Friday, October 30, 2009

YES!

No. I can't believe the army will let Elie out this weekend. It isn't logical. He has been home for the last two weekends in a row. Sunday, the army is saying their thank you to Elie and about 20 other artillery soldiers as they prepare to end their service to the nation.

The army will take them on a two day vacation - hiking, entertainment, I don't even know what. That is Sunday. He must leave Sunday morning to join the group - these 20 soldiers from many units...each preparing in the next few months to return to civilian life and begin again whatever they might have thought to do before. Usually, Elie has to return to base later in the day. Since he must leave first thing Sunday morning, another commander will have to fulfill whatever tasks Elie might have been required to do over this weekend.

That being the case, that another commander must stay up north, there is no logic in Elie staying too. But that is a mother's logic, not army logic. Elie is supposed to be up north this weekend, would be if he wasn't going on this 2-day parting trip...so why change what is supposed to be.

"Will the army let you go?" I asked him repeatedly.

Each time, "they haven't let me know yet."

Yesterday, I was quite a ways up north. It would have been perfect for Elie to meet me. I would have saved him a train ride and a bus ride.

"If you can get out first thing, you can meet me here," I told him. "And if you get out in the afternoon like you did last time, I can leave here and drive part way to you."

"We'll see," was all Elie would say. It reminded me of all the "we'll sees" I gave my children growing up. How many of them did I deliver on? How many were just delaying tactics until I said "no?"

Yesterday I called him as I was preparing to leave Haifa and return south. "Are you coming home?" I asked.

"Still don't know," Elie said. "Anyway, it won't be today."

I woke this morning, sure that Elie wasn't coming home. I sent my younger children off to school, began preparing for the day and the coming Sabbath, all sure Elie wasn't coming home.

"We need to set the table for 7 for tomorrow; 5 tonight," I told my middle son. This is a calculation. The table without extensions can hold 6. I can put my younger daughter next to me. Is it worth having this large table when we will be only 5 tonight?

"Ok," my son responded in the clear voice of a male who will do whatever the female says so long as he doesn't have to make the decision.

He ran to do an errand and the phone rang. As I picked it up, I saw it was Elie calling. "Where are you?" was my first question - not even hello. His answer will be enough to tell me.

"Hatzor."

Oh God, he is coming home. So stupid to be so happy, so silly. He was home just a few days ago. He's in training up north, far from checkpoints and Arabs that might or might not be carrying weapons, explosives, knives. So silly but such joy.

He's coming home...only till Sunday, but joy. My family will be complete - one meal with all my children. I'm adding an extension to the table now.

Shabbat shalom.

Rain and Water in Israel

Decades ago, a representative of another country...I don't remember which any longer...came to Israel and toured our land with our prime minister. After quite a bit of time and many miles, the man turned to our leader and complimented him on the amazing job Israel had done to "deforest" the land. In his country, trees covered everything and the only way for people to create cities and homes was to first clear vast areas of land. Something that was time consuming, expensive, and slow.

Many years ago, I lived in a land that gets rainfall almost weekly. Certainly a month would not go by without some rainfall and at times, it was quite plentiful. Snow fell in the winter, rain all year round. Water came from the pipes in our home without thought and at little cost.

If the water was dirty in your cup, you spill it down the sink and fill the glass again. If you took too much, you spilled the rest out. Long showers, baths - whatever. Water was not a consideration, not a thought. There was water today, yesterday and would be tomorrow.

Rain was beautiful, but often inconvenient, wished away for another day. I was raised in a country where we sang, "Rain, rain, go away. Come back another day." Some child and I want to go out to play...and we did.

I moved to Israel and water became something more precious, as it is perhaps meant to be. We don't take it for granted - ever. We are obsessed with how much falls in each area of our country, the state of our national reservoirs. There is water coming out of the pipes today and yesterday and we hope tomorrow. We don't take long showers, baths much less often.

If the water in our cup is dirty, we go over to a plant and pour the water on it. If we can't possibly drink more water from our cup, we find a tree. We soap up our dishes with the water turned off and wash them quickly and all at once. I will often collect the dishwater from the sink and pour it into the garden. Many homes divert their shower water directly to the garden as well.

That's the water situation. As for the rain - we view it as a gift, each and every drop - as it should be viewed. We pray for rain from the holiday of Sukkot, which we just celebrated, until the holiday of Passover in the Spring.

And when it comes, as it did yesterday, we thank God for it. We marvel at it.

"It's miserable out there, thank God."

"Don't forget to wear your coat and find an umbrella. It's really nasty, thank God."

Yesterday it rained and I did something I haven't done in so long. I went outside and just stood in the falling rain. The drops were huge, the downpour a relief from a dry summer in which it never rains, after a dry winter in which it didn't rain enough.

We are hoping this winter will be filled with horrible, wet, nasty days that will replenish the Sea of Galilee, flow through the Jordan River, and bring alive the dying Dead Sea, which is drying up each month. Now is the time when we are filled with hope for what the winter months will bring. At some point, some scientists with suggest that based on predictions and formulations and tests, they expect this winter to be...wet, dry, normal, above, below - all words. What matters are the clouds, the heavens, the drops.

Last night, I stood quietly on the balcony of our new home, slowly getting wet and enjoyed the wet, wonderful gift God has given to this land this day.

