Friday, February 26, 2010

The Thunder Rolls

The Sabbath is coming in just a short while, so I will write quickly some thoughts of what is happening. Elie finished his training course this week a day early and had yesterday off completely. The course taught him how to do what he's been trained to do...using an earlier computer system. This is what he will use when doing his reserve duty. He's now free for the next two weeks...and then has to go back to the army for two days to turn in his equipment and receive his reserve duty card.

This weekend is Parshat Zachor - the portion of the Torah that is read before the holiday of Purim. It contains a reference to Amalek - the evil king of the Amalekites. As the Israelites left Egypt, Amalek attacked them - from the rear...where the women and children and the weak were straggling behind. This is what a coward does and so the Jews were commanded to destroy Amalek and all traces of his existence and we were commanded to remember the crime of Amalek...of those who attack with no honor.

It is a custom in Elie's yeshiva - the pre-military academy where he learned before the army - to gather at the school. All those who can get out of the army, those who have finished already and those yet to enter, come and sleep over. They sleep wherever there is room - it isn't about accomodations but about joining together. Many from Elie's group will be there - all about to get out of the army in the coming weeks.

Shmulik is at his yeshiva...he is a bit over a week away from entering the army. Chaim goes in next week....

So many feelings, so many thoughts...not enough time to write them down.

It's raining here - pouring from the skies. Each drop is a blessing in this country, where water is scarce and we depend on the rain during the winter to replenish our land before the dry summer months.

As the Sabbath comes...my mind is filled with blessings that we have received, that I have been granted. May your lives be filled with blessings - and may you have the grace and the honor to see them, recognize them, be grateful for them.

Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another's Words...My Thoughts

This isn't about Elie or Shmulik or Chaim or Yaakov and yet, it is in many ways about all of them. People who have been weak and abused by others...either surrender or triumph. The story of my people is one of triumph, again and again, over those who wanted to destroy us. They are gone - the Romans, the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. No one knows of the Amalekites and the Philistines. No Cossacks roam the earth, no crusaders and the Nazis of another era have been shamed for their hatred.

When Israel was re-established in 1948, a vow was made by those who defended this land. It is a sacred vow that each of our sons accept as their destiny. Yaakov and Elie have answered that call; Shmulik and Chaim now step forward. The words that follow below were written by someone else...not even by a Jew and yet many of them are my thoughts, my beliefs and what I would want to tell the world, if it would but listen.

Someone sent me this via email with no clear source and yet I found the contents compelling enough that I believe it worth posting...if someone has a source, it would be appreciated...if someone believes I have violated their copyright, please let me know and I'll update, delete...whatever.

In the meantime, this stands as a testimony to one man's understanding of Israel and the Jews...if only Washington's current administration were nearly as perceptive. Perhaps someone will contact me and say this is a hoax and John McCain's brother Joe didn't write it. I hope he did - but even if he didn't...someone did and the words are not only true...they are likely prophetic. No...Joe is right...the Jews will not go quietly.
Joe McCain on Israel and the Jews

There is a lot of worry popping up in the media just now -- 'Can Israel Survive?' Don't worry about it. It relates to something that Palestinians, the Arabs, and perhaps most Americans don't realize -- the Jews are never going quietly again. Never. And if the world doesn't come to understand that, then millions of Arabs are going to die. It's as simple as that.

Throughout the history of the world, the most abused, kicked-around race of people have been the Jews. Not just during the holocaust of World War II, but for thousands of years. They have truly been 'The Chosen People' in a terrible and tragic sense.

The Bible story of Egypt ’s enslavement of the Jews is not just a story; it is history, if festooned with theological legend and heroic epics. In 70 A.D. the Romans, which had for a long time tolerated the Jews -- even admired them as 'superior' to other vassals -- tired of their truculent demands for independence and decided on an early 'Solution' to the Jewish problem Jerusalem was sacked and reduced to near rubble, Jewish resistance was pursued and crushed by the implacable Roman War Machine -- see 'Masada'. And thus began The Diaspora, the dispersal of Jews throughout the rest of the world.

Their homeland destroyed, their culture crushed, they looked desperately for the few niches in a hostile world where they could be safe. That safety was fragile, and often subject to the whims of moody hosts. The words 'pogrom', 'ghetto', and 'anti-Semitism' come from this treatment of the first mono-theistic people. Throughout Europe, changing times meant sometimes tolerance, sometimes even warmth for the Jews, but eventually it meant hostility, then malevolence. There is not a country in Europe or Western Asia that at one time or another has not decided to lash out against the children of Moses, sometimes by whim, sometimes by manipulation.

Winston Churchill calls Edward I one of England's very greatest kings It was under his rule in the late 1200's that Wales and Cornwall were hammered into the British crown, and Scotland and Ireland were invaded and occupied. He was also the first European monarch to set up a really effective administrative bureaucracy, surveyed and censused his kingdom, established laws and political divisions. But he also embraced the Jews.

