Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fun in a Tunnel

Elie spent the holiday and weekend at his yeshiva just south of Jerusalem. They learn in this yeshiva for a year or two after high school. It is called simply, "Mechina" - or Preparation. It teaches them many things - it reinforces the faith of their homes and adds knowledge of what the army will be like. It is a pre-military academy designed to ease them into army life, but it is so much more.

They learn, often for the first time, what it means to hold a gun, to fire one, to take responsibility. They begin the process of challenging their bodies. What was once sport becomes serious as they begin to train.

Judaism is a religion of laws and customs - many ancient and derived from the Bible, others are more modern interpretations of these same laws. There are laws related to war, to serving in the army. What they are allowed to do, what they can never do, what they must do and when to apply each. This is what they learn.

And, while they are learning this, they form a bond. These are the first brothers they have outside the ones that were born to them. A few times a year, even after they leave the yeshiva, they gather there. It is usually not known who will be able to come, who will be released from the army.

"Will Hanina be there?" I asked Elie of one friend.

"He's in shiryon [tanks]," Elie responded. It is a well-known joke that the tank division keeps their soldiers on a tighter schedule. No, Hanina didn't make it for this holiday. Elie had called a few friends to see if they were planning on going. It was all set. I gave Elie permission to take the car; he would meet a group of friends in Jerusalem and drive them the final short distance to the yeshiva.

On most days, they wear different colored berets; serve in different units. What they all had in common was a day off from the army, a need to go back to the basics of their shared experience, and an army-issued gun to accompany them.

On Thursday afternoon, Elie left home with his backpack, a cooler filled with several bottles of frozen water, a bottle of frozen ice tea, and a homemade cheese cake. It is a tradition to eat dairy products on this holiday; meals are lighter than the traditional Sabbath meals. At home we would have onion soup with melted cheese, lasagne, salmon, and cheese blintzes. He sampled each dish before he left home. In the mornings, we eat cheese cakes - one that I make, an American recipe the kids love, and one that my older daughter learned to make here - also a family favorite.

I made three small cheese cakes and packed one for Elie to take with him. There's a refrigerator at the yeshiva he can use, but I was worried about it going bad while he was on the hike and so I froze bottles of water to keep the cake cool in the car while he hiked. In the end, Elie reported, it was a very successful decision, as the combination of so much frozen water and the cooler gave them a supply of cold drinks throughout the holiday.

Elie drove into Jerusalem, picked up his friends. As planned, they stopped somewhere and took a hike. The hike led them underground, into a tunnel that runs 200 meters under the earth. They walked through the ancient, water-filled tunnel - using the flashlights from their guns to light the way. They had a great time, finished the hike, returned to the car, drove to their yeshiva and greeted their teachers, their friends, their rabbis. They showered, and began the holiday.

Elie came home a little while ago, rested, happy, content. The cheese cake was long gone - the cooler was an amazing success, as it allowed them to have cold drinks for most of the two day holiday, and the brownies went too.

Tomorrow is Elie's English birthday - we will go out to eat as a family, and have a celebration of 22 years. I wish I could think what to get him, but I haven't got a clue. The army provides the clothes that he wears every day; for the few days a month he is not in uniform, he has enough clothes. He has so many gadgets already - I could probably get him a book or a DVD movie, if I could figure out which one to get him. He doesn't wear jewelry; he has two watches - strong ones that he relies on for the army and isn't yet ready for a dressy one.

With army boots and running shoes and two pairs of Crocs, he doesn't need shoes. He's got towels and jackets. A mini-computer, he'd love, but that's a bit steep right now.

I'll think of something...but for now, as he goes to sleep in his bed, I think I'm the one who has been given a present - my son is home safe in his room and we'll have the day to share. Tonight, Elie has volunteered to be on call for the ambulance squad. I hope it will be a quiet night for him and for the people in our city. Hopefully, he'll sleep the night through and not be called out.

Tomorrow, I'll think about what present to get him, what gift can mark the beginning of his 22nd year with us. For now, I'll just be happy imagining him walking through a dark tunnel, pointing his flashlight to light the way. I envy him the freedom, the health, the youth he has. It is why I chose to live in this country - to give my children this incredible connection to this land and the beauty that is here. I asked him if he took pictures...I always do.

He laughed and explained about how dark and wet the tunnel was. I thought of the dangers of entering a dark area, "did you take your guns with you?" Yes, I know it was a silly question. Obviously, they weren't going to leave their guns behind in the car and Palestinian terrorists tend to go for the unarmed. A 7-year-old boy against a terrorist with an axe is more their speed; four armed young way would a terrorist take them on. Yes, of course they took their guns with them.

"What do you think we used to light the way through the tunnel?" he asked with a grin. That's when he explained about the water and the mud.

"Didn't the gun get dirty?" I asked. Yes, it was another silly question but I love listening to him talk. What better moment could there have been for him than the dark and the mud and the water - a young man's heaven.

"Yeah, but we wiped them down," he answered.

Maybe, just maybe, the present I have given to Elie for this and all his birthdays, is the gift of who he is, what he has made of himself and what he is yet to become. The army has given him strength of body and purpose; courage and confidence. But we, his parents, brought him to this land and gave it to him. Each hike he takes is his way of connecting with his land.

Just two days ago, Elie had fun in a tunnel, but more than that, he entered it with confidence and emerged from the depths. Maybe, must maybe, the gift I'll give him will be a book about other areas to hike and the prayer that he will never grow bored hiking on our land...even when the path takes him through the tunnels, into the water, over the mountains and around the desert. Perhaps, the greatest gift of all is the simplest of all - Israel.

Happy birthday, Elie - may you grown in strength in the land of your fathers and know that there is no where else I would have you be, no one else I would want you to become.

Abad al Majid Dudin

In 1995 in Jerusalem, a bus exploded. It was from the # 26 line that runs through the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood - the one I drive through every day to get to work. Five people died immediately, another 100 suffered injuries. One of those killed was an American school teacher.

In 1995 near Tel Aviv, another bus, this time it was the #20 line that runs through Ramat Gan exploded when another suicide bomber boarded with the intention of murder and mayhem. Six people were murdered in that attack.

These two attacks, and many others, had a common thread, Abad al Majid Dudin. Long after the bus numbers fade from memory, the Israel army continues to hunt these murderers down. Slowly, they are captured and put on trial, unless the resist arrest and cannot be captured alive. Then, perhaps justice comes more swiftly, though not as planned.

Last week, special forces entered the Arab village of Dura and surrounded the location where Abad al Majid Dudin was hiding. They called for him to surrender; told him he was surrounded. Justice had arrived. Not surprisingly, Dudin decided not to surrender and a gun battle ensued. Abad al Majid Dudin, along with a supply of explosives that he had hidden nearby, was eliminated.

