ice, large 3D theaters. Each year, there seems to be some new attraction, better, bigger. It’s so easy for me to skip those. All I need is a chair by the water and time alone without a phone.

Tonight, we sat in a fancy Chinese restaurant celebrating 25 years of marriage, when my phone buzzed. “Terrorist attack in Jerusalem in Kikar Zahal,” it said. It’s a useless message in many ways. Was anyone hurt? What kind of attack? Is it over? Did they catch the terrorist? It was close to 11:00 p.m. – my children wouldn’t be there at this hour. It’s possible that some friends might be there, no way to know. It’s impossible to call everyone, and so the wait begins. Bad news travels like the speed of lightning.

Kikar Zahal is a pedestrian square at the point where the Old City of Jerusalem meets the new. It is dedicated to the soldiers of Israel (Zahal is an abbreviation for Israel Defense Forces). City Hall is nearby; there's at least one hotel on the corner of one of the intersecting streets; it's a major traffic area.

I asked the waitress if she had heard anything and with my phone surfed the Internet (something I rarely do, but this seemed to call for this). These news alerts are unreliable at the best of times. I’d say close to 50% of the time, the first reports turn out to be nothing. But sometimes, enough of the time, there is a base upon which the quick news tip was generated.

There was nothing on the Internet and no one knew anything. We finished our meal and began the walk back to the hotel. But my stomach wouldn’t settle and I just knew something had happened.

Back in our hotel room, I turned on the news. Twelve people hurt, 2 seriously. And then I watched the pictures. Soldiers – all soldiers. Some in stretchers; some with bandages; some getting into an ambulance; some standing around - all soldiers. An Arab driving a BMW saw the soldiers walking in formation and decided it would be a good day to kill. With the help of God, no one was killed and the soldiers opened fire and killed the terrorist.

I watched the pictures and right away noticed the blue beret on one shoulder. Artillery. Elie’s division. But there are hundreds, no thousands of soldiers in Artillery. They were too young to be reserve soldiers, but still. Elie is safe on base. He would have told me if they were going to Jerusalem, wouldn’t he? Another soldier, another blue beret. My stomach clenched. The news becomes more clear. The army had taken the soldiers to Jerusalem; they were attacked. Many injured, no fatalities.

At this point, I’ll tell you the short story before the long: I called Elie's phone, but there was no answer. It was already after midnight, so I assumed he was asleep. Two hours later, he called. No, he wasn’t in Jerusalem and he wasn’t hurt.

And the longer story: I started thinking. Is it my nephew’s unit? Where is Yair? Is it my neighbor’s daughter’s unit? Where is Ya’ara? Elie was to have been a commander of the incoming soldiers. About a month after Elie was first inducted, the army took him to the Old City of Jerusalem for a cultural day. It might well have been these new soldiers who entered the army about a month ago, including my neighbor's 19-year-old daughter Ya'ara.

Was Ya’ara there? They didn’t say whether it was boys or girls, only a group of artillery soldiers visiting Jerusalem. Maybe, if Elie would have been a commander of these new soldiers as the army had originally planned, he would have been there tonight. Isn’t it amazing how God works, I thought to myself, even then, before I knew it all.

The mind plays endless tricks and so I told myself to stop. I put through the call to Elie. It was after midnight and there was no answer so I assumed he was already asleep. I didn’t want to call my sister at this hour to find out about Yair. Like Elie, he’s already stationed somewhere and I was pretty sure it was the new soldiers. I didn’t want to call Ya’ara’s mother. She’s a widow. Ya’ara is her oldest. She would know by now if Ya’ara was hurt and I was too far away to help her, if it had been Ya'ara's group.

Midnight is not the time to call others. During those first weeks of basic training, soldiers can only call their families for about one hour per day. If my friend hadn't heard from Ya'ara, she would be frantic to call her, but Ya'ara's phone would probably be closed. if it was Ya'ara's unit, her mother would know already. If it wasn't Ya'ara's unit, but her mother couldn't reach her, she'd worry anyway. I was doing enough of that for both of us.

If Elie had been there, he would have called right away, I told myself. Someone would have called. So, my mind reasoned and my heart settled just a bit. Elie couldn’t have been there. He’ll see I called and call me in the morning.

Only now, it’s just after 2:00 a.m. and Elie just called. No, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t there because he was “on” tonight. Two buses from his base did go to Jerusalem tonight. Two buses did go and the soldiers walked down the street and an Arab saw them and decided to try to kill them with his fancy black BMW. Elie wasn’t there and he doesn’t yet know who was hurt, but it was his unit, his friends, soldiers he knows, soldiers he sees every day.

The Arab terrorist rammed into them as they walked down the street, injuring almost 2 dozen of them. As they were trained to do, as Elie has been trained to do, the soldiers realized right away what was happening. Several loaded their guns and fired and killed the terrorist, but 23 were hurt enough to be sent to the hospital. Those who were not hurt are already back on base, surrounded by Elie and the other soldiers who didn't go tonight.

This is the army way. There will be some trauma, even for those who were not hurt. Keep them together; let them heal each other. Let them get back to normal and the trauma is lessened. There are traumatized parents all over Israel tonight thinking how close that car might have come to their son, but Elie wasn’t there and their sons are back on base. Except for those 2 dozen sets of parents who got the call and went running to their sons.

