Friday, January 29, 2010

The Gift of Peace

What a misleading title that is...the gift of peace. No, I don't really believe Israel and the Middle East will see peace any time soon. I could point fingers at the Arab countries who refuse to accept our existence, to the Palestinians who continue on the path of violence. I could list the rock throwing, firebombing, ongoing rocket attacks and tell you how many Arabs were caught with how many knives this week in varying lengths.

I could write of our current and past leadership that showed weakness to an enemy that thrives on it and to a world that accepts, again and again, the injustice of blaming the victim rather than finding the true cause.

There is no gift of peace any time soon in the Middle East - no matter what other leaders such as Barack Hussein Obama mistakenly believes or wants to believe. His suggestion that everyone is responsible for blocking peace...Netanyahu, the right-wing, the left-wing, perhaps the last man on the moon...shows he understands nothing. I can tell you of increasingly dangerous armaments, or Iran's nuclear plans and Europe's blindness. I can write of Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah - all born of the same violent cloth, and I can write of all that threatens the future here and where you are too...but that would be the opposite of my direction for today.

Because despite all that I have written so far, the truth is simply that peace will come - today, in not so many hours.

It will come for a brief time only - sad, but last so far. Today is Friday - the first day of our brief weekend, the last work day for some. It's a day of preparation here in Israel - we are preparing for tomorrow.

What I love about Fridays is that they represent endings and beginnings. We are saying goodbye to the past week - whatever we didn't do...we let go. It will be there on Sunday and need to be done. Whatever disappointments we had, whatever didn't go right...Sunday will come and allow us yet another chance to correct it. So we end and know on Sunday we will begin again.

Shabbat, Saturday, is about cleansing - your house, your body, your mind, your soul. It's about taking time to make a bigger, better meal than you had time for the rest of the week. Taking more time for your family, longer discussions - and not about work and daily pressures. It's about putting away the trappings of this world - the phones, the computers, the televisions, the cars...whatever.

It is so symbolic of where I am in my life. Shabbat is the day in between last week and next week - and yet it has a character all its own. It is a moment of calm because psychologically you really do succeed in forgetting the past and the future. If ever time were to stop...this is the moment we would want to hold. If tomorrow never comes...we can actually relish staying here in this moment.

Elie is finishing the army. Shmulik is beginning. This transition period has its own character, its own sweetness. What will Elie do after the army? Will he really leave it or choose at the last minute to continue (as some do)? I don't know and won't know until one or the other happens.

Will Shmulik go into the Tank Division? So far, it is looking strongly that he won't. Kfir? Givati? Golani? Does it really matter in the end? I won't know where he is going for a few more days or weeks.

But there is peace coming today - peace in having Shmulik home, in knowing that Elie is returning right after Shabbat for a special course he will attend next week. Peace in knowing that he isn't really in a dangerous place. His checkpoint, though surrounded by Arab villages, is in a relatively quiet place and the base itself is well located and secure. Next week, he'll be sleeping at home each night - a whole week of seeing him each evening.

There is peace in the smell of food filling the house; the candles set and ready to be lit on the small table near the mirror. The gift of peace is one that comes each week with the Sabbath...and leaves with it as well. To live in a world of quiet, of family, of home - it is a taste of better times to come. When? I don't know but with the Sabbath comes the knowledge that we can survive the whole week, month, year, and the decades and centuries because each week we are given that small bit of time in which we pull into ourselves and our families.

May God grant peace to the world, to Israel, His people.

May He grant peace to the medics and rescue workers who have returned from Haiti; and to little Wadley Elysee, a six-year old Haitian child suffering from severe heart defects. Wadley's medical record was sent to Israel several months ago, but there was no way to get him to Israel for surgery that he needs to save his life. Without the surgery, Wadley would probably not live to see the age of 10. While in Haiti, Israeli doctors took the time to find him amidst all the chaos and destruction. Wadley and his mother were flown back to Israel with the returning aid mission and he will soon have his surgery, another gift from Israel. May Wadley know the peace of Shabbat and live a long and healthy and happy life.

And finally, to my sons - to the three...and to the two. To each of them, to all of them. May you always cherish the Sabbath as a time of peace, no matter what wars you are called upon to fight in the future. May you be safe everywhere you go, blessed for your service and know that wherever you go, you take my prayers and my love. Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Circles Again

I've always been amazed at how life circles around you; how lives touch each other and connections keep intercepting. Today was no exception. Elie called me several times - perhaps it is fanciful to feel that maybe he was a bit lonely. He was home last Shabbat and told me that Yashar LaChayal was coming to his base to donate water-packs to his unit.

While this is something I would expect from this amazing organization, when I checked with them, the Executive Director read off a list of units and places for the next week or so, and Elie's base wasn't on the list. It slipped my mind until Elie called me and said, "Guess who came to my base today?"

Of course, my first thought was Yashar LaChayal, "Was it Leon?" (the Executive Director).

"No," Elie answered. So who was it?

"Rabbi Marcus and his yeshiva," Elie explained. Rabbi Jay Marcus was the rabbi of my husband's synagogue for many years back in America. Twenty-six years ago, he was the officiating rabbi (one of two actually) at my wedding. Twenty-two plus years ago, Rabbi Marcus lead Elie's circumcision ceremony (brit milah). Several years ago, he established a yeshiva in Beit Shemesh, where each of his sons work and where he became the spiritual guiding force after he moved to Israel.

Years ago, I had explained to him about wanting, needing, to come live in Israel. This was a dream he shared for his family as well and so there was always a sense of understanding in our conversations.

"Did he recognize you?" I asked and realized right away what an amazingly stupid question it was. No, of course not. He hasn't seen Elie since he was a young child. He wouldn't expect to see Elie there on a base, dressed in uniform.

"Rabbi Marcus wasn't there, but his son was," Elie said.

"Did you tell him who you were?"

"Yes," Elie answered.

And there was that circle of life that comes around and around.

I spoke to Elie two more times today; he was in Jerusalem and had extra time before his physical therapy appointment. If I had been at work today, I would have seen him, but I had taken the day off to share with my oldest daughter - lunch and shopping in the center of Jerusalem. The problem is that Israel is building a light-rail in the center of Jerusalem and has been for many months (years, actually) and so no one goes to the center unless they are willing to put up with traffic, congestion, noise. It's just messy. Elie didn't feel like coming to join us and so it was a strange feeling once again to know he was so close...and yet out of reach.