May we be blessed with a winter full or rain and growth...and may Hezbollah in the north continue to not want to fight in the winter (and beyond).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Facebook, Friends, and my Third Soldier Son

Okay, this is a bit of a stretch but I've decided that by calling my youngest son my "third" soldier, even though he is only 13 and not even thinking about the army yet...I can get away with writing this here on a blog about being a soldier's mother.

My youngest son and I have been having an ongoing discussion about his opening a Facebook account. He says that 80% of his friends have one; I'm filled with concern for all the people who could contact him. I think 13 is too young...he thinks I'm being silly. I'm sure I'm over-reacting, sure that I'll give in because he does know the dangers. A few years ago, an Israeli teenager met a girl online. They arranged to meet. She was Palestinian; he was Israeli. It was romantic, it was forbidden, it was also a trap. He was murdered by her boyfriend when he went to meet her at a pre-arranged rendezvous.

For now, it's a point of negotiation.

"Will you let me be one of your friends?" I ask, wanting to confirm that I will be among his contacts and can keep an eye on him remotely.

He hedges, "You'll always be my mother."

And then his final comment - why he should have Facebook...as if his joining it would preclude my having my own account and contacts. "You have Twitter. I want my own."

There is an innocence there that still touches my heart and calls to me to protect and be on guard. If only we could keep them like this.

Dear Lone Soldier's Mom

If there is any harder path to follow as a combat soldier's mother, it is to be the mother of a lone soldier. A lone soldier is a young man or woman who has decided that they must serve the country of Israel, as my son has. But there is a difference, a huge difference in that Elie can call me at any time, at any moment. With four words, he would have me running to my car, driving beyond the speed of light to get to him. With a simple, "Ima, I need you" I would be gone.

He knows this, as all my children do. Call me and I will be there. It doesn't matter where, when, why. The call is enough, the need the most critical thing. There are the silly little things that can be answered in a phone call - loneliness, the need for information, the need to talk. This can be given no matter where the mother is, though time and expense can be a factor.

And then there is that which is priceless, to us as mothers, and to them. Driving them to base when they are tired or have to get there at a ridiculous hour; loaning them a car for their day off; doing their laundry or helping them at least; home-baked cookies. It's the smile, the hug, the quiet discussions that make my life (and hopefully Elie's) easier as he follows this path.

I got the following comment from a lone soldier's mother and wanted to add it here because she shares a side of being a soldier's mother that I don't experience but is so important for others to understand. I live with much of what she experiences, and so much less.

She didn't choose her son's path, didn't anticipate it, didn't expect it. I did. I chose to bring my son to this country as a young child, knowing that this meant he would be a soldier some day in the distant future. I knew and was as prepared as I could be. I knew from the time Elie was six years old, even before he was born, to some extent, that the day would come when he would wear the uniform, carry the gun, and go places I don't want to imagine. I knew; she didn't.

She writes of his maturity and I see that in Elie too. She writes of things her son must do, things that Elie does too.

She has learned to live with uncertainty. Yes, that has become my constant companion.

She writes of the years after the army, as her son enters the national reserves, in many ways the true fighting force in Israel and I share with her the knowledge that she and I will be soldiers' mothers for decades to come.

And finally, she writes that she doesn't believe she has the same grace under fire that we Israelis have and here is the first time I will disagree with her. From the moment Elie entered the army, I knew that I belonged to a family much larger than the one I had started forming when I married my husband and we began bringing children into this world. Suddenly, everywhere I went, in meetings after meetings - there was a diversion, a comment, talk of where our sons and daughters were, what they were doing. What unit, what base - became a binding force between complete strangers. It happened just yesterday during a conversation with a woman who came here to discuss a new line of courses specifically for women...and soon it I learned that she has two sons who are soldier. It is the way of things in Israel and elsewhere.

I learned something else last year when Elie went to war - there is an even larger family I had never dreamed of joining. They are mothers in America and Europe, who have sons in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over, anywhere, who fight the same enemy, the same cultural values that seek to destroy my country (and theirs). They live with a grace I envy, a deep sense of faith and belief and a commitment to the same values our sons defend.

As I began to write here, I realized that American mothers who believe I am so brave, so filled with grace under fire...don't realize that I am awed by them. They are all mothers of lone soldiers - their sons far from home. Like this mother who wrote to me, they are so far from their sons, hours and hours, even days away from them. They cannot go to them, but must wait for them to be brought to some other place or brought all the way home. I am haunted by the thought and marvel at their grace that they live with this challenge.

I am so blessed to be so close to Elie; to have him come home every few weekends. To know, at a moment's notice, I could throw everything away and get in my car and drive to him. Sometimes, the drive is an hour away. Sometimes two, sometimes four. It doesn't matter. I don't see the grace she speaks of, the bravery others tell me I possess.

But what I do know is that she is in America. I am in Israel. We, she and I and you and them, are everywhere and our sons know our love, feel it through the telephone lines and deep in their hearts. We support them, love them, bless them, pray for them.

Lone Soldier's Mom has left a new comment on "Hearts and Rockets":
If someone asked me what is the most important thing you have learned about yourself since becoming the mother of an Israeli, and in particular, the mother of an Israeli soldier, I would say I have learned that I can live with uncertainty.
I have found out the hard way that rockets can hit where they have never hit before, that there is no such thing as a quiet checkpoint, that the IDF can send a unit from a brigade which has never been stationed outside the West Bank into a war zone.
I don't always know where my son is and what he is doing there. Things change quickly and when you least expect it. I no longer trust that I can sleep well because he is safely on base for the night because too many times I found out the next day that he wasn't. There is never going to be an end to all this uncertainty. After the army is reserve duty. In a war the reserves are called up and he will be anxious to go. In everyday civilian life, he goes from one place to another that I recognize as the sites of terrorist attacks, this bus station, this restaurant, that street.