Actually Edward didn't embrace Jews so much as he embraced their money. For the English Jews had acquired wealth -- understandable, because this people that could not own land or office, could not join most of the trades and professions, soon found out that money was a very good thing to accumulate. Much harder to take away than land or a store, was a hidden sock of gold and silver coins. Ever resourceful, Edward found a way -- he borrowed money from the Jews to finance imperial ambitions in Europe, especially France . The loans were almost certainly not made gladly, but how do you refuse your King? Especially when he it was 'Edward the Hammer'. Then, rather than pay back the debt,

Edward simply expelled the Jews. Edward was especially inventive-- he did this twice. After a time, he invited the Jews back to their English homeland, borrowed more money, then expelled them again.

Most people do not know that Spain was one of the early entrants into The Renaissance. People from all over the world came to Spain in the late medieval period. All were welcome -- Arabs, Jews, other Europeans. The University of Salamanca was one of the great centers of learning in the world -- scholars of all nations, all if elds came to Salamanca to share their knowledge and their ideas. But in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, having driven the last of Moors from the Spanish Shield, were persuaded by the righteous fundamentalists of the time to announce 'The Act of Purification'. A series of steps were taken in which all Jews and Arabs and other non-Christians were expelled from the country, or would face the tools and the torches of The Inquisition. From this 'cleansing' come the Sephardic Jews -- as opposed to the Ashkenazis of Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, the sporadic violence and brutality against Jews are common knowledge.

'Fiddler' without the music and the folksy humor. At times of fury, no accommodation by the Jew was good enough, no profile low enough, no village poor enough or distant enough.

From these come the near-steady flow of Jews to the United States . And despite the disdain of the Jews by most 'American' Americans, they came to grab the American Dream with both hands, and contributed everything from new ideas of enterprise in retail and entertainment to becoming some of our finest physicians and lawyers. The modern United States , in spite of itself, IS The United States in part because of its Jewish blood.

Then the Nazi Holocaust -- the corralling, sorting, orderly eradication of millions of the people of Moses. Not something that other realms in other times didn't try to do, by the way, the Germans were just more organized and had better murder technology.

I stood in the center of Dachau for an entire day, about 15 years ago, trying to comprehend how this could have happened. I had gone there on a side trip from Munich, vaguely curious about this Dachau. I soon became engulfed in the enormity of what had occurred there nestled in this middle and working class neighborhood.

How could human beings do this to other human beings, hear their cries, their pleas, their terror, their pain, and continue without apparently even wincing? I no longer wonder. At some times, some places, ANY sect of the human race is capable of horrors against their fellow man, whether a member of the Waffen SS, a Serbian sniper, a Turkish policeman in 1920's Armenia , a Mississippi Klansman. Because even in the United States not all was a Rose Garden.

For a long time Jews had quotas in our universities and graduate schools. Only so many Jews could be in a medical or law school at one time. Jews were disparaged widely. I remember as a kid Jewish jokes told without a wince - 'Why do Jews have such big noses?'

Well, now the Jews have a homeland again. A place that is theirs. And that's the point. It doesn't matter how many times the United States and European powers try to rein in Israel, if it comes down to survival of its nation, its people, they will fight like no lioness has ever fought to save her cubs. They will fight with a ferocity, a determination, and a skill, that will astound us.

And many will die, mostly their attackers, I believe. If there were a macabre historical betting parlor, my money would be on the Israelis to be standing at the end. As we killed the kamikazes and the Wehrmacht soldaten of World War II, so will the Israelis kill their suicidal attackers, until there are not enough to torment them.

The irony goes unnoticed -- while we are hammering away to punish those who brought the horrors of 11 September here, we restrain the Israelis from the same retaliation. Not the same thing, of course -- We are We and They are They. While we mourn and see the September 11th, we don't notice that Israel has a September 11th sometimes every day.

We may not notice, but it doesn't make any difference.. And it doesn't make any difference whether you are pro-Israeli or you think Israel is the bully of the Middle East . If it comes to where a new holocaust looms -- with or without the concurrence of the United States and Europe -- Israel will lash out without pause or restraint at those who would try to annihilate their country.

The Jews will not go quietly again.
Joe McCain

Brothers in Arms

In the early months after finding out that I was pregnant with Shmulik, the doctors suspected that because of his rapid growth, I might be carrying twins. As it turns out, there was only one, born, grown, and now entering the army. But, in some ways, it appears there was a twin after all. I've mentioned here that over the last few years, our family has "adopted" two boys (well, men, but never mind). The first was Yaakov, who joined our family after meeting Elie. Yaakov gave me my first introduction to the army, limited though it was.