In the end, he went back to base and will be home Saturday night. Shmulik came home tonight - he is weeks away.

"Kfir," he said. Kfir is a division of the ground forces. "Kfir is good," he told me, "it means Elie can give me pieces from his gun."

Ah, the mind of a boy on the edge of manhood. If Shmulik were to go into Golani, they would be using an Israeli-made gun and not the M16. Apparently Kfir still uses the M-16s. Once we know the unit for certain, I'll take him to purchase the things he will need. It's coming by day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Soon I'll Learn...

Where my next son will go in the army. Elie received orders for artillery -I didn't know how lucky I was until a few weeks into his training. His commanding officer came to visit our house, sat for hours, and explained. The funny thing, of course, is that Or didn't tell us the truth. Well, he told us the truth as he knew it, but the army shifted things.

His truth was that in war, artillery remains many kilometers behind. Trajectories and angles and physics - it doesn't matter to a mother's heart. All that matters is that since we live in such a small country with enemies right on our borders, most of the time, artillery simply parks itself and shoots.

The second part of Or's explanations proved to be false. He said that when military operations were needed within Arab cities, artillery units were used around the perimeter while special forces went in. Well, sometimes that's true...often it's not. Elie's "Ima, did you know there were tall buildings in Kalkilya" was just one time I became aware that Elie too entered and "operated" inside Arab villages when needed.

I learned my way in the Israeli army within artillery...and now as Elie finished and Shmulik begins...I know I have a new path to take. He hasn't gotten that letter that tells him what unit he will be in but so far, it seems it will be one of three: Kfir, Givati, or Tanks.

Nothing is final in the army until...well, until it is final. We are weeks away from Shmulik entering the army - already my stomach does a bit of a dance when I think of it. Elie is weeks away from exiting the army - already I am forcing myself not to think away these last weeks. Next week, he spends attending a course that teaches him of the rights and benefits he will receive after he leaves the army...discounted courses and educational benefits, loans and more.

Israel is preparing to thank my son for his it prepares to take my next son. A door closes and another opens. One son leaves the army as the next goes in. Soon...soon I will learn what new assignments there will be, what new worries and challenges.

Israel Finishes Mission in Haiti

The video says so much; so much more than words. The medical equipment that saved lives returns with our doctors and nurses and rescue to teams. It leaves behind a land that must come to terms with one of the worst natural disasters in recent years. The words of the Israeli commanding officer explain all there is to say:

Today, Tuesday, the 26th day of January, the IDF hospital in Haiti is finishing its assignment. We came to #Haiti to assist, to save lives, to reach out, but above all - to give hope. We are here to show that even in the toughest of situations one can still be a symbol of hope, wherever he is. We cannot stand aside.

We represent the IDF, the people of Israel, the State of Israel. Few others have this strength, this willingness, this determination to help. You did this as human beings, in the spirit of the IDF and the values of the Medical Corp. I am proud of you. I salute you

The IDF leave behind leaving 1150 blankets, 30 tents, 500 mattresses, 200 sleeping bags, bandaging gear, surgery equipment, incubators and kitchen equipment. They take with them a 5-year-old boy in need of complex heart surgery.

They take with them the scenes and memories and leave behind the gratitude of many. Where they were, where they are, and where they go as they return home - in all places, they have our love.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In a Place Where there Are No Men - A Haiti Story

Hillel is often quoted as saying, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man." The interpretation of this simple phrase is often taken to mean standing against evil. Where others won't stand...this is where you should. There is a simpler meaning, as we saw in the last two weeks in Haiti - simply...when there is a need to action, act.

Israel combined this concept with another that is inherently part of our army, the "Follow me" concept. In those first shocking hours when the world was still assessing what was happening, Israel had already mobilized its rescue and medical squads. A mere 15 hours after the earthquake had struck, Israeli planes were lifting off the ground, fully loaded, completely prepared.

They arrived to find a hell on earth that few can imagine and without hesitation, they dug in, and in so doing, saved dozens of lives, even hundreds. Over the last fourteen days, almost 1,000 patients were treated, several hundred life-saving operations were performed, more than a dozen babies delivered who might otherwise never have been born.

BBC and other news agencies tried to ignore the Israeli presence, at least to downplay it.

Never mind the Jewish star on the uniform, the Israeli army insignia...we mustn't do anything to make Israel look too good.

And good Israel did look because what BBC and others tried to do, didn't succeed. It was there in the wonder of the CNN reporter's voice, "My God," she said into the camera in shocked wonder, "they have machines here." Ventilators, X-ray machines - where other nations threw up tents, Israel created surgical departments on the ground, a pediatric ward, and so much more.

What Israel did speaks of the essence of this country - what it is, and what it could be if the world but allowed it. In an ironic twist, Israel was forced to pay the United Nations for damages to its infrastructure during the Gaza War the same week it was pulling UN personnel from under the rubble.

The Gaza War was an avoidable tragedy for all. Had the United Nations but demanded Hamas stop firing thousands of rockets into our cities, we would not have had to act. Had the UN but demanded that Hamas respect their infrastructure and remove rockets from amidst their buildings and schools and supply houses, Israel would not then have targeted those rocket launchers...and damaging the buildings that protected them.

Gaza was avoidable - Haiti was not.

No, I do not expect the world to awaken from its prejudices, nor do I expect the United Nations to pay Israel for the massive rescue effort its tax payers accept without complaints.

I doubt the United Nations will even bother to thank us for our efforts in saving their personnel or notice the irony of demanding payment rather than offering it.

We will pay for our doctors and medical equipment and when they return, they will come to a land pleased with their efforts and proud of their bravery.

They went to Haiti not for glory, but because there was no one else who flew so fast, so far, so strong. Where there are no men, strive to be a man...where there is no one rushing to do what is right, rush there and save lives.

Others may soon forget the sight of IDF soldiers precariously working their way under the rubble...but the people of Haiti won't forget, and we won't forget. The Goldstones of the world will bear their humiliation well - their baseless claims against Israel will be believed by those who would believe the worst of us.

Yes, some idiot claimed Israel was harvesting organs in Haiti, as some idiot in Sweden claimed we were harvesting Palestinian organs and some idiots in Europe claimed we were drinking Christian blood for Passover in the not so distant past.

