Saturday, August 29, 2009

The End that was No End

Officially, the Gaza War ended on January 18. Many suspect this was because Israel knew that tremendous pressure would come from the incoming Obama administration if the war were to continue. So, the troops were withdrawn just in time; the equipment moved, a unilateral ceasefire declared.

For me, the war really only ended a few days later, when Elie finally came home and was able to join us for our youngest son's bar mitzvah celebration. I spent hours talking with Elie, trying to make sure he was okay with what had happened, that he wasn't traumatized or haunted, depressed or uncomfortable. What came home was a young man who understood why Israel went in, if not why Israel stopped on January 18th.

What Elie knew then, what all Israel knew, was that Hamas' ability to launch rockets and mortars against Israel had been damaged, the infrastructure of their ability to attack Israel slowed but not eliminated completely.

The war ended 224 days ago but the rockets have continued. Yet again today, a rocket was fired at Israel - that makes at least 234 rockets in the last 224 days. A rocket a day...

And I can't help but wonder what country in the world would accept such a thing? Obama wants us to compromise, to surrender all building rights, including natural growth. This means my daughter can't build a home here in the same city where I live. Obama, who has likely never been to my city and understands little of life here feels he is correct in mandating our behavior and worse, demanding concessions of Israel unilaterally and without any give from the other side.

How incredible - they shoot rockets...and we are ordered to compromise. I have little doubt that if one of these rockets hits a school, Obama will issue his standard regret statement. But today's rocket didn't injure anyone - never mind those surprised and frightened by a sudden explosion on a peaceful weekend day.

I wonder what the Germans or the French or the Swedes would do if someone were to explode a rocket somewhere in their country every day. Would it be acceptable so long as the rockets failed to do major damage? Until, of course, the rocket hit something, killed someone.

Back in December, 2008, we launched a war to stop the rockets from terrorizing our citizens. Around the world, many understood our actions, but only after hearing that we'd had more than 10,000 rockets launched at our civilians. Even the Egyptians seemed to be saying to the Palestinians, "well, what did you expect them to do?"

The war ended on January 18, but the rockets did not. An average of one rocket per day has fallen in the last 224 days.

If it was your government allowing this?

What would you demand of them?

If it were your army, what would you have them do?

I don't want my son to have to go back to Gaza, but I also know that if he doesn't go back within the next 7 months...my next son will.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Happy Birthday, Gilad

In a few days, according to the English calendar, Gilad Shalit will turn 23. It's a bittersweet moment for his parents...Gilad is still held captive in Gaza. Hamas still refuses to allow the Red Cross to visit Gilad; still refuses to confirm Gilad's condition.

We know he was alive when he was taken. We know he was alive when he was taped in a brief message to his parents. We have heard his voice, but not seen him in three years. A few months ago, we tried to get Gilad to the top of Twitter trends in "honor" of the 3rd anniversary of his captivity.

Today, the Twitter world is doing it again - #GiladShalit - in honor of Gilad's birthday. Senator Ted Kennedy died today, something about a Snow Leopard is there too. I don't know what NT stands for, why people are tweeting about Channel 4 or Hey 40, but there is Gilad - already in second place.

Happy birthday, Gilad - may the next one find you home, healthy and safe with your family. May you know, wherever you are today, that we love you and think of you often. Our hearts break for you today, for your parents, Noam and Aviva, and for your sister, Hadas. You probably don't know this, but today, she enters the Israeli army to begin her service...the same service you have yet to end.

Happy birthday, Gilad - you are forever in our hearts.

A Soldier and a Wedding

I went to a wedding last night. It was beautiful, as hopefully all weddings should be. It was sweet; it was romantic; it was exciting, it was fun and touching on so many levels. There was great joy and honor given to the grandparents and young children playing and having fun.

The food was good, the music a bit loud. The bride was beautiful; the groom so handsome. I was close enough to the family to love watching them; distant enough to feel at times that I could watch from the outside. At one point, a soldier arrived. He was in uniform, M16 strapped to his back. He entered the wedding already in progress, the ceremony long over. His boots were dirty; he looked tired and I have little doubt he came straight from base to join his friends.

He stood for a moment and watched, almost as if he was gathering the strength to join in. Some of the boys noticed him and walked towards him, just as he began to walk towards the dance floor. There was pats on the back, hand shaking, hugging. He walked into the far corner of the hall, beyond my sight and returned a few minutes later without his gun. Clearly, he had found some place safe to stash it, or someone to watch it.

He joined the dancing and within minutes, was hugged by the groom. Whatever strength he was lacking before he began to dance returned. He was with his friends and as the group circled around, I realized that though he was the only one in uniform, these are all soldiers.

I looked at the bride's oldest brother - he was one of my middle son's best friends for years as they grew from childhood to the towering men they are becoming. He was dancing with his new brother-in-law, laughing and having fun, and I realized that although he isn't a soldier now, he will be in just 7 months - he, like Shmulik, will enter the army as Elie leaves.

I sat and watched the wedding, an insider and an outsider wrapped in one. At one point, the soldier left the dance floor with another young man; they moved to the side and began talking. I know enough of uniforms and boots and berets to know that he was a paratrooper; the three bars indicating that he's a sergeant.

I don't know how long he's been in the army, when he will get out, what base he came from, where he serves. I can't tell if he fought in Lebanon or in Gaza, if he has sisters and brothers. He is a nameless soldier, in the Israeli army, hated by many simply for wearing a green uniform; and loved by many others, perhaps for the same reason.

I don't know his name, where he lives, if his mother has a blog, if his father worries. But there was something in the way the soldier and his friend stood there and talked, something in the way their bodies were positioned, their heads leaning towards each other as they spoke. It is an intensity that I have seen in Elie when he talks to other soldiers.

I saw it when he stood on the side and spoke to his cousin, another soldier in artillery. I saw it when he stood with our friend's son, Oren, beside the Sea of Galilee. It's a feeling that I have, that they are "talking army."

They stood there to the side, the soldier and his friend at a wedding for about 15 minutes and then one slapped the other on the shoulder and they went back to dance and celebrate, the green uniform a whirl of color in a circle of past soldiers, current soldiers and future soldiers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blood Libel of the 21st Century

Sometimes, there is an anger that consumes. It burns from an outrage and an impotence that is so strong it threatens to cripple the soul and the tongue. You wonder how anyone could be so incredibly stupid as to believe the lies; you fight the desire to surrender in the face of such ignorance and absurdity.

And then, when you are nearing the height of your despair, you find the strength to rally one more time and beg the world to just think, just consider, just put two and two together and once, just once, actually come up with four and not some random number. There really are times when the absurd really is absurd, the lie really just another attempt to blur the truth. It really is that simple.

The first recorded case in which Jews were accused of sacrificing human victims appears in the writings of Apio in the 1st century. He was an ancient Greek, who claimed that Jews were sacrificing Greek victims in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Absurd then, absurd now - and yet, it was believed.

The next documented case appears more than a thousand years later when a 12-year old Christian boy named William was murdered and his mutilated body was found. According to one witness, he was last seen alive entering the house of a Jewish family and thus the entire Jewish community of Norwich was declared guilty.