I didn’t get the call. Elie is fine. He’s safe on his base. He wasn’t in Jerusalem. Elie got back to base and called to tell me. It was his unit. His base. I’ll keep saying this to myself. He’s safe. He’s ok. It wasn’t him but I can’t imagine that I’ll sleep. How can I sleep? It could have been Elie but for the scheduling of guard duty tonight.

“They all shot at him,” Elie said. “They knew right away what it was and they opened fire.” The news says it was an officer that fired and killed the terrorist. Elie will be home this weekend and through the Rosh Hashana holidays. I’ll talk to him. I’ll listen to him and I’ll trust him to call me because I won’t tell him how I came down to the lobby to sit and type because I couldn’t sleep. I won’t tell him how my eyes fill with tears and my heart shouts in fear. The security guard asked me if everything was okay and I told him about the attack. Here in Eilat, things are so isolated, intentionally so, and so he had not heard.

"Your son is okay?"

"Yes, thank God. He wasn't there. He's on base. He's okay."

“Did they catch the terrorist?” the guard asked after asking more about who was hurt and how badly.

“Yes,” I told him. “the soldiers opened fire and killed him.”

“Good,” he said, as he turned and walked away, “good.”

Part of being religious is accepting the Hand of God in all things. God didn’t send my son to Jerusalem to join in the special prayers said at this time of year as the New Year approaches. I’m almost four hours drive away from Jerusalem. Almost the farthest point you can be without leaving the country. One phone call would have sent me flying back up north. This was the reason I wouldn’t leave the country, because of the call I didn’t get tonight.

And here’s the confession of a sick mind. Today, while I was sitting on the beach, long before that Arab decided to commit murder in the name of some misbegotten cause, my mind played a game, as it does every so often.

While my husband was snorkeling, I realized I had left my phone back at the car. It was somewhat deliberate. You can’t unwind from the pressures of life, if you take the pressures with you and the phone is a sure-fire way to take them all right along. And while I was sitting there, almost at the point where Israel meets Egypt, across the water from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, I thought to myself, “What if the call were to come now?” How would they find me?

Being a technical writer, and having documented some telecommunications wonders, I know that the police can find a cellphone, so long as it is on, if they had enough of a reason. I know that they would use this special technology to avert a crime but not to find my neighbor’s car when it was stolen and the thieves called and said the car (and her laptop) were in Ramallah. Would they use this technology to find me if Elie needed me, if there was bad news?

My car is legally registered in this country. A simple check of computers and they could find my license plates and the make of the car. Would they bother to try to look for the car and then walk to the nearby beach to find me?

My kids will know we are in Eilat. The tourist area isn’t that big. Couldn’t they find us? If they found the car, we parked just up the hill from where we were sitting, would the army come, if they had to, I thought to myself. Bad news travels. I pushed the thoughts aside, recognizing that my imagination was getting away from itself and this was part of why I’d wanted to get away. It’s part of an exercise I have always played with myself. It’s sort of like – out-thinking God. If you can think of the worst thing that could happen to you, God will think of something else to do. So just think of it all and each scenario, one by one, will fall away. The army won't search for me, because I thought of the possibility that they would have to. They wouldn't call on my husband's phone, because I thought of that too.

But, I didn’t think about a driver ramming into the boys in Elie’s unit. I didn’t think about two busloads of soldiers being taken to Jerusalem in honor of the upcoming New Year celebrations.

I pushed the silly thoughts away, this afternoon, recognizing that I needed to go through the exercise and trust that if I needed to be found, I would be. I focused on the beautiful water and the clear sky. When I got back to the car, not a single missed call on the phone. I walked with my husband along the boardwalk and went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant.

For all intents and purposes, the call didn’t come tonight; Elie is safe and why I feel like I’ll never sleep again is beyond me at the moment. Elie’s unit. Elie’s base. Elie wasn’t there. Elie is safe.

I’ll find my balance again. The one that was feeling such peace at Elie being in the army. I’ll settle this down but quietly (and here on the blog), I’ll let my heart scream a little longer. It’s silent, after all. No one in the hotel can hear it or see it. So I sit here, a bit of a marvel to these young kids walking past seeing me on the computer.

“Do you have free Internet connection?” asks one young lady. And while my heart looked at her and said, “it could have been Elie,” my brain took control and explained about where there was free Internet and how much it cost in the hotel.

It wasn’t Elie. No one was killed. They are young and strong and beautiful boys and I won’t ask Elie if anyone of them was in my car the many times I have given them rides home. I won’t ask because it doesn’t matter who it was – only that it was. That some terrorist decided to honor Ramadan and Allah by ramming beautiful, healthy, young men with a BMW.

May those who were injured be granted a complete and speedy recovery and may the Arab who decided to kill in the holy month or Ramadan be damned for the sins of hatred and hurting others, for thinking that his God would bless such a crimes.


Update - July, 2011: More than a year after this incident, after Elie was discharged from the standing army, he told me that he had not been on a checkpoint, but rather an operation. He thinks it is funny that I believed the army would switch units at 2:00 in the morning and believes that I should have known something was strange. I had always been able to call him when he was on a checkpoint and if he could not answer, for some reason, he would call me back within a short period of time. Never two hours. Only so much later, did he tell me this. On that night, as far as I knew, he escaped injury because he was on the checkpoint.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Stealing Time...and Staying Connected

I'm a firm believer when it comes to parents needing time of their own, in addition to time with their children and so, this week my husband and I stole a week to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and his birthday. My oldest daughter and husband came to spend the week with the younger children, Shmulik, my middle son, is home for the weekend, and Elie has no real part in this, since he is in the army.