I didn't experience what a real parent would go through with Yaakov. First, his real mother was there, though on distant shores, and Yaakov is an independent sort. I saw how they come home hungry and exhausted; I learned about the ceremonies...I took pictures and videos, cheered when he was given his rifle and Bible, his colored beret, and finally released from training. But what he did while in the army was a blurry picture and so long as he didn't call to say he needed something, I just went along assuming everything was okay. Occasionally, if I knew where he was I might listen to the news more or wonder and yes, perhaps even worry, but for the most part, he was in training and I was blessedly oblivious.

I knew what he was training to do...but just let myself believe he'd never have to use his training. I didn't think about war and there were no terrifying calls in the middle of the night (thanks, Yaakov), even by accident (um...thanks Elie?).

All I had to do for Yaakov, all I could do...or all I did do...was be at home waiting when he called and said he wanted to come for a Shabbat or a holiday, invited us to a ceremony, or needed some help with some bureaucratic issue. A meal, a bed, a home because his mother's home was far away. He came to us for Passover and we welcomed him and watched as he almost fell asleep in the soup. I listened as Elie tried to awaken him to eat something and realized how hard they are trained, how exhausted they must be. Beyond that, there was talk of guns and things among the boys, but perhaps I was in denial. Elie was Elie, so obviously, Yaakov was still Yaakov. One wore green, one didn't. Both part of our family. 

One day, Yaakov brought his brother Chaim to us - and he became ours too. Chaim learned here in yeshiva for a while, returned back to the States to tidy his affairs, and returned a few months ago. Like Yaakov, he was a part of our lives...is a part of our lives. We took Yaakov on vacation with us; Chaim to family outings and friends. Without replacing their family, we've become family in some ways...or perhaps in the ways that count most.

In less than a few weeks, Shmulik will enter the Kfir division of the ground forces...and around the same time, Chaim will enter the army as well. My youngest daughter believes that Yaakov and Chaim are really her brothers, no different than her real brothers. When family plans are made, she will ask, "Will Chaim come too?" or "When is Yaakov coming home?"

Her memory of Yaakov is a bit dimmer, her feelings for Chaim after spending most of the last two years with him visiting often, much sharper. She's had one brother go into the army...now two more enter at the same time. She is digesting this...so am I.

Within days, these two go in...and my stomach doesn't quite know which one to dance for...which one to worry about first. I took them both shopping this Saturday night for undershirts and socks. Green...it's coming soon. Chaim has a wonderful mother...but call me, I told him, if you need anything, and I'll come running. I'll call his mother - he isn't really mine, after all, but in the meantime, I'll bake him cookies, give him a home to come to when he can. During basic training, he has to call his parents in the evenings (try to give me a call once in a while too, I asked). I don't want to take anything away from his family...and yet I want him to know that he is loved here too. He and Shmulik. Elie and Yaakov. They are brothers in a very real sense of the word, I believe. United by their past, their commitment to this land and our people...and yes, by parents that love them (in America and here too).

It's strange, this concept of adoption. You never quite know how deep they will enter your heart when you open your home. I have a problem too - Chaim actually reads this blog sometimes, where Shmulik and Elie never do. I didn't really make that connection until I'd written once before but now I know (hi, Chaim!!) and so I hesitate. Perhaps I could convince Chaim to stop reading here? I can already hear him laughing. No, he won't stop, but I'll confess it anyway. There's another aspect that concerns me. Elie and Yaakov are the tough ones - though Chaim and Shmulik would argue.

I see Elie and Yaakov as the fighters, the strong and independent ones...for some reason, I worry more about Shmulik and Chaim. Oh they won't like this, but I'm not sure Yaakov or Elie have a sensitive bone in their bodies...well, they do, of course....and I've seen both of them be sweet (though I might have just insulted them). But Chaim and Shmulik...they're...just...I'm lost for words. You can still be a man and be sweet; you can still be strong and yet....

Part of it is knowing that the army is hard on them...and I'm grateful for that...but worried. The army shaped Yaakov and Elie, what will it do for Chaim and Shmulik? Physically and even emotionally, I have no doubt they will thrive, as Elie and Yaakov did...and yet...and yet...and yet.

I was so grateful that Elie finished as Shmulik starts. I know so many who have two or more in the army and I marvel. I can't. I couldn't. No - it's enough to walk around each day with half a brain and half a heart, how could I possibly divide it even further? And the answer, of course, is that love is infinite. Each time you think you couldn't possibly have more inside yourself, you find that you do. With the birth of each child, my capacity to love more deeply than I had previously imagined...grew yet more.

So, apparently, it is with worry. I thought I could not worry more than having Elie in the army and yet it is already starting. Chaim will be in Nahal Haredi - a sub-unit of the same division, Kfir, that Shmulik will be in. Artillery seems to tame by comparison and Yaakov was Givati...also ground forces, but I didn't know, didn't understand, didn't think. Both will be stationed roughly in the same area for basic training. We had this past Shabbat all together and there was much talk of army. Elie was the wise one...the two about to go in listened.