Jews were accused of murdering and crucifying the boy. The only evidence came from a servant who claimed to have "with one eye only, caught sight through a crack in a door of a boy fastened to a post." This vision was seen as she was "bringing some hot water at her master's order." Absurd then, absurd now - and yet believed enough to justify murder, pillage, ruin.

The death of William stirred up pogroms and eventually led to the massacre of large numbers of Jews in Norwich and elsewhere, culminating in the expulsion of Jews from England for 400 years. I doubt William's blood was ever avenged, his real murderers brought to justice, but the child was given sainthood; the Jews falsely accused of his death received no justice either.

Blood libels against Jews became more common after William's death and stretched through the centuries. Despite great inventions and modernization, man's basic capacity to hate never really diminished. Even in the 20th century, in Russia and in post-World War II Poland, there were accusations that Jews murdered Christians in order to harvest their blood for some sacrilegious reason. Never mind what Jewish law prescribes, never mind the facts. It was a blood libel built on hatred and it has thrived among the ignorant and the so-called enlightened equally.

A more recent, high profile claim occurred in December 1984, when the Saudi Arabian delegate (President of the World Muslim Congress at the time) Dr. Ma'ruf al-Dawalibi, spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Commission Conference on Religious Tolerance (and isn't that a joke by itself?) . The "esteemd" gentleman from Saudi Arabia explained anti-Semitism through the centuries because, to quote "Dr." al-Dawalibi, "But why? Let them answer this question themselves. The Talmud says that any Jew who does not drink every year the blood of a non-Jew will be damned forever."

Of course, the Talmud doesn't say that and of course, al-Dawalibi couldn't prove that it does...but that isn't the point of a blood libel. The damage is done merely in the stating of the lie.

And so it continues...today...yes, that's right - 2009, Sweden.

Just a few days ago, a prominent Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet (which claims to be Sweden's largest newspaper with 1.5 million readers), perpetrated the latest blood libel. Aftronbladet publishing a story that claims the Israeli army kidnaps and kills Palestinians in order to harvest their organs. The Swedish story claims to be based on "Palestinian sources" and I would laugh if I weren't so outraged; I would surrender to despair if I wasn't so infuriated.

There is no evidence, no proof - in an article the paper later claimed was an "opinion" piece. Certainly, we can all agree it was not journalism.

I want to rage and call them idiots; I want to laugh at their incredible stupidity. But most of all is the sick feeling that settles deep inside as the government of Sweden responds. They refuse to condemn this blood libel - merely suggesting the newspaper was practicing "freedom of speech" which is, the Swedish are quick to remind us, important in their "democracy." This is, of course, the same Swedish government that shut down Internet servers of those who had published the Danish cartoons interpreted by some as anti-Muslim.

Interestingly enough, the Swedish government ignores the fact that we too have a democracy, but even here, there are things that are not allowed to be said, lies not permitted to be published. We do not allow Holocaust denial - that is a crime in other democracies as well because it is recognized that in denying truth and perpetrating lies, danger and hatred is promoted.

You cannot, according to US law, rise up and scream "Fire" in a crowded theater, and you cannot slander and libel the innocent without repercussions. What I want is for all of Israel's soldiers to sue the Swedish paper in a class action suit for libel.

What I want, is to believe this is an isolated incident of idiocy and yet I can't. According to Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, Die Telegraaf, Holland's largest newspaper, has just published an interview with a woman who claims that swine flue and other diseases are created by a Jewish conspiracy in order to kill large numbers of people. Absurd then, absurd now, and yet people believe.

And Radio Sweden is apparently as credible as Aftonbladet, airing a program that once again claims Israel killed Mohammed Al-Dura - the 11-year-old child in Gaza whose death was widely claimed to have been caused in the midst of a gunfight between Palestinian and Israelis. Of course, independent agencies, including German and other studies have proven this story false, but that won't stop Radio Sweden...and there again is the anger, bitter enough to taste. How stupid these people? How ignorant, how wrong.

And slowly comes the truth - they hate us. It is as simple and as clear as that. They don't like Jews in Sweden, do they? No, we aren't the "poor Palestinians", the underdogs, the supposed victims in their beautiful blue eyes. The truth is there for all to see - they are as filled with hatred as the people of Norwich in the late 12th century, as backwards, as ignorant.

Jewish law is very clear, I want to tell thes stupid people. Jews are not allowed to consume blood. Read the manual...it is there, so clear. That same IDF now accused of such atrocities, has traveled the world to save others time and time again. We were among the first to reach earthquake victims in Turkey, tsunami victims in Indonesia. We dug in the rubble of Kenya to pull out victims when Islamic terrorists collapsed buildings.

Israeli soldiers do not murder people for their organs, you stupid, stupid Swedes. And the greatest shame, beyond the printing of the article, is that 1.5 million subscribers of the newspaper didn't go to the offices of Aftonbladet and dump the paper on the curb outside their offices.

If today, Aftonbladet still has 1.5 million people buying their newspaper, all of Sweden should be ashamed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Flat of the Roller Coaster

It seems silly, now that I think about it, but aside from the time that Elie was near Gaza during the war, the single most terrifying thing that has happened was the time when our house phone rang in the middle of the night. It happened twice in a row and I asked my husband to see if the caller ID identified the number.

He told me that it did, and the number calling us was Elie...but Elie didn't talk as we listened, didn't respond when we spoke. We hung up the phone and I started dialing his number, but he didn't answer; I sent him a text message and tried again. In the minutes before he answered, my mind raced through horrifying possibilities - he's laying somewhere hurt and he can't talk; a war has started...my husband thought of the possibility of his having been kidnapped. (Night Terrors)

Trying to comfort me, my husband suggested that Elie had fallen asleep. And as his phone rang again, Elie finally answered. His voice was groggy; it was, as my husband suggested, an accidental call as Elie rolled over on his phone. It had been about two months since Israel launched a mission to bomb a building site in Syria - one that later was reported (by the UN and others) to contain nuclear radiation traces. Elie was up north that night; close to the Syrian border.

Later, the world would accept the Syrians were up to no good and Israel had stopped something very sinister. But that night (Just When You Thought It Was Safe), Elie was ordered to the fields with the troops. Their weapons aimed at Syria, ready to fire.

They fully expected Syrian planes to attack; knew there was the chance that war was coming towards them. I was at home, asleep, oblivious, as much of Israel was. After a few hours, Elie and about half the soldiers were told to stand down and get some rest while the second half stayed alert. Not knowing what would happen or if he'd have a chance to call us later to tell us that undoubtedly, plans had changed and he wouldn't make the 6:00 a.m. bus, he called me at 4:00 a.m.

I woke out of a sound sleep, to hear Elie tell me that he wouldn't make the bus. I knew something was wrong, but it was a brief conversation. He couldn't tell me what happened, only that he wouldn't be on the bus and that it was a country-wide alert.

Only about 12 hours later did the news begin to break that there had been an incident up north, where my son was. All I got from Elie was the strange acknowledgment that it wasn't what I was hearing on the news, not exactly. It took him another week or so before he was able to get home; nights of worry and the memory of knowing something had happened, but not knowing what.

I thought of all of this and those two night-time calls because last night at 4:43 a.m., my husband's cell phone rang and woke us up. He answered, but no one was there.

"Who was it?" I asked, knowing that no one had answered.

"Elie," he answered and went back to sleep.