It is unlikely that his death, and more importantly, the murderous actions he initiated during his life, will make international news. But I have no doubt that his death will be added to the statistics used by human rights organizations to manipulate world opinion. A Palestinian died last week at the hands of the Israeli army. That is all they will tally, these number crunchers with an agenda. The eleven murdered people belong to 1995 and no connection will be made to this man's death. No sense of justice achieved, no dots to connect the crime with the punishment or the fact that he was given an opportunity to surrender and face trial.

The human rights tally process reminded me of a Garth Brooks song I love. The song speaks of two parents - a mother and a father. The mother died and Brooks sings about the dates on her grave stone. "What matters is the dash in between," he sings - the dash represents all the years she lived from birth to death. It is all, we could assume, in the details. What matters is the life you make - it is all there in the details, not the numbers of when you died, but rather how you lived. Perhaps the human rights organizations will have a chart with the year, the city/village and the name of the deceased. Perhaps, it will look like this:
2009 Dura Abad al Majid Dudin *

* Dudin was the commander of the area military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization in the southern Hebron area. He was responsible for planning the 1995 bus bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which resulted in the murder of 11 Israelis and more than 100 wounded, as well as numerous other incidents throughout his terrorist career.
But what will be missing when the human rights organizations make their yearly tally, is the asterisk that explains what Abad al Majid Dudin did. The eleven lives stolen during these two attacks, the hundreds wounded in these and other attacks. What matters is the asterisk that will likely be missing.

I often think of things to write here and wonder if it belongs here on this blog or on another blog that I keep called, "This is Israel." I decided this belongs here because another thing that foreign leaders and human rights organizations love to point to is that fact that terrorism is down sharply in Israel. We have, with great thanks to God and the army, had only a few suicide attacks in the last year and most if not all of those involved lone Arabs choosing to attack Jews when the opportunity presents itself.

Just last week, an Arab attempted to stab a guard at the entrance to my city. He did so, he explained after he was caught, because he'd had an argument with his family. What Elie is doing now has everything to do with helping to block attacks, find explosives and guns that could be used, and, in general, keep the statistics low.

It is a false peace created by our army's effectiveness, rather than our enemies suddenly deciding to work towards peace. But the asterisk missing from the death of Abad al Majid Dudin is also missing from beside the statistics showing a marked decrease in terrorism. What matters is the asterisk there in between - the one that explains that our soldiers stopped Dudin from initiating further attacks, that our soldiers caught someone attempting to smuggle in explosives or knives.

Yes, as a result of last week's raid and Dudin's death, I fully expect the human rights organizations to add another statistic to their tally of dead. They will write that Abad al Majid Dudin died and won't bother with the asterisk that details how many he murdered. But now, Abad al Majid Dudin stands before the greatest Judge who will, I have no doubt, pass a true and deserving sentence for the murders he planned. And as Dudin stands there and receives his judgement, people are riding on bus line # 26 in Jerusalem and bus line # 20 in Tel Aviv in relative safety tonight. And in that, there is justice.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Happy First 22nd Birthday, Elie

When we lived in America, we lived 100% of the time on the standard January - December calendar...well, almost. We celebrated Jewish holidays, of course, and followed the Hebrew months as they came and went. But when our oldest daughter was born on Rosh Hashana, the first day of the new year (actually, she was born on the second day, but you get the point), it was impossible to ignore this day and so we celebrated her birthday on Rosh Hashana....AND what we called her "English" birthday.

Then Elie was born, just three days before the Jewish holiday of Shavuot but the tradition was established already and so he, too, had "two" birthdays...and so it went. My next son was born exactly a week after the holiday of became impossible to ignore the Hebrew calendar and so our children became accustomed to celebrating the Hebrew and the English birthdays and often, all the time in between was their "birthday zone." Until we moved to Israel. Here, we tend to celebrate the "Hebrew" birthday more often than the "English," though there are still times we celebrate both.

This year, Elie will celebrate both, or at least I hope he will. Today is his Hebrew birthday. He'll be home this weekend, though he wants to spend the upcoming holiday (which takes place on Friday and runs into the Shabbat) at his yeshiva. He's gotten permission to take a "vacation" day on Sunday. That's his English birthday.

I don't know yet what we'll do, or if he'll want to do something on his own or with friends. All I know is that my soldier son is now, according to the Hebrew calendar, 22-years-old.

He called me this morning about something simple. I asked him if he'd called to wish me a happy birthday, after all, I was the one that gave birth, right? He was distracted, busy and in the middle of something and didn't even know it was his birthday. I'll make him a cake this weekend and see if I can buy him something. Most of all, I'll just be grateful for who he is, how he is, and yes, even where he is. All that he does continues to shape him into the man he will become and I find I like that person very much. you leave your childhood further and further behind, my precious son - may you go from strength to strength in health and safety. May you continue to fight for what is right and know that behind you stands a nation that is forever grateful that you and your friends stand for us.

You and your brothers and sisters fill my life with joy, my heart with pride, and my soul with love. It will be many years before you will truly understand that love - somewhere around the time they hand you your first child, God willing, will you perhaps finally know this amazing truth. For now, you prefer the simpler things in life - driving, playing on the computer, speaking of guns and a life I know so little about, leading your troops and balancing the responsibilities you are given, solving problems and fixing things that break, and so much more. But underneath all these elements, there is the man emerging from the boy.

The boy that was, is almost gone. He's still there sometimes, especially at home playing with his little sister; but the man leaves after the weekends and returns to base and the boy goes with him because that is the way of things. And then, some time later, it is the man that comes home, with the boy hidden deep inside. More and more it is the man I speak to on the phone, and now it is the man I will wish a happy birthday.

May you live to 120 and may all your days be filled with love and life; health and happiness; friendship and pride.

Happy birthday, Elie. I love you more than words could ever express.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Do you live far enough away from Iran?

If not, would you consider moving? Are you sure, where you are, that you can't be hit by an Iranian missile? Much of the world is within range, though many think it is our problem alone. I just came across a website that can tell you whether or not you are in range...and of what. It's an eye-opening experience to click on the various missiles and watch them explode across the map.

There are many debates about what Israel will do - I prefer to know what the world will not do. I spoke to Elie about Iran. It's too far away for artillery to be involved. "It won't be a war, Ima. It will be an operation. They are too far away for it to be a war."

Whatever it is called, it will once again involve danger to our country and, as the site and image below show, many other countries as well.