It is strange to have another and another enter a door I can never pass through. I stand on the outside and watch them go and I pray for their safety. It seems Shmulik had a bit of a twin after all and it seems I'll now experience having two in the army and wondering where they go and what they do.

This time, at least, I'll have another with me - on distant shores, I'll try to talk to Chaim's mother now and then to see how she's doing. She was a soldier's mother before I was...and now she will be again. Maybe together we can get through this second time with less worry...and then I get two years off before the next son goes in.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Future....Goes On

I took a few days and didn't write anything. I missed it a bit - thought about it a few times - and just left it alone for a few days. I took a day to attend my nephew's military ceremony appointing him as an officer, spoke at a Social Media conference in Jerusalem, traveled north to a client. This is what life felt like before Elie went into the army and it is a lull I am enjoying; a time I take for myself.

My heart and brain have been completely mine...inside me, whole. I haven't feared a phone call...or at least not any that a normal mother would not fear. I have listened to the news, but names and places blur. He isn't near Kalkilye; he isn't over there. I worry for the soldiers who are there...but it is back to the level of a normal Israeli, normal concern, normal.

Life is filled with before and after moments. Some we know and expect; others we can never imagine. Forever after, life is divided by that moment and yet, often, you just couldn't expect it, didn't imagine the impact it would have.

Before Elie went into the army - there was a huge black space in his future and mine that I really tried to avoid thinking about. There was nothing I could do and the day would come soon enough...and when it did and I realized I could no longer avoid it, it tested me, challenged me, and changed me.

It changed my relationship with Elie in a way I never imagined it would - we are closer and I appreciate the person he has become. I so desperately hope it will do the same with my next son as well. It changed my relationship with the other members of my family - some for the good and some for the bad and I have to work on that.

It changed my relationship with God...I can't really explain that other than to say that when you are afraid, you trust more, you believe more, you beg more and you understand that God is all powerful and that all things rest in His hands and so you pray...you pray that what is good for you is really for the good of all. And you fear...not just for the dangers that are known, but for the judgment that is not.

This blog, which began as a personal journey, has taken off and touched others and I am forever grateful that those it has touched have often shared with me their thoughts (while taking my worries, fears and joys as theirs as well). I have met people – amazing, wonderful, warm and loving people from around the world.

That was never my goal and yet it has happened and continues to happen. There are other bloggers and sites that take my words and spread them further and for this too I am grateful.

And there are the detractors – the nasty ones, like the one who calls himself/herself simply SK and after my last post wrote, “You think now you could end this?"

I thought about that question this morning as I began preparing for the Sabbath. I’ve thought about the irony of taking Elie home exactly three years to the day after recognizing the journey I was starting. Often I’ve wondered if I should stop and each time so many have written to thank me in some way – for writing what they were feeling about their own voyages, for explaining something about a far off distant land that isn’t really like the way the media says it is, for showing a simple fact…that this boy who puts on a green uniform, remains a person.

In a very real way, I could not have gotten through the last three years without some outlet, some means of dealing with the internal thoughts that kept me awake at night. I wanted to keep them from Elie, couldn’t share them with others in the family who were also afraid or worried. So it was something I needed to do…but do I need to do it again, as Shmulik enters the army?

Probably not – though his unit will be doing different things, watching over different places; his role different during wartime. But I’m stronger than I was, I know so much more, and this time, I have Elie with me to interpret and understand the ways of the army when before it was two of us going in blind.

No, I don’t NEED this blog any more, though I do need the contacts I have made, the friends, the supporters.

Do I think I could end this now? Absolutely. It would be so easy. It did its job…but you see, I didn’t finish mine. Minutes after my youngest child was born, I turned to my husband with a thought…she was a few minutes old and my oldest child was fourteen, a teenager. Elie was going to enter his teenage years in a few months…and in those moments, I realized that for the next twenty years of my life, I would be dealing with teenagers (numerous at times). That was 10 years ago.

In a few weeks, Shmulik turns 20, I’ll have, for the first time in many years, only one teenager at home…another coming around the bend soon enough.

In less than a few weeks, Shmulik enters the army as Elie enters the Reserves. They won’t call him for a year…at least I hope they won’t. But as I have been a soldier’s mother for three years now, all that changes is that the apostrophe shifts…now I will be two soldiers’ mother, three if you count my adopted son Chaim, who will also be going into the army soon…and four if you count my adopted son Yaakov, who will hopefully return and may choose to volunteer as well. Five and six…and thousands and thousands if you understand Israeli culture.

Each is a son of mine, as mine is a son of theirs. I am part of a culture, part of a huge group of women here in Israel and around the world. A soldier’s mother…it is not a term of shame, but of honor. It is not a call to violence, but a prayer for peace. It is a commitment, as real as the one we make when we birth them, as life-altering as that moment was as well.

So, this blog continues, SK, because Yaakov and Elie remain soldiers and Shmulik and Chaim become ones.