Long ago, a soldier was killed and his funeral delayed because his parents were vacationing abroad. They returned to Israel, only to bury their son. That would never be me, I promised myself. I would never be that far away when my sons would serve and so, as we talked about celebrating our anniversary, the one thing I knew without doubt, was that I would not be flying abroad. Somehow, in the illogical mind of a mother, Elie's safety became entwined with my staying here and so, here we planned. Before you get the idea that this is a sacrifice, understand that Israel is packed with amazing places to visit. You could live a life time, examining and visiting every corner of this country, and still not experience it enough.

There are places to visit in Israel for everyone - no matter your religion, gender, age or interests. Israel is, at once, full of fun, full of spirituality, full of history. It's just a question of picking what you want. We have mountains in the north, if you love hills and rivers and kayaking. We have deserts in the south, if you like hiking and hot, dry sunshine, and finally, we have the seaport of Eilat and an underwater world of wonder. Coral reefs for snorkeling, clean beaches, a long boardwalk with cheap but weird things you wonder why you bought when you get home. We have Jerusalem - there are no words for the beauty there, the breathtaking view of standing above the Western Wall and just listening. If peace will ever come to the world, you just know, you are standing at the place where it is both needed and so deserved.

So it's not a hardship to stay here, close to family and yet in a world of our own. A week of no dishes, no laundry. A week to sleep when I want. A week to write (and I don't mean technical manuals and help files). A week to be with my husband, not as the father of my children, but as the man I married 25 years ago.

We called hotels. We thought about up north in the mountains. I thought about the coast and the Mediterranean Sea. For Orthodox Jews, there is the week, and there is the Sabbath. There are al the days when you can do so many things, and there is the last and holiest day where you simply do the opposite of what is done during the week. No rushed meals, no telephone. No hours on the computer and running to make deadlines. We would leave on Thursday, which mean the first part of our vacation involved the Sabbath, and so we decided to divide our week into two parts, two places.

What I really wanted, for the Sabbath to start, was to be as close as possible to the single point that Jews face, three times per day. Or, as close as we can get in these times. The ideal, of course, would be the opportunity to visit the site of our Holy Temple, but that isn't possible as it was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago and where it once stood, the Arabs have built two mosques. I guess I can put a bit of history in here for those of you who don't know the history of this land. Essentially, in 1967, when it became clear that the Arabs were once again gearing up for war (they had already closed the international shipping paths through which Israeli ships did business and the level of rhetoric had heightened (as it did in 1956 and in 1948 before they attacked). Israel launched a pre-emptive attack against Syria and Egypt, some say mere days before the Arabs themselves would have attacked.

At the same time, Israel contacted Jordan and asked them not to enter the war. There was no reason and they had nothing to fear. They chose to attack and join their Arab brothers in peace and in the ensuing battle, the Old City of Jerusalem fell from their hands. One of the most amazingly generous (and stupid) things that Israel did, was immediately turn around and hand the Temple Mount, the site of the Holy Temple, back to the Arabs.

Why was this stupid? Well, for the 19 years they held this area (from 1948 - 1967), they desecrated the Jewish cemetary that was there. Centuries old, the final resting place of generations, gravestones were broken, and used to build bathrooms. And worst of all, Jews were not permitted to pray at the Western Wall.

In 1967, Israel captured the Old City and reunited it with the New City of Jerusalem. We also opened the Temple Mount and all areas to all religions. Each time I stand at the foot of the Western Wall and gaze around me, I am amazed by the numbers of nationalities and religions that are represented. This weekend, I saw groups from Korea, Norway, Russia. From all over the United States. Arabs walked past the open Plaza on their way to pray on the Temple Mount high above.

Isn't it interested, I thought, that everyone can pray here, just outside the Temple Walls, but there on top, where once our Temple stood, we cannot pray today. I spoke to a policeman who was there, responsible for keeping the peace and quiet of the holy place.

"Doesn't it bother you," I asked him, "that Jews and Jews alone can't pray on the Temple Mount? That we cannot even stand up there, in that huge area, and whisper a prayer quietly?"

"They can't pray there either," he explained as he pointed to the Christian group making its way up throught security, "they are told also."

It was a rather political and pathetic decision, that successive Israeli governments have placated the Moslem Authorities and refused to allow Jews (and Christians) apparently, from praying on ground we hold most sacred. So what we do have, and what I focused on this past Sabbath, was a close runner-up, the remnants of the Holy Temple's western retaining wall, which stands majestic and proud in the Old City of Jerusalem. All that remains to us today, it seems, is the Kotel, the Western Wall, often called the Wailing Wall because it is a place that calls to your heart, to the deepest feelings and prayers you have.

The first time I saw the Wall, I was 16-years-old and on my first visit to Israel. As I approached and saw the massive stones towering over the people, something inside of me surrendered to it. I can't explain why I started to cry, way back then, or why the sight, even today, still can bring me to tears. It is as close as you can get, I believe, to an open channel to the heavens. It's a chance to open your heart and hope and believe that your dreams and greatest needs will be heard.