What matters is not what they claim, but what we did. What matters is that once again, in a place where other nations hesitated, Israel stepped in. We strived, and succeeded, in showing the best of humanity.

There is a baby in Haiti named Israel, another named Deborah, another named Daniel and another named Vladimir - all a testament to Israel, to our brave rescue and medical teams.

Others have arrived and will take over the burden of the long-term reclamation of Haiti, our teams return home - most likely exhausted for having worked around the clock in difficult, almost unimaginable conditions. They come back to a nation so proud.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Send them a Bill

In war, damage happens, lives are lost. You mitigate the damage by avoiding the danger zones...except if you are part of the war, part of the problem, part of the cause. For years, the United Nations has been more of a problem than a solution, more of an supporter than a fighter of terrorism in Gaza and elsewhere. That may be a harsh statement, but UN vehicles have been used to carry terror weapons; UN schools and "safe" houses shelter missile launchers.

During the Gaza War, and even during the Lebanon War before it, Israel made two things clear - "If you sleep with a missile," said our United Nations Ambassador, Dan Gillerman, "sometimes, you don't wake up." And, if from your home, your school, your hospital, your mosque, you launch a rocket, expect one of our missiles to be launched right back at you.

During the Gaza War...this happened numerous times from UN locations and Israel correctly hit back.

During the Gaza War, thinking themselves immune, UN personnel walked freely in Gaza without coordinating with the Israelis, without respecting Israeli leaflets that warned residents that certain areas would be targeted. UN personnel were killed because missiles know no honor, have no respect for children, for women, for innocents.

A missile doesn't care that it was fired into one of our schools, that it was used to target a city, a mall; and a missile seeking a specific target, such as a rocket launcher, will not care that United Nations personnel have decided to meander around in a war zone where civilians should be sheltered. In Israel, each building has a bomb shelter, most streets have a reinforced bus station. Hospitals and schools have reinforced safety areas...and on and on.

In Gaza, the leaders have bunkers dug deep in the ground to protect them. All the people of Gaza have is an enemy who warns them and does what it can to avoid hurting them.

"Lebanon and Gaza are very different," Elie explained to me. "In Gaza, there is no where for the people to run," he continued, and so the army of Israel did what it could. Good enough that the majority killed during the war WERE combatants, but not good enough to avoid civilian deaths entirely.

So during one bombing run, UN personnel were caught and in several cases, UN property was damaged and the UN demanded that Israel pay for the damage. Amazingly enough, it gave no blame to Hamas, but never mind - justice was never a strong point for the United Nations.

And Israel decided to pay. Last week, it paid the United Nations almost 11 million dollars...during the same period of time it was rescuing United Nations personnel from collapsed buildings in Haiti. The Arabs sent no one to Haiti, no supplies, no rescue teams - except a small force from Turkey. Nothing from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Gulf States. Nothing from Iraq, Iran, Yemen...and on it goes.

So Israel sent in a team of rescuers, of doctors, of medical personnel...even police to help the security situation. And my comment to the Israelis - send the United Nations a bill for 11 million dollars for the cost of search and rescue and medical treatment of their personnel.

They can bill us, we can bill them. In Gaza, UN property was damaged because the UN allowed Palestinians to fire rockets from near and within their property. UN lives were lost because in their conceit, they thought they have impunity to travel where they wanted, even in a war zone.

In Haiti, lives were saved by Israel - as in Gaza lives were lost. If the UN is to blame Israel for the second, it should credit Israel for the first. If Israel must pay for the damage, Israel should be paid for the recovery.

Israel has saved countless lives, minute by minute, hour by hour, the number of people rises. Almost a thousand have been treated, hundreds of life-saving operations, more than a dozen births. Yet again, yesterday a man was pulled from the rubble - alive, after 10 days, by Israel's team.

Let the United Nations pay their bill - a bargain, for $10 million dollars...the lives of the truly innocent were saved. You cannot predict exactly when an earthquake will hit and what will happen when it does.

The damage to Gaza was easily predictable and easily avoided...had the United Nations spent less time on supporting the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and more time on real education. Israel was not 100% responsible for the damage to UN property and personnel in Gaza, but it was 100% responsible for that which was retrieved in Haiti.

It's time to send the UN a bill!

(Personally, I'd recommend demanding a cash payment.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

And the Miracles Continue

Ten days under the rubble...Israeli teams are called to rescue a man...and they succeed. Calmly, professionally, they pull him to safety. There is beauty in the hug, in the meeting of two hands in a celebratory high-5 after it is over, and there is the knowledge that one more life has been saved.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Elie Came Home from War...and Now from Base

I started a few weeks ago reading again over the entries I had made during the Gaza War. Day by day, I looked back, slowly remembering what it was like. I was looking forward to this day, when I would read the entries about the war being over...and then I got distracted by the tragedy in Haiti and the amazing response from Israel and from around the world.

And tonight, as I was about to close down, I thought back to the date...a year...exactly a year ago, Elie came home from the war...and tonight...he came home from base. A year ago, I couldn't imagine anything beyond seeing him, hugging him, having him finally back at home, safe in his bed. That came true and again tonight, as he told me to leave him a list and the credit card, drank from the bottle (yeah, I can't get him to break that habit) and went to bed, I am grateful yet again. We are so close to the end of this by day, we feel it growing closer even as I know that as his journey ends, my next journey begins.

But I learned three years ago to take this each day, one day at a time. That's what I did at the beginning; that's what I did when Elie was at war; and that's what I will do now.

It is so easy, with him home safe, to look last look - at what your heart feels when your son is in danger, your country at war.

Elie called in the early afternoon, "Can you pick me up?"

I was in the mall shopping for shoes for my daughter and for me. Suddenly, all things became so silly. I had no patience for shoes, though we found them - Elie was coming home!

I dropped my two younger kids at home, grabbed brownies and the special tuna-corn pancakes that Elie loves, a bottle of ice tea and some cups - and drove. I didn't take a map; didn't have the GPS from the other car. I know the general way - I'll wing it if I have to.

Enough gas - another delay avoided. and don't think. Drive and enjoy.

"How much longer?" Elie called at one point.

"Another 30-40 minutes at most, I think." I told him at one point.

