Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Schedules...and Closure from Mumbai

Elie's unit is trying something new. The bottom line is that he gets home more often...for a shorter period of time. He was home this past weekend and will be home again this coming Sunday. The total in-army time versus home-time is the same (though he'll spend more time traveling between home and base than before).

We spoke extensively this weekend as we waited for the details and results of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. For many months now, the amount of peace I felt in my heart was very connected to where Elie was. When he was on base, most especially the hours that I knew he was guarding the checkpoint or on patrol, I was a bit nerved up, less at peace. It didn't matter what day of the week it was, what time of the day, or what I was doing. There was always this little part of me that would stop, look at the clock, and calculate if Elie might be in danger. And so, if he was on base over the Sabbath, my heart wasn't completely settled. Only when he was home, was I fine.

It's sort of like after you run some distance and you know if you take a really deep breath, your sides are going to ache and so you need to take shallow breaths until you settle a bit. Well, I never really totally settle until Elie was home; I can never quite take the full, deep breath.

This past weekend, as the Sabbath drew near, we knew that the Indian army commandos were in the process of attacking the Chabad Jewish Center. Of course, we didn't know that the hostages had already been killed; that Rabbi Holzberg had already covered his dead wife's body with a prayer shawl before he too had died. Saturday was their son Moishie's second birthday. We didn't know that Moishie was already an orphan.

There are those who consider Jewish law arbitrary and those who consider it binding. Some pick and choose which to follow, which to ignore; and there are those who do their best to accept these laws as a package deal and follow as much and as deeply as possible. I like to believe that my family and I fall into this second category.

No matter what is happening around us, when the Sabbath comes, the laws (and restrictions) apply. Most weeks, this is a tremendous gift. Sometimes, it is a burden we accept - even with a bit of fear. I wasn’t really ready for the Shabbat to come this week. My house was ready; the food cooked and set to remain warm until dinner. The table was set; the younger kids dressed and ready. But they were attacking the Chabad House and as the minutes ticked down to the time I had to light candles and tell the world to go away, I knew that I wouldn’t know the outcome until the following night.

At some point, my telephone beeped. An incoming message. I knew it was probably over, but not what had happened. It beeped again and I blamed myself for forgetting to shut it off before the Sabbath. It beeped again and I felt such an urge to cry.

Elie and I talked about how this type of thing would have been handled in Israel; what the army would have done. The news had announced that the electricity was turned off and suggested that meant the security forces were preparing to attack the terrorists. Elie was disgusted by this, “Why don’t they just call them up and tell them?”

After the Shabbat ended, our worst fears were realized. Six Jews had died in the Chabad Center. Rivka Holtzberg, who was five months pregnant, and her husband, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg were gone. In the end, they were flown home for burial on an Israeli Air Force jet, their coffins draped with the Israeli flag.

Despite all the prayers, Israel was not able to save them, but we were able to bring them home. Sometimes, that’s all the comfort you can find.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Soldiers of God

Our soldiers, who fight in the army of Israel, are soldiers of our people, soldiers of our nation. It would be pretentious to say they were soldiers of God. All governments and all nations wish to make this claim, believing that just as they are instruments of a greater cause, so too would be the soldiers.

In Israel, there are a large number of young men, ranging well into the tens of thousands, who do not serve in the army. They believe that they serve God and nation by spending their days praying and learning. They believe they are soldiers of God. There are many in this nation who don’t agree and thus there is often a bitter divide between these two groups.

But there are soldiers of God, without question, and this week, they took the form of a young couple and their family. They have “fought” their war not here in Israel, but as part of a larger army that spreads itself throughout the world. There are few places this army does not occupy, at least in the sense of a tiny little corner. Years ago, I ridiculed the slogan that came out of 770, a building in New York were the Lubavitcher Rebbe lived and served the people of Israel.

They distributed books and hats and stickers to children, claiming themselves and all to be soldiers of God. I didn’t think much of the campaign, and for that, I apologize deeply. I have learned the bitterest of lessons this week. In Mumbai, more than two dozen terrorists attacked several targets simultaneously. Their goal, in each place, was clear. Their target was, for the most part, “westerners” – but in the Chabad House, their target was clearly Jews and Israelis.