It has all been a hard lesson for a suburban American mom who had a different kind of life all planned out and under control until three and a half years ago. My son has gained a lot of maturity and a different sort of confidence since he's been in the IDF. He's got a stronger backbone now. He's got guts.

I think this will stay with him forever, the knowledge that he had to do some really hard things for the benefit of people he will mostly never know and he was up to the task. Somewhere along the line, I realized that the IDF has changed me for the better, too. I'll never have that grace under fire that is so, so Israeli, but maybe a little bit of it has rubbed off on me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hearts and Rockets

The phone beeped, signalling an incoming message as I got into my car tonight. No time to stop and read it. My oldest daughter was waiting for me to pick her up; my youngest daughter wanted to see me before she goes to sleep. I like hearing news. I'm a news-aholic, but it isn't polite and I haven't seen my daughter in a few days so I left the radio off and we talked.

When I dropped her and her husband off near their apartment, I turned on the radio as I drove the short distance home. I can't remember the words I heard, but the message was clear. They were examining the location of an incoming rocket that had been launched against Israel from Lebanon. They debated who shot the rocket and agreed that nothing could be fired without Hezbollah's approval.

Why now? Clinton is on her way here; things with Iran may be getting more involved. Maybe they are jealous, thinking Gaza is getting all the attention. I don't know the reason why someone in Lebanon thought he had a right to fire a rocket at our civilians.

What we know - the rocket hit northern Israel causing a factory, but luckily, no injuries. A short time ago, a second explosion was sounded. It could be nerves; it could be real. Nothing has been confirmed yet.

What I know - is that Elie is in the north, far from where the rocket hit, but still there. When he was in the center of the country and Hamas fired more than 120 rockets at Israel in November of 2008, I knew that if it continued, we would go to war. I spoke to Elie and understood that based on where he was located, if war came, he would go. And he did.

He was home this weekend and once again I found myself asking him the same questions. It's a need to understand, to prepare for the worst.

"If there's another war in Gaza, will they call you?" I asked him.

"No," he said. Another unit would go. Elie's been told that he will be a commander for a short pre-commander's course in a few weeks. He will be involved in training the commanders who train the commanders (got that?). Once these officers are ready, Elie will go back up north to rejoin his unit and those soldiers will welcome a new group and begin training them.

"If there's war in Lebanon, would they call you?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said. As soon as the Syrian front was secure, he and his unit would likely be moved to handle Hezbollah and Lebanon. There is no comfort there, so I ask my next question.

"But you don't think anything is going to happen, right?" When did I become the one seeking comfort and my son the one to offer it? When did he become the one with the knowledge and I the one seeking it?

"No," Elie answered. "Hezbollah isn't going to fight in the winter. They don't stand a chance."

These are the words of youth. It's been quiet for over an hour. I've gotten two messages from a friend - nothing to do with Elie or the north. Both times, I went quickly to my phone. In my head, I have no doubt that Elie is correct. Hezbollah is not looking for a war - not yet, not now.

It is clear to Hamas and Hezbollah that the world will allow them to shoot a certain number of rockets at Israel, provided they don't kill too many people. This rocket caused a fire, scared tens of thousands of people in the north, and caused a blip on my roller coaster scale. It's a small up and down, nothing too earthshattering. All acceptable according to the world's tolerance scale...when it happens to Israel. France wouldn't allow someone to shoot a rocket within its territory, neither would Russia or the US. Only Israel will allow it; only Israel will accept it.

My heart is settling back in place. People in the north are shutting down, sleeping in their beds tonight because they know in their heads that sleeping in a bomb shelter is not necessary, not really, and they don't want to over-react. It was just one missile - and it missed, as it most often does.

Just one rocket shot at hundreds of thousands of people - and it missed. Elie is hopefully asleep or going to sleep soon. I'll give him a call to see how he's doing. Maybe I'll mention the rocket, maybe I won't.

I won't tell him that once again the thought of his being in war filled my mind with dread and made me remember what it was like less than a year ago.

Maybe I'll tell him about the kind note I received on Twitter from @FreeMountaineer who wrote, "You stay safe over there & give your boy my best. Here's one Christian who wishes he could join the IDF."

But most of all, I won't tell him that there is a world out there that doesn't care that one missile hit Israel tonight, that much of the media won't even bother covering it because with the help of God, no one was hurt. I won't tell him that after the rocket slammed into our country, my heart slammed into throat and I felt sad and depressed and worried.

I will tell him that I love him. I will tell him that I'm fine. My heart is back in place, my smile firmly planted. My stomach has settled, my nerves quieted.

For a moment, the briefest of seconds, I forgot the simple truth of Israel. It was only a second - less than a second on the scale of things so I will share with you our greatest truth and our least kept secret: the beauty of this country lies in its sons, its people - its resiliency.

Tomorrow, our sons will guard our borders, our people will rise and go to work and school, as they did today and as they will the day after tomorrow too. That is our message to Hezbollah. Your rockets may stop us for a moment. We are, after all, only human. But that moment has passed. You accomplished nothing, even less than nothing. You missed - as you usually do - and we returned fire immediately. Our soldiers, Elie's friends in artillery responded to your rocket without hestitation.

Tonight, Israel is defiant. Resilient - proud of who we are and where we stand.