I took a week off because it felt good to just feel my sons around me, but what life has made them, what this country requires of them, means I too remain on alert, on call, on duty.

May you all, my friends and readers and most of all, my fellow mothers of soldiers – my sisters…may you all have a blessed day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Three Years...and Elie's Home

I started this blog on February 13, 2007 - it was my first post and it was titled, "Starting Young."
Starting from a very young age, Israeli boys (and girls) know that they are destined to go to the army. It's part of how they grow up, where they are headed, who they will become. For those of us who came to Israel as adults, it's something that is harder to assimilate. It's so easy, year after year, to deny that it will happen, to postpone dealing with it. So, here I am, six weeks away from when my son will enter the Israeli army, suddenly having it all become real. This blog is a soldier's mother's story.
Elie is 19 years old. A handsome boy with the most incredible blue eyes. He's smart, a volunteer in the ambulance squad, and lest you think that I think he is perfect, he's got a mighty fine temper and his room's a terrible mess. Elie is the manager of the family, the one who analyzes everything.
It's been three years. Elie is 22 years old. He's a handsome man with the most incredible blue eyes. He's smart and will likely take a course in the next few months to become an ambulance driver. And though by now, you must know he isn't perfect, he's learned to control his temper most of the time, has learned so much, and promises to clean his room this very week.

Tonight, as soon as the Sabbath ended, Elie called me. We'd made plans that I would travel to pick him up from his base later tonight, but things shifted, his schedule changed, and it was possible for me to pick him up right away. I left half an hour later and now he is home. Three years to the day since I started this blog...Elie is home. He has another week of training for reserve duty and a day when he has to go turn in his gear, but he's home, he's done. He brought home bags and bags of stuff - his blanket, his running shoes. He's home.

On the way home, he explained why there were so many army vehicles on the road - waved goodbye to the soldiers at the checkpoint. He's home. It comes with such joy, such relief...and a bit of fear as well.
So - Elie is all grown up now, a man about to go to the army. We got his "marching" orders last week - artillery unit, and already I am panicking. Not because I don't want him to go, but because I haven't had the time to accept it all. My daughter, Elie's older sister, is getting married in a few weeks and two weeks after that, Elie goes in. I've been up to my elbows in wedding plans and jitters. Dresses and caterers and invitations and most importantly, smoothing out the nerves of a happy and excited bride. And, in the middle of all this, quietly moving closer and closer was this date - end of March, 2007, my son will be a soldier.
Three years ago, it was my daughter's wedding that softened the days before Elie went into the army. This year, it is Elie coming out of the army that has softened the days before Shmulik goes in. We got Shmulik's "marching" orders...and marching orders they are. He will be part of the Ground Forces...Kfir Brigade...and already I am panicking...Not because I don't want him to go, but because I haven't had the time to accept it all. I have no excuses this time - he doesn't go into the unknown and yet even without the lack of knowledge, my heart still hurts just a little bit, my stomach dances just a little bit.

I have focused on this day, today, when Elie would come home. I've wanted it to come, terrified that in the days or moments before he would come home, something would happen and he would be hurt. When I started this blog, I was terrified that I would ever have to write my most horrible and terrifying thoughts. I have been blessed - frightened out of my wits plenty of times - but so incredibly blessed. And now, now I dare to ask God to bless me yet again, to watch over my Shmulik as he watched over Elie. What nerve I have to ask and yet, what else can a mother do?

Tonight, for the first time in almost three years, Elie came home without a gun. He has already returned it.

"How does that feel?" I asked him.

"Weird," he answered.

Weird. That too is a blessing. Tomorrow, he plans to get a haircut and clean his room. He wants to fix up the computer, empty and reorganize his closet. He asked if I needed his help in the office. He's already feeling at loose ends, a bit lost, I think. He knows his long term goals, but not his short term ones. For the first time, no one is telling him what he has to do, when. The rules are essentially gone and now he has to pave his own path. For him, it is probably even scarier than going into the army. I have to remember that he still needs my help and while I focus on Shmulik, I still need to watch and see what Elie needs.

Tonight, before I went to get Elie, I stood next to Shmulik as my husband recited the blessings that separate between Shabbat and the rest of the week. Soon, I won't know where he is, what he is doing. Soon, I'll write more on Shmulik so that you can learn about him and see how special he is...so different from Elie in so many ways, looks, personality...and more.

For now, I'll stop the worry for one night, perhaps even for a few weeks. Elie stands down after three years. His gun is back with the army, soon to go to another son of Israel. Tonight he sleeps in his bed, still a soldier for a few more weeks, but it is now a technicality. For at least a year, there is very little chance he will go on patrol, man a checkpoint, and have the responsibilities of command that have been his for so long.

Tonight, I close my eyes and will sleep deep and with the normal fears of a normal mother. I have no sons on the borders of Israel, none at a checkpoint or deep in the desert. I have two sons who are technically soldiers and neither likely to be called in the coming days.