We live in an age of great special effects. This site uses some to show Iran's far-reaching danger to much of the world. Do you live far enough away from Iran? I know that I don't; my children don't. We are within range. Next month, Israel will have a nation-wide drill in which they will ask everyone to immediately take cover. I assume they will do it when the children are in school. It won't be like the last time, when they weren't expecting an alarm to go off. This time they will explain to our children.

There is a country, not far enough away. They don't want us to exist; they have weapons that could make us stop existing. No, that's too much. They...they may choose to attack us and we have to be ready. Is that any better?

They will not explain to our children that what Hitler did in 6 years and a World War, Ahmadinejad and Iran could do in minutes. That too is too frightening for a child. But somehow, with as little fear as possible, they will explain to the children that soon there will be an alarm and it's a test. This time, it will be a test.

They won't show them this map. They won't let them click and watch Israel be covered as the red circle covers the earth across Israel and Africa, Europe and the Atlantic. I can't foretell the future but it is likely in the time the Elie or his brothers serve in the Israel army, Iran will gain a nuclear weapon. They will...unless we stop them. The only questions now are whether you live far enough away from Iran...and if you are part of the "we."

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]'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.

I don't do this 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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

400 Posts, Two Years as A Soldier's Mother

I just looked at the control panel (dashboard) of the Blogger platform on which I write these posts and it says that this is the 400th post. It's been a bit over two years, it is Erev Shabbat (Friday afternoon, the eve of the Sabbath). Elie is on base this weekend and will be commanding the operation of a checkpoint "somewhere" in central Israel.

Next week, he'll be home. It's a quiet Shabbat with my three older children away and just the two younger ones at home. We are invited to friends tonight and so I took the lazy way out for tomorrow lunch and just bought various deli meats and some salads for a "fancy" sandwich lunch for everyone after we return from the synagogue.

Shabbat is fast approaching but because I didn't cook, it is missing the smells of the soup simmering, the chicken roasting, etc. and yet, it still feels like the quiet is coming, peace is just a few hours away.

When I wrote my first few posts, I was not yet a soldier's mother - but a woman living in Israel facing the arrival of a reality she had chosen to all but ignore for years. I knew from the time I landed in Israel, almost 16 years ago, that my sons, first Elie and then the others, would join the army. I had no illusions that there would be peace around the door and no need for my son to serve. In that, I was perhaps more realistic than some of my Israeli friends who said they believed that when they served, they did so in part so that their children would not have to. Now, as they become mothers of soldiers, they wonder how it is possible.

In those first posts, I didn't know what was to come and in some ways, perhaps most ways, the fear was so much worse than the reality. I have watched and continued to watch as my son grows into a man who brings me great pride and honor. So many traits that he has developed and intensified - not just those you would expect - his sense of leadership, physical capabilities, strength and endurance, but even more - his sense of patience, his sense of humor. He is more aware of the world around him and the history of our land and region than he ever was before.

So, on my 400th post as A Soldier's Mother, I'd like to do two things. One, I do very often - that is to wish you all, and all of us, a peaceful and quiet Shabbat. And the second thing, is I'd like to offer my gratitude to the army of Israel, not just for the training you give to our soldiers, but for the care you give them as human beings, the gifts certainly, but the trust, the faith, and the pride you give them. All this will go with Elie all the days of his life and through Elie and my other sons, through me, all the days of my life.

Each week in the synagogue, we say a prayer for the soldiers. There are two in our synagogue who choose not to stand for this prayer, while all others do. They are angry about past actions the army has taken, and so take their anger out on today's soldiers by refusing to give their support for this important prayer. I watched them in anger at one point, wondering if one who has not yet had a son in the army will still sit when it is his son's turn to sit on a border and protect our nation. The second has lost a son, killed accidentally by the army in a case of mistaken identity. His anger I can understand, though I believe it too is misdirected.

But each week, I listen and I stand - for Elie and for all the soldiers. The army has made mistakes in the past and will likely make mistakes in the future. No doubt one of its worst mistakes was in allowing itself to be used by the government for purposes beyond which an army was designed. But this has nothing to do with Elie and most of the soldiers who today serve in the standing army.

More than any other arm of the government or establishment, I believe the army has learned from past mistakes. It has to learn, and it does. It learned from the mistakes it made in Lebanon and so fought the Gaza War accurately and effectively, and it learned how to take boys and find within them the sparks they use to turn them into amazing men. This is what I never imagined two years ago...that Elie would have found a sense of justice, of balance, of maturity.

So another week ends with Elie in the army. He's on patrol - no time to wish him a good Sabbath, so I'll wish it for all of us instead. Shabbat Shalom, Israel.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Right, I Forgot...

Elie told me that some time this week (and probably today) he was going to have to go to the Jordan Valley for some reason (related to the army). For those unaware of the geography of Israel, the Jordan Valley is the land on our eastern border with Jordan. We have a line of mountains on our side; the Jordanians have a line of mountains on their side, and between these two lines of mountains, lies the Jordan Valley. Much of it is desert, inhabited by Jews and Arabs who live in one of the dustiest, driest, hottest places in Israel. It is also physically, one of the lowest places on earth (the absolute lowest point is the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley begins its climb somewhere between the Sea of Galilee and the northern border of the Judean Desert (which essentially touches the northern and western sides of the Dead Sea) all that?

The bottom line here, is that Elie is currently "on assignment" close to the eastern most border of Israel. For the last few weeks and for the next few months (unless there is another war with Gaza or Syria or Hizbollah), Elie is stationed in what we call the Gush Dan area: Gush" in Hebrew refers to a group or a block; Dan refers to the descendants of Jacob's son Dan.

I love this reference - it means he is currently in the area that once, long long ago, was inhabited by the tribe of Dan, one of the 12 tribes of Israel. That is so very much Israel - even today, thousands of years after the tribes of Israel returned from slavery in Egypt and settled our ancient homeland, we know what areas we live in. So, Tel Aviv and many of Israel's most populated areas are called Gush Dan and Elie is stationed near there.

However, for some purpose, the army sent him to the Jordan valley today (or yesterday through this morning). He explained this to me a few days ago and even last night when we spoke briefly.

This morning I turned the radio on to hear the 8:00 a.m. news. The first item was that two soldiers had been wounded near Kalkilya. According to the news, a Palestinian Authority policeman fired and injured two soldiers during the night. The soldiers returned fire, hitting the PA officer. Amazingly enough, as soon as the scene was secure, Israel offered to transport the Palestinian policeman to one of our hospitals for treatment. Currently, the news is suggesting it was a case of mistaken identity rather than a deliberate attack.

The clarifications didn't do much to calm me. Two soldiers...lightly wounded. Elie would have called. Yes, but mothers don't use logic in this case and so I called and Elie answered right away. He sounded fine; I said I was worried and wanted to check if he was okay.