"I'm still inside. I'll try to get a ride out now," Elie told me. I wouldn't be allowed up to the cannons but would meet him at the same place I met him last time. He would try to find someone with a jeep to drive him to the meeting point.

I took a wrong turn - drove twice as fast to get back to the right point. Called Elie when I got to the meeting point and he wasn't there. The parking lot where I had met him last time was empty. Before it was filled with cars of reservists who had been called to war. There were no buses - last time, there had been three - full of soldiers being moved to and from the front lines. There were no helicopters hovering overheard. But there were signs, "The people embrace our soldiers" and "You fight for our holy land" and simply "The people thank the fighters of Israel."

"Drive down the road till you get to the military police blocking the back road." He told me - and I did, past the "Closed Military Zone" sign in Hebrew and in English. The atmosphere was relaxed. I pulled next to another set of parents whose son was now in the car. I smiled at the mother; she smiled at me. There are times words need not be said, and yet volumes have been exchanged.

Elie was standing there with all of his backpacks. He filled the trunk, even put more in the backseat.

"Want me to drive?" he asked.

That's man-talk for "I want to drive" or "Can I drive?"

I countered with, "do you want to?" which was kind of unnecessary because he was already moving to the driver's door. I figured the least I could get out of it was a hug. I asked if he wanted something to eat or drink. He took the ice tea. I won't tell you about him drinking straight from the bottle or that I couldn't bring myself to even complain about it. We'll pretend it never happened.

"Do you want some brownies?" I asked him.

"Later," he said. "I just ate."

I offered the military police brownies before leaving. And as we drove home...or he did, we talked and talked and talked.

If I tell you what I did tonight, you won't believe me, but I'll write it anyway. Tonight, I was at the mall buying shoes for my younger children and me; I really was. Tonight, Elie came home, drank from the bottle of ice tea...and went to sleep.

Of all blessings that we have in life, one we sometimes forget to recognize is the simplest of all blessings - to have your child at peace, asleep in his bed, safe from all who would harm him.

May God bless the children of Israel...of Haiti...of America...of all the nations and all the places in the world - with a warm bed, food to eat, something to drink.

May God bless the army of Israel who protected our people last year, last month, last night and today - and may God bless our doctors, medical teams, and soldiers who are so far from home trying to help the people of Haiti.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Right Thing?

Sometimes in life, you watch your children make a decision and from what they realize that somewhere, somehow, you've done well. Elie called me last night to tell me he was on his way home. He explained when he got here that he had an interview set up at a major army base in the center of the country.

After Israeli boys finish their national service - the obligatory three years they must serve - they continue to be in the army's Reserves until age 40. Each year, they are called away from family and work for one month. It might be two weeks and two weeks; it could be a whole month straight.

It is a part of society here. You work in hi-tech, you make an appointment, and then the man says, "I have miluim [Reserve duty], and can't meet you." You call your lawyer - "Call me on Sunday, I'm in miluim."

From the minute they finish the army, they are given one year "off." And then, for the next 20 odd years, they will leave all to serve. If there is no war, they can get out of it for extenuating circumstances...a wedding, a birth. In war, as happened last year, they may be taken from their wedding; they may miss the birth of a child. It is life here in Israel, a part of the society we accept.

Elie was being called for an interview "about miluim." It took a few minutes for me to understand they weren't scheduling miluim for him now (the first thing that popped into my head). Elie explained that even before they leave the army, they know what they will do when they get the letter in the mail telling them when to show up for their annual responsibility.

He wasn't sure what they were going to offer him, but he already wanted to refuse. The commanding officer of his battalion had already tried to refuse the job for Elie and for another commander and was told that he didn't have the power so he told Elie to go to the interview...and tell them himself he didn't want it.

It was, the officer felt, a waste of a good commander. Elie went...listened...and turned it down. He was back on base in an amazingly short period of time.

"What did they offer you?" I asked and then listened in quiet amazement as I understood the magnitude of what he had done. What they offered him was safety, security. An easy job in which he'd never be in danger. Little travel, little time, little responsibility...for the next 20 years. And rather than serve four weeks per year, he would only have to serve four days.

Four days - one day every three months of the year...and he would be done. He would go back home, while others served a week or a month. Four days, not four weeks...but he didn't want that job; it would be a waste of his talents and skills...and so he said no.

He'll serve his four weeks, probably having a similar job like he has now. it means he will probably see war yet again in his life; know danger; continue to serve at a checkpoint or something similar. He likes the idea, the challenge of it, the new information. A new unit, he said.

Did he do the right thing? I found myself very proud of him. He could have chosen to serve four days instead of four weeks for the next 18 years of his life. He could have...and he didn't.

He could have chosen the safe road but life isn't about safe, is it? It's about doing the best you can, doing the right thing. Yes, today I'm feeling good. I believe there are many factors that go into how children develop. There's their schooling, their friends, the community, the country - but somehow, some way...whatever my husband and I did as parents must have also had an impact and is reflected in the children we have raised...and yet again, I marvel at them all.

More Pride for a Small Nation

It is amazing to finally watch world media acknowledge what I have known for so long - Israel is an amazing country that has reached out again and again in the face of national disasters. This time, in Haiti, the magnitude has reached such a proportion that Israel's contributions cannot be ignored. Israel was the first to create a field hospital with full operating capabilities. CNN, ABC, Sky News - reporter after reporter now sees what we have done.

One reporter asked an American volunteer how it was possible that Israel had brought sophisticated equipment and set up such a site...from half a world away, while the United States and much wealthier countries had not yet arrived with their staff and equipment. The American answered simply that she had no answer.

Please take a moment and watch this video - and when you do...say a prayer for the recovery of the people of Haiti and yes, a prayer for continued safety for our doctors and rescue teams...hundreds of people have been treated, received life-saving operations, five babies born so far...Kol Hakavod to our teams there - we are so proud of you. We know that you don't do it for our pride or for the glory - and yet, the glory and the pride belongs to you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Difference Between Life and Death

Colonel Dr. Itzik Kryce, hospital commander of the field hospital in Haiti speaks to his teams: "You are the difference between life and death in this region", he tells them. "We are doing an important thing here."