Friday night, after lighting candles in the little apartment we rented for the weekend, my husband and I walked down the steps and approached the Kotel. As the evening settled into night, the prayers of thousands could be heard. I edged closer to the fence that divides men from women. There are religious reasons for this separation that I won't go into here, but it does not separate anyone from God, and that is Who you come to talk to when you pray at the Western Wall. It isn't (or shouldn't be) about seeing that boy or talking to that girl. It's about a private chat and that's what I did.

Please God, take care of my children. My oldest daughter and my dreams for her and her husband as they find their path and their ways; Elie should be safe and careful, he should wear the uniform with pride, with honor, and with ease and the day should come when he doesn't have to wear it - not because he's finished his three years and now it is his brother's turn, but because our enemies finally surrender...not to us, but to the will to make peace over war; Shmulik should find his path and be happy and when the time comes for him to put on the uniform, he should do it with the same pride and strength as his brother; Davidi should learn well and prepare for his upcoming bar mitzvah; Aliza should grow strong and healthy. This and so much more, I prayed for my family and my country. We are a land without leadership now at a time when we desperately need it.

There were more prayers, but the point is that this is the place to say them; the place to feel they are heard, as no where else in the world. You can pray anywhere, and God hears, but when you pray at the Western Wall, well, it's the difference between having a converation in the same room with someone versus having it over the phone. When you stand at the Western Wall, you feel that you are right there, that God is right here, and we together have this time. No prayer is too small, too silly. Keep him safe, please, keep him safe.

There are three sets of prayers said daily, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. Between each, there is a period where it is too late for one, too early for the other. During the week, this is no problem, but on Friday nights, when you go to pray the afternoon service, typically you wait around to say the evening prayers as well and so there is this void filled by singing or a lecture.

At the Western Wall, this time, as day slips into night, is filled with song and even dancing. And so, as I approached the men's section, I noticed that there were dozens of soldiers in uniform praying as a group in the back corner. The Western Wall area is divided into three main areas: the large Plaza area where people mingle or hurry past, the men's section, and the women's section. I edged my way over to the edge of the women's section, where I could look through to where the men were praying.

Their side, like ours, was filled, with thousands of people standing there. And towards the back, there were dozens, probably even close to 200 soldiers in uniform, each with a gun strapped to his back, and a prayer book in his hand. In front of this large group, were men dressed in their Sabbath best. Pristine white shirts, dark formal dress pants. This is the uniform of the Sabbath for many, in a country which prides itself on informal. And, in front of this large group, almost level to where I was standing was another group of air force soldiers dancing and singing, there was another group of men singing and dancing as well. The air force soldiers, or at least many of them, were not religious and so rather than the kippah (skull caps) worn by many, those that were not religious used their berets to cover their heads and show their respect. They didn't know many of the prayers or tunes and so, no less anxious to show their feelings, they sang songs they know.

At one point, the soldiers started singing a song I've always loved, "All the world is a narrow bridge," they sang, "and the most important thing is not to be afraid." I have always loved this song because it recognizes that the world is a scary place and yet, even with that acknowledgement, it offers its own solution. This is a song we sing typically as the Sabbath ends, not as it begins. During the sabbath, we put this thought away, of how fragile life can be. But as Saturday night approaches and we know the Sabbath is leaving us, we sing this song to remind us that next week, it will come again, that you can face most things, if you do it without fear.

But this is the song these soldiers knew, the closest thing to prayer they could think of and because it was said in this spirit, it was accpted by those around them. The prayers that welcome in the Sabbath are particularly beautiful and often sung slowly. The work week has ended. We have no where to rush to, nothing to do in a hurry. Relax and feel like a king or a queen. Sing.

The group in the middle, between the two groups of soldiers, began these beautiful prayers, and as they sang, some of them began to dance and soon, the soldiers blended into this middle group. I wished I had a camera and that it would be allowed to take this picture, of so many dancing together so beautifully.

All I can do is describe it, the uniforms, the guns, the pants and white shirts and the beautiful melodies. Later we walked through the ancient alleyways of the Old City. It is the Arab month of Ramadan; a holy time for Moslems. it is also a time, sadly, when many have chosen to express their devotion by becoming martyrs and so security was especially tight.

The Old City is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Arab, Christian, and Armenian. In practical terms, this means little, as each streams into the other. On Friday night, this meant more patrols and more soldiers at the edges of the Jewish Quarter. We wished many of them a peaceful Sabbath as we walked past.

Yes, sometimes parents must steal time for themselves. I spoke to Elie before the Sabbath and must now force myself to remember the rules I have learned. Nothing is final until it is final, but as of now, Elie will be home for Rosh Hashana. Another present, in honor of our anniversary, I suppose. We will gather our children close this holiday and celebrate it together.

May the coming year bring true peace and security to our borders and may we always have the beautiful city of Jerusalem protected and ours. And even when the world seems to be a narrow bridge, may we have the courage to live without fear.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Israel...Circling Back?