"Why?" he asked.

I told him what had happened. "When? Where?" he asked.

"Don't you know?" I asked back.

"Ima, I'm in the Beka'a [Jordan Valley], remember I told you?"

Like a balloon deflating, the fear drained away. Right. He told me. Yes.

"What happened?" Elie asked again and so I told him the little that I knew. We said goodbye and I'm sure Elie went off to check what had happened. I drove to work, marveling yet again how emotions can soar and fear take over, often without cause, simply with a word. For me, for weeks now, the word is "Kalkilya" the name of the large Arab city near where Elie is stationed.

He is there because from this city, residents try to smuggle out drugs, explosives, weapons. He is there because this city sits so close to major Israeli cities; cities that have suffered major terrorist attacks in the past. There is a road that winds close to Kalkilya before ending near a small Jewish village (and Elie's base). A few years ago, this road was impassable and no one was allowed to use it because there were regular shooting attacks. It is the road I regularly take, without concern, when I drive Elie to base, and it is safe today because there is a security fence and an army (Elie's unit) protecting the area, the fence, and the road.

But Elie wasn't there last night, when a Palestinian policeman intentionally or by accident opened fire and wounded two soldiers. Elie was far away, but I'd forgotten in that moment of hearing the name of the city. And one final word - this soldier's mother had nothing to worry about on a personal level - my soldier was far away. How many other soldiers' mothers woke this morning, turned on the news at 8:00 a.m. and called their sons? I don't know the answer to this question...and even if I did, I wouldn't print it here.

What I do know, is that two mothers were called last night. Two mothers were told their sons were hurt. Two ran to the hospital with fear clutching their hearts and tears forming in their eyes. Two were told that this time, they were given a gift - their sons were only lightly injured.

The rest of us send our love to those mothers; our thoughts and prayers to their sons. My heart is settling down; my thoughts turning to work but as always, there is this portion of my brain that remains focused on mine, on Elie, and yes, all our sons.

May they be blessed with safety today and every day and may no mother anywhere be called today to learn her son has been injured.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Art of Cutting Brownies

This past weekend, Elie was home. As I usually do, I planned to send something back with him. We began a discussion of whether he wanted brownies or my latest "specialty" - plain white cake COVERED with chocolate chips (regular and white chocolate).

Elie requested the white cake but asked for only white chocolate on it. Since the white cake was ready to go in the oven and I wanted to also make brownies, I asked Elie to put the white chips on top - he covered the top with them. When the brownies were ready to go in the oven, already in the mood, he dumped white chips on that too.

Later, when the cakes had come out of the oven, I was busy making something else, so I asked Elie to cut the cakes into small pieces and put them in the plastic containers he takes to the army. What we do, is buy tons of store-bought cookies that I use for our training center in Jerusalem and then I bring the empty plastic containers home and use them for Elie to take back to the army.Elie began cutting the cakes but, well, Elie is Elie. A minute later I heard him laugh and say, "now this works" and I looked over and he was cutting the cakes with a pizza cutter. Just rolling on through each row.

Efficiency-wise, the kid might have something.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another Mother, Another Father, and a Birthday

When you become a soldier's mother, suddenly, in some way, all soldiers become your sons, and all mothers of soldiers become extensions of who you are, who you might be or become. You learn this slowly, as you need to. When something happens, these sisters reach out and touch you, support you, offer you their strength when you aren't sure; their calm faith when you want to panic and be scared.

You take turns being up or down. When they feel you are down, they write, reach out, calm. You'll get through today; tomorrow will be better. And then, when you see they are down, you write, reach out, calm and hope tomorrow will be better for them too.

I could check back how far, but it doesn't really matter...several months ago, one woman left an incredibly sensitive message and another wrote that I should check her blog. In the midst of whatever it was at the time, I read Knottie's Niche. I read it again. I was embarrassed, humbled. How could I complain, how could I ever write again about my son after having read her blog?

I wondered how she managed to write in such a beautiful way, from a place so sad. Knottie's son Micheal (his nickname was Pokey), was a young American soldier, killed in action in Iraq a bit over a year ago. So much of what I write about Elie, she recognizes. So much of what she writes about Micheal, I understand. It is the universal language of being the mother of a soldier - Israeli...or American, and probably others as well.

In many ways, we are further joined by our countries fighting a similar enemy - extremism, those who kill in the name of religion and care little for who stands in their way. They justify suicidal attacks and indiscrimminate killings. They glory in death and steal the lives of those we hold dear.

Micheal was the oldest in his family, his character and personality defined long before he went to Iraq. He was the one who made others laugh; he loved thunderstorms. Knottie too has her pictures of the little boy who played with the toy trucks. No matter what she tells us about Micheal, it is too little to know about a boy, a man, a soldier. His picture, his face, his smile, tells me so much more and still I know there is so much I can never know. His family struggles to learn to cope with his loss. It is there in Knottie's posts sometimes.

He touched many while he served his country and his parents continue to this day to talk with Micheal's brothers in the armed services. Today, Micheal would have been 21-years-old and his mother wrote an amazing post, Happy Birthday, Pokey and tonight in America, she and her family will celebrate Pokey's life. "On this day I have made the choice to celebrate my son and his life...tomorrow I will go back to mourning him," she writes.

I've learned so much from reading Knottie's blog. She doesn't want people to say that she is strong, that she is coping well. She wants to be free to be angry or sad and not have to live up to anyone else's expectations. She uses her blog, as I use mine, as a tool both for herself and for others. She calls herself a "Gold Star Mom" - and her husband has now started his own blog Gold Star Dad that is dedicated to "Remembering and Honoring a Fallen Son." This was a term I had not heard - they have lost a son and so become a gold star family.

What you find, from reading these blogs, is the universality of grief and the varied ways people learn to live with it. I have often heard Israeli families who have lost children talk about the amazing support they continue to receive from the friends of the fallen soldier. These friends adopt the parents, escort them through their lives. They invite the parents to their weddings, the celebrations that they would have had with their own children. These parents lose one child and, in effect, are given many others so that the lose is tempered with the knowledge that others remember too.

After the Second Lebanon War ended a few years ago, the army took an ex-reserve soldier who had lost a son, and allowed him to patrol with his son's unit in the final days before the troops stood down. What his son could never finish, the father explained, he would do this one time.

The other soldiers walked with him, watched him, and surrounded him. This is something I have always known about the Israeli army and was so touched to find it is true in America as well. There is such beauty in the way Micheal's father writes about his son and each word could be written for our army as well. He writes of the doctor who tried to save his son with gratitude for his efforts and he writes of the many who came to visit them in the days after they received the news that devastated their lives.