So proud, we are here in Israel - little Israel has reached across the world. There are no rescue teams, no medical teams from Saudi Arabia, from Egypt, from Lebanon or Jordan. Syria and Turkey and so the oil-rich Arab Gulf States...little Israel - the first to establish an operating room and begin treating the wounded, little Israel - whose teams have pulled many to safety and others who are systematically helping with the dead.

So proud, we are of you - our Israeli sons and daughters in Haiti.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Humvee is Dead

Sometimes, they say the funniest things. Elie called tonight - he was in such a mood.

"What's new?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said in that tone that suggested I'd have to guess my way into this.

"How are you?" I asked. "Everything ok?"

"Yup." Not gonna help, are you?

"Whatcha doing?" I asked. I'd hit the jackpot.

"Walking," Elie answered.

"Walking? Where are you walking?" Up go my hopes...could he be walking down my block, coming home, surprise?

"On base," came the response and down my hopes slid back to normal. On base? It's kind of lightning out...and raining...

"Why are you walking on base?" I asked and here it came...

"The Humvee is DEAD," he answered in that wonderful voice of his, almost a laugh, but not quite.

"What happened to it? Really dead?" Dead, he answered. "Dead, dead, dead." Something about busted pipe and oil spilling out and I'm not sure what but the bottom line is that rather than driving around...he and the others are on foot patrol.

There's another isn't anything really serious...and given that overall it's kind of a warm rain, life is grand for a 22-year-old commander walking in the rain around his base in Israel.

He wanted to know if he could come home tomorrow to take the car back to base...making it easier for him to come home on Thursday. He called back to explain that he'd get a ride to Jerusalem with a jeep that has to go up north...unless the weather is bad up north, in which case, the jeep won't which case, he won't come home.

"Well, be careful," I told him stupidly, "it's raining."

And then he answered, "REALLY? I'm on patrol...and I'm WET."

Right...I'm the one sitting in my dining room; he's the one outside. I didn't have to tell him it's raining.

I spoke to him about 20 minutes later after more lightning sparkled across the sky. "Maybe you should go in," I said when he answered. "It's dangerous to be out in this, no?"

"I'm back in my room," he answered. "I finished 10 minutes ago."

He's warm; he's safe. It's raining and pouring outside but he's inside and fine. The only problem, of course, is the's dead.

Israel in Haiti

Okay, this one got to me. Amidst the life.

A child is born in Haiti and forever will remember those who flew across the world to help him. Born just days after a devastating earthquake...Israel is born.

@IDFinHaiti - IDF on Twitter in Haiti

Among the many things Israel did right in its Haiti rescue effort, was to begin a Twitter account where it explains for those willing to listen, the amazing work our people are doing there. Here are some of the posts:

@IDFinHaiti 30% of patients @ #IDF field hospital in #Haiti in critical condition, 50% moderately injured, 20% lightly wounded

@IDFinHaiti Video of #IDF team rescuing 52 yr old man from rubble in #Haiti:

@IDFinHaiti #IDF field hospital in #Haiti treating 2 severely injured, 9 moderately injured, 16 lightly, 9 already released

@IDFinHaiti The #IDF field hospital in #Haiti has treated 96 patients, released 58, 38 patients in recovery and performed 8 surgeries

@IDFinHaiti Coordination 2 set up #IDF field hospital completed yesterday. midday 2day will begin treating 100s of patients #Haiti

@IDFinHaiti #IDF teams in #Haiti include search&rescue units, pop service experts, security detail and canine handlers

And the most precious of all:

@IDFinHaiti: 2:30 am #Haiti time, 8 mo. pregnant woman came to #IDF field hospital, gave birth to boy, named him #Israel

Haiti Rescue

I've been watching the international news reports, Twitter, and other places and other than a few Israelis posting about our incredible relief efforts for the people of Haiti, I'm amazed, once again, by the failure of major news outlets to recognize these efforts.

Israel, once again, was among the first to organize and get people on the ground. The largest field hospital in Haiti has been set little Israel from a half-a-world away. Two days ago, 8 students were pulled from the rubble. Today's story is of a 52-year-old man pulled after days under a collapsed building.

Somewhere in Israel, there is a mother looking at these pictures and as she watches the man crawl under the rubble, knowing that if there was another after-shock, it would collapse on him as surely as it already has on the man he is seeking to rescue. There is no half-way here in this video. This soldier has wormed his body all the way into the building to enable him to reach a man he has never met.

Somewhere in Israel, a mother is wondering if that is her son. She's so proud of him...and she holds her breath, as I did, until he safely pulled himself and the victim to safety.

The world may never recognize Israel's tremendous efforts, but I believe there are dozens, hundreds of people in Haiti who know. Kol Hakavod to Tsahal - all honor to the army of Israel and those who have traveled far to save others. We are so proud of you. May you stay safe and come home safe!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Parenting Another

I keep wondering what I would write about if I didn't write about Elie and if it is legitimate here on this blog, to write about other things. Sometimes, I write on another blog or site, sometimes I write to friends, but this time, I'm going to write about this here. This isn't about Elie other than to explain that it is why I chose to bring Elie here, why Elie and the others soldiers know that they are loved so much - this is the society in which we live.

I was born in the United States, schooled there, married there. I gave birth to my first three children there and learned the fear and worry that all parents have of strangers who may hurt our children, deviants who may catch them, horrors that may befall them if we but turn our eyes away for a few seconds. That's all it would take, we convince ourselves.

Typically, when I give bad news, I start off by saying "things are okay...but" - there is no bad news here, but I just want to say to all the parents who are about to feel their heart stop for a second...nothing happened, everything is fine.

My youngest daughter called me a few minutes ago. Yesterday, she came and asked me for money. The school is collecting a fund in memory of a soldier who was killed in Gaza. The soldier was the older brother of a girl in my daughter's class so my daughter wants to help.

It is a common practice for children to go from house to house and collect money for various charities. They always go in pairs; always with receipt books. My daughter is 10 years old today. I just spoke to her on the phone and she explained how she and a friend went collecting money. They stopped at a house and...

"the woman was so nice. She told us to come in and then she gave us something to drink and some cookies."

And the part of me that had raised children in America began to panic. Two young girls...going into the house of a stranger..."and she gave us 20 shekels." (About 5 dollars).