The last few days have seen some very troubling incidents and they continue to grow. Here are a few of them:
  • A Palestinian woman, supposedly seeking humanitarian aid, threw acid in the face of a soldier at a checkpoint.
  • A Palestinian man stabbed a soldier and stole his gun. He was arrested; his accomplice has not (yet) been caught.
  • Rocks were thrown at a car on Highway #6. Three people injured.
  • Three yeshiva students were wounded by Arabs throwing rocks on in Jerusalem's Old City.
  • Two Israelis were wounded on Tuesday afternoon in a rock attack in Samaria.
  • Arabs threw a firebomb at an Israeli car on Monday night.
  • A kassem rocket was fired into Sderot (no injuries).
  • A nine year old boy was stabbed 9 times by a Palestinian who fled to a nearby village.
  • Warnings from Sinai of an imminent attack on Israelis (which most will likely ignore again).

The list goes on, as does the frustration of knowing that we might be spiraling again into more violence. No, it isn't a "cycle" of violence because that would imply two sides participating in the attacks. It is most definitely political and planned. It is no coincidence that this increase in violence comes along with increased demands, more rhetoric and terror alerts.

But there is humor, even in such dire and serious events. The humor came as I was driving home from Elie's base the other day. The radio announcer was talking to an Arab merchant in Sinai, asking him whether Israelis were listening to the warnings. He announced that some 30-40% of their income comes from visiting Israelis and that the Egyptians are not pleased that Israel is warning our citizens not to go to Sinai. Of course, there have been at least two deadly attacks in the past, that came on the wake of such warnings, but that is neither here nor there to the many merchants who are gleefully looking forward to our upcoming holiday season and the many tourists they hope will arrive.

So, the radio announcer asked Musa what he thought of the warnings.

"Walla, there are a lot of Israelis here," Musa said on the radio.

When asked about the threat of terrorism, Musa answered, "Walla, I don't see any terrorists."

No, Musa, who works in a tourist environment that stands to lose up to 40% of their income should Israelis decide to believe one of the world's most accurate intelligence sources, didn't see any terrorists.

Now there's the one to ask.

And a final note, since this is, after all, a blog about soldiers and such. The government official who was asked about the warning explained very clearly. We can all hope that the warnings are wrong or that simply by publicizing our awareness of the threat, we can deter the terrorist organizations from going through with their plans, but if they do, suggested the government official, who will be expected to go in to Sinai and rescue our civilians?

Despite clear warnings, should anything happen (God forbid), it will be up to our security forces evacuate, protect and deal with the threat.

Musa doesn't see any terrorists - let's hope we Israelis are just as lucky!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Soldier's Mother's First Rule (and Second)

I know that there will be others, and there already are, but here's my first rule:

Rule #1: Grab the moment!

It probably applies to everything in life, but with a son in the army, this becomes an imperative. I had mentioned to Elie that I was going to my client in the north today and would be driving near his base. I almost called him in the morning, but not knowing his schedule exactly, I was afraid to wake him as I drove by the exit to his base. "Wave, Elie," I wanted to tell him. "I'm so close."

But I kept going, arrived and began working. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., as I was close to finishing the two technical documents that needed to be delivered today, Elie called.

"Ima, are you in Netanya?"

"Yes," I told Elie already wondering if there was a way that I could get to see him, "do you need anything?"

The short story is that he was going on duty at the checkpoint this evening and was free till then. The slightly longer story is that he asked if I wanted to come buy and pick up his laundry. The longer story is that I asked if he wanted me to stop in the supermarket and he said, "Sure, could you bring me some ice tea?"

Of course, I didn't ask him to define "some" and of course the store was having a sale, so I bought him 6 liters of ice tea, 2 bags of Doritos (two flavors, of course), two bags of mini-chocolate bars (the second was 50% off, so it would have been really silly not to have taken two), and a few other things. I filled one of these new green bags (the ones Israelis will be using as soon as the law passes requiring supermarkets to charge for plastic bags) and placed it in the trunk of the car.

I drove to Elie's base, calling him a few minutes before I got there so that he could make his way to the gate to meet me and sure enough, he was there when I pulled in front. "That's mine," I thought as he walked up, "and he's so beautiful."

No, I didn't say it. You can't joke and say "he'd kill me" about someone with a gun, but yes, he would most certainly not be laughing were I to tell him what I was thinking. But I've become an expert at not saying these things, of staring at him without him noticing, of listening and trying to record it all in my brain.

"Can you pop the trunk?" he said as he approached the rear of the car to put his dirty laundry in the trunk.

"Already did," I said without a trace of the happiness and emotions I was feeling. I'd cheated the system, grabbed the moment, and gotten to see my son for a few extra minutes! I watched as Elie rounded the car, opened the trunk and put the bag in.

"That's for you," I said, pointing to the bag I'd just put in a few minutes before. "The ice tea was on sale."

The bag was filled to the brim. "Wow," Elie said as he caught a glimpse inside. That simple, but enough to make a mother's heart soar.

"You better share with the others," I told him. "You'll be sick to your stomach if you try to eat that yourself."

We talked for a few minutes about where he'll be stationed. They are moving the boys around again. For part of the time, he'll be at a checkpoint that is accessible to Israelis. Right now, he's further in, closer to a Palestinian city, in an area where Israeli civilians might be in danger, or at least more exposed. As far as I know, the only non-Arab Israelis who have taken that road and arrived at Elie's current checkpoint were the women from Tel Aviv.

Where now I have to coordinate a brief visit to the outside of Elie's base with the times when he is off-duty (i.e. not at the checkpoint), starting next week, I could simply drive down the road a little before Elie's base, and see him.