Am Yisrael Chai - the people of Israel lives and in that is our victory over rockets.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's All in the Game

Are you addicted to an Internet game? I am. I'm a game-aholic and it is all Elie's fault. Worse - I've infected other people with this. There's a game Elie plays - and usually wins. I started it, it took a while, and I'm almost there. It's silly, it's fun, it's brainless and it's a connection with my son that I feel. Silly? I told you it was...

The game begins like this. Five colors, tons of bubbles. You aim and fire at color clusters of three and they disappear. If there aren't any color clusters, you shoot the bubble strategically to the best location you can to try to build clusters.

And you keep trying to shoot bubbles of three until you have only a few left. Of course, as with life, there are forces working against you. At first, you have a whole bunch of chances to hit something (see the lower left corner where you are shooting the blue, and next up is the red. The other white balls are how many chances you have left.

Each time you miss, you use up one of your chances until, when you have none left. Then, a bunch more rows are added. As it gets closer and closer to the bottom, your maneuvering room diminishes until you are eventually cornered, the balls touch the bottom, and you lose.

Of course, if you are successful, you keep getting closer and closer to the top of the screen. If you shoot all the bubbles of a color, the color doesn't return the next time you use up all your chances.

It's a silly game, time consuming, and long. You can play it here, online: http://www.bubbleshooter.net/games/001_bubble_shooter.swf, I think you can even download it to your computer or phone (though I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

I could be philosophical about it and compare it to life, but that would make things too complicated. The fact is - it's a mindless game I enjoy...and I enjoy when Elie sees me play it and takes over to "show me how it's done".

And a secret Elie doesn't know - I haven't beaten his top score of 389,000 or so points, but I've gotten close...297,740 and counting.



 So, do you have a game you love to play? If you do, share it with me and I'll tell Elie about it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And the verdict is...Barbecue On; Ambulance Squad On

So the army called - Elie can have his day with his soldiers. Tomorrow he will have a barbecue on the shores of the Yarkon River. They'll eat hamburgers and frankfurters and whatever else they bring...and tonight, he got a call. He went to synagogue today and saw one of the ambulance drivers with whom he has served over the last few years. The driver lives in our neighborhood and is on call tonight. A short time ago, the driver was informed that he has no assistant to go out with him if there's an emergency call.

So he called Elie and asked if Elie would agree to be on call tonight. Elie agreed. Tonight, he'll stand ready to go out and help others if necessary. It's a sight I have seen many times in the last 5 years. Elie gets a call; begins running to the door as he speaks on the phone. Calls out a quick "bye" to me if I'm around, and runs out to meet the ambulance.

He's been on many calls in the last 5 years; he's seen people die; helped many, and saved lives. It amazes me how many things he has done, how much he has seen in his life that I have never done, never seen.

I have never been to war, never wanted to be. My son has. I have heard explosions only in the distance - I heard a bomb go off many years ago - and several kilometers away. I saw the massive artillery vehicles shoot - but only in practice and never under threat of an incoming missile. And even then, I was many, many meters away, in an open area, surrounded by thousands of people.

I have never seen a dead body, seen someone die in front of me. My son has. I have never been trained to handle medical emergencies beyond the simple things that might happen at home. Elie has gotten his medical vest ready and gone to bed - hopefully to have a quiet, peaceful night. Tomorrow, he'll go have fun. It is these moments I cherish, these moments that help during the other times.

Barbecue on, ambulance squad on - I'm going to sleep with a heart that is full. I've often referred to this army business as a roller coaster. The ups are full of fear; the downs a terrifying fall. The flat areas bring peace, a hope each time that maybe there won't be any more ups and downs before he finishes and a time to gather your strength and be happy for all the gifts God gives.

...

And as I was about to post this...I heard a strange rumbling sound. I went out to the balcony and saw the ambulance as it pulled up to our house. I turned to see Elie come running down the steps, grabbed his vest...shout out a quick, "bye" and he's off. I'm a little less calm than I was a moment before, a bit more agitated and shaky. I love that he serves in the ambulance squad and hate when he goes out on calls. I know that makes no sense - it's a left over trauma from a time when ambulances raced too often to the scenes of terrorist attacks; to a time when ambulances were targets of rocks and firebombs.

Our ambulances are responsible for handling calls from here all the way down to the Dead Sea - and even in some of the neighboring Arab villages. They can't go in unless they have an army escort, but sometimes they do anyway. It's probably a local call - it usually is. It's often an old man or woman at the nursing home, or a child that has fallen. Sometimes the call is even canceled and Elie returns in minutes. Usually it is nothing serious.

I'll find my peace again. For the next hour or so, Elie likely won't be home as he races to help someone, somewhere. So the barbecue is on, Elie is out on a call, and I'm calling it a night.

The Justice is in the Meat

Elie's been up in the Golan Heights for a few short weeks now getting ready for the next round of training. He's up there with his whole battalion - several hundred soldiers. There's not a lot to do, a lot of waiting around, inspecting things and getting ready. Painting, checking, cleaning.

Then, they all come to lunch at the same time - hundreds of soldiers crowding around. It's chaotic, it's busy, it's a hassle. So Elie and his commanding officer decided to shirt their group to a later time slot. This relieves some of the pressure in the dining room for the kitchen staff...and makes the unit's lunch more pleasant.