I love my country, Israel. Long ago, I chose to bring my two sons here, knowing that some day they would serve. I gave birth to another son and knew all three would serve. I am proud that Elie served; that Elie defended his country and with a bit of shame, I am so glad he is home, so so glad to be done, at least for this round.

May the God of Israel watch over our soldiers this night and every night.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Name Tag

Every year, I help coordinate a national convention for technical writers in Jerusalem. Two years ago, Elie was finishing his Commanders Course. The ceremony was on a Wednesday, the day before the conference. He was then given the next five days on vacation and so was able to attend the conference and help out. I was so proud of him that I announced it during the opening ceremony - Elie was out in the Vendor Hall helping man the table for my company.

I told people that when they see him, they should say, "Ken, hamefaked" - "Yes, Commander." It is what soldiers answer when ordered to do something, and so many people all day long went to Elie and recognized his new status. Elie was amused, though pretended to be annoyed; I was enthralled. This year, as the conference approaches, Elie will have just been released from the army.

Of course, everyone that attends the conference will know that Elie will still be a soldier - in the reserves. Before he leaves, he will go to the Induction Center where it all started. He will return his gun, his uniforms...and immediately be given papers that show he remains part of the Israeli army...but in the reserves. He'll be a soldier, even at the conference, and I'll still be a soldier's mother. As of now, Shmulik will be at the conference too...and five days later, something I'll try not to think about at the conference, Shmulik will go to the very Induction Center where his brother had just left. Elie will enter the Induction Center in uniform...and leave in regular clothes. Shmulik will enter in regular clothes...and leave in uniform.

Before I let that break me, I'll get back to the name tag of this post. Each attendee is given a name tag with their company name just below their own. It helps people know who they are talking to and helps avoid those embarrassing moments when someone comes over and recognizes them while they haven't got a clue about the other person's identity.

Elie will again come as a representative of my company. He'll help make sure the computers are working, move boxes that need to be moved. He'll sit at our table or run to the car. And so, my office manager is making the tags for all the attendees and while doing so, asked what she should put under Elie's name. "Army?" she joked.

And I told her to make two tags for him. The first will say "Elie, Artillery Commander" the second, which he will wear after he laughs, will say the name of my company as expected. She's already put a small picture of a nagmash (armored personnel carrier) on the tag as well.

Personally, I'm hoping he chooses the first one!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Life's Course

The army has a much coveted course that it offers to a limited number of soldiers. It can't offer it to all of them. For the most part, it is another benefit given to combat soldiers, though others are also able to attend when space is available. Elie was lucky - he got the course.

He was happy for a number of reasons - it meant a week at home. Each morning to rise and drive to the location where the course is offered; each afternoon to return home. Nights were his. The course lasted Sunday through Thursday, each day a new and challenging and informative topic. We gave him one of our cars, which left me stranded at the office. Each afternoon on his way home, he picked me up and drove me home as we talked.

I'm not sure I can remember all the topics, but let's start. On the first day, they spoke to him about what he can expect from the army when he leaves - an immediate grant of several thousand dollars; a fund that can be used at any time in the next five years for a variety of things - education, buying an apartment, getting married. The fund will sit and gather interest until he pulls it out. After 5 years, it is his for any reason.

They spent one day teaching Elie and the others interviewing skills - proper behavior, comments, questions. They did role playing with the boys and videotaped them so that they could see for themselves what the interviewer would see. They taught them about putting together a CV and about life after the army.

They taught them about budgeting - about understanding how much income they have, taken against expenses and how to balance your needs against your resources. They taught them important information about when you shop for an apartment - both to rent and to buy. What to look for in an apartment; what to look for in terms of a mortgage.

There were other practical aspects of this course that daily left me so proud of the government's recognition that these young men are about to face a new reality. Elie explained it to me as if it was something I didn't know.

"We've never been so free," Elie explained. They went from high school and their parents' homes to an even more restricted environment where almost every minute of their lives was determined, disciplined, controlled. Now, after three years, all restrictions are gone. They come back to their homes as men. I can't tell Elie how to behave, when to go to sleep, what time he has to be home. The thought is absurd - a boy left my home; a man returns.

And on the final day, they spoke of far off lands and what happens to too many of our young. After seeing war and terror and violence, after being so restricted, many crave freedom and air. They leave Israel for extended travels to far off exotic lands. Most return home safely; too many don't.

They spoke of drugs and showed them a video made by a young man who had traveled to India with friends. He'd never been involved in drugs, but with the encouragement of friends he was traveling with, began experimenting. Months past by, of which he has no memory. He doesn't remember how he got back to Israel, only that at some point, he came back to himself and was finally drug-free. Young man to young man, he warned Elie's group. Go, be safe, return home healthy and whole.

I don't think Elie will be among those who travel off to distant exotic shores. We've talked about him perhaps making a visit to family in the United States and traveling to see things there. It's distant, but doesn't hit the exotic and frightening on my scale.