I stayed there for a few minutes wondering what to do; call him and risk waking him...or worse, interrupting him while he's on patrol. What was missing this time was the terror. My mind didn't travel that panicked road of imagination; I didn't think of him hurt or worse.

I don't know what this means - perhaps that I've grown to accept things more, that I'm more able to wait for horrible news and don't need to anticipate it. I don't know. I thought for a few minutes, decided not to call him, and went back to sleep. In the morning, time was short so I rushed to work, taught, had meetings, and finally had time to call Elie on my way home.

"Allo," he answered.

"Hi, Elie - are you busy?"

"Nope," he answered.

"Everything okay?" I asked.

"Yup," he answered. It was one of those conversations...

"So, what were you doing at 4:43 in the morning?"

"Why?" he asked a bit suspiciously.

"Where you asleep?"

"No," he answered. "Why?"

"Because you called Abba," I told him.

"Oh, oops," he said.

I don't know what he was doing, what patrol he was on, but I know that he's safe; I know he's fine. I know he'll probably be out again tonight. Already as I closed the phone they were calling for him.

But what was perhaps the most satisfying of all, was that I seem to have reached a plateau. My son has gone on operations in Arab villages, found guns and explosives. My son has been to war; been called upon to defend his nation and in so doing, kill our enemy so that they would stop attacking us. My son, my soldier, my Elie.

It isn't complacency - it isn't that I am not afraid...it's just that I guess I have come to realize the call I fear the most, isn't Elie calling me in the middle of the night. I can handle his accidentally dialing our numbers any time, any place, any moment. I've heard explosions while I spoke to him - that was scary. I have had nights were I couldn't reach him but knew he was out there amid the rockets and fighting - that was terrifying.

Now, I am...calmer and I recognize in myself the mother I have seen in others. I'll tell this to another soldier's mother and she will laugh; I'll write this to a soldier's father and he'll understand. Others said I had joined their ranks long ago when Elie entered the army, but I didn't feel it for myself. I wasn't there.

They sent their sons to war and managed to function, while I held back and worried. They face each day with bravery and humor, while I hang back and worried. And sometime in the middle of the night, as I decided not to call Elie, I realized that the picture I had painted was all wrong.
They are not nearly as brave or unconcerned as I had imagined; they too walk around with a piece of themselves missing and separate. And I am not nearly as paralyzed as I once thought. I have arrived - after two years, into a family of soldiers' parents.

Perhaps I shouldn't write this next part, but I will anyway. There is a law for Murphy and a corollary. There is a truth that falls with time and happenstance. And so I will admit that the calm is fake. Rather, I am once again on the flat area of the roller coaster and allowing myself to believe I can coast to the end of the ride. I don't know what lies ahead - more uphill travels or sudden falls but the flat place is calm and settling and for now, and somewhere around 4:43 in the morning last night, I decided that I'll enjoy the ride.

#Tweet4Shalit Campaign - August 26th

A few months ago, on the anniversary of Gilad's 3rd year of captivity, I and some other "tweeple" began a campaign to get Gilad Shalit to the top of trend tracking. Our goal was to make more people aware of Gilad, the unfair and illegal conditions under which he is held and, ultimately, to do whatever we could to get Gilad home.

A new campaign, started by the Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF), has been launched and scheduled to run on August 26th, just two days before Gilad's 23rd birthday. Here's what JIDF writes about their upcoming campaign:

The goal is simple: We want to raise awareness.

Gilad Shalit was only 19 when he was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. Since then, the Red Cross has considered the manner of his captivity a violation of international law. Hamas terrorists have denied the Red Cross access to Gilad, a violation of the Third Geneva Convention. Human Rights Watch has described Hamas' detention of Gilad as cruel and tortuous, especially the way Hamas have disallowed Gilad regular communication with his family.

If enough people sign into Twitter and use the #GiladShalit hashtag for all their Tweets on August 26th, his name will become a trending topic on Twitter, and millions of people who are not aware of Gilad's daily struggle as a victim of Islamic terrorism -- due to the mainstream media's neglect of this issue -- will learn of his plight, two days before his birthday.

We hope you'll all join in to help Gilad on his 23rd birthday. As a soldier's mother, my heart breaks to think of any mother unable to see her son, talk to her son, and to know his condition. Hamas has used emotional torture for three years now. It's time to bring Gilad home now. Please join this effort on August 26th.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Between the Lines

A news report can tell you what happened, where it happened, and sometimes even the results. But there is always more, just beyond what you read. It's the "after" that we often never know, the "who" we may never meet.

You may hear about a rocket attack that injured a child. You'll hear that he lost one leg, that he loved to play soccer, that moments before the rocket hit, he promised his mother he would come home straight after school. His teacher will tell you he is a special and gifted child; you'll see his mother crying and asking how this could be allowed to happen. And then nothing.

The news moves on and so we move with the news. The boy who was 8-years-old is now 10, he's been fitted with a fake leg and tries to play soccer with his friends. In the two years since it happened, we don't know about the operations he has had, the struggle he has made to walk again.

It's the same with all things. You may hear about a soldier who was injured but the news moves on and so we don't follow through the years of rehabilitation. The operations to rebuild, to cover, to fix, to get him back to whatever his "normal" life will become.

A woman was lightly wounded on her head Tuesday evening when a car she was traveling in was hit by rocks thrown by Arabs near Karnei Shomron in Samaria.
Here's another example. Undoubtedly, the owner of this car will now spend hours running around to get their car fixed, the woman won't quickly forget the horrible sensation that comes with the understanding that she is being attacked. None of this will we know because the news outlets are done. She's had her 15 minutes of fame, they will say.

One more example, more than a year ago, an Arab took his tractor and used it as a terrorist weapon. He rammed it into cars, buses, people. Near the end of the attack, seconds before he was finally eliminated by a brave passerby, the Arab rammed into a Mazda 5. The family in the Mazda 5 was miraculously saved, though the Mazda was seriously damaged.

What wasn't reported, was the family's struggle with the insurance company and government funding after the attack. The emotional traumas that remained long after the street had been cleaned, the smashed bus removed. The news moved on, and we moved on with it.

So what that means, for those of us who want to understand, is that we must read between the lines. Years ago, I listened to a Russian Jew, newly released from the Soviet Union, who talked about how he knew, always what was happening around the world. We asked how this was possible when we understood that the Soviets blocked international reports.

"It's easy," he replied. "I read between the lines. Sometimes, I even read the paper upside down," he'd said with a smile. I thought about these and other things when I saw a small news article today. No, there was no rocket, no child injured - at least not so far today.

But many of us in Israel have become experts at reading between the lines. There's a traffic jam in the central part of Israel, says the news. This means the security forces have intelligence reports suggesting that a terrorist is trying to get into our cities and the police and army are fighting to find them before they do.

Today, I saw this on Israel National News:
Arabs hurled rocks at an Israeli-licensed car near Karnei Shomron and Azzun in Shomron Tuesday. Two people were very lightly hurt by flying glass and did not require medical care or evacuation.The IDF is combing the area.
There's the name of that village again, Azzun. And "The IDF is combing the area." And from this, I read between the lines - Elie and his forces are driving through the back roads searching. They are in their new jeeps, the ones that are replacing the old Humvees, and they are looking.