The first day, they got there to find that they were served a mediocre lunch. A bit surprised, Elie's commanding officer had Elie go early the next day - to observe what the others were eating. Sure enough, the earlier group got an amazing lunch of chicken and meat. By the time Elie's group arrived, the cooking staff was tired and less interested in making a grand show. They made them frankfurters and shnitzels (breaded chicken breasts; often commercially produced and just warmed up).

No way, Elie told the kitchen staff. We'll gladly eat frankfurters when everyone else does, but if they don't, we don't. Justice was quick in coming and the kitchen staff readily agreed that Elie was right; the other unit shouldn't suffer because they were coming to a later lunch. The next day, they arrived to find not merely the regular food, but a quantity that was incredible. Elie came home on Thursday and decided to skip dinner. He was still full from having eaten approximately 10 helpings of meat and food.

There is justice in the army; if you have the courage to demand it and the patience to wait for it to cook!

A Barbecue that May or May Not Be

Elie was home this weekend - nice, quiet, relaxing. Good food, lots of talk. Easy times. More and more often, he refers to the last few months of his army service. The army is offering him a computer course and he's among the next group to go in. In the next few weeks, the army will take Elie and a group of soldiers who are finishing soon on a fun vacation - a few days hiking and relaxing. All signs that we are getting near the end of this phase in his service. I have yet to deal with the concept that the end is not the end, that for decades after Elie finishes in the standing army, he will be called back each year to be part of the national reserves.

Tomorrow, Elie and some of the commanders have asked for a day off. They have made tentative plans to have a barbecue on the shores of the Yarkon River...if his unit isn't on the next rotation for alert. Elie is awaiting word. He'll borrow my car, take our barbecue. I have hamburgers and marshmellows in the freezer. Brownies in a container on the counter.

He is philosophical about going or not going. He'd like to go; he accepts that the decision is not his and that at any point in the next hour or so, he'll get a call that will send him west tomorrow - or back up north. If he goes up north, it is because his unit will become the designated one "on alert."

This is another part of reality in Israel. Even as they train, they are on alert. If Syria attacks (no, thankfully there are no signs that it will), a unit must be prepared to respond instantaneously. Other units will quickly scramble but while their response is measured in hours, the unit on alert is measured in minutes. Last week, it was another artillery unit; this coming week, it might be Elie's unit.

The first minutes of a battle, especially with Syria, are critical. Syria has no staying power in battle - only a massive amount of hardware it can launch at Israeli towns and villages of the north within minutes. Its army is not well trained; its soldiers not well disciplined. They'll fight, they'll kill, they'll die. Their success is in how many they can kill in the moments before Israel responds. 

Our soldiers are well trained and disciplined to fight but more, they are disciplined to live. The response must come quickly to stop any assault and Elie's unit may be  next on call. If so, there will be no barbecue tomorrow on the shores of the Yarkon River, miles and miles from army and artillery.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mothers Love Boredom

Elie is bored. For the last few months, he hasn't been the commander of a team of soldiers. Instead, he's been the commander of the commanders of several teams of soldiers. The soldiers go to their commanders, as they once went to Elie. If the commanders need permission or advice, they go to Elie. They come to Elie, who helps determine the schedule of operations, and then they go back and enforce them. Elie is bored.

Elie has other responsibilities for coordinating, scheduling and whatever else he does. To accomplish this, he has an assistant. But the assistant needed an operation and so was out of the army on sick leave for the last few months, leaving Elie to handle things on his own. He's been working very hard doing his jobs and those of his assistant.

Well, thankfully, the assistant (another commander with less experience than Elie) is back and so Elie can now accomplish his tasks more quickly and more easily. He's bored.

He got used to doing the jobs early and fast, to leave him time for the other tasks. Now the other tasks don't exist because his junior commander is back and handling them. Yesterday, Elie got up, did what he had to do, and realized he had no more responsibilities for the next 20 hours. He wishes he had brought up the new mini-computer so at least he could surf and play.

And, as he told me this, as a bit of a complaint about being bored, I thought to myself, "Bored is good. I like bored. Mothers love boredom."

May my son and all our sons be bored...and safe...always. Okay, perhaps that's overdoing it. I don't really want him to be bored, but bored is better than endangered, so I'll take bored for this beautiful day when the clouds are drifting over the skies of Jerusalem and the heat wave has broken. I'll take bored and the sleep it lets me get.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A World of Soldiers and A Common Culture of Freedom

I see people posting quotes all day, throughout the day, almost every day. Sometimes, one touches me, sometimes it amuses me. I hear from other mothers of soldiers in America and see how much we share. A worry, a love, a pride, a freedom, a culture. Thousands of miles away and yet the same.

Sometimes, their words ring a bell so true I have to stop and share it with others.

Posted by: @McCore:

It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

Israel is a true democracy surrounded by countries and enemies that do not believe in the rights of the individual, the woman, the innocent. In 1948, the year Israel was founded, women were given the right to vote.* By contrast, in Saudi Arabia, men were allowed to vote only in 2005, in the first local elections ever held in the country. Women however were not allowed to exercise their right to vote or to stand for election on that occasion. Egypt gave women the right to vote only in 1956; Iraq only in 1980.

At any moment, if I wished, I could drive to the airport...even drive myself to the airport, purchase a ticket, and fly anywhere I want. Even today, in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Yemen, married women must have their husbands' written permission to travel abroad, and they may be prevented from doing so for any reason. In Saudi Arabia, women must obtain written permission from their closest male relative to leave the country or travel on public transportation between different parts of the kingdom. I contrast this to my waking early many months ago and driving to the far north to pick up Elie; or driving south, or east, or west.