I do not yet know the fate of the Rabbi and his wife, who served there. They were a spot of light from home for thousands of Israeli youth who travel to India and the Far East after serving in the army. Many of these young Israelis believe that after surviving 3 years in the army, they can survive anything. They go off alone or in small groups to get as far from Israel as possible. And when they arrive, they realize they miss home. The Chabad House offers them this touch of home, this connection. Here, you can speak Hebrew; here, you can light Shabbat candles, eat food that reminds you of home. Here, you can relax. Here you are not Israeli. Here, you are just you and you are home.

The young child of the rabbi and his wife has survived, hopefully to be reunited with his parents shortly. His grandparents left Israel yesterday, along with medical aid and other teams to help find, collect, treat, and perhaps bring home those who wish to return.

What happened in India this week and specifically at the Chabad Center in Mumbai, shows that there are soldiers of God, and this week, they were called to fight. Elie is home for Shabbat, a treat I plan to enjoy. Hours after he arrived, Arabs from the village of Azoun threw a firebomb at an ambulance from the Magen David Adom (the equivalent of Israel’s Red Cross services).

“Guess they’ll have a busy night,” Elie said to me when he heard. I’m glad my soldier of Israel…and of God…is home this weekend.

May God send His mercy and healing to the victims and hostages in Mumbai and may the soldiers of God be spared to continue to serve in His ways.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Blessing in Having your Enemies Close

A few years ago, I read an amazing, touching book by Sherry Mandell called, "The Blessings of a Broken Heart." It's the story of her son, Koby. But even more, it's the story of how she has learned to cope with his brutal murder at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

One fine day, at the age of 14, Koby and his friend, Yosef Ishran, decided to skip school and go for a hike down the side of the hill where they live. They left the safety of their small village and climbed down towards the dry river bed (wadi), land covered by rocks and caves - the dream getaway of every young teenage boy. Koby loved nature and being outside and the world called to him on this day.

A Palestinian shepherd found the boys and murdered them. For no reason other than the fact that they were Jews, Israelis, the shepherd beat them to death. It was a brutal and utterly inhumane way to die.

The book's title haunted me for weeks and I was amazed by the concept of finding a blessing in something that would seem, by its very nature, to be something so bad, so difficult to understand. And yet, this is exactly what Sherry Mandell did. She found the blessings of a broken heart in her faith, her dedication to others who have also suffered from terrorist attacks. She and her husband founded the Koby Mandell Fund, which is dedicated to helping other victims of terror. Together, they take mothers away and teach them to cope; they take the siblings of terror victims and provide them with a "normal" camp experience, teach them that they are allowed to laugh and live.

I thought about this recently when I read the blog of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq. She wrote about how long her son had been in Iraq before he was killed and how she never imagined that the hug she gave him on the day he left for Iraq would be the last ever. Like Sherry Mandell, this mother's strength in the face of tragedy was a humbling reminder that there are blessings in all things.

And that got me thinking. One of the first thoughts that popped into my mind was that there are blessings in having your enemies at your doorstep rather than in far off, distant shores. That sounds silly in some ways - better to have your enemies as far away as possible, right? But there's a danger in that too. Most Americans go about their daily lives with barely a thought for the soldiers in Iraq, and when they do think of them, it is most often with anger directed at the government, rather than a sense of connection with the soldiers. They feel pride in the soldiers but the connection is a distant one.

Here in Israel, our enemies are not thousands of miles away, not even hundreds. Elie is stationed mere meters away and he interacts with potential enemies every day. At any time, he and his unit could find an Arab trying to smuggle something (guns, bullets, explosives, knives, and drugs, at least). At any time, those who he is checking could turn on him, as they have on others. Acid has been thrown several times in the last few months; soldiers have been attacked with knives. Pipe bombs have been found, bullets, explosives.

We cannot forget about our soldiers for a moment - everywhere we go, we see them in the streets; on many roads, we are stopped at a checkpoint, our trunks checked, our glove compartments opened. We are searched as we enter malls and restaurants (by security, not soldiers, but the concept is the same). This means the threat is near, but it also means our sons are near.

There is a blessing in having your enemies close. The blessing is that those who defend us are close as well. Elie comes home on a regular basis - never more than a month away and usually closer to two weeks. I can, if the urge was great enough, get in my car and drive to him and see him within the hour. I won't do it (all his men would laugh...unless I brought cookies or brownies), but I can. And the can is enough. He is a phone call away. I can hear his voice when I need to, see him perhaps two times a month. This is a blessing, even if to have this, it means the threat is close by as well.

