Sunday, September 6, 2009

Home and About

Elie came home on Thursday. I had a full day of work, a project to deliver, and a seminar I was presenting in Herziliya. The earliest I hoped to get home would be around 7:30 p.m. Summer has all but slipped away. Each of us feels it in some way...except Elie, I think. For my oldest daughter, she is on a break from university, but soon that too will begin. For my youngest children, school has started again, with the daily routines of lunches and buses and homework; my middle son has started his final semester before he too enters the army.

Elie is in the same cycle he has been in since the beginning. He is on army time, army rotation. We were able to coordinate a short family vacation with him this year, where last year we couldn't, but it still seems strange that another summer has come and gone. This was one of those good weekends - until the army shifts Elie again, he's on a rotation that brings him home every other weekend, and it's even coordinated with my other son and opens the opportunity for us to gather all the children - as we did Thursday night.

Thursday morning, as I was driving to work, Elie called to tell me he was on the bus home and asked if I wanted him to do the shopping. I had to drive to a seminar I was presenting late in the afternoon, so I arranged to pick up my middle son in Jerusalem on the way home. We'd organized a barbecue, which essentially ended up having Elie do most of the work. By the time I got home, exhausted and barely able to talk after a week of working, barely sleeping, and getting everyone back into routines, I just wanted to sit and do nothing.

By the time I got home, Elie had also already started the barbecue and was cooking away. At some point in the late afternoon, I realized that I'd eaten almost nothing, so food being ready was a definite plus. He did all the cooking outside; I threw together a pot of noodles and pulled out some salads from the refrigerator,my two youngest set the table - a family barbecue was born.

The next morning, the week continued to take its toll and I begged off the morning routine. My husband took the morning shift making the younger children food for school (something he's been doing regularly this week), and Elie drove them while I tried to grab an extra half-hour of sleep. By the time I pulled myself into the kitchen, Elie had already put the chicken in the oven and was working on the soup. He did most of the shopping (maybe even all of it, now that I think about it), went to the bank for us, and the post office as well.

By late afternoon, when we were all tired, he took some time for himself and whenever we called upstairs, found that he was constantly on the phone. At some point, Elie tried the front door bell (no idea why) and discovered it wasn't working. He then set about resetting it - it's one of these fancy electronic ones where you can pick the tune. There seem to be more than a dozen and Elie treated us to each of them several times before picking the most hilarious sound. We just have to remember it's the door bell.

Showers and a few hours later, we were ready to sit down for the Shabbat meal. Since we've moved to our new house, we have discovered the joy of eating outside on the balcony. Each night we begin to set the table in the dining area. It's more formal...and then the balcony calls to us. It was a wonderful meal, quiet, good food, relaxing.

The Sabbath passed quietly for all of us: sleep, food, going to synagogue, more sleep, more food. As soon as the Shabbat ended, my youngest daughter remembered that she had an assignment - she had to make her notebook look "like it was really old; like from the time of Abraham."

Apparently, what that meant was that she was supposed to burn the edges. My husband suggested she leave the notebook out in the sun. My daughter took that to mean closed and in the shaded area between the window and the wall. After several days there, the book still looked decidedly modern. We were now forced to go back to the original idea of burning the edges.

I tried matches...I considered. Elie came out from yet another round of phone calls and took over. He is, at heart, a closet pyromaniac, as I think most young men are. He took a camping burner, turned up the flame and began burning the edges. He did a great job; my daughter was enthralled, "wow, it looks really old."

Elie was interrupted many times by the phone. It got me thinking. Maybe there was someone special? Shouldn't I know if there was? WHO was he talking to so much...after yet another call, I asked him. I figured he could choose to tell me or not. I like the relationship we have now - it's open and it's good, so...

He's got 10 new soldiers under his command. These are married men who have entered the army at a later stage in their lives. Nine even have at least one child at home. They'll be in the army for 6 months. They've completed their basic training and the army has decided that they should experience life on Israel's front lines - the checkpoints, during their brief army stint.

One soldier has a brother in the hospital. The brother is apparently also in the army - imagine having two soldiers at one time. Yes, I know there are people who do...even one who reads this blog who has had three at one time...I am so grateful I'll have one and then just as my second one goes in, Elie will be coming out...

So the brother is in the hospital with some sort of infection that responds briefly to anti-biotics and then acts up again. Elie's soldier asked for time to be with his family. He was scheduled to have vacation time, but Elie managed to turn it into a special dispensation so that he can be with his family and still have vacation coming to him. That was one call. The brother isn't better. Elie gave the soldier until Thursday with an extension and said they would talk later in the week to decide what to do next.

Another call had to do with schedules and assignments. Elie's group is connected to the city of Holon. Basically, the city has adopted this unit and so, the unit has adopted that city. What does that mean? I asked. Elie explained that a few times a year, soldiers go there and do whatever is needed. They clean the streets, they visit with people. Two soldiers went to an old woman's house and helped her move her refrigerator out of the house and move a new one in place. A few other soldiers helped an old man throw out a couch. Whatever is needed.