I think that's the reason why I am so impressed with their blogs. They remind us that sometimes what we experience here, others really do share. We are a tiny nation, placed in the midst of our enemies. Micheal was an American soldier, sent off to a land far from his own. He was never alone there; and Micheal's parents' blogs tell me that we are never really alone here either.

The message that Micheal's parents give throughout their writings is one of pride in country and family. Tomorrow, as Knottie writes, tomorrow they will again mourn - but for today, they choose to celebrate the amazing son and amazing life they created on the anniversary of his birth.

Happy birthday, Micheal - may your memory be blessed and may your family know no more sorrow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pictures in the Brain

As parents, we spend much of our parenting lives gathering two kinds of pictures. There are those that go in the photo albums, on our desks, splashed across our computer screens. These are the easy ones, as they are a moment frozen forever in time. We collect them, share them, and have no problem remembering the moment because it is there for us in a physical and tangible way.

And then, there are the pictures in the brain. These are so much harder, so much more personal. You can share them, but not really. They are yours and yours alone for as long as you can hold on to them. Some last decades, some fade away too fast.

I have a picture of my oldest daughter at 13 months. She could walk around the room holding on to something, but simply refused to walk alone. We stood her in the middle of the living room, held her until she was steady, and then we backed away and called her. We held out our arms and we could see her internal debate. She looked as if she was about to take that first step, and then she simply leaned back, plopped down on her backside and crawled to us.

I have a picture of Elie that I have described here in the past, of his eyes, bright and awake as everyone else slept in the car, as he asked me if we were lost. And this morning, as I was driving my youngest daughter to school and then on to Elie's base to drop him, I got another picture. My daughter loves to go to the local market and buy something small for school. It's a treat I give her sometimes when she gets herself ready on time.

Today was one of those mornings. We dropped off my youngest son at his school and went to the grocery store in the neighborhood. I asked Elie and his other brother if they wanted to come inside and get something. My middle son decided to remain in the car and listen to the radio. Elie answered, "why not?" and came inside with us.

Elie took a small bottle of ice tea and a bigger box of cookies. I took some rolls for tomorrow morning. My daughter went to where they keep the small bags of chocolate milk the children love to drink here. They also sell it in small bottles that allow the children to close the top and drink it in spurts, rather than all at once. She's not tall enough to reach the small bottles.

She stood there for a moment and then called to us. Elie went to help her. She often does this with me, and I pull a bottle from the shelf and hand it to her. This time, she commanded her brother, "Elie, lift me." Without hesitation, he put his hands around her thin waist and lifted her to the shelf where she grabbed a bottle of chocolate milk before he lowered her to the ground.

I wish I had a camera but it happened all too fast. I wish I could post it and print it and put it in an album and send it to all our loved ones. It was a picture, a moment to cherish but it only exists in my mind and I'm sorry I can't share it with everyone. They love each other so much, these two. Elie tormented her all Shabbat. He teased her, he tickled her, he twisted her and tossed her around. He literally drove her to tears at times, with me telling him to stop and leave her alone...only to have her edge up to him a few minutes later for more.

She went to school today after a weekend with Elie; he went back to the army after a weekend with Aliza. It was a wonderful, quiet time for all of us and it left me with yet another one of those wonderful pictures in the brain that often last a lifetime.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Gift of a Life

Almost immediately after Noam Adin Richter-Levi was shot and killed during a military operation, the army knew something had gone terribly wrong. It wasn't, as some Arab organizations proudly claimed, any brave act on the part of one of their gunmen, but something Israel had to investigate. It was clear the bullet was one of ours and rumors began flying. Friendly fire? Perhaps a bullet from Noam's gun?

A man came to my office to talk about cellular telephones, but in a country forever and always obsessed with our soldiers, it was inevitable that we would speak of our latest loss, of Noam. It was then, in frustration, that the phone representative explained it wasn't possible that Noam had shot himself. He kept holding his hand out, as if holding a gun, and said, "an M16 is this big. Even a short one. How can you turn it and shoot yourself by accident?" He was convinced there'd been a struggle and that an Arab had turned the gun. In that, he was correct - only it wasn't Noam's gun that was turned, it was the gun of his commanding officer.

According to strict army rules of engagement, there seems to have been a major failure here. "There shouldn't have been a bullet in the chamber," explained the cellular phone representative/reserve soldier. "It shouldn't have happened," he said sadly.

But it did happen and the army found out what happened and reacted by dismissing both the Deputy Commander and the Commander of the unit. When I was visiting the family, I think they had a clue. They were waiting for one soldier who had been with Noam on the operation to come visit them. They said they understood if the young man found it too difficult to visit, but were upset at the thought that the army might be keeping him away. All the others from his unit had been there...just not this one soldier.

It seems the army has finished its investigation, taken action, and then the young man went to visit David and Sharon Levy. It was his gun that went off, not Noam's. It was his bullet that took Noam's life. What thoughts would go through a parent's mind as this officer walked into their home? This is the man that shot their son, even by accident. If not for this young man, Noam would be alive.

That thought had to have crossed his parents mind and yet, what they did, upon meeting this man who must be tormented, was give him the greatest gift they could. They welcomed him, forgave him, and told him they do not hold him responsible. They are not angry with him.

When I was visiting, Noam's mother made a comment that was so extraordinary, even more so because she thought it was so normal. She understood that Noam belongs to the people, that we all mourn for him and so she tried to give people comfort at a time when, by all that is right, she should simply be trying to find comfort for herself. She smiles as she talks of Noam. She asks you to tell her if you knew anything. She gathers the stories, the letters, whatever there is of him and she shares it. As you walk into the area where they are sitting and mourning him during this first week, there is a table filled with pictures. If you didn't know our son, they seem to be saying, that's okay, come meet him now. See how he smiles; see how beautiful he is.

All this, Sharon and David Levy think is normal, not heroic or extraordinary. I told her a story of how my youngest son lost his camera on a bus. The young man who found it didn't see any name or identification attached to it. Most people, even ones that consider themselves to be honest and good, would likely give up and, deep inside, consider themselves lucky to have found such a nice camera. But this man took an extra step, he began scanning the recorded pictures seeing if he could find anything that would help identify the owner.

He found a picture of an invitation, and called the number to RSVP. The people, cousins of ours, explained that no, they had not lost a camera on a bus on a Friday afternoon. Again, most people who consider themselves good and honest, would be satisfied. They had tried. But not this man. He began scanning the other pictures and describing them to our cousins. He finally found a picture of our new bird, an African gray parrot.

