Friday, April 30, 2010

Forever and a Day

We have this pot I bought many years ago. It is one of these old pots that simply fits many uses...and somewhere along the way, I lost the cover...probably in the move we made about six or seven months ago...wait, it was ten months ago. Anyway, we were cooking for Shabbat - I was busy with one thing, Elie was about to start something else, and Davidi was mixing the dough for cookies when Elie pulled out he pot, thinking it would be the perfect size.

"Where's the cover?" he asked me.

I thought for a second and then answered, Ï haven't seen it in forever and a day," I answered.

Elie started to look in some of the cabinets and then turned to his little sister, "Aliza, where were you forever and a day ago?"

Well, he used a different pot and we still haven't found the cover...but it is nice to have him home. He's looking into work and study...enjoying the time off. The army paid him thousands of shekels as part of his discharge and he's locked most of it in an investment account to earn a bit of extra money. He showed me a statement from the bank. He had made 64 agurot in the past month...that comes to about 15 cents.

Well...for the first time in his life...certainly the first time in the last three years, his life is his own, his time for him to schedule. It's a strange and free period and I honestly don't think he realizes what a special time in his life it is. Soon enough, he'll fill his time again and make plans and commitments.

For now, he is young, healthy, and free. I love that our close relationship seems to continue in so many ways. He has returned to the Elie of before the army in some ways - he'll fight with his brothers and younger sister...or actually, I should say youngest brother and sister because they are all that is here to fight with. But he is so much more helpful than he was before he went into the army...so much more aware of his strength, his height...and even his intelligence.

And, he is very protective of me in ways that he never was before, more respectful in his tone and demanding the same respect from his siblings. He will not allow them to raise their voice to me...it is a lesson we teach our children and I would quickly intervene and demand that respect before addressing the needs of a child...even one who is upset and in need. But before I have a chance, Elie will stop them, "watch how you speak to Ima," he will warn them...

Another great contribution is the time and knowledge he gives to Shmulik. Elie had to learn his rights in the army; Shmulik's path is, in some ways, easier. Which is good because Shmulik seems to be have a more difficult and demanding path. They are now up to 8 kilometer walks...and by walk, I don't mean anything close to a leisurely stroll.

Shmulik was sick this last week...I'm not particularly impressed this time with how his commanding officers took care of him, despite promises the week before. They were out in the field - it took them two days to bring Shmulik back to base...and another day and a half to finally get him to a doctor. And, when he'd finally seen one, he was given time to rest on base. They do not send soldiers in basic training home, the doctor explained to Shmulik, unless it is really an emergency and so he suffered his stomach virus too alone for my comfort. I finally did something I have never done before - I called his Mem Pay - the commanding officer's commanding officer (or perhaps a level above that even). Omri assured us that they took care of our sons and so I called and explained that Shmulik needed a doctor to see him. Omri assured me that Shmulik would see a doctor the next day - which finally happened.

Omri assured me that he "personally" would go check on Shmulik...well, he did send someone, so I guess that almost counts. He said he would make sure Shmulik was drinking...my main concern, and would even get him something with sugar...a juice or something...well, he didn't do that either and so Shmulik drank only water...but at least he was drinking.

My biggest complaint (which I tried to tell to Omri...but unfortunately, he couldn't answer the phone and though the person who answered it said Omri would call back...he never did)...was that when the doctor said Shmulik could rest, what that meant was that he wasn't allowed to do physical training but was allowed to be commanded to do some light things on base. The amazing part was that the light thing he was commanded to do was to wash dishes...that was why I called Omri.

Where is the logic of asking a sick soldier to wash dishes? It doesn't take much intelligence to know that was a really stupid idea...I get the logic of not sending Shmulik home; I understand the need to give him something to do...but dishes?

Anyway, I am grateful that Shmulik is now home for the weekend. His stomach is still bothering him, but not as bad as it was. And as I worried this past week about Shmulik being sick...I reminded myself that the army commitment doesn't last forever and a day. Six weeks have passed...still many more to come, but not forever.