All this and more passed through my head as I read this simple line - it is our soldiers that defend our freedom and enable us to separate ourselves from the culture and laws that are used to limit the rights of our neighbors. Something like 10% of our parliament is filled with people who oppose our very existence - our own parliament. They stand in the halls of our government, free to speak, and condemn our being in our land. How many Jews are there in governments in Arab lands? I believe there is one in Iran, believe it or not, but as far as I know, that is all there is and yet we have more than 10 Arabs in the current parliament (Knesset) - I think there are 13, actually. In fact, there have been Arabs in the Israeli Knesset since its first elections in 1949.

No, it is not the politicians or the lawyers that guard our right to be here, to be free - it is our soldiers, our sons, my son, who tonight sleeps near our northern borders. Elie is close to Syria physically, but culture and values create a chasm that will never be crossed.
  • The Syrian government should reveal the fate of the prominent lawyer and rights activist Haytham al-Maleh, 78, who disappeared on October 14, 2009, and should release him immediately and unconditionally if it is detaining him, Human Rights Watch said today.**
  • The Syrian government should free the lawyer and rights activist Muhanad al-Hasani immediately and unconditionally. Aug 4, 2009.**
  • Article 548 of the Penal Code, which had waived punishment for a man found to have killed a female family member in a case “provoked” by “illegitimate sex acts,” as well as for a husband who killed his wife because of an extramarital affair.(this was waved only 3 months ago).**
  • Syrian authorities should immediately make public the fate of all detainees at Sednaya prison, at least nine of whom are believed to have been killed when military police used lethal force during unrest in the prison last July. Jul 4, 2009 **
We are a country with a court system, a government we elected and can replace. For all that the world argues otherwise, we are free here to vote, to drive, to elect, to employ. People do not disappear into our prisons. Gilad Shalit has not been allowed to see his family in three years; Arab prisoners regularly get visitation rights from their families, their lawyers.

A world, a culture, a chasm so great divides us from the land so close to Elie and it was this that touched me today as I read these words. For this service that my son gives his nation, today I drove to work, in a country that allows me as a woman to drive; for this I voted in the last elections; for this I walk unmolested and free on the streets of this beautiful city.

For this, Elie sleeps tonight after a day in the army.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* According to http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/suffrage.htm

** http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/syria

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Bus to Nowhere

That's how Elie described the bus he took today, as "a bus to nowhere." He left early this morning. We had a debate as I drove him early this morning, whether it was better for me to drive him north about an hour and a half or leave him at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem.

I ended up leaving him there and continuing on my own, as he took several buses to reach his destination, far off in the Golan Heights. When I dropped him off, he had only a few moments to get to the bus. He made it with seconds to spare. When that bus arrived at its destination, there was already a bus waiting. The rule, for these buses is that it goes at a certain time...or before if it fills. It filled as Elie got on it - and so it was off in within minutes of his arrival. When it got to its destination, "I took a bus to nowhere," Elie told me.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

It is a bus filled only with soldiers, climbing high into the Golan Heights and stopping at several bases along the way. Other passengers are allowed on it, but most of the time, it is soldiers, only soldiers.

I called Elie along the way to see where he was, spoke to him again this evening. Last week, his unit spent time getting the equipment ready for the training that will begin soon. This means cleaning it, preparing it, and inspecting it. Today, they got their personal gear ready.

"What else did you do today?" I asked.

"Not much," he answered. They went driving in some jeeps to see where they would be training soon.

"And tomorrow?" I asked.

"Nothing much. Really nothing much." And that was when he explained. There are some major training exercises going on in the north, as there often are. For all that the world loves to give it so much attention, the Golan Heights is a tiny piece of land. I'm too tired to Google the exact distances, but you can drive the entire length and width in an hour - and it only takes that long because the roads are so winding and narrow. Having so much weaponry in so small an area could easily lead to accidents.

So, tomorrow there are major training exercises and that means Elie and his unit have to keep off the firing ranges. Nothing unusual, but I loved the way Elie explained it, "Jeep versus tank," he said. "Jeep loses."

So tomorrow, Elie and his unit will NOT be driving off-road with jeeps, which I guess is a good thing considering that tomorrow, like today, is supposed to be very hot and miserable, not to mention all those tanks.

Today, Elie took a bus to nowhere, and tomorrow, the jeep will go nowhere too.

The Great Tease

Elie has been home for the last week, mostly doing nothing. One interesting thing was the amount of time he spent with his little sister. He drove her to school some mornings, was there each day when she came home. Last night at the dinner table, Elie was particularly playful with her...and she wanted to be left alone.

Elie teased her mercilessly. He seemed to not be able to get enough of her, pretending to bite her ear, her hand. She laughed till she cried and laughed some more. Elie said he didn't want soup so he waited while the rest of us had bowls of steaming chicken soup. And, as his sister was eating away, Elie reached over, dunked his bread into her bowl and tasted it.

"Mmmmm," Elie said.

"Do you want a bowl?" I offered again.

"No," Elie responded with a smile as he dipped his spoon into his sister's bowl and tasted it again.

"Hey," yelled his sister as Elie grinned and dipped his bread in again. In some ways, he is simply incorrigible.

It was a nice week, a funny one, a relaxing one. He accomplished nothing, did nothing...nothing but the most important thing, which was to relax.

