Our second son, Shmulik, is arranging to take off from his yeshiva even though this is an "in-house" weekend. I hope they'll let him come. My daughter and son-in-law will hopefully come for at least one meal...and...
Hospitality is something deeply ingrained in our culture and our land. It is as old as Abraham rising up to welcome visitors to his tent. We love having guests, welcoming them, doing what we can to encourage them to return. We show guests from abroad what an amazing country we have built...come see this land...we are so proud.
Look at the trees we have planted, look at the roads we have paved. Look at the houses we have built, the cities, the industries. I still, more than 16 years here in this country, am amazed to see the street signs in Hebrew.
So - come visit me, I tell people...and mean it. I love to cook...and as luck would have it (lucky for my family, anyway), I actually cook quite well - or at least I am told this. Food is always plentiful in my house - it fills my table as a means of thanking my guests for coming, and God for providing.
This weekend, we will have a special homecoming. When Elie first left home on the path to the army, he tried a Hesder yeshiva. There were things he liked about it and things he didn't and after about 6 months, he moved to a Mechina in Nokdim. To help you non-Israelis catch up...
Hesder is an arrangement with the army. Instead of doing 3 years of army service, the boys dedicate 5 years of their lives to a combination of service and study. They learn for the first 1.5 years, are in the army for the next 1.5 years, and learn again for the last 2.
Mechina is a pre-army preparation school - often combined with religious study, as it was in Elie's case. They do this for 1.5 hours...and then go into the regular army...Nokdim is the place where Elie's mechina was located, just south of Jerusalem. Shmulik is in his second year of Hesder and will enter the army in March to begin his service.
So, when Elie was in Hesder for that short period of time, his roommate was a young man name Yaakov, who came from Florida to learn and then serve in the army. Elie brought Yaakov home several times for Shabbat and then for some of the holidays. We adopted him into our family, taking him on vacations, having him over whenever...as often as we could. Elie and I went to his army ceremonies, as his local family.
We took Yaakov out to celebrate when he was given his army beret - purple for his Givati unit and we welcomed him home, tired and hungry, for Passover. One day, as his army service was coming to an end, Yaakov brought his brother Chaim to us. Chaim was visiting and would soon be coming to learn in Israel. Yaakov was finishing his army service and planned to return to the States, to marry, to go to school and then as soon as possible, return with his wife to live in Israel.
When we first met Chaim, we told him - Yaakov is our son and brother...you are Yaakov's brother...therefore, you are ours too. Yaakov finished the army; moved back to America for college. Married. He's visited once...still hoping soon to move here after college. Over the last year and more, Chaim has been a frequent guest in our home, there for the holidays. Like Yaakov, we took him with us to family dinners, family events, local happenings - he is, as we promised that first time, one of ours.
One of my most moving memories of my youngest son's bar mitzvah took place on Friday night. My youngest daughter became very sick with a fever and my oldest daughter stayed with her for part of the time to enable me to visit a bit with our guests. I missed the evening prayers while I sat with my daughter; but was able to go to part of the dinner.
I heard my husband welcome our guests, say the blessing over the wine (Kiddush) and as Elie went to his father to receive his blessing, I quickly got Yaakov and Chaim to stand in line. Shmulik and then our youngest son lined up behind Chaim and there - in the picture I couldn't take but will never lose...were my five sons standing waiting for my husband to bless them each.
May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe
May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace
A few months ago, as summer was coming to Israel, Chaim returned to his American family. It was hard for him to decide what to do. To go, to stay. To make his life in Israel; to return to his family and leave Israel behind. We talked of this. He was so torn. His family wanted him home...he wanted to make his life in Israel.
We were caught in the middle. We want him here with us, but understood it was a decision he had to make on his own. Chaim left for the States telling us he would return at the end of the summer. The summer came and went; Chaim was still with his family in America.
"Tell him to come home," my middle son told me. His tone was intentionally childish. He already understands the dilemma Chaim is facing.
"When is Chaim coming back?" asked my youngest daughter. She can't really contemplate choosing between home of the body and home of the heart; between family and land; between Israel and America.
Chaim told me he was planning on coming back before the holidays in September - just after the summer ended. The holidays came and went and still I had no date when he would leave his home to come home; leave his real family to come to his adopted one.
Yaakov and Chaim both called me on my birthday a month ago. Yaakov first - he sang me happy birthday and promised to send me pictures of his baby daughter. My first grandchild in many ways - may she be the first of many to come!
Chaim called later in the evening. "Yaakov sang to me," I joked. I asked him when he was coming back...even though I was afraid I was just torturing him.
"Soon," he told me. "Soon."
Early this week, as I was driving home. My youngest daughter called me. "Chaim is trying to call you. He's coming this Thursday."
Chaim called. He's coming home. He's leaving home to come to the home of his people; leaving his family to come to us. I am so happy...for me, and so sorry for his mother. He plans to enter the army, perhaps even with my Shmulik. For his mother and for me, it will be our second sons entering the army; the second time we will think where they are and worry.
We will have survived the first round with the army, she and I. She from distant shores, me here in Israel. Her sons have chosen to dedicate years of their lives to help Israel, to fight for Israel, as have my sons.
I cannot imagine how hard it is to be a soldier's mother when your son is so far away. It takes little bravery to be a soldier's mother when you know, really know that your son is fine and that you are, at the worst of times, less than a tank of gas away from him.
In March, it seems, Chaim's mother will again become a soldier's mother and I will, it seems, remain a soldier's mother...in many ways with two in the army. I can share her worry, her concern. The only thing I can't share at this moment, is the sadness that her son is going so far away. With guilt in my heart...I am so happy Chaim is coming home.
All I can do is tell you, Chaim's mother, that I will bake him cookies and brownies. I'll give him food and a place to sleep; brothers and sisters to keep him company and if you come to Israel...when you come to Israel, I will open my home to you as well. If Yaakov and Chaim are my sons...you will be my sister.