There are other blessings as well. No one can view our battle as an elective one. No one can think we are involved in anything but a war for the very existence of our country. No one can doubt that without our soldiers, the Arabs that surround us would succeed in destroying all that we have built. Many Americans feel the war in Iraq was ill-advised, ill-planned, and some say unnecessary. There is a cruelty in this feeling. How can you say to a mother that her son sacrificed all and then say it was for nothing? No Israeli would say this because there is no option. It is not that we choose to wage a war far away. Our enemies sit on our borders and when they can, as they have more than 60 times in the last week, launch rockets against our cities.

They can try to dig tunnels to get under our defenses and, as Gilad Shalit's parents can tell you, they can kidnap one of our sons and hold him through the years.

There is a blessing in having your enemies far away. The average American's life is not touched on a daily basis by war. You can go days and days without thinking of bombs and explosions and death. But there is a curse in that as well. It enables you to forget the incredible sacrifices others are making and worse, it enables you to think that maybe that sacrifice isn't really for you. They are off on distant shores; what real connection does this have for America?

In this, I am so glad my son fights for Israel, that I chose to bring him here. Our sons fight on shores that are not distant and we know, every moment, what the connection is between the very lives we live each day and the work they do to preserve this.

May God bless the soldiers of America and the soldiers of Israel and may we all remember their dedication, their love of country, and their willingness to serve the nation that sent them to defend...whether far or near.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A World of Bloggers - A Support Group...

When my son entered the Israeli army, I knew right away that he was entering a whole new world. What I didn't know, was that I would also be entering a whole new world of my own. As it turned out, I really entered two new worlds, and one was the world of the bloggers. A few months ago, out of the blue, I was contacted and told that one of my posts had won "The Rising Blogger Post Award."

I have to confess. I didn't know what that was, or what The Rising Blogger was. I learned quickly. It's a brilliant idea - they find amazing blog posts and feature them. Not blogs...but posts. Once you read one of these posts, it isn't hard to get hooked on the blog itself.

In my case, I continue to be amazed that they focused on the one post over which I agonized, out of more than 150 other posts. I have no idea how they did this, but there it was. Most of my posts were easy to write. Some expressed my joys, others my fears - none but that one presented me with a challenge.

Even before that "recognition," and the subsequent exposure to another level of blogging, I had already learned that many friends, associates and similarly-minded people had entered the world of "Jewish blogging." I virtually met (or met virtually), many of the stars of this world - Jewilicious, Muqata, Treppenwitz, me-ander, and many others. Some meet our world with unending humor (Dry Bones Blog and What War Zone being two obvious examples) and others cover the more serious sides. Each offers a glimpse, at any particular moment, of the world where they are and this is what I try to accomplish with my blog as well.

And, I've lately discovered that there are a whole world of mothers writing out there, not just in Israel, but elsewhere as well. My most recent discovery (also because of The Rising Blogger), is Octamom, a mother of eight who inspires me and reminds me that no matter how separate we feel here in Israel, there is so much that we share with others. Octamom's blog is a great one and there are so many others.

What blogging and blogs brings to my world is a sense that there are others who experience the same ups and downs, triumphs and fears as I do. Few of the battles we fight are uniquely our own, even though at the time it does feel that way. That's part of what I have learned as I experience life as a soldier's mother.

Being a mother is so completely different than not being a mother - well, that sounds dumb, doesn't it? What I mean is...the moment you have a child that is yours, the world becomes a different place because you see it through completely different eyes. It takes a long while to realize that it isn't the world that has changed, but rather you.

I always noticed Israeli soldiers as I walked or drove down the streets here. But now, I notice so much more. I see the boy in the uniform, not just the uniform. I note the color of his boots, the color of his beret. I notice if he has stripes on his sleeve, and how many. I see the face, the eyes, the humor, the smile or the tired look.

And there's more. I have always loved the weather here in Israel and most especially in Jerusalem. Now, the rain means Elie and the soldiers are probably wet; the winter means they may be cold; the summer means they are hot and likely uncomfortable. I've always loved thunder and lightning, the power of the storm fills me with awe. But the world of wind and rain is less friendly when you have a son outside in it.