When he described the bird to our cousins, they thought of my husband, figured it was ours, and gave this young man our number. All this may be considered either normal or extraordinary, but the part that amazed me was yet to come. The young man met our youngest son, gave him the camera and explained to him that he should take a picture of a card with his name and phone number on it. That way, he explained, "if you lose it again, it will be easy for someone to find who it belongs to and return it."

The amazing part of this man's action was not in his returning the camera, but in his assumption that all others would be equally as honest and dedicated to finding the rightful owner. Noam's parents' attitude, that we all need comfort, that we are all suffering from Noam's loss and thus it is their responsibility to rise above their personal grief to help us, and finally, their ability to welcome this young man, not blame him, and help him is truly beyond words.

What they did, was give this young man back his life. No less. Noam was his soldier. It was his responsibility to take care of Noam, to be his guide. He was to take him safely in, and safely out. I know this from how Elie relates to his soldiers. That's what he calls them, "my soldiers."

Noam was this young man's soldier and today that young man is suffering beyond almost anything we can imagine - except perhaps, if that young man was your son. Anyone, everyone will tell this young officer that accidents, especially in war, can happen. This accident was caused by an Arab grabbing his gun and in the struggle, the gun discharged. The accident was probably that there was a bullet in the chamber. Maybe it was something else. But it is likely that no one could bring this young man comfort for the results of this tragedy...other than the people who feel it even more than he does. Noam's parents reached outside themselves and gave this young man their love, a precious gift to help him through all his days.

From everything that I have heard, Noam was an incredible young man - it is clear, from meeting his parents now and in the past, that he was what he was, because they are what they are, and what they raised him to be.

From Israel National News:
Soldier's Family Not Angry with Soldier who Shot Him

Reported: 07:03 AM - May/14/09

( The family of First Sergeant Noam Adin Richter-Levi met on Wednesday with the lieutenant of the platoon who accidentally shot to death Richter- Levi during military operations last week in Bir Zeit, near Ramallah.

The young officer, who was dismissed from his post due to the tragedy, spoke with Richter-Levi’s parents and explained what occurred during the military operations. The soldier’s family cordially received the lieutenant and told him that they aren’t angry with him and understand that despite the tragic results, he didn’t do anything on purpose.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Noam's Dreams

I never met Noam Adin Rechter Levi and one of the saddest things I can say today, is that I never will. Last night, as I mingled with friends from my synagogue, I talked to a neighbor who is a doctor in the army and had been working with Noam, who was a medic, for many of the last few months. Today, I left a meeting and headed north, to Noam's parents' home, to a beautiful village nestled in the green countryside of the lower Galilee area of Israel.

I think I'm a coward at heart. At least half a dozen times, I almost turned around. Maybe Noam's father won't even remember me; I wasn't really a friend, was I? I don't know the family; I'm sure they are surrounded by loved ones and friends; should I go or would I only make things worse...and that was a silly thought, how could anything be worse than what they were coping with now?

The minute I walked into the "mourner's tent" outside their home and saw the welcoming smile, I knew two things. David did remember me and it was good that I'd come. We talked a bit about the army and soldiers, kids or men, ready for this challenge of defending our land, or not. If I had to sum up my visit, it would be with the word comfort. No, I can't say I gave comfort, but I was comforted by Noam's parents.

They speak of their son in sorrow, but with joy. They celebrate who he was, what he represented. They know he died defending this country and there is comfort in that. The day after Noam was buried, one of his friends was critically injured in a terrible car accident in which two others died. Noam's mother knows her son belongs to all of us, he will be remembered and loved by a nation who recognizes their sacrifice, his sacrifice.

The night before, my neighbor told me about two dreams that Noam had recently. He also told me about the terrible car crash in which Noam's friend was injured, "but don't tell Noam's parents about it; they may not know."

I didn't say anything, but then Sharon mentioned it and so I said, "you weren't supposed to know about that."

They told me a wonderful story, many wonderful stories, about an amazing young man. He was a medic, charged with treating the young men in his unit. At one point, one soldier came over to him complaining about knee pains. Sometimes, soldiers come up with excuses to get out of things they have to do; sometimes, there's nothing you can really do for them. Noam pulled out a cream and rubbed it into the young man's knees, careful to hide the name of the medicine. He explained that it was a very expensive but very effective cure, not intended for anyone and that it should help.

Within hours, the young man returned and thanked Noam - the cream had worked (and Noam didn't laugh; didn't embarrass him, never let on that it was simply anti-fungal cream that could not possibly have helped). That was Noam, his father said then, and several other times. It seems everyone agrees - from my neighbor, to Noam's commanding officer, "Noam took part in dozens of Duchifat operations and always conducted himself in a commendable manner. He acted out of a sense of purpose and had a full comprehension of the operations he was part of, both as a combatant and as a military medic. He was held in the highest regard by his commanders and his comrades."

Noam was the one who accepted everyone and didn't judge people based on how religious they were or were not. And the hardest thing for me, was that Noam must have known he was going to die. Noam was, according to his parents, a very down-to-earth, realistic kid who died too young. He was religious, learned in a yeshiva, and yet...he doesn't seem to have been this deep mystical person but rather someone who lived in the here and the now...and yet...

In the last month, Noam dreamed twice things that bothered him enough to tell others. They say that the spirit, the neshama of a person, knows a month before it is going to die. A month ago, Noam dreamed that he heard the fluttering of wings and asked someone if he thought it might have been the angels, and last week, he dreamed that he and another soldier went on a mission into an Arab village. In the village, two Arabs jumped out and attacked them and, Noam told the friend with whom he'd entered the village in his dream - only one of them left alive.

In real life, Noam and his friend entered an Arab village; Arabs attacked them, and only one, not Noam, left alive. I left the Levy home feeling lighter than I had when I arrived. These are people of deep faith, who understand their son died in the noblest of causes - defending his land. More importantly, no matter what the final findings are into the manner in which Noam died, they know that there was a greater truth, a great plan at work here.

There is an amazing concept in Judaism that we pull out at times like this. The idea is that God gives each person a special task, a job that must be accomplished. The first time I heard about this, it was from a young, 17-year-old girl who had just lost her brother in a terrorist attack. She was asked by a rather stupid reporter if she wasn't angry, just a bit mad, at the terrorist or the government, or God. She looked at the reporter and explained this very idea - that we all are given a job and that she was sad for herself, but happy for her brother.

What a lucky person he was, she explained, for him to have finished his task so quickly, in only 19 years. I thought of this concept days after hearing that the father of Elie's best friend at the time was killed only weeks after his son's bar mitzvah. That was his job in life, I thought - to see his son to his bar mitzvah. Another friend's son died in his early 30s, just 3 days or so after his first child was born - and again, I thought, that was his job in life, to bring this child into the world.