It's very possible, of course, that it isn't Elie. There are other forces in the area. But, you see, to me, "the IDF" now means Elie. My son is combing the area, looking for Arabs who were hurling rocks at Israeli cars. Two people were injured, just as last week another woman was seriously injured. Today, two were lucky, they "did not require medical care." Last week, Fanya bat Asya wasn't so lucky. She's in a medically induced coma while doctors try to ascertain the extent of her head injuries. But that isn't on the news.

Fanya may need months of rehabilitation; the two who were lightly hurt today will go home and some time soon, they will realize how much worse it could have been. They will contact their insurance company, which will contact the government. Assessors will come out and look at the car and determine the damage. Money will be exchanged, the car repaired.

Cuts and abrasions will heal; fear will diminish. Or perhaps, each time they pass the same spot on the road, they will remember the sound of rocks hitting their car, a window smashing and glass flying all over. They will feel the sting but when they look, their arms will be whole and the sensation will pass around the next bend...until the next time they travel that same area. We will never know their struggles; their time in the news has passed.

With God's healing grace, hopefully Fanya will be allowed to awaken and the doctors will be relieved that her brain didn't swell or sustain permanent damage after being hit by a rock and shattered glass. And as with the others, we may never know, because the media is covering new stories.

I'll call Elie later to see how he is; perhaps he will mention that he was out searching, or perhaps it wasn't his shift. I find, as the months pass, that I am less likely to ask Elie what he's doing - rather leaving him to tell me. It isn't that I am less interested, but more that I am beginning to realize there is a world of things he is doing that I don't know about, and may never know. And right now, I'm not sure I could handle knowing without even more of my heart and mind being diverted to worrying about him. Now, he is a slow burn deep in my mind; a worry that niggles at my heart. Never out completely; rarely, except when he was near Gaza, all consuming.

Sometimes, in a passing comment, he'll describe fancy homes in Kalkilya and fast cars driven by the Arabs. He laughs when he thinks about how the world has been duped into thinking of the "poor" Palestinians, including the ones driving the fancy black BMW, the high walls that surround some of the houses and modern security-coded systems that guard them.

And I begin to read between the lines.

When Elie first went into the army, his commanding officer came to our home to tell us what Elie would be doing for the next three years of his life (The Uniform and the Visit). Ohr specifically told us that outside of war and training, artillery units hold the line outside Arab villages when units go in for various operations. Wasn't I lucky? I thought to myself. Blessed that I didn't have that to worry about Elie actually going INTO the village to search, to find, to arrest, to confront.

But it isn't true. Elie says Ohr didn't lie, but rather the army shifted its practice. Whatever the truth is, the bottom line is that Elie, like most combat soldiers, is sometimes called to search for weapons and explosives within Arab villages and Arabs have been known to booby-trap houses, attack Israel forces with rocks, firebombs and guns.

When Elie talks about what he has seen inside Arab villages, it doesn't take much to realize what he was doing there and the possible dangers he faces. Like today's news items, often there is a world of knowledge between the lines we read...and the hardest thing for a soldier's mother is that it is what is between those lines that challenges our sons, endangers them, and long after the news has moved on, that "between" is the real world in which our sons and daughters find themselves every day - even when the news doesn't report anything.

May Elie and all our soldiers live safely between the lines and be blessed with success in their missions.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Unconditional Beliefs and the Virtue of the IDF

Sometimes all it takes to make a post is a comment - so here's one. SK writes:
What I find so cringe-inducing in this blog is your unconditional belief in the virtue of your son serving in the IDF. There are things worth dying for, but I posit that maintaining the status quo in Israel is not one of them. I would take no pride in having a son of mine be a pawn in a political game.
Cringe-inducing? I have to remember that one, but let's move on to the main points:

1. I don't know that I like the phrase "unconditional belief in the virtue" of my son "serving in the IDF." To be honest, I'm not sure I even have unconditional belief in the virtue of my son, though I will deny I wrote that, suggest some horrible mother hijacked my blog and anyway, it was a mistake. I have unconditional belief in God and in the virtue of His actions, decrees, rules and promises. I believe, with complete faith, in the coming of the Messiah...hey, someone should make that into a song! I also believe, with complete faith, that God rules this planet, all who inhabit it, all that happens here, and all that will happen. I also believe that we are all God's children - Arab, Jew, and Christian...no matter what order Obama uses. And finally, I do believe, long ago, that God took a special liking to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob. And, for that matter, to Moses as well. I believe He promised to them and to their descendents, a beautiful, holy land and that our living here is the embodiment of that promise, the fulfillment not only of our dream, but of God's plan.

To live here, we must be honest with ourselves and with our neighbors. Honestly, they don't like us living here. They really want us to leave, preferably by way of the sea, and without boats or ships or submarines. Certainly, were we to agree and ask to use planes, I am relatively sure they would provide them...with enough fuel to get us to the middle of the ocean. So, given the realities of the Middle East, I believe unconditionally, that we need an army, a strong one. The IDF serves as a deterrent more than any other role.

Today, war did not break out in the Middle East - that was because of the IDF and only because of the IDF. Yesterday, there was no war, and hopefully tomorrow there will be no war - these too I will credit to the IDF. And so yes, I believe unconditionally, that our sons must serve, all our sons, in some way or another. I believe they should serve in the army, but if they can't - they should serve some other way. That might be as ambulance drivers, even as street cleaners - it doesn't really matter to me. The streets need to be clean, light bulbs need to be changed, children need to be safely crossed across major intersections - do any of these things, but serve your people.

So you know what, you are right in the end, I do have the "unconditional belief in the virtue of your son serving in the IDF." That doesn't mean I will agree with everything the IDF does, or everything my son will do in the IDF, but the virtue of the service he gives, yes, unconditionally, completely, irrevocably. So, let's not quibble because I believe your main points are ahead.

2. You wrote, "There are things worth dying for, but I posit that maintaining the status quo in Israel is not one of them." Now, this is a particularly sensitive phrase "worth dying for" and I'm glad you agree that there are things worth dying for...the only thing is, we Jews focus less on dying and more on living. There are so many things worth living for, that sometimes, in order to have that life, others risk their lives and sometimes die. For those who believe in freedom, democracy, justice, there are more positive things in life than negative; more to live for than to die for. But, since we agree that there are "things" (though it is likely we disagree on what those things are), let's move on to the main point of your words. And here it comes, "I posit that maintaining the status quo in Israel is not one of them."

Well, I guess that about says it all. Our army isn't fighting, Elie isn't serving - to "maintain the status quo in Israel." Sixty-one years into our re-existence here in Israel, we are still fighting for the basic right to be here without being terrorized, attacked, bombed, pummeled with rockets and stones and firebombs. You've posit-ed, so allow me.

I posit that were it not for Israel, we Jews would likely be facing another Holocaust any day now. Hell, we're facing one even with Israel, if you take Iran's threat to "wipe Israel off the face of the map."

I posit that what our army is doing is preventing wars more than anything else. Maybe I'm misunderstanding - perhaps you are suggesting that the Israeli army should be fighting an all-out war of aggression; that we should reconquer Sinai, areas of Syria and Lebanon and march towards Amman. Is that what you mean by canceling the status quo? Somehow, I doubt it. Our critics usually blame us for defending ourselves, for not falling in weakness before our enemies.