He's thinking what he wants to do...no answers yet. Perhaps for a short while, he'll do nothing and that's okay with me too. He joked once that after the army, he would never wear green again...at least outside of his yearly reserve duty.

From the beginning to now, the army has amazed me. The fact that they take this time to teach soldiers about mortgages and interviews shows how incredible an organization it is. Their primary goal has always been to defend Israel, but they understand that they have the power not just to save lives, but to launch them on to successful paths.

I wish as a soldier's mother there was someone I could thank for the gift they have given to my son. In making him a soldier, they have made him a better, stronger, healthier, smarter man. I gave them a boy, much loved and handsome. He was smart, they made him smarter. He was too quick to anger, they taught him discipline. He was always analytical, they taught him to think. I gave them a beautiful boy, they return to me an amazing man.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

When Your Stomach Meets Your Toes

Didn't know that could happen did you? Well...it can, it did (again). Shmulik received a letter today in the mail. It looked important and was expected. I opened it for him...Excuse my translation, but this is the best I can do....

Subject: Invitation to be drafted:
Here is your invitation to the March, 2010 draft, which begins your active service (date)(time). On this day you will go through induction and begin your active service. You are required to bring (list of stuff) and personal equipment for two weeks.

Make sure you come on time. A soldier who does not arrive at this location on this day will stand judgment. (place)(directions).
And there went my stomach. Yup, I'd been so sure it wouldn't happen this time. I have no excuse. I've been through this. I know this path. My son will be a soldier in the army of Israel - this time it will be the Kfir Division. Want to lose the rest of your stomach? Here's what the IDF site says about Kfir:

The Kfir Brigade, under the command of the Plada Formation in the Central Command, is the largest brigade in the Israel Defense Forces. The unit was officially formed in February 2005 out of a collection of battalions – Nachshon, Shimshon, Haruv, Duchifat, Lavi, and Netzah Yehuda – into a full brigade. The Brigade specializes in anti-terror fighting and combats in urban areas, its soldiers are willing to volunteer to stand at the forefront of a determined fight against terrorism. The brigade's battalions are deployed in Palestinian towns stretching from Hebron in the south to Tulkarem in the north, sharing the burden of intense fighting. The brigade carries out challenging, complex operations demanding the soldiers demonstrate a level of expertise, steadfastness, initiative, and determination on a daily basis.
Now this sounds all well and good until it's your son. The brigade specializes in anti-terror fighting and combats (yes, I'd like to volunteer to fix their English) in urban areas...I don't want my son doing this. I know someone has to, but I was thinking along the lines of his being a life guard, a school crossing, or maybe a ski instructor. Okay, so he doesn't know how to ski, but he could learn.

its soldiers are willing to volunteer to stand at the forefront of a determined fight against terrorism. Well, see, he might be willing, but really, I'm not. I don't want him standing at the forefront. I mean, it isn't like he stood at the forefront at school...he was okay, good even, but not the forefront. Besides, I'm an artillery mother - we support the troops...kilometers behind he line...Yes, I'm all for a determined fight against terrorism but I wasn't really thinking of putting my baby there. I know he isn't a baby; I know someone has to be there; I know he will be there and so, I've decided to act like a baby here. And I demand my 30 seconds of panic before I get back to being mature.

The brigade's battalions are deployed in Palestinian towns. I've been through this...I don't like when they are deployed in Palestinian towns...can't we convince the Palestinians to just stop these rockets and shooting attacks...please? Really, very little good happens to Israeli soldiers in Palestinian town...given their current leadership and culture of violence and death-worship, I'm not sure anything good for Palestinians happens in Palestinians towns...no, really - he could skip this line, as far as I am concerned.

Never mind. I'll go back and read my blog from the beginning. I'll learn to take it one day at a time. I'll be grateful for this day and for the one that comes after. I'll learn again how to trust the army to train him correctly. Artillery had its moments...I just have to trust that I can handle Kfir's moments too.

One more thing - a Kfir is a lion cub and the lion is a symbol of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of our forefather Jacob. When Jacob lay dying, he blessed Judah with the following prayer,

You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise;

Your hand shall be on the nape of your foes;
Your father's sons shall bow low to you.

Judah is a lion's whelp;
On prey, my son, have you grown.
He crouches, lies down like a lion,
Like the king of beasts — who dare rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet;
So that tribute shall come to him
nd the homage of peoples be his.
This is the blessing that Judah received from his father. It speaks of strength and vigilance, of the power of leadership and the tribute he will receive. Kfir it will be - my son who has always loved animals...will join the young lions who defend this land.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What is a Miss?

Palestinians shot a rocket at Israel yesterday. For all intents and purposes, they again missed their target...whatever that might have been this time. Palestinians also launched explosive barrels against Israel's shore lines. For all intents and purposes, they again missed their target...whatever that might have been. The devices - three so far and counting, were all found and neutralized. A miss. Again.