I don't know what Noam's task in life was - it is something we may never know. I do know that whatever it was, he must have done an amazing job. He leaves behind a family saddened beyond imagination for his loss, and yet one that recognizes the treasure they helped create. It was as hard to leave their home as it was to enter it.

May Noam's memory be a source of blessing for his family and for our nation. He was, as his mother said, a true son of Israel.

On the long drive home, I called each of my children, one by one. I needed to hear their voices. This weekend again, I'll have them all home; I'll gather them all close, and I'll think of Noam. I didn't know him, and yet I could feel his presence there with his family. They know they were blessed to have had him, I wonder if they know that Noam was blessed to have had them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Direct Appeal from Noam Shalit

In some ways, this next email has nothing to do with the purpose of Tachlis, and, in other ways, it has everything to do with it. We are nothing if we do not support our soldiers and their families, and especially, now, Gilad and his family. If you are in Israel and around the world, please take one minute to sign the following petition. Someone asked me what good it will do and I'll tell you what I told them:
1. It will tell Noam and Aviva Shalit that we have not, for a single moment of a single day, forgotten Gilad.
2. It will, hopefully, send a message to the US government and other governments around the world. Do not think you can rebuild Gaza and leave the Shalit family destroyed.


This appeal is coming directly from Noam Shalit, father of Gilad. Please don’t let him down. All it takes is a click.

We, the undersigned, call on the United States government to make its $300 million humanitarian aid pledge to the people of Gaza, conditional upon the Hamas leadership releasing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in captivity for over 1,000 days.

Please sign the petition at: and forward to your friends in Israel and abroad.

Thank you!

Gilad’s family has been living this nightmare for 3 years, not knowing where their loved one is, how he is. Not knowing if he is being tortured, suffering, alive or dead.

And Gilad himself – he was just a boy when he was captured by a cruel and intractable enemy.What kind of people give no information about a prisoner of war, only torment the family?What kind of a world does not speak up about this injustice? Don’t be like them. Please help this family. Click and then send this on to everyone you know.

בקשה אישית מנועם שליט

הרגילו אותנו לחשוב שכמות המחבלים שישוחררו תקבע את שחרור גלעד שליט.
נוכחנו לדעת שלא.
ניתן לפדות את גלעד שליט ב 300 מיליון דולר. מעולם לא הוצג כופר כה גבוהה תמורת שבוי.
ארה"ב מתכוונת להעניק סכום זה לשיקום עזה. יש סיכוי לא קטן ש 300 מיליון דולר ישכנעו את מישהו שם לשחרר את גלעד.
אנא חתמו על עצומה זו, אשר תוגש לנשיא ארה"ב בבקשה לתת את הכסף רק בתנאי שג לעד ישוחרר.
זאת הפעם הראשונה שאני שולח בקשה כזו כי אני מאמין שהפעם זה יכול לשנות.
לא ניסינו שום דרך אחרת, בואו ננסה את זה.
חתמו עכשיו

חייבים להתנות את מתן הסיוע לרצועת עזה בשחרור גלעד
סרטון קצר ועצומה-אנא לחצו על הקישור הבא:



אנא העבירו המסר לחבריכם בארץ ובחו"ל


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Back in the Quiet Zone

Elie called before Shabbat to wish us a happy and peaceful Shabbat. He'll be home next weekend. If I pass his base in the coming week, I might take him some food or something, otherwise, we'll see him Thursday morning. Several months ago, Elie got a notice in the mail from the Motor Vehicle Department telling him that he had to take a refresher course.

This is one way that Israel attempts to battle its on-going war on the roads; one that claims even more lives than war. As a soldier, Elie couldn't possibly attend the course so we called and explained that he was in the army. We were told to get a note from his commanding officer and then simply told to write that he was in the army.

A few weeks later, we received notification that he was given a delay of one year - still not enough time, but apparently that meant in another year we'd have to go through the request letter again. This week, Elie called to tell me he was taking a course. What course, I asked.

"Remember the driving course?" he said, and when I told hm that I did remember, he told me he was taking a course in the army.

My first thought was to ask what he had volunteered for now, what was he going to learn. "What course?" I asked with dread.

"The driving course. They're giving it in the army." Every few months, the army gives its drivers a refresher course and any soldier that needs to take the standard Motor Vehicle Department course can ask to take the army course and be given credit.

So Elie did complete the course, in between patrols and checkpoints. It is these little things that makes me feel like we are back in a quiet pocket of time. Of course, the last time I felt this way, Gaza heated up and there was a war, so maybe I'll just sit back and enjoy this one and hope it lasts a good long time.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Country Too Small

It's there in his eyes and the shape of his face. I see it now. I didn't see it earlier because, well, because I wasn't looking for it. It never crossed my mind. How could it? If you heard that a Mr. Smith had died, would you assume it was the Mr. Smith you know? Probably not, right? It's that way in Israel, with the name Levy.

This morning I went to work onsite. As I often do, I hooked up my laptop. It's a compulsion to keep informed, but truthfully, since things have settled down to being a bit more quiet lately, I glance at it less often than I did a few months ago. On one such glance, I saw the horrible news that an Israeli soldier had been killed in action in the early morning hours during a clash with terrorists.

Noam Adin Rechter Levi was just 20 years old, when he fell in battle today. He was a medic, the fourth in a family of five children. He will be buried tomorrow in northern Israel. His brother says only a month ago, he fought to save the life of an injured terrorist. He was, by all accounts, a cheerful, kind, energetic young man. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of First Sergeant.

All this was on the news today - what wasn't on the news was a description of what must have taken place last night as we all slept. Noam was shot around 3:00 a.m. He was critically injured and they were unable to save him. At some point after that, soldiers would have gone to his house and knocked on his parents' door.

No words would have to have been said. Just by opening the door and seeing the soldiers, his parents probably already knew. In that instance, they joined a family of Israelis they never wanted to join - the families of bereavement. I met his father a few years ago, read the book he'd written. We've discussed business over the years; talked about Israel and family at one point. We talked about having married children, at least I think we did and about sons in the army? I don't remember.

Just a month ago, Noam's father wrote to me to point out an error I'd made on something I'd posted somewhere - he did it quietly and kindly, helping as he often did. And a few days ago, he posted to our technical writers' list offering his opinion on a question, helping yet again by offering his experiences and hindsight. I have no doubt that Noam was like his father and my heart breaks when I think of him now.

Noam looks like him, but I didn't make the connection until after someone sent me an email, telling me that Noam was David's son. It had never crossed my mind, but even if it had, what could I have done? Levy is such a popular name in Israel - it would never have occurred to me to call and ask if it was his son.

