Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Pair of Socks and a Story

It all began with a pair of socks. Maybe, it would be more accurate, to say the lack of a pair of socks. Or maybe, it would be better to say that it began between two mothers. She is far away, her son serving here in Israel. Amazingly enough, she found my blog and found that it helps sometimes and so we began to write a little back and forth. Where is your son? How is he doing?
He's been working security for the checkpoint road and tonight making sure no one tries to get through the closed checkpoint. So far it has been calm. I asked him to call me if anything happens, I'd rather just hear about it than sit around wondering what I'm not hearing about.
I can understand her and know I have an advantage. I have a radio station that listens, even when I don't; I have a phone that will send me a message if something happens and most important, I can get in a car and get to him fast if I need to. That fact alone enables me to sleep most nights. And so I answer as best I can.
I'll let you know if I hear anything - please call me or email me if you just need to talk or email or any thing. Does he need anything? I can try to drop something off for him if he needs anything.
She answered me back a little while later.
I know he needs army socks - he only has 3 pair left. Do you know how soldiers go about getting more? Do they have to go to a special store or order them on base or what? He takes them in the shower to wash and hangs them up to dry, but I don't know why he has let it get to this point (except that he has almost no time to shop and no money). He said he borrowed (or maybe bought) two pair from some other soldiers today.
She told me where her son was located. He was at a checkpoint beyond where Israelis are allowed to go; beyond reach even for a mother. I promised her I would tell her if I heard any news about that location and the next day it was on the news.
Okay - since I promised I'd write if I see anything about [Arab city]...here's one thing...but he's fine: A terrorist with a pocket knife attempted to stab a female soldier at the checkpoint south of [Arab city] on Tuesday afternoon. The soldier was not wounded.
It's better to know, despite that first stab of panic you feel. You focus on the details - a female soldier, so not her son; the soldier was not wounded. An attempted attack. I mentioned a store in Jerusalem and told her that if she could give me his army mailing address, I could send him socks. But not every base has a mailing address; her son, A., was beyond where I could mail him something. Okay, I thought - give him my phone number. Maybe I could get Elie to make a connection to get him what he needed. And a word of comfort,
[Checkpoint] is secure and relatively quiet. They are trained to handle this. I have to look at where is and how close I could get to it. If he's at a checkpoint where Israelis can get to, I might be able to take him stuff early next week. If he's "inside" more - it will be harder or impossible. Where Elie was, I could get there - where he is now, no way.
She answered me by email, the tone and words the same as I have written here.
No, please don't try to go there! It's just socks. He's a squad commander for missions and he did a training course for that, but he's not a real commander. I have a better idea of what it looks like now, thanks. I wish he would call me. This is his first checkpoint duty as far as I know.
This was just before the war and she wrote telling me that his unit wasn't intended to go to Gaza but she was afraid they might take him without his unit. That was when I told her that I was pretty sure that Elie would be going to Gaza if war broke out.
Oh, no. I'm so sorry. I thought we would both be watching from the sidelines. He'll be way back in the field. They'll use the air force and ground troops to clear out the rocket launchers. When does he have to go? Will he go straight there or come home first? Let me know what happens. We'll have to get through this one hour at a time.
It's so funny how roles switch - I seek to give comfort and get comforted. Yes, one hour at a time, that has been my philosophy from the beginning. She spoke to her son to find out about the stabbing attempt, and found out about an attempted bombing instead.
The "attempted stabbing" at his checkpoint was nothing of the sort and he wasn't there. He didn't understand why it was even in the paper. The explosive in the backpack was on the other side of the city where is stationed. While we were on the phone a loudspeaker announced a battle ready, get your gear on call up, so something else happened, but he was off duty. He said there is no way to get mail there, it's not a real base. But thank you so much for the sock offer anyway. It means a lot to me.
I remember being in tears when I thought Elie was cold. The idea of this lone soldier, far from his family, with no socks to keep him warm bothered me, and then I had an idea. I tried it out but I didn't tell A.'s mother until the story was done, and then I wrote to her:
So - there's an organization Yashar L'Chayal - direct to the soldier - it was started during the Second Lebanon War when soldiers simply needed...the basics. A wonderful family in America offered money and they started an organization to provide soldiers with things they need, above and beyond what the army could supply.
So, I spoke to him and asked him if he could get something to [Name of checkpoint] - and explained about A. I gave him your number and all the info I had - brigade info, etc. He called the unit and spoke to A. for about 40 minutes and found out what he needed...and he explained that he's 1.5 hours away and can't come himself, but he would see what he could do. He called his supplier and asked him if perhaps in the next few days, he would be in contact with someone from and could get something to a soldier there. The supplier said, "I have someone right here."
By this point, we were both in tears. I spoke to her on the phone. Socks and so much more were on their way to her son within hours of her reaching out and saying her son was in need. She wrote me to explain:
Yesterday I said "it's just socks" but it's not just socks - it's a mother wanting her son to have what he needs to make life a little bit easier when he's doing a dangerous job far from home and having no way to make that happen herself - and another mother wanting that for someone else's son - and all these other people doing what they can from the goodness of their hearts - all this effort to give one lonely soldier some socks - and to let him know that a lot of people care. They care about him, A., they care about the lone soldiers, they care about all the soldiers who defend Israel. I'd like to say it's unbelievable, but I've found that these things just seem to happen in Israel, people care about each other and go out of their way to help each other, and God just puts them together, those in need and those who want to help.