The army has a logic all its own...a way of training. It is not for us to question...I knew that when Elie went in, while Elie served, and I know it with Shmulik as well. One day at a time...and today he came home.

Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Want to Save that Tree

I was talking to Elie yesterday about the event at Shmulik's base last week. There were so many things I wanted to write about, maybe post a picture or two. We talked about how the field went on fire after the shooting demonstration and how soldiers rushed to put out the fire. It's very dry in Israel for most of the year. The winter rain has ended. If all goes as usual, it won't rain again here - even once - for the next six or seven months. Explosives...dry ground...fire.

Sometimes they rush to put it out...sometimes they let it burn itself out - which can often be safer than allowing it to burn when they aren't watching it and prepared. Once, Elie told me, they had a major exercise that set acres of brush on fire. There was nothing around...they would let it simply burn itself out. Elie was the commander, the senior commander of the unit was in the same armored personnel carrier with Elie. Both were standing, able to see outside as the vehicle was driven across the terrain. Elie was in charge of instructing the driver; the more senior commander was in charge of watching all the other vehicles as they made their way back to base.

As they drove, the vehicles easily crossed some of the blackened earth, "there were even some small fires burning" that they drove past. All of a sudden, the senior commander ordered Elie and the others to change the path, "I want to save that tree."

There in the distance, there was a single tree...a fire was slowly burning a path towards it and this officer wanted to save the tree. They stopped the vehicle, jumped out, and between some soldiers beating the fire and the fire extinguishers from the vehicles, they put out the fire. The tree was saved.

Why do I tell you this story? I guess because this is a side of our collective personality here in Israel. Our land is precious to us...the trees are precious. No harm is done when the underbrush is burned away and often Arab and Jewish farmers set fire to the dried fields rather than leave them as potential fire hazards. But a tree...a tree is holy and special...even one...there in the distance.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Thousand, Four Hundred Days

In the last one thousand, four hundred days...
  • We sold our house and
  • We moved to a new house, that we bought.
  • My oldest daughter got engaged and married, celebrated her first, her second, and her third wedding anniversary.
  • My oldest son entered the army, finished basic training, advanced training, a commander's course.
  • He served in several combat locations and went to war against terrorists who were firing hundreds of rockets into our cities.
  • He finished his national service, returned his weapon and uniform and came back home.
  • My second son finished high school, did a year and a half of pre-military learning, and just entered the army.
  • My third son finished elementary school, entered junior high school and celebrated his bar mitzvah.
  • My youngest child left her baby years firmly behind and has watched her sister marry, one brother and then another and another enter the army.
  • My husband and I have celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (our 23rd and 24th and 26th).
  • We expanded our business to include new services, new clients, new employees.
  • We opened a publishing house and began publishing several books.
  • We bought a car, sold a car, bought another car and another.
  • Our oldest dog passed away...and we got another.
  • We got new chairs for our dining room set.
  • We painted our house.
  • We celebrated our national holidays, mourned on other days.
  • We hiked in the north, traveled far to the south.
  • We swam in the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and several rivers and streams.
  • My brother came to visit twice, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came three times.
  • Many of my friends married off children, several became grandparents.
  • Our oldest adopted son got married and had a baby girl; our younger adopted son joined the army and now serves with our middle son.
  • We changed cellular phone carriers...and will likely change again soon.
  • My sons have gotten stronger and taller; my parents have gotten just a bit more frail.
  • We bought a new oven and a new microwave; a new refrigerator for our offices.
  • I got two new laptops; my husband got another; two of my sons as well.
  • I wrote over 522 blog posts about being a soldier's mother and...
During that time, Gilad Shalit has been held captive by Hamas. For each of those days, I have told my children that I love them, I've held them, worried over them, cried for them, prayed for them...and in all that time, Aviva Shalit has cried, worried, prayed and loved...but not once has she been able to tell Gilad that she loves him, not once has she held him.