And then I remembered...we live in Israel - this is the way it is here. Children are safe here, they really are. It reminded me of something that happened to me when my youngest son was a baby. I was on a bus with him. It was my stop and so pushing the carriage, I maneuvered to the exit with him in my arms. The door opened and the man in front of me went out of the bus.

He turned and held out a hand to take something, to help me. I reached out with the hand that held the carriage. He looked at me and said, "What, you care more about the carriage than the baby? Give me the baby!"

There were people in the street looking at him, people on the bus looking at me. The hesitation probably lasted a few seconds at most and then, terrified, I handed him the baby. I climbed down with the stroller and went to take my son.

He smiled at me and without moving an inch, with my son in his arms, said, "Why don't you open the carriage and then take your son."

I did as he said and then he gently handed the baby back. I looked at him and tried to explain. In America, I would never have handed anyone my baby. He looked surprised for a minute and then smiled, "You aren't in America. In Israel, you hand the baby to someone so that you don't fall with the baby. The carriage," he said and then shrugged his shoulders, smiled and left.

That's how it is here - my daughter went into a strangers house, was given something to drink and eat, and sent safely on her way. This is the society, the land, the people, that Elie defends.

And one more thing...this morning Elie called me and asked me if I was in a certain is exactly where I was, as I was driving to work. "How do you know?" I asked him, already trying to look around.

"I just passed you going down the hill," he said.

He's on his way to a military exercise deep that will start

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The World According to Elie

Perhaps that is too grand a title, but I have two Elie-isms for today and didn't know which one to use as a title.

The first happened during Shabbat, as he was playing with his younger sister. Her endless squeals, his capture and tickles. They wrestled, he grabbed her and lifted her in a hug as she complained and ran. At one point, he said to her, "Before I kick you, give me a hug." It was just Elie, and of course, his sister complied immediately.

The second Elie-ism happened as I drove him into Jerusalem today. There was one of those amazing scenes - a new meeting point, protected by soldiers on the perimeters...high and low...and then I saw why - hundreds, perhaps a thousand soldiers - with guns, without, Elie's artillery beret, green ones...light and dark, colors, backpacks...and so many buses. A central meeting point to take these soldiers back to bases far and near. I saw a helicopter was a vivid reminder, though none was needed, that though my son and these soldiers serve so close to home...they are, for days at a time, so very far from our reality.

But, before I dropped him off, we were talking about the escalation in rocket attacks in the last few days. 10 last Thursday, several on Shabbat, four more in the early hours of the day.

"Will it take another war to stop these rockets?" I asked Elie.

"Probably," he answered.

"Will the world understand this time?" I asked myself, as much as I was asking him and his answer was the one I expected.

"Probably not," he said, and then came his latest Elie-ism. "It's like they're complaining to the world, 'they hit us back first'."

It reminded me of a story from my childhood. I don't actually remember it; but I've been told the story so many times. Apparently, I was not the most angelic of children; I was, more often than not, the source of the conflict.

One day, my sister went to my father and complained that I had hit her. My father promptly believed her story and came and disciplined me. During or after his punishment, I explained that my sister was in fact the one who had hit first.

My father didn't know what to believe and so he returned to ask my sister. She told him the truth, "yes, but she hit me back."

Thus it is with the Palestinians. They shoot rockets at us; taunt us; dare us. And then when we do hit back by attacking a military unit about to launch rockets, the Palestinians demand world attention, UN inquiries. How dare they hit us back, they cry to all who will listen and even those who won't.

Yes, we dared to hit them back today and yesterday and so it reminded Elie of the story I've told from my childhood. The difference, sadly and absurdly, is that I was a child of 4 or 5; the Palestinians should know should the world.

Four more rockets today...the world, according to Elie, should know better than to fall for the persistent complaints of the Palestinians. "Yeah, but they hit us back" shouldn't work in the real world.


Every Friday night, my daughters and I light the Sabbath candles. There are different traditions for how many are lit each week. The "original" tradition or perhaps one taught in many homes, is that a woman lights two. There are many "two"s in the Sabbath - related on some mystical level to the commandment to "zachor" and "shamor" - to remember and to guard the Sabbath day.

Some families have the tradition of having a Jewish girl, from the age of 3 light one candle; others say girls don't light until they get married and make their own homes. When you marry, all traditions converge, and the newly married woman begins lighting two.

With the birth of her first child, traditions separate again. Many continue lighting two for all their lives, others add a for each child. With time, I now light 7 candles each original two, and five more for each of my children. I have one young daughter at home - she lights one. When my married daughter comes over, two more are added. It's a beautiful corner of our dining room; the candlelight is so amazingly gentle. Shabbat has finally come.

Many years ago, not long after I had moved to Israel, I began lighting oil instead of candles. I saw these glass "candles" and thus I began lighting oil. Over time, the stores started selling the oil in colors - gentle purple, blue, yellow. Depending on which child fills the oil last week, I can end up with gaudy or inspiring...but that's something else I wanted to write in a second.

First, a conversation that I hope won't be considered a breach of trust. I met with a mother recently who had lost a son in the army. We talked of many things, what she was doing when she heard the news, how her life has gone since. She asked about Elie and smiled warmly. Sadly, we realized that her son and mine must have entered the army together, because both would have been leaving in just a few weeks.

She showed me pictures of her children, many including the son who died recently. She too gave birth to three boys and two girls. Lovely, beautiful, handsome children. Without thinking, I asked her, "how do you answer when people ask you how many children you have?"

"What would you answer? What do you think?" she asked me. And the answer came so clearly...five. She would answer five - all are her children and always will be, even if one is lost to her.

Why do I write of this? Because I didn't ask her how many candles does she light. The answer, if it is her tradition, would be 7, like me.

And one other tradition I have. Each week, I try to remember to have the oil refilled as soon as the Sabbath ends. I try to ask different children to fill it each week (thus the range from gaudy to inspiring and everything in between). My middle son takes great care to mix the colors; my youngest son is in the traffic light stage and though personally, I'd prefer one consistent color for all, I let him have his way. Elie usually doesn't want to...and if he will, he expects someone to hand him a color.

There is a custom to do something small each day to remind us that the next Sabbath is coming; that peace to our homes is but a few days away. Perhaps you'll wash curtains on Sundays or change the sheets or do something and so it goes each day. By Wednesday, you are already thinking what you can cook. Thursday you make sure your house is clean; Friday you cook.