The bottom line is that the IDF answers to our government, which, unfortunately, answers to much of the world and so what we do is hold the line, defend what is ours, and wait until the Arabs push so far that we have no choice but to respond. We push back...and as soon as the world sees that we have regained the upper hand, we hear cries of "massacres" and the "poor Palestinians" and all sorts of claims which soon prove to be false, but by then, Israel has already reigned in its army, having taught the Palestinians yet another lesson.

So, today, there were no rockets, and perhaps tomorrow we will be as lucky. Last week, we were hit by mortars and rockets, but thankfully, no one was killed. Is that the status quo you object to? If so, I agree - I don't believe it is right that any nation should suffer rocket attacks without having the right to respond.

And finally, your last point.

3. You wrote, "I would take no pride in having a son of mine be a pawn in a political game." I can agree with you there. I too would take no pride in having my son forced to be a pawn in a political game. So let me assure you, Elie is not playing any political games and he is certainly no pawn. After more than two years in the army, he's risen enough to be considered...well, perhaps not a player, but certainly not a pawn. One of the things I love about the IDF is that the soldiers cease being pawns about three months after they enter the army.

For three months, they are pawns (though not in any political game). They are commanded to do pretty much everything except go to the bathroom...and I'm not even sure about that. They are commanded to drink, to sleep, to dress, to walk, to run, to eat. And then, three months after they enter the army, having been taught what it is to be a soldier, they are taught more. They are taught responsibility and morality, if they didn't already know it.

As happened to Elie, his commanding officer stood before his now-trained recruits and introduced himself for the first time. "My name is Or, and I live in Netanya." What Or was really saying was that you are no longer a pawn, no longer someone I will order around without regard to who you are. Tell me your name and use my name and together, we will do what we must. That is the army of Israel.

If a commanding officer orders you to do something you believe to be immoral, something that goes against the laws and rules that you have been taught is proper for a soldier, you must not follow that order. That's why Israel punishes its soldiers who violate the law. There was a soldier who stole from a Palestinian family during the Gaza War. That soldier has returned what he stole and is sitting in a military jail - can you imagine? He was at war...but Israeli soldiers don't behave that way.

So they sweep the houses they temporarily occupy, roll up rugs, avoid damaging what doesn't have to be damaged. They have been known to clean the houses - in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Jenin...before they leave - no, I'm not kidding you. Doesn't that sound absurd and amazing? But it's true. They do it because they understand that circumstances have forced them to seek shelter in the midst of a war, but those circumstances haven't turned them into animals.

In the north, there is a kibbutz that has beautiful fields - and each time Syria or Lebanon goes to war against Israel (or yes, if Israel goes to war against Syria or Lebanon), this poor kibbutz gets its fields destroyed by tanks and armored personnel carriers. So first, the army compensates the farmers for destroyed fields - and it does something else.

The army sends its soldiers for recreational breaks on a regular basis - little things that help them cope, be strong, unit as a team. They go to PaintBall, as Elie has gone twice; and they go kayaking, as Elie's unit has done as well. And of all the possible places they go, they go to this kibbutz, whose people run a kayaking business. The army uses this kibbutz to repay them again for having to obliterate their fields in times of war.

And here's another. There are many farmers up in the Golan Heights - and many ranchers who raise cows to provide for Israel's milk and dairy requirements. Cows need space and they roam. The army needs training space and every once in a while, the cows roam into their firing ranges. The army will cancel training if the cows come into the field. The army will call the ranchers, who come right away. The soldiers know that if they have to open a gate to drive tanks through, they have to stop and close the gates so the cows don't get out. This is the virtue of the IDF.

And, there are times, when the army ends up killing a cow - not on purpose, but it happens...and the army pays the rancher for the cow. This too is the virtue of the IDF. So, going back to your first point - no, I don't have to believe unconditionally in the virtue of the IDF or my son's serving in this army because each day the army proves itself in its actions to our own people, our neighbors and enemies, and even to the cows.

I take tremendous pride in our army - not all the time, not for all that it does, but for the fundamentals of our survival, for how it has treated my son, helped mature him into the man he has become and likely for the man he will yet be.

No government is perfect, no land, no army. No son is perfect, no implementation of plans or law. We are not God, nor, I think, do we aspire to be. But I will put the actions of the IDF and its soldiers against EVERY army in the Middle East, against all our neighbors and even those beyond their borders.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Camping and Kayaking

Almost every summer since coming to Israel, we've tried to take the kids on vacation for at least a few days to the northern edges of Israel. We do this because it is an incredibly beautiful area - mountains and valleys and waterfalls and history meet. The air is a bit cooler, the views greener, the stress and pressures of life less felt.

One year, we rented an apartment on a kibbutz right near the border with Lebanon. Elie was quite young, our two youngest children hadn't even been born. The second night of our stay, there was a katyusha attack from Lebanon. We were close enough to hear two explosions - only later understanding that we'd actually heard the exit and entrance sounds (the noise the missile makes when it is launched; and the noise it makes when it crashes and explodes).

We were faced with a decision - stay or go; run or remain. Most of the visitors left - once we'd made the decision, we found that we had whole vacation areas to ourselves. We choose to remain up north and amazingly enough were treated like heroes simply because we stayed. Two things went into our decision. The first was a message to local residents that the army was confident there would be no further attacks and that they believed it was a "tit for tat" response from Hezbollah rather than a major escalation. We were encouraged to remain and continue our vacation - and we agreed.

The second factor was something Elie said. He was young and afraid. We had been barbecuing outside when we heard the explosions. I remember turning to my husband and saying, "that was a katyusha." I can't tell you how I knew; I'd never heard that sound before - but it wasn't a tire exploding from the heat, it wasn't a sound you hear every day. It was...it was a missile being launched and slamming into my land, my home. Where did it land? Was anyone hurt? Would there be others? What should we do? Where should we take our children?

So many thoughts, so many worries. The owner of the rented apartment came out quickly and told us to come into his house. He has a room - more of a hallway really, that is in the center of his house, protected, with no windows. We gathered there with the children, pulled in mattresses so they could rest, and brought dinner into that small area.

We decided to spend the night there, as the army suggested, and as we were all camping out in the hallway of this stranger's home, sort of an adventure, if you think about it, when Elie said he was scared and wanted to go home.

Sometimes in life, clarity comes in a flash, a sudden moment when you see and really can understand the results of a decision you are about to make. Such was that moment when I heard my son tell me he wanted to go home. We sat with him and explained that this was our home - here up north where we were on vacation, every city in this land, every house, every inch, and yes where our house was too.

If we ran from here, we told Elie, we were telling the Arabs that we surrender the north, and then the south, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Arabs would simply come closer and continue to shoot. There are times when you don't run, times when you have to make a stand. Israel is a country where the Jews have chosen to make our stand, here in our ancient homeland. We have gathered here from all over the world because it is ours and has always been ours. There have been Jews here throughout the millennia; never was there a time when our people were completely exiled, and yet only now do we have our homeland back.

No, Elie, we cannot run, we told him...and we didn't. We stayed up north and helped him (and ourselves) defeat the fear. We would not be frightened away, not then, not now. I believe with all my heart, that the message we gave Elie then remains with him.