We talked about the upcoming holidays and possible times when Elie might be out of the army. The holidays fall during the week this year so Elie will celebrate most of them on base. He said there was a chance that the army might play around with the dates, but no one knows for sure, and so that brings me to close with rule number two.

Rule # 2: Never, never, never count on anything until it happens.

We were standing out in the sun. I noticed Elie had a bit of a sunburn. "Can't you use sunscreen?" I asked, knowing that he never would. Considering how much he is outside, the little red on his neck wasn't really that big a deal and is probably as much from sweat as from the sun. He needed to rest anyway and it was getting late and traffic was building. All good reasons why it was time to say goodbye.

He thanked me again and turned to the gate.

"Hey, I get a kiss don't I?" I mean, on the scale of motherhood, 4 bottles of ice tea and 2 bags of Doritos, not to mention those 40 or so small chocolate bars that I assume they'll be feasting on later today should amount to a simple peck on the cheek, right?

I got my kiss. I gave one back. "Take care. Be careful," I said as I watched him turn and walk back to the gate. We are old hands at this after a year and a half. Tonight, as I write this, he is standing out there again and I'm sitting here thinking about him standing there.

Where once there was fear, there is now comfort and confidence. Not too much to obliterate the worry entirely. Last week, as Muqata pointed out in one of the comments on the blog, an Arab woman threw acid on a young soldier at a checkpoint. Today, a soldier was stabbed and his weapon stolen about 15 minutes from where I live.

No, you can't be overconfident, but you can accept and enjoy the moments you grab and the times you are calm. Calm enough to smile at the thought of him sitting there munching away on the chocolate and Doritos while drinking ice tea.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Tease and a Threat and a Tease

I called Elie tonight to see how he was doing. As I somewhat expected, he was at the checkpoint. All was quiet. It's Ramadan and according to Islam, the Arabs fast during the day. As evening arrives and full night sets in, it's very quiet at the checkpoint. The Arabs are breaking their fast, eating and drinking after a long, hot, dry day.

Elie sounded relaxed when I asked how things were. He told me that the previous day, he'd caught a Palestinian driving illegally. He called the Israeli police, who told him they couldn't send a car because they were busy.

"What happened yesterday?" Elie asked me and I explained that a Palestinian terrorist had entered a Jewish settlement and stabbed a nine year old boy five times.

"Is he ok?" Elie asked and I told him that the boy was very lucky, had even tried to fight the Arab off and yes, he would be alright. I also told him that close to him, Arabs had thrown stones on the highway, injuring three Israelis. Elie hadn't heard about that. And another kassem rocket was fired at Sderot. Luckily, this time, no injuries.

I heard noise in the background; the other soldiers were relaxed and enjoying themselves. They were making jokes and teasing Elie, "tell them if they don't stop, I won't send anymore brownies," I said as a joke.

I was surprised (and pleased) to hear Elie tell them and immediately, heard them laughing and begging in the background, "No, no, no."

"Ok," I told Elie, "I'll keep sending brownies."

"She said, 'ok'," he told his friends and I heard more laughter.

"This time, but it's the last time," I told Elie and again he repeated it to his friends and I heard more laughter.

There were many threats against Israel today. A child was stabbed yesterday; firebombs against buses and rocks against cars and rockets against our cities. Elie stands now, at this very moment, on a dark stretch of road between several Arab villages. It's a sobering thought, even a bit of a scary thought, except that he's armed, he's trained, and most of all, he's with friends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Tomato Follow Up

I drove Elie back to his base this morning after having him home for 7 days. It's a bit disconcerting for me. I was used to him going back to base on Sundays, then Mondays, and today was Wednesday. All day long, I've been confused about what day it is, thinking the week is only beginning when in fact it is close to over.

We had some nice discussions on the drive, relaxed and easy. I told him about the last post I'd made on the blog; about the tomatoes that he and his brother had wrestled with and finally dumped in their grandmother's salad bowl.

"They went in your bowl," Elie told me.

"What? No way," I said, trying to remember seeing Elie or Davidi lean across. Is it possible? We were all laughing, could it have gone in my bowl?

Elie just sat there with a huge grin on his face. The more I denied it happening, the wider he grinned.

"I don't like tomatoes," I told him and though I'd thought it was impossible, he smiled even more.

He's back on base for the next two weeks, the Sabbath is approaching and he won't be here. We've reached the mid-way point in his service. least for now.

"Do you think there'll be a war while you are in the army?" I asked him as we drove the last few minutes.

"No," he answered. "They'll talk about it, but no."

From your mouth to God's ears, I thought. I pulled to the side of the gate before the base and pulled the lever from inside the car to pop the trunk. It's a well-rehearsed game at this point. If I want a hug and a kiss goodbye, I have to get out of the car and meet him. He gets out to fix his gun, grab his backpack and would never lean back in to show that affection.

So I got out of the car and as he strapped the gun to his back, I opened the trunk. I know better than to try to lift his heavy backpack, so I waited. He came to the back of the car, hoisted the heavy pack onto his back and started to turn towards the gate.

"Hey," I said.

He turned and I saw the knowing grin. That too is part of the game. He came over and gave me a huge hug and even a bit of a kiss on the cheek. "Take care of yourself. Be careful," I told him as I always do. He smiled and walked towards the base.