Because this new water warfare is a bit unique, it garners a bit of international attention but for all intents and purposes, the explosives were oh-so-boringly disarmed. No spectacular explosions; no blood; no deaths and so, sadly, no real news as far as much of the world is concerned.

The world is blasé about the rockets that keep raining down on us. Yesterday, another rocket - the 20th rocket in a period of 34 days. The rocket crashed down near a city of 25,000 people. Certainly, Hamas cannot control the rockets - proof in the fact that they keep missing. But...because they cannot be controlled, because they are launched indiscriminately, they bring with them terror.

There is no miss when it comes to terror - and that is the point that must be made.
A miss doesn't make the news but that doesn't mean anything on the scale of what is really important. Twenty times in the last month, close to one million people have been terrorized by rockets.

In the last few days, all of Israel has been warned - avoid the seashore and if you go, beware. If you see a suspicious object...it could be a bomb. Can you relate this idiocy to your life - you who live far from such a concept?

When I was young and wanted a day of freedom, it was to the beach I went. I have always felt so close to the water, so touched by the majesty and power of that place where water meets land. Two years ago, I asked my youngest daughter what she wanted to do on her last day of vacation. Elie was in the army, her older sister in her first year of marriage. My youngest child picked the sea and so we went (A Candle and a Wave). I watched her dance among the waves, enthralled as I have always been. Today, in fear, there are many who are not going to the beaches; the army has told us to stay away while they comb the waters of our shoreline. Boats have been warned as well. This too they would take from us, if we let them.

What amazes me is how the shades of terrorism never seem to include terror. Attacks are measured only in bodies and blood - but what of the terror itself? What of the family who avoids the beach, the mall, the buses today because they are afraid? What of the child who walks and is afraid on his way to school because he knows that a Color Red might sound and he has to run and hide and only has 15 seconds?

What of the mother who plays in the park with two of her children and wonders if she can, within 15 seconds, get to both and safety as well? All these are facets of terrorism too easily ignored.

That the Palestinians missed murdering innocents in Sderot yesterday and the day before and eighteen other times this past month, is a blessing, a miracle, a gift. The fact that alert Israelis are finding these water bombs before innocents find them is a blessing, a miracle, a gift. It is wrong to ignore the horror, the terror, the indignity, the murderous intent...simply because, by the grace of God and our security forces, the Palestinians have, once again, missed their targets.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Planting the Land and the Child

Seasons in Israel are so different than they were in the United States. In the US, they seemed to gently glide, one into the other. Summer gave way to cooler nights and then the leaves began to turn all manner of wonderful colors. Fall had arrived. The frost came and the nights became colder. Winter. And so it went, season after season, each marked by a gradual changing of the weather. Each season came with a bit of warning, a taste before the fury of the cold or the heat. Fall and spring were welcome breaks from the extreme and provided the glide into the next.

In Israel, like life itself, the seasons are less defined, more drastic. One day the cold comes; winter...but what happened to the fall? And then it suddenly gets hot and summer has arrived; somehow spring never really comes to Israel. Of course, the temperatures are less extreme than they were where I lived in the States. Snow here is rare; summer's typically hotter and drier.

One thing that marks the transition between winter and summer is Tu B'Shevat - it's the new year of the trees. Yes, that's right - even the trees can celebrate their own fresh start. Tu B'Shevat is when the almond trees start to blossom and you know that though winter hasn't finished, the land is reawakening already. In America, Tu B'Shevat was the time we donated a few dollars to have someone plant a tree in Israel.

Many decades ago, a diplomat from Burma came to Israel on a visit. He toured the land and then congratulated the surprised Israelis. He was so impressed by Israel's "deforestation" plan that had cleared huge areas of trees. His country, you see, is covered with trees and in order to settle and make place for cities and homes, they must knock down the trees - a difficult and time consuming process at that time.

Israel has no deforestation plan - quite the opposite. We plant - everywhere we can, even in the desert. One of Israel's great innovations was drip irrigation - a method to minimize water usage while maximizing growth. So what does this all have to do with us?

Well, on Friday, I finally gave in and stole time with my husband and youngest son. We drove to a nursery and bought flowers and flowers...and a tree, and not a terribly small one either and then we returned home and planted it in our backyard.

Shmulik and my younger son dug the whole and together with their father struggled the tree into place. I've planted other trees in Israel - long ago the first time I came to Israel at the age of 16, several years ago in a different home that we had bought, and now in this home. Each time, there is such an incredible feeling of connection with this land.

With this tree, I plant myself that much deeper. And as I gazed out this morning at the thriving tree, strong in the ground, its leaves proudly fluttering in the wind, I realized that I have planted my life here and more, the lives of my children. With each son that enters the army, with each daughter that performs her national service, our roots grow deeper, stronger, wider. The almond trees are blossoming, and so too, is my family.

I am humbled by both, grateful for both.

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