Since that summer, we have returned almost every year to some place in the north. We were never again caught in a katyusha attack, though Elie has since heard many more explosions - both those he has caused, and those that have been lobbed in his direction.

Last summer, Elie couldn't get time off from the army, and so we took our children up north, there to spend a lovely week or so in and around Safed, the magical, mystical city perched high on the mountains overlooking much of the Galilee. It was a strange vacation for me - filled with wonderful hikes and meals and time with the children and yet there was a hole, a missing factor - we'd gone without Elie.

This time, my oldest daughter and her husband couldn't come and so again there was a missing element, a sadness amidst the fun. And somewhere in the reality of this vacation is the understanding that next year too, our vacation will not be complete because there is a good chance that Shmulik, our next son, will be in the army and unable to join us.

We also went for a shorter period of time, just two days. We slept over in camping grounds in the Golan, and were treated to a meteor shower watched from mattresses on the ground. This was wonderful because my kids reminded me that years before I had them lug out mattresses to a balcony to watch another meteor shower and it was nice to see that there was a memory there for them. We did the same, pulling out mattresses and pillows and blankets and laying down to watch the skies for a while.

Another difference in this trip was that I wasn't the chief navigator. For the most part, I am the one who knows the roads in Israel. It's a combination of how much I have driven combined with the blessing of a decent memory.

This time, having spent so much time in the Golan in training or whatever, Elie knew the roads and was quickly able to guide us to the camping grounds, the kayaking place, and more without maps. It was Elie who pointed out each base, saying who it belongs to, what division, and more; Elie who showed me sides of the Golan I hadn't known.

When we went kayaking, we had to divide up into groups. Elie went with his middle brother, who will be going into the army just as Elie comes out. They are two strong young men, easily able to maneuver themselves and the kayak more easily than the rest of us. It was wonderful to watch them - free from having to deal with younger siblings, have fun, paddle together, laugh.

My husband and I went with our two younger children in a "family" unit. To make life more interesting, at times, Elie and Shmulik moved ahead of us; at other times, they hung back and then came barreling past only to wait for us again further downstream.

It is almost unbearably hot in Israel in August and so Israelis flock to the few water paths we have. The Jordan River path we were on meandered for some distance, the full distance taking us more than 3 hours to traverse. Some rapids, some slow areas, even a man-made water fall. Lots of sun, cool water, shaded areas, trees, no traffic sounds, tons of people, but all having fun. Barbecue smells, and more. Suddenly, in the middle of the river, a man grabbed our boat from behind. Even before I had turned, I heard someone call my name and the man said, "She doesn't recognize me."

"Oren!!!" I called out - happy to see him, surprised, happy. Oren was about 11 when I first met him. Today, he's 23 years old. Then he was an awkward boy, stumbling through adolescence; now he is tall, strong. He was in the same age group as my oldest daughter when the families became friends. They were our next door neighbors, constant companions for their first year in our neighborhood. His mother rocked my babies; I rocked hers. We have vacationed together in the past, barbecued together, worried together. It was his mother who called to tell me about Elie's friend being seriously injured in a car accident (How Do You Tell Him?).

Their whole family was up north for the day and we made plans to meet them later on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Hours later, we did in fact meet them, as the sun was setting and the day drawing to a close.

Elie is 22-years-old and has been in one war. Oren is two years older than Elie, and has been in two wars. He left the army after his three years, but a few months later, found that he couldn't quite adjust back to normal civilian life and decided to go back into the army and is now attending an officer's course. He's a trained sniper, extremely accurate, deadly...this little boy I watched play in my yard and tease my younger children.

He lost several soldiers from his unit, friends and comrades who were killed in Lebanon and after. A close friend of his died in his arms during his first experience with war. I've never spoken to him of this, never told him that his mother told me, that I worried about him, prayed for him. He doesn't know that we know of this side of his life. We are simply family friends, together again for a holiday break of water and splashing and summer smells.

At one point I looked over, Oren and Elie were standing and talking - they looked so serious there, framed by the background and the setting sun - separate, alone and together. They share a bond that goes as deep as brotherhood - they are brothers in an army where all become brothers, all speak the same language and understand the primary instincts of survival and defense that are a part of our country.

Both fought in Gaza; both have been on the Lebanese border, though Oren has been deep in Lebanon, know the terrain there and beyond. Two years and a war separate them, but that falls away compared to what unites them.

The circles in life always amaze me - what chance was there that these people would choose that small area of a river to make their picnic, that they would see our boat and realize it was ours - of the hundreds of people passing in kayaks that day. What chance that Elie's commanding officer served with Oren in Lebanon as the artillery point person to Oren's invading ground forces.

The Second Lebanon War is viewed by many (probably even most) as a defeat for Israel. We didn't get back the soldiers who were kidnapped and though the rockets and missiles that hit our cities and communities were stopped, over a million people were forced from their homes, over one hundred were killed, hundreds more wounded, property damage in the billions of dollars. Those soldiers that were kidnapped - Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - only came home two years later, in coffins, as part of a humiliating exchange. Oren came back from the war whole and safe, and yet so much more mature, so much more serious.

It was fun to see him having fun, see him laugh, smile. It was yet another of those moments in my life - seeing Oren who has finished his army service and has chosen to give more; Elie who has served more than two years and is beginning to look at what will be after, and Shmulik, who is beginning to realize the army comes closer every day.

What chance...and yet this is so much what Israel is like. As the sun lowered, I watched as these two men stood on the beach and talked of this world they know. It was yet another of those moments that told me that long ago, I had done the right thing by taking Elie on the plane ride that changed his life, that gave him a country, a language, and more brothers than I could ever count.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Open Fields and Mother's Nightmares

During the Gaza War, as I was going about my day with the radio tuned and the phone mere inches from my hands, I would stop each time a rocket came in. The radio developed a new system. As the radio discussions continued, a voice came over and told people in Beersheva or Ashkelon or Sderot to go into bomb shelters. You could hear the regular announcer in the background. It was surreal, it was frightening, it was the reality of being a nation at war.

In each place, the people knew already how long they had to get there. 15 seconds in Sderot, 30 seconds in Ashkelon. Those seconds go amazingly quickly when you are hurrying into this tiny protected space. You feel safe when they close the door to the shelter, but a closed-in feeling sets in as well. Before you have the chance to think, it's over. Something has hit, or not; damage or injury has occurred, or not.

So during the war, I would listen constantly to the radio. I felt it was wrong to continue my work day as if part of my country was not being attacked. I felt the same way during the Second Lebanon War. How could I drive without fear, walk the streets, allow my children to play outside in the sunshine while rockets were raining down? The least I could do, I reasoned to myself, was at least acknowledge those seconds of fear, live them with the people in the attacked areas, and learn, when they learned, if we had been spared in yet another miracle.

At some point, as I heard the radio announce that missiles had landed in "open spaces," it suddenly occurred to me that my son was in one of those "open spaces." Gone was my sense of security. Suddenly, with thousands of soldiers filling empty fields as staging grounds for the ground war, there was no place a missile could land. Or, more accurately, no way I could know within seconds whether the rocket had injured people, soldiers, my son.