Much of the time, Elie was in a great mood. "Elie, can you hand me my glasses?" I've started wearing reading glasses - something strange for someone who has always had perfect eyesight. It happens to all of us, it seems and my day has come. If I want to read...I need reading glasses. "They're in my room, next to my bed."

"Granny glasses, granny glasses, ba la la la la," Elie sang out as he went off to get them. Of course, he still got me the glasses, so I can't complain. Of course, it cost me much of my glass of diet cola...filled to the brim with ice. I can't really complain. For the most part, I have given up drinking it so if I cheat a little here or there, I guess I can't complain if Elie sneaks a bit.

Tomorrow it is back up north for him. I told him of a report that Hezbollah is re-arming, massing missiles again and I'd seen an article discussing the possibility of war in the near future.

"Not in the winter," Elie told me. Hezbollah knows better than to attempt a war in the winter when Israel has a clear advantage. We talked of the other Arab nations.

"Egypt has a strong army," Elie told me.

"What about Syria?"

Elie laughed. "They have a lot, but they aren't good at all."

In a matter of minutes, Syria could launch a massive attack. "And then what?" I asked Elie.

"Then nothing." Syria doesn't train its soldiers; they have no great plans of war. Elie believes that they could get in one good attack...and then lose ignobly and most quickly.

"And Jordan?" I asked, interested to hear what Elie would say. Elie isn't impressed with their army. Lebanon doesn't scare him. Egypt is the only one with a strong army, disciplined and trained but not really a serious threat at this time.

It is youth, I think, that gives courage and youth that lets him come home and turn it all off. When I picked him up, we gave another soldier a ride. That soldier didn't have a gun, having turned it in before coming home. Elie explained that the commanders decided it was safer to send the soldiers home with no guns for a week. "they'll end up getting stolen or left somewhere."

"So why do you have a gun," I asked. He was planning on visiting somewhere and felt it was safer if he traveled with a gun. It has become a part of him, a weapon of defense that he knows how to use and feels more comfortable with than without in some cases. I can't explain what that does to me, to think of it in those terms. But by his own accounting and from what I have heard of others, Elie is trained. Elie knows how to shoot and is quite good at hitting his target.

He goes back tomorrow to being a soldier in training; I go back tomorrow to being a mother with a soldier near the front. Last December, I knew it was Elie's unit that would be in the Gaza front, if there was a war. This winter, I know it will be Elie's unit if there is a war on the northern front. That's what Israel is - a country with many fronts and it is the luck of the draw as to where your son will be when a particular "front" turns to war.

Elie leaves the army in less than 6 months. One war behind him...I can only pray he doesn't have a war in front of him, that he can come home again and again and tease his sister (and his mother) as he did this week.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Twitter Posts

Sometimes, all I want to say...I say in a measuring of 140 characters. Today was a day like that. So, here's my twitter posts for the day - sort of wraps up the day in small bites:
  • God...how STUPID is this? / 3 Palestinians arrested Sun evening after throwing a dummy explosive at Israeli troops at Huwara checkpoint
  • Relative calm? I think not: 95 terror attacks carried out in Sept, up from 53 in Aug. Gaza terrorists fired 17 rockets, up from 2 in Aug.
  • An Israeli army unit discovered an improvised explosive device among the belongings of another Arab boy. // safely detonated, boy detained
  • An Israeli army unit discovered a 9 cm (3.5") knife among belongings of Arab youth Sunday at the Huwara checkpoint, S of Shechem.
  • Arabs also threw rocks at Israeli vehicles between Jiba and Tzurif, southwest of Jerusalem
  • Arabs also threw rocks at Israeli vehicles on the Zaatra bypass of the new Jerusalem-Tekoa highway
  • Arabs also threw rocks at Israeli vehicles next to the Little Yakir Junction between Tel Aviv and Shechem
  • An Israeli vehicle was damaged Sunday evening by rocks thrown by Arabs next to Deir Astia, southeast of Kalkilye.
  • Boaz Shabo's wife & 3 kids were murdered by Arab terrorists in 2002 - most shot in the back #cowards. In 2004, he went 2 visit David Hatuel.
  • David Hatual's wife Tali & all 4 of his children were murdered in cold blood, point blank range, by Arab terrorists; Boaz Shabo went to him.
  • "How am I supposed to get up in the morning?" David Hatuel asked Boaz.
  •  Boaz Shabo answered David Hatuel: "You get up to nothing... But your obligation is to recover and get stronger..."
  • In 2007, Boaz Shabo, whose wife and three of his children were murdered, went to Sderot to volunteer, to comfort families w/i missile range
  • Today, Boaz Shabo became a father again - to three baby boys. If there is a model of hope - it is Boaz Shabo...not Barack Obama!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

English Translation of Gilad's Video

English translation:

“Hello, this is Gilad, son of Noam and Aviva Shalit, brother of Hadas and Yoel, who lives in Mitzpe Hila. My ID number is 397029.

“As you can see I am holding today’s Falasteen newspaper published in Gaza.

“I read the newspaper in order to find information about myself, and in hopes of reading about information of my return home and my imminent release.

“I hope the current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t waste this opportunity to reach an agreement and as a result, allow me to fulfill my dream and be released.

“I wish to send my well-wishes to my family and tell them that I love them and miss them greatly, and hope for the day I’ll see them again. Dad, Yoel, and Hadas, do you remember the day you arrived at my base in the Golan Heights, on December 31, 2005? We toured around the base and you took a picture of me on a Merkava tank and on one of the old tanks at the entrance to the base. Later we went to a restaurant in one of the Druze villages and on the way we took pictures on the side of the road, against the backdrop of the snowy Hermon Mountain.