And the darkness is different too. Night is a bit more threatening when you have a son standing on a stretch of road stopping, questioning, searching, and guarding.

Three times in a year, I have been awakened in the middle of the night; each time it takes me hours to settle, to return to calm, to accept that Elie is safe and my world hasn't changed. Reading other blogs helps me get to this calm too. Look how normal she is, writing about her home, her friends, recipes and grandchildren. She had a son in the army, more than one - she survived it, I can too. Look how well he writes of other things, and now he's writing about doing his reserve duty and he's even laughing about it. He survived it and Elie can too, I can too.

Each time someone comments "yes, my mother worried too" and "when I was in the army, I did this too" - each one tells me that there is another side to this world I'm living in, there is a normal, a calm, an after in which people live. Reading the blogs of other mothers who deal with laundry and dishes and kids' problems that have nothing to do with where they are stationed or when their son will next come home.

If you have time and want to read some amazing blogs - click on any of the above links. If nothing else, they tell you that all over the world, we share so much more than that which divides us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Call, No News...More Rockets

Two more rockets were fired at the southern city of Sderot yesterday. They hit in or around the city after midnight, when most were asleep. No one was injured -but mission accomplished. These are weapons meant to terrorize, and terrorize they do.

I didn't call Elie last night. I don't know where he is, though I assume he is still on the base where I dropped him off on Sunday and that he would call if they were being repositioned. There are many soldiers and ex-soldiers that write to me to tell me they read this blog. After reading that last sentence, they are all smiling that smug little smile, thinking, "I wouldn't have called my mother."

And I have no doubt that I am deluding myself as well. Elie would call...only if he was supposed to be coming home. Otherwise, no - he probably wouldn't call me.

"Ima, I didn't call you until the order had been canceled." Yes, that's what Elie told me several days ago. They'd had orders to move near Gaza. Elie was taken off the checkpoint and ordered to go with the some others to check the condition of the artillery equipment that is in "storage" while the unit is manning checkpoints. There are soldiers there who maintain the armored personnel carriers, perform regular maintenance, etc. but if the unit needs to start firing these weapons, someone from the unit (read here Elie and the others) would be sent to check out the equipment.

These orders were canceled after Elie returned to base because the government hoped the rocket firing would stop. But the firing hasn't stopped and it's pretty clear to the army (and to those living in the south) that the "relative calm" has ended. Once again, everyone is aware that they need to watch where they go; they have to make certain they can reach shelter. They have, in many cases, a mere 15 seconds of warning.

No, Elie didn't call last night and I didn't call him. After so many months in the army, I know that sometimes no call is a good sign. It means he isn't lonely, has nothing really to say, is doing fine, doesn't need anything, and isn't scheduled to come home in the next day or so. I don't know if he'll be home this weekend, the next one, or the one after that. He blended into a unit and whatever their schedule is, this is what he will follow.

I didn't call him because, once again, I need to give him room. I have to let him reach out. My worries are mine alone. Every rocket that hits Israel is a blow to all Israelis. Those of us who live out or range do not hear the loud explosion, but we feel the tremors of the ground shake in our hearts and feel the anger and fear of those who live close by. We share this anger, this fear, this worry. We want the government to do something to stop this. What sane nation accepts daily rocket attacks against its cities and civilians? Only Israel, and only the government, is the sad answer.

But added to this layer of concern, is the reality that if the "government does something" - it might well involve my son. And, if not my son, other soldiers. They are all our sons, aren't they? I worry about what each rocket means the people in the south - the fear, the terror, the effect on their daily lives, and I worry what it means for Elie and his group, for the paratroopers and the pilots, for the ground forces and the tanks.

And back to the personal, there is actually a combination of fears. There is the one of his being hurt, and the one of his hurting others. An Israeli general was interviewed on the radio today and asked what action he would recommend if his unit identifies a terrorist cell about to fire a rocket at Israel...if that cell was located inside a Palestinian school.

Without hesitation, the general said, "I would tell our forces to fire." We have an obligation to protect our civilians, he explained. It is the Palestinian government - duly elected by the Palestinians themselves, who have the responsibility to control and prevent this rocket fire. Or course, he qualified this by saying that we would have to be sure we would hit the target; sure that we could do all we can to minimize any damage.

A few years ago, army intelligence pinpointed the location of a known terrorist. To avoid injuries, they warned the Palestinians to move away. What did they do? Mothers brought their children to surround the house of the terrorist. Fathers came with their sons. The army called off the strike.