It is no secret to the Palestinians where our forces, our artillery, were based during the war. They could be seen from Gaza, heard, and located and, since they aren't there anymore, I feel safe in saying that for much of the war, Elie was located in an open field "near" Kibbutz Alumin.

This morning, a kassem rocket was shot from Gaza towards Israel.

A single Kassam rocket exploded near Kibbutz Alumim, in the Sdot Negev Regional Council area. No one was injured and there were no reports of damage.

No one was injured. No reports of damage. With gratitude that it didn't hit a city, children playing and enjoying their summer vacation, I am left with a memory of visiting the area and marveling at how open it was, how beautiful, how unprotected.

Elie isn't there anymore; no soldiers fill the empty fields and the farmers have returned to cultivating acres and acres of fields. But Israel went into Gaza half a year ago because Hamas continued to fire rockets at our cities. For some reason, the Israeli government found that it could tolerate a rocket or two, here or there. A major hit would be required before the government felt it could justify military action. A major hit or a major increase in the daily number of attacks.

In late December, Hamas complied and starting firing dozens of rockets into Israel and the government finally allowed the army to do what armies have been charged to do for thousands of years - defend its land and its people. This morning, a lone rocket hit an open field in Israel. I doubt the government will respond; I doubt the United Nations will condemn.

So Israel waits until some mother's nightmare comes true - until there is a major hit or a major escalation. Until then, apparently the army waits as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When Does Manhood Come to the Boy?

I love comments from readers. I even sometimes add a "comments on comments" post to my blogs because I want to respond to them. In general, comments fall into two categories - those that support, and those that attack. Rarely, does a comment actually fall into both categories, though this next one does:

A 22 year old is not a "boy." he is a man who at 19 was doing a man's job. Three years later and you don't understand a soldier's life and purpose? All this hand wringing, emotionalism and sentimentality is just what our enemy wants to see. why they keep dangling the prospect of returning a probably already dead son to his parents for outrageous concessions. This outrageous display of "poor me, poor us" is just what they hope for. If this is Jewish values, then Jews don't deserve an IDF nor do they deserve to be free from tyranny. Stand strong, rely on Hashem for comfort and stop feeding the enemy so they can become engorged on our shame.

So, let me explain. First - this blog is called, "A Soldier's Mother" - and that's what it is about. It shares, primarily with other mothers and fathers, what it is like to have a son enter the army, even go to war. I understand a soldier's life and a soldier's purpose. I also understand, first hand, a mother's worry. If I were to write to Hamas, I would talk of the strength of our soldiers, their determination, their power and their motivation. I would tell them that they might as well pack it in now because they will never defeat such an amazing group of soldiers. No where do I suggest Israel exchange countless terrorists and security prisoners for Gilad Shalit - dead or alive. My complaints are not even for the Israeli government.

Rather, I question why the Red Cross manages to provide all sorts of humanitarian aid to people all over the world and yet in three years, hasn't managed to see one young man. I want to know why UNRWA is allowed to continue operating while Hamas is allowed to violate the very international laws that govern the organization sponsoring UNRWA. Beyond that, I disagree from a mother's heart. A 22-year-old, even more so a 19-year-old may be a man in the eyes of other men, in the eyes of the army, the government, his friends, and even the world. But to a mother, he will always be her child, even at 50.

When I sent Elie into the army at 19, he was not a man. Today, at 22, I believe that he is, though I think these are labels that are largely meaningless. I have watched my son mature in the last few years, take responsibilities, take command - by virtue of his training, his personality, his strength of character, and by virtue of the authority the army has given to him. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that Elie is richer for the experience of being in the army. Having said that, the blog, when read from its start 2 years ago, shows not only the transition in Elie, but also my own transformation.

Yes, at the start I was scared, terrified and worried. I was also proud, determined, hopeful and so much more. Those first days and weeks were about learning and adjusting. Within a few months, I'd settled down with a better understanding of how the army works. Then, as happens regularly, the army shifted ground, rotated responsibiltiies, and I had to learn a whole new way.

Again, after a bit of time, I adjusted, I learned and watched my son being formed into the commander, into the man you say he is. Then, I watched the army take my little boy and send him to war. And yes, he was my little boy (see What I Want...and What I'll Do). And I wrote to myself rather than to my readers. It was once again my sanity versus making my son crazy.

I wrote that I wanted my little boy home and I didn't want him to play with big things that go boom and yes, it was my weakness but more, it was the mother in me. The Jew in me, the Israeli in me, and yes, even the mother in me answered right away, that despite wanting to bring him home...

What I'll do is answer the phone if Elie calls and I'll talk to him calmly. I'll listen if he tells me he's staying where he is. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him up north. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him down south near Gaza. I'll listen, I'll tell him to be careful, and call me when he can. I won't for a single moment, tell him that I'm scared, that I have no real experience with this war thing and that I don't really want him to have any experience with it either. What I'll do is continue to listen to the news and pray for our civilians who are under attack, and our soldiers who are risking their lives to defend them.

And most of all, what I will do is dig deep inside where I store my faith in God and in my country and my people. I will do what every Israeli is doing today, hoping this will end soon, but not too soon that we only succeed in putting off to tomorrow what should have been dealt with today. I will do all of this because we are what we have always been, a nation with no choice but to deal with what our enemies choose.

For those first few days, I couldn't even reach him so, yes, I whined and worried and perhaps the Arabs could see this as a sign of weakness, but honestly, as my son was pounding out artillery shells against key targets in Gaza, I can't imagine the Arabs there were thinking the IDF was weak. There is no shame in praying and there is no shame in having fear. The shame would come if we allowed ourselves to be paralyzed by that fear; if, because of that fear, we didn't act as God requires us, as our nation needs from us.

A 22-year-old is not a boy when he is standing with a rifle or shooting artillery, flying our skies, fighting our enemies in tanks and boats. But maybe, maybe at 22, all alone in Gaza for more than three years, and most especially if Hamas has killed him already - let the world think of Gilad as a boy. He was taken at age 19 - just a few months into the army. He hasn't gone through the training that Elie has received, hasn't commanded men. No, for all that he's 10 months older than Elie, I can't imagine Gilad as a man.

Anyway, I believe we come from the same ideological base, you and I. For all that you didn't sign the comment, I imagine that you are not a soldier's mother - I'm not even sure if you are a soldier's father. It could well be that you were a soldier, or perhaps not. So let me explain that my blog is called "A Soldier's Mother" because what it does is open to others what I believe many soldiers' mothers feel.

Deep in our hearts, as I told my mother-in-law when Elie was only 5 years old...and even then I guess I knew...what we feel is tremendous pride in their strength, tremendous gratitude for God having brought us to this moment to stand back and watch our boys become men. We feel honored and we have faith in their abilities...that is all for the outside world to see and inside, we are mothers and have a right to fear for our sons, we have the right to worry, we have the obligation and the need to pray.

And, with all that, I will never believe that the Arabs are dumb enough to believe that because we mothers worry, the IDF can't do again what it did a few months ago in Gaza. I will never believe our sons feel themselves to be less than men, because in our eyes, they remain our children.