From one soldier's mother to another, Thank You.
From one soldiers' mother to another - that said just about everything. Her son knew the package was on its way, but he only managed to collect it the next day. I was so amazed by the efficiency, the effort, that I promised I'd write this up and post it here. By the time A. got his socks, Elie was already down in what was fast turning into a war zone. My mind was occupied for the next month. A.'s mother wrote to me, but I could barely form a coherent answer. Her note was wonderful and I promised myself that I owed it to Yashar Lachayal to write the story of their caring for a lone soldier.
The box came!

He doesn't know when it got there, maybe last night when he was on guard duty at the checkpoint until 5 am, then his commander was away at a meeting all morning, then he was on duty again and so this might have been the first opportunity to pass it on to him. Which he says is some kind of record for getting things in the army - he thought it would be two weeks or more.

A winter cap, a neck warmer (a round circle of a scarf that you pull over your head, which he really needed because it's cold up there in the mountains especially when you are standing around outside for hours at a time and you can't always have gloves on and you have to wear a helmet, not a hat), gloves, 5 tee shirts, 2 pair of winter socks. And a note saying "Love from AL" (with hearts) . [AL is the army supply store where the items were purchased.]

I told him this man Leon [Director of Yashar Lachayal] who he talked to somehow tracked down his cell phone number. That sounds like a whole other story in itself. He thinks someone named D. who knew who A. was put Leon in touch with A.'s old commander, then to the new commander, and then the old commander was coming in that direction, something convoluted like that. A says he is always finding that soldiers say they know him when he doesn't really know them because like a typical American he talks to everyone and treats everyone the same, jobniks, the cooks, he talks to all of them.

So, he was going to get some sleep because he's "not on duty tonight" and has to get up at 3:45 am for the next shift. I wonder what kind of world they live in that 3:45 is considered morning.

When he's been in the army for half his service time they will send him more socks. Otherwise he says it's about $35 for 6 and that mostly the mothers darn them (which I actually know how to do, but not from 6000 miles away!). He goes through so many socks because once there is a hole he gets a blister. I sent him back last time he was home with an extra suitcase of socks and underwear and suggested he could wear a pair of sports socks under the army socks. Maybe that would save on wear and tear and washing.