It is hard to request the "government" of the Palestinians stop the rocket launching...when they themselves are the ones often claiming responsibility for having fired them. And so, if they fire from inside the school, the school is a legitimate target. The general is correct. We must protect our citizens...perhaps our soldiers understand and accept this reality better than we do. Elie has raised his gun and pointed it a few times in the last few months. The army has trained him not just to raise the gun, but how to use it, when to use it. During one of our conversations, he talked quoted the army rule exactly, word for word. When justifiable force is allowed.

If the rocket firing continues, as I expect it will, I can only hope that our soldiers, all our soldiers, will do what they must, and not suffer for having done it. But I hope even more, that the Palestinians will stop firing missiles, rockets and mortars at Israel. No nation should have to accept this. No other nation does.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What an Absurd Thing to Say

According to several reports - Hamas has "officially" ended the "truce" that has lasted for the past few months. What this means is that Israel is likely to be targeted with rockets and missiles (60 or more in the last week). Because we are heading to elections, the government will not want to appear weak and so, perhaps for the first time in years, may well act decisively rather than risk the political damage and lost votes of the entire southern region (at least).

A few years ago, after such a barrage, Hezbollah decided to take advantage of the trouble on the southern front and started heating up the north. They shot thousands of katyushas at Israel's northern settlements, driving over one hundred thousand residents to flee or suffer under the bombardment. Over 100 people were killed, hundreds wounded, millions of dollars in damages. Nothing says they will this time again - on the other hand, they have tens of thousands (40,000 last I heard) rockets - more than they had before the last war (thanks to Syria and Iran's restocking).

In a few weeks - Elie moves to the north for training - that puts him back in range of Lebanon/Syria. And last week there was talk of moving his unit down to Gaza. He tells me that they will put them far enough back that they have the ability to hit all of Gaza with their artillery - and out of range of the kassem missiles (I think...definitely out of range of the mortars)...but probably not out of range of the katyushas.

Elie tells me that I shouldn't worry - that the katyushas are not accurate and can't really be aimed. They are simply shot in a direction, meant to terrorize and why, he asks, would the Palestinians try to aim at a small base in the desert when they can aim at a large Israeli city like Ashkelon and terrorize many.

Elie tells me that I shouldn't worry - that with the first warning of an incoming missile, he and his troops can quickly get inside the armored vehicles for shelter. They are fortified and would/should protect them.

Elie tells me that I shouldn't worry - that Israeli artillery is accurate and can hit the targets, that he's trained and knows what to do. I am once again amazed at my ability to function on one level, even smile and teach a class and answer questions and converse on the phone while having this place in my heart that desperately wants to call and ask him where he is, what he is doing, if he has heard of any plans to move the unit. Hamas has canceled the truce - what that means for Israel is clear. They have restocked, they are ready.

Elie tells me that I shouldn't worry - what an absurd thing to say to a mother.

Back to What Was

Elie returned to base yesterday and was given command of a team from the "other" group. He'll be a "Commander A" - meaning in charge of a group, rather than equipment. He's happy about this and overall, happy to be back in routine and the known. In four months, the female soldiers who will be finishing up their training will likely be blended into Elie's group and so Elie will, again, have a problem and again, have to be shifted.

Four months is a long time in the army. They've decided to worry about it then. For now, Elie is set and satisfied and back at a base relatively close to home. I had a strange dream last night. Dreams are a world unto themselves; where the mind is free to release its fears. Nothing bad happened to Elie in this dream; it was more an issue of relationships and family ties but you awaken feeling unsettled.

I'll take that to being awakened with real bad news any time.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And the fun continues...

Elie's back at the, wait....

Elie needs to speak to the Battalion Commander - who probably wants to make sure Elie is not upset about the way things were handled. The manpower logistics person called Elie to make sure he'd gotten his orders. The person from the training camp in the south called him as well. All realize that the mistake was the army's and all seem to care that Elie knows they meant no harm to him.

From his side, he's fine. He's back on base, but apparently, they don't yet have things set for him. "So what should I do?" Elie asked.

"Go home and come back Sunday," came the answer.

So, my phone rang a few minutes ago. "Ima, I have good news and bad news."