Our cannons and helicopters, our planes and tanks and artillery speak a language the understand, that they will listen to, or ignore at their peril. Our sons will know not just our doubts, but also our pride and in the end, it is our pride that they acknowledge, our love that they receive, and our dreams that they fulfill.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dog Days of August

I've never really understood the concept of "dog days" in August. In our home, pretty much every day is a dog day - or at least a day in which our dogs need to be walked and fed. But August, especially in Israel, is a time when you begin to feel the heat of the summer and wonder if it will ever end. Temperature wise, I'm not sure that August is any hotter than July, but it often feels as if it were.

Elie's job has shifted once again. He's not the direct assistant of his commanding officer, there to be in charge, in shifts, of all the other commanders. Each commander has his team of soldiers; all commanders report to the main commander or, when he isn't there, to Elie. He and the pluga (battalion?), have moved to a smaller base just outside a large Arab city. They stand between that city and tens of thousands of Israelis.

There are different "release" schedules for when soldiers are allowed to go home. There are regulations that say the army can't hold a soldier for more than a specified period of time without a home visit, unless there is a war. During the Gaza War, Elie didn't come home for more than 6 weeks. They kept talking about sending him home for a day or two, but that didn't work out and the one day I drove down there to take some supplies to Elie's unit, I gave a ride to a soldier who was going home for 24 hours.

He was in the Reserves and with wives and children, these men got first priority for getting released for a short period. By driving him most of the way home, he saved hours of that 24 hour break and got home sooner.

The army often changes the routine of its soldiers, changes the schedule of how often they can go home and for what period of time. They've done it again for Elie's soldiers, but now that Elie is going to have to switch off with the commanding officer, he will remain on the same schedule as he had previously. He won't be home this weekend so it will be quiet.

It's very hot throughout Israel, during this month of August, even hotter for our soldiers who must wear protective vests at all times when on the checkpoints. I've been watching the summer slip away and I suddenly realized that I've forgotten something. Between moving houses, work, and revolving much around Elie's schedule, I've forgotten to live this summer, forgotten to enjoy.

I slept an hour later this morning. I brought my two youngest children into the office. This evening, I'm going to take them out to dinner and to a movie to start the weekend off. For years, our family went away for a few days or a week. I haven't organized that this year and the effort seems to be too much.

Elie thinks he might be able to get off a day early - maybe we'll go camping in the north for one night. Elie likes the idea, and so do I. Last summer, the rest of us went north for several days. It was a great vacation - our daughter and son-in-law joined us, the rest of the kids were there. It was an experiment in enjoying life even though Elie wasn't there.

We had a great time - and I learned you can do that even when you are missing someone. This time, I'm hoping we can go camping for a day or two and enjoy each being together, a last vacation before heading into yet another school year.

Elie's youngest brother will be in 8th grade - it's so hard to believe. Elie's baby sister isn't a baby anymore; she's going into 4th grade. Already, as the summer is coming to a close, Elie and I have talked about "after the army." It was something I couldn't even let myself think about and yet I do.

He may want to travel to the States to visit family and see some of what is to be seen. I wonder if he does that, will I worry more or less than I worry about him now? Am I condemned to worry about my children all the time, in all places, for all the days of my life? I guess the answer is probably yes. To some extent, I do worry.

I give in to that worry once a week, each week, regularly and without fail, before I pull it back inside and keep it manageable. On Friday nights, I light the Shabbat candles. There are many beautiful customs related to lighting the candles.

One such custom is that an unmarried girl lights a single candle, not two. This I have done with my daughters since they were three years old. When they marry, as my older daughter has, they begin to light two candles, as is the custom. Some say this is for the two parts of our obligation "Zachor v'shamor" - to "remember" and to "guard" the holy day. One candle for each; a unit entwined together.

Another custom, which we also follow, is that for each child born, you add another candle and so each week, I light 7 candles; one for each of my five children, one for "zachor" and one for "shamor".

You light the candles and then cover your eyes to say the blessing. The blessing marks the moment that you begin the Sabbath; that split second between the regular week and the holiest day. Many, myself included, take the time, with my eyes covered, to talk to God. We chat, the Lord and I and I ask for each child, a blessing, each personal, each critical.

I finish by asking God to send comfort to those who have lost a loved one. This week, I will think of IDF Sgt. Uriel Peretz Librant, who died in a training accident yesterday in the north when the tank he was commanding flipped over. His family moved here from America, as we did. Uriel joined the army and chose to become a commander, as Elie did. Uriel's responsibilities would include his standing and guiding the tank while it is moving, as Elie's does.

This leaves him in a dangerous position if the tank were to roll over, another common event in the rocky, uneven grounds in the Golan Heights. They practice this maneuver, quickly getting to safety. Suddenly the commander will call out, telling them the tank is flipping, and each soldier is supposed to grab hold of something. Uriel didn't make it yesterday and was killed. I'll think of him, of his mother, of his family on Friday night and I'll let myself worry, let myself imagine.

And then I'll fight the worry back into the container I keep inside. I'll ask God to heal those who are sick. And when I open my eyes, the glory and beauty of all those candles will remind me why I love this quiet period of my life.

Tomorrow night - how the week fled by...I still have so many boxes to unpack, so many clothes to fold and put away. But tonight, I'll take my youngest out to play because they too deserve these memories, they too have to learn to put aside worries and live...even in the dog days of August.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hey, I Know Him

Sometimes, I can be very silly and embarrass my children. I've done this before. When they are lucky, they don't find out about it. There was the time I walked over to a soldier and began talking to him - only because he had a turquoise beret like Elie's. There was the time I told the soldiers sitting at the checkpoint that I was Elie's mother and I was bringing him hamburgers.

A few years ago, we opened a Training Center in Jerusalem, there to offer courses on technical writing, marketing writing, QA Software Testing, Translation, and so much more. Elie was "in" on helping us set up a lot of the workstations. He worked for hours to build desks, put together chairs and cabinets and computers.

The one thing we didn't do at the time, was set up an Internet connection on each workstation. We rationalized that people would be distracted, check their email, play games, and so we didn't run the wiring.

A few months ago, a neighbor in the building opened a branch where they teach people how to play an online game. I don't understand the mechanics of it, but they give sessions to teach people how it works. The only thing is, only the teacher has a computer most of the time. So, at some point they came over and asked if they could run a few sessions here in our computer center. We agreed in principle and all was well...and then a few days ago, they came over and asked if they could have the sessions "tonight."

I explained that I didn't have Internet access, which was critical. I said we could have...but we don't. So they sent over one of their computer people and we began figuring out how we could run wires and connect as many workstations as we could. We actually did quite well and got 14 stations up and running and connected.

As we finished each one, I clicked the browser icon and navigated to www.cnn.com to test if we were really online. It seemed simple enough. Honestly, I'm not a great fan of CNN, but you can rarely find a shorter URL address. At one point, the computer expert sat down and started to type in www.cnn.com, explaining that he would use my chosen website.

I said, "well, if you want my choice, go to my blog." I opened the browser, typed in the address and a second later, the blog, with Elie's picture, opened up.

"Hey, I know him," he said to me.

"Artillery," I said and was amazed to hear him mention Elie's brigade number and division.

"You really do know him. How?"

"I taught him how to shoot," he said.

"Shoot?"

"Yes, I was his instructor during basic training for shooting."

No, he doesn't remember how well Elie did or much about him other than his face, his group - but it was still a wonderful feeling to connect with someone who knows Elie in that world he goes to when he leaves home.

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