One thousand, four hundred days...beyond an eternity of suffering. It's time for Gilad to come home. It's time for Israel to act in Gilad's interest. If Gilad is denied even the basics of human rights - we have the right to limit what we give to those who hold him.

No Palestinians are owed medical and humanitarian aid from Israel - let their own brothers see to their needs. Let their wounded, their sick and diseased go to Jordan or Egypt.

No Palestinians are owed the opportunity to earn advanced degrees while they sit in jail; they are not owed television, radio and newspapers.

No Palestinians are owed personal visits from their families - they must be allowed visits by the Red Cross to confirm their medical conditions...but we do not owe more than that.

What we must give according to international law, should be given...no more, no less.

For one thousand, four hundred days, Gilad has gotten less. At some point, the shame of what was being done crossed on to our leaders...the shame is now ours if we let this go on any further.

The US wants us to talk to the Palestinians. Netanyahu must answer Obama now - NO. No, we will not talk with people who hold Gilad. No, we will not give you more concessions and bend to your pressure. When did you last do anything, President Obama, for Gilad Shalit? When did you demand this boy who has grown into a man be given his freedom?

Before you speak to our leaders, President Obama - go to Gaza and speak to Gilad. Tell him that we have not forgotten him...that we will not negotiate...until Gilad comes home.

One thousand, four hundred days.

Enough!

Friday, April 23, 2010

For a Second, I Thought it Was Real

My daughter spoke those words this morning as I drove her to school. She was talking about our visit to Shmulik's base. We arrived after a long drive, parked the car and walked past a table of female soldiers who "registered us." They asked the name of our soldier, checked it off, handed us a note about what we would see, a business-size card with the name and phone number of the head of the Kfir division (including office and mobile phone numbers) and a rose for the mothers. A beautiful red rose...can you imagine?

We walked along a pathway until we got to a large gathering of chairs. As we walked around the curve, we saw perhaps a dozen soldiers, in full combat gear and guns, laying on the ground "hiding" behind the small hill just to the side. We sat and almost immediately, the event began.

The Kfir division commander introduced himself. He gave his name and position and then explained. He lives in Maale Adumim (where I do). He is married, and gave his wife's name. He is the father of four daughters, named them and gave their ages, "yes, four daughters," he said with pride, with a smile and a laugh, and people clapped for him.

He wants to show us what our sons will be learning in the months to come. When we first told them they would run three kilometers, he said, half of them had a heart attack. Now they do it easily. By the end of the training, they will be able to travel more than 40 kilometers on foot, he told us - carrying stretchers even. And then he directed us to look at the mountain just behind him.

A man in black stood crouched about half way up, "there are two terrorists that have been spotted," the commander said, "don't worry - they will be firing blanks only" and again, people laughed. At first I saw only one "terrorist" as he rose and began firing at us. A unit of soldiers went into action as the commander explained; as we heard the unit commander ordering his troops. They spanned out, as another terrorist jumped up and fired.

The soldiers rolled to the ground, in a coordinated effort, soldiers fired as one among them rolled and then advanced...and thus they moved into position until they fired and took out one of the terrorists. The young man fell, raising his legs in the air as he "died" - gaining another laugh from the audience...an actor he will never be.

The unit continued to fire and advance, taking out the second of the terrorists. "They continue beyond this point," the commander explained, "to determine if there are more terrorists." A third we had not known about stood to fire and again was "eliminated."

"These are soldiers who entered the army in November, 2009," the commander explained as the parents clapped for the soldiers. "Just four months ahead of your sons."

They will learn to master weapons, the commander explained. He directed us to look to his left - targets had been set up. He introduced the weapons our sons will use - guns and grenade launchers...

They fired each of the weapons. Each came with a ping as they hit their target, up to a boom and a small explosion. They set part of the field on fire - "Don't worry," the commander said, "we are prepared for this too." And we watched as a group of soldiers ran out and put the fire out.