For me, it begins immediately Saturday night by refilling the candles. This lets me see, each day, that we are waiting.

Each week, I ask one of my sons to fill the candles - usually based on which one I believe won't be home. It is my way of having them here...just a bit. Last night, after the Sabbath ended, I handed Elie the bottle of blue oil and asked him to fill the candles again. He did...and all week, I will have that picture in my mind till next week comes and I light them.

To remember and to guard - this is the meaning of the candles...and the soldier. He remembers his promise, he guards his land and each week, we light candles that remind us of who we are as Jews, as Israelis, as God's people, as parents. Elie filled the candles that will shine light in our home next Shabbat.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Missed Ceremony Recaptured

After the first three months in the army, most combat units have successfully completed the first level of basic training. They've mastered, for the most part, the concept of discipline, of using a gun, of being...well, a soldier. In those first three months, the boy that entered moves so much closer to the man that will, God willing, exit some three years later.

To mark this moment when the boy becomes a soldier, trusted by the army - one of them, there is a ceremony. It is called the Swearing-In Ceremony, in that this is when the soldiers make their commitment to serve and defend the State of Israel. It's an incredible concept, really.

First, they receive two symbols of Israel: they are given a Bible, and they are given a gun. Really, they've had the gun for many weeks already, but this is the formal handing over of a concept and a reality. From this moment, the gun really becomes theirs; the responsibility to know where it is at all times, to use it only as trained.

Second, they are given the "oath," if you will. This too is a beautiful concept. They weren't asked to swear an oath when they entered the army but rather now, three months after they have already worked so hard, changed so much. This too, is a very Israeli concept. Come, learn what we are asking you. Understand this is not a picnic. You will be taught to use a gun...and God help you, you may well have to use it. If you are in artillery, you will be taught to shoot large missiles at accurate targets far in the distance. Paratrooper? You will be taught to jump from planes and land in far off places, there to fight for Israel. Navy? You will patrol our borders. Air force? Our skies.

No matter where you are now have a taste, after three months, of how you will be treated, of what will be expected of you. So understand...and then swear. It is actually the opposite of what the children of Israel answered to God thousands of years ago.

Then, we said, "We will do...and we will hear." We will commit ourselves to tell us what we have committed ourselves too. Here, Israel says to them...this is what you will do, now let us hear the commitment to follow.

The army of Israel has an amazing concept - it's summed up in two words, "Follow me." Follow me, says the commander - always I will lead you. I will not send you where I will not go. Follow me. Elie has learned to lead and that means he goes on operations, and others follow him. Where once he followed others, now others follow him.

I missed Elie's "Swearing-In" ceremony. There were things going on in the country...I don't even remember what. They took the boys to the top of a mountain and had the ceremony there, there without the parents. I have no pictures...none that I can post or show...and yet in my mind I can see the desert, the sun, the soldiers of Israel.

A few weeks ago, a lone soldier's mother contacted me. She was flying in to Israel to attend her son's Swearing-In ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I unashamedly (is that a word?) invited myself and yesterday stood and watched as her son and so many others stood.

I did my best to translate and sometimes wanted to cry from the beauty of the words. Sometimes didn't want to translate. They were speeches of pride that would break a mother's heart.

Commanders, the officer said as he addressed not the new soldiers who stood before him, but the commanders who had brought them thus far...Commanders, he said, we are trusting you with these fighters, they are children of ours. Take care of them, guide them, teach them.

He thanked the parents for trusting them with their children, their precious sons. And he thanked the families of those who have lost sons, forever bereaved. They began the ceremony with another officer speaking of those we will not forget. Those who fell in the War of Independence in 1948, the 1956 war, the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Lebanon War in 1982, and the Second Lebanon War and the most recent Gaza War...and all the operations in between and with honor and pride, he welcomed these soldiers into the Paratroopers Division.

There were many people watching the ceremony; the rooftops overlooking the Western Wall Plaza were overflowing. This young man's mother had traveled across an ocean...and amazingly enough, we found ourselves standing next to the mother of another soldier - she too had traveled across the world to see her son pledge his service to Israel.

I found myself standing there - three women from America whose sons serve the army of Israel. The emotions we felt were the same - the pride, the joy, the worry...and I felt so lucky to be the one living here. In the next few days, they return to their "home" and leave their sons here, far away. Later that evening, I would returned home to my family, my soldier son already in the house.

After the ceremony, I took my leave as I watched families gather around their sons. An hour later, having driven home and seen my youngest go off to sleep, I surfed the Internet to a favorite site of mine. It's a simple site with much information but more, it has three webcams showing live picture of the Western Wall...24 hours a day. There, an hour after I had left, I saw the plaza was still full of families enjoying these special moments with their sons, our soldiers.

When the lone soldier's mother wrote to me and told me that she was coming but that her husband would have to remain in the States and was sad he would miss the event, I told her about this site ( Her husband went there and watched in disbelief. Yes, he could now watch his son's Swearing-In ceremony live.

In the end, however, it wasn't necessary. The State of Israel - in recognition of his son's promise; in thanks for the motivation and dedication his son has already shown to his new home, paid to fly him to Jerusalem, to be there with his wife as they watched their son, live and in person, receive the symbols of Israel, the Bible and the gun.

I left them, happy to know I had made new friends; touched to have watched such a beautiful ceremony, and feeling a bit compensated for missing Elie's Swearing-In ceremony.

Shabbat shalom to this wonderful family, to their son who has made such a promise to my homeland...and his. Shabbat shalom to Elie, who happily joins us this week, and to all of in this land and around the world.

May it come in peace and may we all be blessed with the beauty of this special gift God has given to us all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Learning Leadership

Elie came home Monday night to attend his grandfather's memorial learning session this week and asked if he could take the car back to base. This will allow him to come home whenever he gets released for the weekend.

"What time do you think you'll be home?" I asked.

"Well, hopefully Thursday, but it might be Friday."

Why? For the most part, when at a checkpoint, the soldiers in his unit are released some time on Thursday. It seemed strange that it would be Friday, and stranger still that Elie wasn't sure.

As it turns out, the soldiers haven't been listening to their commanders. They've been showing up late and clearly more action is required. Perhaps they are restless, perhaps it is the weather. Whatever it is, clearly, Elie's unit will not allow discipline to slacken. So, the soldiers have been told that they won't get their weekend release quite so early. They are being held in suspense as to whether they will be released at all on Thursday, or only on Friday.