As always, I want the bad news and was thrilled to hear it was only that the head of the battalion didn't have a chance to speak to him. And the good news, "I can come home till Sunday. Can you pick me up?" He's got three heavy backpacks and no where to leave them.

So - Shabbat shalom everyone - this week, I'll gather all my children home for the Shabbat. I can't wait!

Back to Back

The pancakes were great. Instant hit with the whole family and now I'm sorry I didn't make a double batch. Just as we were finishing dinner, Elie got a call. His g'dud (battalion) is divided into several groups. The first is, I think, made of reservists (I have to ask Elie again). Two other groups are currently stationed at the checkpoint where Elie has spent the last few months. Another group includes the incoming soldiers Elie was to have trained.

So the question that hung over our home the last two days was where Elie would go, what he would do. There were many options. He didn't really want to return to the previous group where he was. He didn't like the way the officers treated the commanders and didn't really enjoy being responsible for so much equipment. Another option was to send him to where the artillery is stored while the soldiers are stationed at the checkpoint. The advantage to this position was that he would be stationed in the middle of the country and come home each weekend. The disadvantage is that is not a challenging position, doesn't involve commanding troops and is, above all else, incredibly boring.

"How are you today, Mr. Armored Personnel Carrier?" No, that would not suit Elie at all.

As Wednesday ended, leaving us only Thursday to close out the week, I had given myself over completely to the concept that the army would not call Elie back until Sunday. Elie and I discussed it and he agreed it was likely, "I don't even have a gun." Before they take him into any unit, he needs to be issued new uniforms, new equipment. That is something that would only be done during the day and likely would wait until Sunday.

As I was making the pancakes, Elie and his father removed the radiator from our small car so that my husband could take it to fix the leak that developed when the fan did something it wasn't supposed to do. The plan was for my husband to get it fixed on Thursday and then Elie and his father would reinstall it Thursday night. They assured me it would only take a few minutes and they actually came to eat relatively quickly.

As dinner was ending, Elie got the call. No, he won't be greeting any armored personnel carriers. He is returning to the g'dud, but this time in the other group. Surprisingly, for me at least, they wanted him back the following morning. Gone was the hope he would be home for Shabbat; gone the idea that they'd forget about him for a week!

This time, he will be assigned specific troops to command, as he was in the north. There are, essentially, two types of "Commanding Sergeants" in his division - ranked as Aleph and Bet (1 and 2 or A and B). The first type is assigned soldiers. (Commander A, basically) That's what Elie was the first time he was made a commanding officer.

Then, the army sent him to the training (first time) and when they had to shift things around and return him to the g'dud, Elie became the second type. This Commander B does the same job as Commander A when at the checkpoint, but Commander A remains in charge of the soldiers even on base, while Commander B is responsible for the equipment and communication. Elie hated that.

So, Elie returns as Commander A with the second group and he's happy about this. The Battalion Commander was there the day Elie left base last week and heard Elie say, "Yeah, I'm no longer in Bet". So, Elie goes back to the same base, slightly different position. If he had to choose, other than the training course, this would likely be his choice. He'll be guarding the checkpoints again, and my consolation prize is that he is once again close enough if he needs anything that I can drive over and bring it to him.

Back in reach - that's good.

Unless, of course, the Arabs continue shooting rockets and mortars at Israel, as they have for the last few days. If so, Elie's group may be called down to Gaza.

Unless, of course, the situation with Syria or Lebanon or Iran changes. If so, Elie's group may be moved to the north. So, now, it's back to the same worries I had last week - of firebombs and rocks, of defending Israel's borders and more.

What was gained from his traveling all the way south only to be sent back to base? The answer is actually quite fine. First, Elie saw again that he has rights and that the army respects him. Second, Elie was repositioned to a job he'd prefer, dealing with a group of soldiers that will be "his." Third, Elie got a day and two nights at home, and a pancake dinner.

Sometimes, it's the simple things that count the most.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So, you wanna laugh?

There are moments in life when you have the option to cry or to laugh; to beat your head in frustration or accept and find the humor. I try to find the reason to laugh, the humor in the most absurd of conditions.

Some people are, by their nature, negative. They wish it were different, but in most situations, they'll worry about the worst case scenarios, look for the bad, as if to prepare themselves. Some people are, by nature, positive and optimistic. However bad it might be, it can always be worse, no?