“I want to tell you that I feel well in medical terms, and that the Mujahidin from the al-Qassam Brigades are treating me excellently. Thank you very much and goodbye.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Weighing Truths

When you are young, there is often one great truth to all things. It doesn't matter what the situation is, it's just a way you have of looking at something and deciding what is right or wrong in that simple moment. It is a singular truth that seems obvious and clear. As you get older and your life gets more complicated, shades of other truths blur the picture. There is no longer one side, one truth. Every action has a reaction; every cause not just one result but often many.

There's a scene in Fiddler on the Roof where someone says something to the main character, Tevye. Tevye confirms that the man is correct. Another man comes forward and voices an opposing position. "You are right," Tevye tells him.

Another steps forward and says, "but they can't both be right."

To which, Tevye responds, "and you are right too."

I felt that way in the last few days listening to the debate about the release of 20 security prisoners in exchange for a two minute video of Gilad Shalit this past Friday. There are so many sides, so many truths that perhaps the greatest relief comes from not being in a position to have to choose that path.

His mother has suffered so long, his father traveled so many miles begging people to listen and help free their son. Don't they deserve, don't they need this reassurance that their son is alive. This is truth.

Although 14 of these security prisoners were wanted for attempted murder, all would have been released in the coming months...certainly within the next year or so. Israel is a land that follows the rule of law. Unlike Hamas, we do not hold prisoners without trial and with trial comes a just sentence. The sentence is served and remorseful or not, the prisoner is released, often to return. This is the strength and the weakness of a democracy and so these prisoners, once freed, may well choose to attempt to murder another Israeli. This is truth as well.

The cost of this exchange boggles the mind. The value, as set by Hamas is staggering. A video of an Israeli is equal to 20 prisoners; the value of his life set at a minimum of 450 Palestinian prisoners - murderers, terrorists, killers. Twenty prisoners for one video. As one blogger wrote, "guppies cost more." This too is truth.

After so many months of silence, Israel needed a sign that we were negotiating for a live human being. We've given hundreds of prisoners for coffins; this time, it was right to get proof before any agreement and dealing with Hamas is not the same as dealing with human beings who respect life. This organization and the people who belong to it feel nothing about endangering their own people. They fight from within their own schools, mosques and hospitals.

How could we expect them to do what is legal, what is just, what is moral, what is human? They relish the suffering of others; they crave it. This is a culture that worships death and cares nothing for the suffering of an Israeli mother or her family. If this is what holds Gilad and we want proof that he is alive, this is the cost. And here too, there is truth.

"We aren't like them," said a friend. "We couldn't stand by and not do something to alleviate the terrible pain of the family." More truth.

Trade for Gilad? Accept a video in exchange for 20 prisoners - 14 wannabe killers? "What do you think of this?" I asked Elie.

"They've endangered us all," he said without hesitation. What joy I felt at hearing that we'd received the videotape and it showed a healthy, if thin, Gilad, evaporated with those words. This is a truth every Israeli mother knows and doesn't want to hear. Yes, when you reward terrorism, you get more terrorism. It is, perhaps, the greatest of all truths.

"Already Hamas has said they are going to try to kidnap more soldiers," Elie continued. More truth, more shades to consider.

He's right on so many levels and wrong on others. Or, perhaps wrong is not correct. He has yet to marry and have a child, yet to understand the awe, the love, the responsibility that comes with that.

Gilad Shalit is alive. This Hamas has proven. This young man has spent the last three years of his life a prisoner of our enemies, separated from his family, denied all contact. Night after night his mother goes to sleep not knowing where he is, if she will ever see him again. It is enough to weaken any mother's heart.

But Elie doesn't have a mother's heart. He has a soldier's heart. He loves his country, he loves his family. He's right - this endangers them all. In Elie's world, right is right; weakness damages our position. He has rules that he lives by, just and legal. There is a sense of morality, but more, there are rules of engagement. Hamas continues to violate international law, refuses to even allow Gilad to be seen by international representatives.

If he were my son...but I can't begin that thought because the pain is too great, the fear, the worry. Is there anything I wouldn't give for my children? Anything I wouldn't do? This is why it isn't correct for Gilad's parents to determine policy in this case, why mothers shouldn't be asked. We love our sons, desperately want Gilad home. This is their truth, our truth, a mother's truth.

But there is a greater truth that Hamas lives by and that truth is cheering now because they know that for a video we will release 20 prisoners, for Gilad we will release killers...who will kill again.

How many people have been murdered by the same terrorists we released in exchange for past captives? Did their families love them any less than Gilad's family loves him? This is the dilemma. Gilad on one side, a healthy, prisoner, begging us to do what we can to finally bring him home...and untold numbers of others on the other side, including Elie, telling us that what deal we make, if the price is high, will only encourage them to try to kidnap more soldiers. This is truth.

What the government has done endangers them all, while what we don't do, endangers Gilad. Sometimes, everyone is right and no one wins. The weight of that truth keeps me awake at night as I watch the video of Gilad over and over again and pray that in this bargain we made with the devil, at least his mother will find some comfort.

Copyright Statement

Everything on this site is protected and copyrighted according to Israeli and international laws. Violators WILL be prosecuted.

Copyright 2007 - 2014 WritePoint Ltd. All rights reserved.

For permission to use pictures or text from this site, please write to: info@paulasays.com.