Now I am at a loss - the funeral is tomorrow, hours away by car. I'll try to go early next week to visit while they are sitting shiva (the 7-day mourning period). What will I say? What can I say? Are there ever words for this?

The country is so small and now, as I look into Noam's eyes in the picture that is posted on all the websites, it's there in the shape of his face, the smile. He is his father's son and today, I can't imagine, don't want to imagine, the agony his father must be feeling.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Constitutes an Act of War?

In a normal land, if a country were to dare to shoot a rocket at another, that would be considered an act of war. Once might be excused away, perhaps two, but after three attacks inside a few weeks, there would likely be a full scale offensive against the neighboring land to stop the aggression. After all, a country has to protect its citizens. If this country attacked more than a few times, there would be a massive outcry throughout the land, across political borders, and perhaps international repercussions as well...unless, that land being hit was Israel.

In December, my son went to war to stop our southern residents from being bombarded with daily rocket attacks. In January, as Barack Hussein Obama swept into office, the Israeli government crumbled under pressure and pulled out, hoping the message it had delivered was strong enough to make Hamas reconsider further attacks. My son and his fellow soldiers knew that more rockets would come; that Hamas had not really received the message. That was in January.

During the month of February, there were 88 rocket and mortar launchings against Israel - consider that number. Almost three times a day, on average, people had to go running for cover.

In March, there were 73 rocket launchings. I don't remember any UN condemnation - maybe I missed it. I surely don't remember any international outcry. On the contrary, I heard commitment after commitment by nations wishing to rebuild Gaza, despite the ongoing attacks that had caused the war in the first place. There were even cases when Israel’s own media did not want to report the attacks, playing down the impact, failing to confirm the landing.

In April there were 12 attempts to attack IDF troops, including explosive devices detonated against IDF troops and two incidents of small arms fire towards soldiers. There were 57 attacks in Judea and Samaria - most of these incidents were Molotov cocktail attacks against Israeli vehicles. Finally, this past month, in April, "only" 8 rocket launchings were recorded. Isn't that an amazing concept - we are "content" that we were only attacked eight times? It’s in all the news sites – only 8. This seems to mark some sort of success in the eyes of the government, the media, and perhaps even among the people who “only” had to run 8 times instead of 80.

Today, five mortars were fired at Israel.

One final note - in 2008, 13,7000 permits were extended to Palestinians in Gaza to enter Israel for medical treatment. Today, Israel's intelligence agencies warned that there has been a sharp increase in forgeries of these medical permits, leading to concern that Palestinian terrorists may take advantage of Israel's policy of offering humanitarian aid in order to sneak in and attack.

This news item appeared in several Israeli sites, unconnected to the number of rocket attacks. While there was concern about this item, there seemed to be a tone of relief in relation to the attacks. I can understand being relieved that we were "only" hit eight times in March, but...since when is that an acceptable concept. Would the US accept someone shooting eight rockets at New York? Would England accept "only" eight rockets (never mind what either of those countries would do if someone shot sixty or seventy or eighty in a one month period.

Yesterday, a top military official warned that he thinks there will be another Gaza war within a year. Was it not the silence of the world during the last 10 years and 10,000 missile attacks that led to this last Gaza War? Wasn't Israel forced to act, and act alone, to stop Hamas because no one else dared or cared?

President Obama is pushing hard for peace in the Middle East. Perhaps it might be best if he would deliver one simple message to the Arabs - one we have been trying to deliver for 61 years. There will be compromises...when there will be peace; and there will be peace...when you stop the violence.

A single rocket attack, a single child terrorized into running for his life, a single mother panicked as she shelters her children, is too much to permit. What constitutes an act of war? Israel can easily point its finger at Hamas eight times during April, 73 times during March, 88 times during February, and 5 times for today.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Question of Rank

Elie was promoted a rank a few weeks ago. Previously, he was a Sergeant, as indicated by the three stripes worn on the uniform on the upper arms. Before that, he was a corporal, as indicated by the two stripes that he didn't wear on the upper arms of the uniform.

"Why don't you wear two stripes?" I asked him many months ago.

"Only jobniks wear two stripes," he answered. He's not a jobnik - he's a combat soldier. Elie said jobnik in much the way a Linux programmer speaks of a Windows programmer. I once asked Elie why he didn't pin his beret to his uniform, rather than having it dangling precariously from his shoulder.

"Only jobniks do that," he answered. But, ahem, I said, it's logical. It's convenient. It makes sense. Never mind, it is part of the army culture ingrained in the soldiers. In the mind of a combat soldier, a jobnik's purpose often revolves around the combat unit. Jobniks are essential to the army on so many levels, and far outnumber the combat units in size. But it is the nature of the sacrifice the combat soldiers are prepared to make, that effects people. If you have a son or daughter in the army, no matter what they do, you are considered a part of Israel - but if you have a son or daughter in a combat unit, people warm to you more quickly, ask how you are doing, how your son is, where he is in a different way, a different tone.

Elie is now a First Sergeant. The difference, though I haven't seen it, seems to be a pin placed in the center of the sergeant stripes he has been wearing since he graduated from the Commander's Course almost a year ago. For some reason, the ceremony that was supposed to officially raise his rank has not taken place. He's got the rank, but not the official pin that will be placed in the center. If Elie leaves off his commander's bars completely, his commanding officer will give him problems.

When I was hanging up his laundry this weekend, I noticed one of the patches was separated from the uniform. I pointed this out to Elie, and was told "put it in the pocket". That's when he mentioned that if he didn't have at least one set of stripes pinned to his uniform, he'd get problems from his commanding officer.

"What sort of problem?" I asked Elie.

"He'll come over and pinch my arms where the bars are supposed to be."

"Don't you want to reattach it?" I asked.


"Aren't you supposed to wear it on both sides?"


Um...okay. "Elie, if you're supposed to wear it, why aren't you?"

"Because it isn't right."

"What do you mean, it isn't right?"

"I didn't get the pin yet. I got the rank, but not the pin. The stripes without the pin isn't right."

I'm really trying to understand this conversation. "So what does that have to do with not wearing the second set of stripes?"

"It shows that it isn't correct." That's when Elie explained that if he doesn't wear any commander's stripes at all, his commanding officer is going to come over and pinch him in the place where the commander's stripes should be. So long as he's got one on, the officer won't care, and Elie is showing that his rank isn't "sergeant" and, follow along here...since he IS wearing the sergeant's stripes, but isn't a sergeant, he must be a First Sergeant.

I'm really not sure I'm explaining all this but it comes down to another one of those very Israeli things that you just have to understand that they understand.

So, though it isn't official, Elie is now a First Sergeant in the army of Israel and, that makes ME...a First Sergeant's Mother! Tell me that isn't cool!

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