I am, for the most part, of this second type. I have no doubt that there is always a worse or worst out there somewhere. For the most part, this is something I have tried to give to my children. Accept what there is, deal with what has happened, and find the bright side. It could always be worse.

Why this philosophical debate...well...

Elie came home last night. Note that yesterday was Tuesday and he left on Sunday to go to the training base in the south to begin preparations for starting as a commander of incoming soldiers. Elie was not supposed to come home last night. Actually, he was supposed to only come home in about two weeks, but there he was.

What happened was...well, let's add some background first...if you don't know the story of the first time Elie was asked to command a course of incoming soldiers, click here. What this amounts to is a decision to stay true to his religious beliefs pitted against the army's decision to allow women who want to serve in combat positions to fulfill their wishes.

So Elie made a decision (and in fact, the army had asked him from the start how he felt about being placed in close quarters with female soldiers). It is as much his right to choose not to serve in this way, as it is a woman's right to choose to join a combat unit. Both are better for stating and remaining true to their preferences. The army had not taken enough into consideration and did its best to rectify the situation. Elie was sent to a checkpoint to command soldiers there; another commander was brought from the checkpoint to train the female soldiers.

When Elie returned to the g'dud (battalion), the Battalion Commander met with him and apologized for the army's mistake. He also made Elie a promise that with the next rotation, Elie could choose what he wanted to do. Elie did as commanded, leading the soldiers but not loving the role he was given (he liked commanding the checkpoint but didn't like also being in charge of equipment and communications).

The months passed and Elie was asked if he wanted to return south to command the next group of incoming soldiers. He met again with the Battalion Commander who told Elie that while they wanted him and knew he would do a good job, he first wanted to confirm that no women were assigned to the unit Elie would command. Having learned the lesson, he explained, there should be no mistakes this time.

Several days later, after everything was checked and rechecked, Elie was given the go-ahead and began preparing himself. He was excited about the challenge and looking forward to both the few weeks of training and the time when the new soldiers would come in.

He left the house on Sunday loaded with two huge and heavy backpacks. He called me Monday night, "Guess what?"

Of course, I couldn't could I?

"There might be girls in the unit."

"WHAT???" I said, "no way. Are you serious?"

And Elie laughed. That told me that he was accepting whatever would happen.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"It means I might be coming home tomorrow."

I didn't know what to say. How could they have done this again? Where would Elie be assigned?

The next day, Elie and the other commanders went to the shooting range. One of the commanders took his gun, and Elie "taught" him how to shoot, as Elie and the others would soon teach these new soldiers. And then Elie's phone rang.

Elie called me as he walked the two kilometers back to base. He hoped to catch the next bus home. He arrived back about 9:00 p.m. "How long will you be home?" I asked.

"I don't know. They could call me tomorrow or the next day. They could even forget about me for a week."

"Where will they send you?"

"Don't know."

"Are you OK with this?"

"Yeah. Fine. I get a free vacation."

Where will they send him? Who will they bring to lead the new group? All I can say is...stay tuned....

As for Elie, he's fine and laughing. He got home, threw a few clothes into the laundry, "I'm not going to wash my sheets," he said. "I only slept on it two nights."

He slept in his bed last night, as he will tonight. It's a rare treat, we are going to enjoy. The one who is apparently not laughing, is the Battalion Commander. He's been good to Elie and must feel they let Elie down again. But apparently I've raised my son to look on the bright side of things.

So, Elie...what do you want for dinner tonight? And the answer is....pancakes!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Just Let It Go...

One thing I have learned about the army is that things are fluid. You move with it, flow through it and accept each bend in the river as it comes. You hope only to land safely along the way and avoid the harshest realities. Each four months or so, the army throws you another curve, another twist, another challenge.

This one that they have given to Elie might be harder for him, both physically and emotionally, but for me it is among the easier paths. He's back on the training base on the south. Physically, he is farther away from home, more out of reach. There's no client nearby that I can use as an excuse. Before, a short hour's drive and I was at his base. Now, I could drive two hours and still not reach him, and then still have to drive back.