As he entered, I saw him reach out and greet the soldier at the gate. A touch of the arms and a brief word. He's not home, and yet he is.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Dreaded Tomato

Last night we went to visit my parents. They moved to Israel several years ago. I envy them many things (retirement that lets them sleep in the afternoons sometimes, freedoms that come with age, and the joys of knowing your children are settled and safe, and most of all, watching your children's children grow), and I don't envy them having to live in one country knowing that some (or one) of your children (and grandchildren) live far away.

At first it was them on that side of the world and us here; now it is them here with us and my brother and his family there. So, feeling that they needed this visit as much as Elie, we packed into the car and went to visit them last night. Elie and his two younger siblings and I.

My mother made us dinner, including a salad. The salad contained the dreaded tomato, the bane of every child's existence, it often seems. I told my youngest son to eat his tomatoes. I told my oldest son to eat his tomatoes. And suddenly, Elie and his youngest brother began trading tomatoes. More accurately, each tried to dump his tomatoes in the other's salad bowl.

This is a soldier, I thought to myself as I watched Elie dump three tomatoes. He'll never win, I thought of my younger son as he tried to slip two tomatoes into Elie's bowl. This is a man with a gun sitting in the corner of the room, I thought as I watched Elie block his younger brother and slip another tomato into Davidi's bowl.

There was, as there often is with a soldier at the table, talk of war and missiles and planes. We talked about Syria and Iran. Elie knows no more than most Israeli soldiers, or possibly Israelis in general, and yet he lives and breathes the army environment and so we listen when he gives his opinion. Will Israel attack Iran? How strong is the Egyptian army? The Syrian army? It was a brief conversation mixed in among talk of checkpoints and questions about his siblings and discussions of other family members.

My mother stepped in and settled the tomato conflict by accepting everyone's tomatoes. Elie was laughing. His brother was laughing.

These are some of the most precious of moments life has to offer.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Idiots" at the Checkpoints

One of the realities of having a son on the brink of that sometimes he'll slip back off the brink into the boy. I thought about this during a discussion recently that Elie and I had. It isn't so much that he was wrong, as that he was not diplomatic. Perhaps he was honest, but it probably wasn't the best way to have gotten his message across. But Elie is a soldier, not a diplomat. He's 21 years old, without the maturity and wisdom that comes with age. In some ways, I prefer this age and this honesty, but I am sure that there are several women who don't agree with me after having met my son.

These women understand what Elie has yet to learn, that even in life's frustrating moments, you have to maintain a certain level of...let's say civility.

Recently several Israeli women came to Elie's checkpoint to "watch" how Elie and his soldiers handled the Arabs who were passing through. When Elie detained one of the Palestinians, the women approached and started demanding that Elie release him. They didn't ask why, nor did they have the right to know what Elie's reasons were. They didn't ask about security cause or concerns because their interest was in supporting the Arab first and foremost. Elie's job, Elie's attempt to be efficient without being too hard or unfair, was not important. They didn't know where Elie was from, how he was raised. All they saw, as too many do, is the green uniform and not the man/boy within.

"Let him go," the women asked Elie. "Don't you think you could just let him pass?"

A diplomat would explain the need for the checkpoints. A fully-matured person might attempt to defuse the situation while still attempting to maintain his authority. The soldiers are, without question, figures of authority. They stand there and demand to see papers, check packages, and more. The Arabs must listen, and they do. These women came and tried to treat these men like boys, scolding them and telling them what to do.

But these men stopped being boys, at least when they are at the checkpoints and borders of Israel. There, they are given responsibilities and tasks that weigh them, mature them, and demand they reach inside themselves and find the strength to meet challenges.

They stand for hours, filter, question, review, read, ask. They inspect and all-to-often, they find. So far, Elie has found weapons, drugs, people with no permits, and even a stolen car.

The checkpoints are not jokes and are not put there to disturb and disrupt. Lives depend on the accuracy and the efficiency of the soldiers. If a Palestinian man is detained, he may well get to school or a doctor's appointment or work or home late. It isn't the fairest of situations, but the alternatives, if they are not checked, have exploded in our cafes, our buses, our malls.

A classic example was the terrorist who blew up the Sbarro pizzeria on August 9, 2001. Fifteen people were murdered, including 7 children, and about 130 were injured. The terrorist, a pleasant looking young man, crossed a checkpoint with the explosives in a guitar case while chatting with his "girlfriend" (who shows no remorse for her involvement). It was a costly miss and Israeli soldiers must be vigilant because it only takes one slip to kill and wound dozens.

So, Elie turned to these women who were interferring in his job, actually causing even more of a delay than they were supposedly trying to avoid and said, "Let me guess, you're from Tel Aviv, aren't you?"

Actually, he was "spot on" as the women confessed they were indeed from Tel Aviv. To me, Elie said, they were "idiots." They didn't come to inspect, to ask questions, to watch. They came to make their point, and part of that was to disrupt and annoy the soldiers. I guess Elie was mature enough not to call them "idiots from Tel Aviv" to their faces, though I could understand his frustrations. He's given a task to do. There is no joy in delaying someone on their way to work.

"They even bring us cookies and cola sometimes," Elie told me of the Arabs who understand and give more respect to the soldiers than these women do.