This week a bunch of soldiers are again going there and so Elie has to organize who will be manning the checkpoints and doing the "ordinary" work. Oh, and on Friday, Elie got another call. It seems that a young man volunteered for the ambulance duty on Shabbat, but he isn't 18 yet and so by the rules of the ambulance squad, he isn't allowed to be on call from 10:30 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. They asked if Elie could be on call and so he did that too.

At around 2:00 a.m., Elie was called out, went with the ambulance, took someone to the hospital, can came home and went back to sleep. Tonight, after Shabbat ended, he began preparing to go back to the army. This seems to have been a week where we needed more help than usual from Elie and somehow I feel like we deprived him of a break. He doesn't seem to have minded but I wish he could have had days off in which he did something fun.

In all the world, I wonder if 22-year-old men aren't more free with their time, more selfish, more free to do what they want and not what we - family and country need. It's something to think about, something to get depressed about, if I let it. Elie chose to serve in the ambulance squad and could easily stop any time he wants to. He chose to get up and start the Sabbath meal cooking early Friday morning, I didn't even ask him to do it. But he didn't choose to be in the army. It is something he has known he would have to do. Of course, there are many that find ways to avoid it and I guess he could have attempted one of those routes as well. But he didn't opt out.

There are burdens we place on our children - sometimes without meaning to, sometimes knowingly - with or without a choice. Our nation has placed a tremendous burden on our young people - and even when they are off, they are still called to solve problems that arise. Elie could have opted out of the Commanders course he took too, choosing to be a regular soldier for the three years of his service - at least then, when he was home, he wouldn't be trying to coordinate all sorts of things back on base. But, all these things make him what he is and have gone into building the man he has become and will become in the months and years ahead.

I don't regret who he is, what he does, or where he will be for the next several months of his life. It's a momentary lapse as I think about the last day or two...a regret that life can't be more fun at an age when life should be simpler.

At 22-years-old, I was finishing college, madly in love, and at some point during that year, planning my wedding. I knew nothing of security fences, explosives, and guns. I'd never heard an explosion, never seen or smelled death and war. I'd never gotten on a bus worried it might explode; never looked at my fellow passengers with suspicion. I'd never been on patrol, or in a field wondering if Syrian planes were about to fly overhead.

I want all my son has for him...but I want I just would give him the beaches and the mountains and the freedom too. I guess it's a weight we carry around - as Israelis, as Jews. When my oldest children came to Israel, I watched as they went to school and were taught things they didn't learn in America.

The weight of history and the world seem to be placed on our children from a very young age. Children in California are taught from the youngest grades, what to do in case of an earthquake. It is survival. There is no option to wait until an age when they might be a little less scared or traumatized.

In Israel, children are taught what to do in care of an attack, of missiles and more. There are earthquakes, but they are rare and barely felt. They are taught what to do, but somehow it seems less pressing than other threats. Since Israel built the security fence - the one that Elie often guards, terrorist attacks have been thwarted and are down over 90% in frequency. Even those that do happen tend to be lone attackers using primitive weapons - knives, firebombs, even tractors.

My youngest son and daughter have grown in the last few years relatively free of the anxieties my three older children experienced. By contrast, .Elie came of age and joined at a time when there were huge numbers of terrorist attacks - sometimes weekly, certainly every month. For all that there are those who condemn the security fence, no one can doubt its effectiveness. Roads once not traveled are busy again; cafes are full; buses are busy and most of all, our children don't look at people wondering if they will blow themselves up. Elie goes "on alert" when he sees something suspicious. He follows with his eyes until he feels comfortable with the situation. That too, I would spare my children if I could.

It is a burden I carry around, wondering about how free they would be, how much lighter, if they didn't live under the tensions we sometimes feel here. My middle son loves animals. He is strong, perhaps even stronger physically than Elie and yet while Elie was saddened when our family dog died, Shmulik cried and mourned. Soon, Shmulik will be handed a gun, as Elie was. Soon, Shmulik will learn to go on alert, as Elie does. I don't know why this has come to burden me now, but it's there.

No, there is no place else I would dream of raising my children, no other land anywhere we can call our own. What burdens we place on our children will remain theirs and will likely be passed to their children. I guess it is another thing I'll learn to live with and perhaps someday, not even feel even the tiniest bit of regret. But I can't imagine I'll ever get to the point where I don't wish that Elie could have gone on a hike tomorrow instead of back to base...


George said...

We're back to three soldiers again - our youngest started basic training 6 weeks ago. But it's different this time for two reasons. Firstly, when her sister started basic training four years ago, our eldest was still single and living at home. He got married three years ago (in the middle of the 2nd Lebanon war). Secondly, our younger son will not be signing on again and after three years as an officer, will be finishing the army in mid-November. So when the winter comes, we won't have the frantic Shabbatot of getting washing done for three soldiers when none of them have been home for a fortnight and the weather is bad.

the sabra said...

(Came here to tell you that I'm so super flattered that you're a follower of my blog. I know I'm one of many ;) but I feel honored, nonetheless. Thanks!)

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