No, there probably won't be any unplanned trips, though we might drive down on a Friday if he's there for an extended period of time - at least now that I've got my Civic Hybrid, I can rationalize the gas issue. But what I apparently can't let go least not yet, is the way his previous base stays in my mind. Elie isn't there, but I was there so many times that the "problematic" areas they patrolled still gain my attention immediately when mentioned in the news. His friends are still there, and will be for at least a few more weeks (and likely through several months as well). And so this report caught my eye:

Israeli vehicles were damaged in two rock attacks Monday evening, next to Palestinian Authority villages in Samaria. No injuries were reported. One of the attacks took place next to Kifel Harat, near Ariel, due east of Tel Aviv. The other occurred next to Azoun, further to the north.

There it is again. Azoun. Where they regularly throw rocks and firebombs at passing cars and where the army has warned them simply: Violence will not be rewarded. Throw rocks and you will not be allowed to cross into Israel to work.

Azoun - where an Arab complained and Elie answered. You are responsible for your brother, for your neighbor. When you see wrong, you must act to stop it and if you plan to do wrong, you have to care about your friends, family and neighbors enough to do the right thing.

Azoun - where Elie was stationed for several months and where he gained experiences and friends. Where he patrolled in a humvee, sweated in the heat, got wet in the rain.

I guess what this says is that when your son is in a place, even after he leaves, you realize that someone else's son is still there. Some other mother also sees "Azoun" and knows that there are many in the town who still choose violence and cause suffering to their own people...and ours.

No one wins when the rock throwers are busy in Azoun...not the Israelis whose cars are damaged, not the Israelis who are injured, not the soldiers who must search to see if they can find the ones who threw the firebombs this time, and certainly not the people from Azoun who simply want to go to work tomorrow and won't be allowed because their neighbors attacked and then rushed back to their village to hide.

It's another part of being Israeli - taking each area and feeling a connection, and knowing that connection remains strong, even when you think it will fade. Elie has moved on, apparently Azoun and his base remain a part of me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Maturity in a Bowl of Soup

The traditional Friday night meal for the Jewish Sabbath is a relaxing one. All that has passed during the week is put aside. A deadline missed, a bill not paid, emails not answered, an assignment not finished. Suddenly, at about 4:00 Jerusalem time (note: the time is linked to sundown and changes each week) fades away as you light the candles and welcome this brief period of peace. Family time. Close the door and tell the world to just go away time. The meal reflects the mood. It is served slowly, course after course, in the nicest dishes we own, at the dining room table and not in the kitchen.

The table is set hours before, the house cleaned, the family showered and dressed nicely. The meal varies from week to week, but there are certain "givens." My husband loves soup. He eats it at both meals on Shabbat and on those few occasions where I don't make it, I can tell he misses it. But first, we often start the meal with fish (either the traditional gefilte fish or a nice salmon loaf that I make) and salads. This week, it was the salmon loaf with sauteed mushrooms and onions and sauce. Everyone loves it.

If I serve soup after the fish, most people are too stuffed to eat the main course offerings. So sometimes, I hesitate and consider skipping the soup. For some reason, this week felt like one of those times. I took a quick poll. My youngest daughter wasn't interested and I was seriously thinking of skipping it for myself as well. Elie and his middle brother most often skip the soup because they are meat-eaters of the highest quality. My daughter and her husband were eating at his parents' house nearby. My youngest son was away with his school. That left five at the table, four of whom would most happily move to the chicken and rice portion of the meal.

I asked my husband and though he said it was fine with him to skip the soup, I could tell that he would have preferred to have a bowl. I thought of serving him a bowl alone, while also bringing out the rest of the food. He said that was fine. He'd rather have the soup. I went to serve him a bowl, while considering what was more comfortable - having four people sit at the table not eating, or bringing out the food and have it begin to get cold on the table.

"I'll have a bowl," Elie said as he got up to help me serve.

And in that moment, I was so proud of him. He is the first to skip soup on a regular basis. Why drink water when you can eat chicken, is a major philosophical question for him. And yet he did not want his father to sit there and eat alone or be left behind. As his middle brother took his father the bowl of soup I'd prepared, I asked Elie again, "are you sure you want soup?"

"I don't want Abba to eat alone." I thought of having a bowl of soup, too, but thought it would diminish what Elie was doing in some way and so, we sat at the table and talked as Elie and his father had their soup.

This was not a great sacrifice, not anything he learned in the army, per se. Mainly, it was yet another sign of maturity and an ability to look and think of others. Elie took his bowl of soup, a small one, and ate every drop of it. And I was so incredibly proud. Ridiculously proud.

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