Anyway, thanks again!! Looking forward to the article and hope it will mean lots of donations to Yashar LaChayal!
It was more than a month later before I was able to write to her again. I just didn't have it in me during the war. But she understood and wrote back again. Though her son hadn't been in the war, he, like so many of our soldiers was not untouched by it.
One of his American lone soldier buddies from Kfir, I., lost his arm in Gaza or on the border. I feel so bad for him, so young and the shock and pain of it all, and it's his left arm and he's lefthanded. All he wants is to get a robotic arm and get back to his unit, which is probably the best thing for him. A. got off to visit him in the hospital. He used his lone soldier weekend food voucher to buy a knapsack full of treats and a woman at the market packaged them up individually in cellophane for free and he gave them out at the hospital, and I contributed a portable DVD player for I. and the man in the store added a bunch of extras when A. told him what it was for. So many nice stories.

Everywhere he went people were coming up to him and giving him their support, all kinds of people in all the different cities and towns he passed through to get to the hospital, one old Russian lady tried so hard to tell him in Hebrew her thanks, it was really heartwarming to hear and so different from what I've experienced at this end. A. kept telling them, I haven't done anything, but he was a symbol to them, a soldier right in front of them when they couldn't tell those who were really defending the country their thanks.
Her son is a soldier of Israel and for a brief time, he was cold. In an incredible instance of coincidence and fate, an organization in Israel cared enough to send him a personal care package and a soldier from the same unit and base just happened to be standing right there in the store when Yashar Lachayal called.

The base was seemingly beyond reach and yet, it reminded me of something. Years and years before the State of Israel was founded, Theodore Herzl wrote of his dream of a Jewish nation in our ancient homeland. Jews were scattered all over the face of the earth; the idea of a Jewish nation re-born seemed impossible and Herzl answered those who doubted with a simple concept, "If you will it, it is no dream."

This is what happened on this day back in December. A.'s mother couldn't bear the thought of her son being cold, not having something so simple as a clean and warm pair of socks. And an organization answered, delivering not just those socks, but a winter cap, a neck scarf, t-shirts, and so much more. The value of that gift will be remembered beyond all cost. It was, as the supply company so correctly termed it, an act of love.

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I don't do this often...in fact, I think this may be a first...but if you want to and if you can, consider donating to this amazing organization because truly, all the money they raise goes directly to the soldiers. All administrative costs have been donated in advance so that each person who makes a donation knows that somewhere in Israel, a soldier is benefiting directly from their gift.

5 comments:

Rivka said...

a soldier's mother

What a moving post. Thanks for sharing!!

On the one hand, I am horrified (though not surprised, unfortunately) that the army does not provide enough clothing for our hayalim (soldiers).

on the other hand, I am moved beyond words at the caring and compassion of all the people who make sure that our soldiers get what they need.

On this note, it is important to convey to schools and youth movements that when they put together care packages, socks might make soldiers happier than chocolate!

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you were so careful to use initials for A, instead of his name, but you missed one. check your post.

QuietusLeo said...

"...I wonder what kind of world they live in that 3:45 is considered morning..."
It is not as uncommon as one might think. Not only is 3:45 morning in the army, but anywhere there is round the clock activity. In the hospital 3:45 is morning. and 3:00 is time to get up for the morning milking on a dairy farm. I speak from experience because I have, at one time or another served in all three worlds (often simultaneously!).

George said...

If there is one thing that a combat soldier (especially an infantryman) can't have enough of, it's socks.

Sharon said...

I have been reading your blog for sometime, but have never left a comment before.... I didn't think I had anything to say...although your posts move me to tears sometimes. This post did just that and more. As soon as I finished reading I went directly to the organization's website and made a donation. While my husband and I donate to a number of Israeli organizations, and at least one that provides services directly to soldiers, I was not familiar with this group. They are obviously well-organized and will be added to our tzedakah list, such as it is. Thank you.

A.'s Mom said...

Thank you again, wonderful Paula, for caring and acting on that feeling, and to Yashar LaChayal and their donors and AL and the soldiers who helped along the way and showed such kindness to my son.

Everyday life in Israel must consist of one small miracle after another. That's what it has seemed like to me, hearing about my lone soldier's life there.

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