"I blame the commanders," Elie said. It was an interesting discussion. Commanders are, according to Elie's way of thinking, supposed to set an example and are ultimately responsible for their soldiers. If a soldier does something wrong...anything, it is the commander who must take responsibility. Elie is currently the commander of the commanders...and so he too takes responsibility.

Israel has a long history of such behavior. In many cases, commanders take responsibility for training accidents when they weren't even in the area during the exercise. It isn't that they did anything wrong, but rather a sense of responsibility for all things that happen under their watch. When something fails, it is they who take the blame and so, this week, because many of the soldiers haven't been getting up on time and doing things according to schedule, Elie and the other commanders have ordered that they stay late...and so, by extension will the commanders.

Elie wasn't angry about the inconvenience, the loss of a day at home. I've been in this thing long enough to understand how much soldiers prize their "out" time and yet he accepts that if his soldiers must stay, so will he.

I spoke to him a few minutes ago. He called to tell me that he'll be home late tomorrow afternoon. I asked him about the cookies I had sent back with him on Tuesday morning. "All gone," Elie said.

It was a big box of cookies. It was Tuesday morning. Now it is Wednesday night. "You didn't eat them all, did you?"

"Yeah, we did," he answered.

"WE did...who is 'we'." I love that he shares. "A bunch of us, five, maybe 10."

"Were there enough cookies?" I asked, "Did they like them?" Obviously they did, I thought to myself. "Yeah, everyone had one or two. Except one guy...he's on a diet."

"So, he didn't have any?"

"He couldn't stop eating them. And then he had brownies that somebody else brought."

"Some diet," I said to Elie.

It was a nice conversation - no pressure, no really important message. He's fine. He's good. He's coming home tomorrow night. There are few things more in life than any soldier's mother could ask.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A War Ago and a New Reality

On January 3rd last year, I switched to a news channel and a new reality. Artillery had begun firing into Gaza; a ground initiative was anticipated. Israel was at war.
It often amazes me how I open a post to write about one thing and end up writing about another. I wanted to write about a journey of faith, but switched, as I often do, to a window with the latest news. According to most news sources, artillery began firing into Gaza today. You don't have to be a military genius to realize that there is a purpose to this operation, including the use of artillery.

YNET and others will tell you the news; I can only tell you that what this means is that my son has gained a knowledge I will never know and hoped he would never know as well. Today, my son learned what war is closer and more personal than anything I could have imagined.
The next day, we lost our first soldier, Dvir Emanuelof. It was painful to write about Dvir, to recognize that war really meant losing soldiers and sons in battle.
The one thing we all knew going into this military action that has yet to be called a war, is that there would be soldiers who would fall in battle. We are not a country that worships death, nor do we believe it is preferable to life. We do not want our sons to be martyrs or heroes, only that they live long and healthy lives. And yet we have no choice but to give them the responsibility to protect our land, and in so doing, we know that sometimes, some will be asked to make the most horrible of sacrifices, the greatest of gifts to our land.

Tonight, Dvir will be buried, the first to fall in a war that has no name, but one for which all of Israel stands. Friends called today to tell me of other boys from the neighborhood who are down there as well. As I did yesterday, today I spoke to other mothers of soldiers. We comfort each other and find no real comfort. I haven't spoken to Elie all day. I have to leave it for him to call me.
The next day, I spoke to a journalist, who asked me how I was spending my days.
I told her I was glued to the computer and the telephone. I'd like to say that I spend most of it doing normal things, but that isn't really true. They are bombing my country, you see. Rockets hit this morning in many cities. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands are living in a few meters of space, knowing that they take their lives in their hands if they venture too far from shelter. Children haven't gone to school in over a week - they can't even go outside to play.

She made one comment about the hardships of journalists covering the war but I chose to ignore it. The harder it is for the journalists to report the movements of our troops, the safer our sons will be. This is not a game to our soldiers, they fight for their lives...and ours. Yesterday, Palestinians dragged a soldier into a tunnel, attempting to kidnap him, as they did Gilad Shalit more than 900 days ago. This time, with his strength and bravery and the grace of God, the soldier escaped.

Only weeks later would I learn more about that event from Elie. He spoke of the determined effort made to reach out and help the units on the ground safely bring that soldier and others home. Artillery was a key factor in providing the safety net to many soldiers entering and exiting Gaza. The war was on. From the air, on the ground, from the sea - it was a war brought on by those who believed they had a right to fire into our country, dozens of rockets were falling each day; almost a million people had to run for shelter and yet it was a time of great support for our troops and for the parents.

Day after day, friends called to ask how I was doing; where Elie was. When the war was finished, a new reality had arrived in Israel, a sense of disgust and frustration with the world. No country, I wrote repeatedly, would accept incoming rocket fire - 124 of them in November, more in December. More than 10,000 in the last 8 years. No, no country would accept it themselves and yet so many expected Israel to allow this to continue.

Today, for the most part, our children play freely outside; parents are more relaxed and ready to allow their families to enjoy, to live. A year ago, Israel fought a war to allow the people in our southern sectors freedom to really live. When it was over, Elie's unit was given the order to stand down, to return to normal.

Now, a year later, Gilad Shalit has been held captive not 900 days, but 1,290 days. For him, there is no end in sight...for me, day by day, the end is coming near - the time when Elie will stand down. He was home last night, a special gift from the army that allowed him to attend his grandfather's memorial evening; as he came home12 days ago for his grandmother.

Both were Holocaust survivors. They'd lost their parents and grandparents in another war, another time. They left Europe to go to America, to build a new life, a new reality there. They had their children and raised them...and watched as my husband chose a wife. They celebrated the birth of each grandchild and watched as those grandchildren moved across the sea to another life, another reality. In one of our last conversations, my father-in-law told me he would come to Israel to visit us. It was a visit he never made; as illness came to him only weeks after we moved.

Elie came home last night to honor them, to stand near as his father recited the mourner's prayer. He returned to the army this morning but will be home this weekend.

In a bit over a week, he's going to a special seminar - a full day in which the army explains what benefits he will receive upon discharge...what the army and country will do to thank him for these past three years of service.

Elie is quickly heading to a new reality, a new life.

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