"You don't eat it or drink it, do you?" I asked, a bit perturbed by the idea. I'm sure most of the food and drink is fine, but don't love the idea of testing that theory.

"No, but it's nice that they do it. We do take from one guy. He's a contractor, drives a really nice BMW, and brings us closed Coca Cola bottles from Israeli stores."

A BMW, huh? That's my son. He can spot cars - make and year. He's in heaven checking cars and telling me about the engines, the models, that pass through the checkpoint. He's gotten into discussions with Arabs about how much they paid, how fast the car can drive, the power of the engine. That's my Elie.

So, what made me think of this checkpoint issue today even though this conversation with Elie took place a few days ago? Well, someone sent me an email, calling on people to show support for the soldiers at the checkpoints. I can't make it because I'll be "showing support" at home with Elie, but it's a wonderful idea.

Show Your Support for Soldiers on Monday Sept 8th

Soldiers at the Checkpoint outside of Shechem [Nablus] Caught a Carful of Terrorists Yesterday

Arab Terrorists arrived at the Hawara checkpoint (South of Nablus, outside of Shechem) Wednesday morning. During security inspection, a terrorist drew a 30 centimeter dagger and attempted to stab the checkpoint commander. The commander gained control over the terrorist and transferred him to Israeli security forces interrogation. Five Arab gunmen were arrested. Border Policemen
searched their vehicle and found seven handguns.

Join Standing Together in saying "Thank You" to our unsung heroes.

In order to support our soldiers serving at the checkpoints and let them know that the people of Israel supports them and appreciates the difficult work they do, In order to support our soldiers serving at the checkpoints and let them know that the people of Israel supports them and appreciates the difficult work they do, Standing Together and Women in Blue will be there distributing treats and saying thank you.

Thank you, Elie - to you and to all the soldiers who stand at the checkpoints to protect in the most humane way possible, even when confronted by "idiots from Tel Aviv."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Nice Surprise


Elie called yesterday to coordinate my picking him up from his base. Because he’d canceled a doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago, he was scheduled for an appointment this morning at 9:20 a.m. to get a new referral for inserts for his boots. The first step is an appointment with a specialist to receive the referral and then the referral and mold are transferred to a store where Elie must go pick them up in a few weeks. So it was agreed. I'd drive early to the base, pick up Elie and take him to the medical clinic and then see what the plans were. Best case scenario (which is what happened), Elie would even be home to start his vacation before the other soldiers in his group had even gotten off base!

As I was driving, cruising along before the morning traffic even had a chance to build, Elie called.

“Ima, there are two others who need to go to the military clinic. Can we take them?”

It’s a formality, his asking, but a nice one. Common sense would tell him that having left the house at 6:00 a.m., with the school year having started already and his middle brother beginning his pre-military academy (Hesder) today, I would be coming alone to get him. That leaves four empty seats and no reason why I would refuse to take the other soldiers.

“No problem,” I told him as we coordinated my arrival time.

A few minutes later, Elie called again. “Ima, one of the boys overslept and needs to catch a plane to Eilat. Can we give him a ride somewhere or he’ll miss the flight.”

“No problem,” I answered again.

So here I sit, outside the military clinic on a huge base in the center of Israel, while Elie gets the needed referral. It’s 8:30 in the morning. We’ve arrived an hour before his appointment so I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait, and yet, it’s one of those peaceful moments in life. The air is clean, the parking lot shaded by large Eucalyptus trees. My children are safe, each in their own place.

As we dropped off the catch the the get home, Elie opened the window and told him to check his gun. It’s a precaution I have seen Elie take when he arrives home. You point the gun in the air and make sure there is no bullet in the chamber. Three loud clicks later (and hopefully no bullet shot in the air), there is safety in carrying the gun into crowded areas.

Once we entered a store. Elie had his gun with him and took out his identification card to show the guard. The older man looked at Elie, looked at the gun, and then told Elie to go and check it. As I’d seen him do many time, Elie walked to the side of the store as the guard watched him, pointed the gun in the air, in the opposite direction, and checked it. The nice part of it all was that as Elie walked back to enter the store, the man smiled and said, "thank you."

As for today, there is something so amazing in hearing your son command another to do something for safety’s sake. How many times have I, as a mother, told my children something that I knew really didn’t need to be done, just to be sure, just to be safe?

I parked outside the base - civilians are not routinely given admittance. I watched as Elie approached the gate, moved to the right and pointed his gun in the air as the others had done. The clicks were loud and then he disappeared inside.

As I sit here in the parking lot waiting for him, several times I’ve heard the sound of guns clicking, as they are checked before entering the base. It’s a reassuring sound because it means that nothing is taken for granted. Bullets don’t enter gun chambers accidentally (or at least I don’t think they do), but the army teaches caution and safety. This is a weapon, something that can kill. Use it to defend – your life, your brothers, your country. But practice caution - be careful.

And finally, the surprise! Yesterday, when Elie called to make the final arrangements for today, he told me something else. He’s home not just for 5 days, as we thought, but for 7 full days.

“Wow, why?” I asked.

“Regila,” he told me and as often happens, I can hear the smile, feel the happiness. Regila is a seven day break - one of four mandatory vacation periods they give to soldiers – often, it seems, with little notice. That means he has seven days to do what he wants, when he wants. That means I have seven days to sleep and not think of where he is, what he is doing. Seven days.

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