"Look on the mountain," the commander told us again. There was a house there, a small structure with Hamas and Fatah flags on it. This too, our soldiers will do. He explained that a wanted terrorist is inside and we watched as those soldiers we had seen when we first arrived, came over the small hill and began their advance. It was like a play-by-play of a football game, only this was too real.

As the soldiers secured the position...we heard the terms they use. They surrounded the building. "Notice how they are alert to all directions. Imagine this was a house in the casbah" - the market in the center of an Arab town. "Enemies can come from all directions, shots from any window." More than a mother wants to imagine.

Part of Shmulik's unit includes trained dogs who can sniff out explosives, or take a terrorist down. They threw in smoke bombs and the "terrorist" emerged and began to run. The soldier playing the part was heavily padded - the dog attacked and brought him down. Quickly the soldiers surrounded the fallen terrorist. "First we secure the situation," the commander said, "then we call off the dog." The dog quickly was removed but watched at attention as the soldiers checked the "terrorist" and led him off.

The house was still a threat, the commander explained, directing our eyes back to the the small structure. It has to be checked...and so the unit continued.

With the fears of a child, I learned today, my daughter thought perhaps that the terrorist in the house was real. For me, perhaps the most chilling part of the day was not the actions these soldiers took but the commanders next words, "remember, these soldiers are just four months ahead of your sons. In four months, it will be your sons doing this for another group of parents. You aren't invited, though," he said with a laugh.

In four months...less even, because part of that time has already passed. "Time is short," the commander had said when we began the event. Yes, it is...four months....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bad Pun on a Sad Day

There is no understanding the army - it's as simple as that. You just accept what they tell you is their schedule, knowing it might change, and deal.

So, normally...

Well, forget normally. Shmulik went to a ceremony last night marking Israel's Memorial Day - a day to remember our fallen soldiers. Different units have different ways of marking the day. Many divisions send a soldier to stand by the grave of a fallen soldier from the same division. All soldiers from artillery who have fallen in our country's history, will have a soldier stand by his grave today. There when the family comes to visit their son or daughter; there to show a continued commitment to their loved one's memory.

Elie did that one year...it was an emotional day for him, for the family, and for me. Other years, the moments were marked on bases - even once on an army bus that stopped as the siren wailed and there, on the side of the road, they marked their ceremony. Another time, they were in the desert. Elie's commander assembled his men at the time of the siren - stood them at attention - turned the jeep radio on loud so that they could hear the siren, there where there are no sounds...they paid their respects.

The army is too new to Shmulik's unit. They aren't even wearing the berets marking them as part of the Kfir division and so they had a ceremony last night and early this morning, they released the boys home for today and for tonight and tomorrow - marking Israel's Independence Day. As deeply and completely as we mourn today...we will, amazingly enough, celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

We stop and say thank you to the soldiers who have fallen. We stop and remind them that they were loved, are loved, and always, always remembered...and then we say - watch us as we celebrate what you fought for.

Last night, I attended the ceremony here in our city, attended by thousands. As it ended, Shmulik called and told me he would be on an early bus. I picked him up and we talked on the way home. Shmulik is my animal lover - anything that moves. We were once at a safari and a small goat was separated from its mother. Shmulik insisted that we had to stop the car, get the goat and take it home because it was lost. He was in tears when we refused.

My parents, also animal lovers, have an English Mastiff named...of all things...Big. Big has a problem and has to go to the veterinarian. It's hard for my father to walk the distance and so I thought, if Shmulik is off Thursday, he could go visit his grandparents and do the walk with the dog. I mentioned this earlier and Shmulik agreed.

On the way home this morning, I asked him about Thursday and I watched him hesitate. Yes, he's coming home on Thursday after our visit to base (more on that later)...but...he doesn't think he can walk Big.

"Why?" I asked.

"I fell a little and hurt my leg."

As young children, most of my kids came running over with any minor scrap. Some, you needed a magnifying glass to identify; some were so small, you almost felt like you were committing a national crime if you used a bandage. Not Shmulik - he was the silent one. If he comes to complain about a headache, he usually has a raging fever.

"How little...how hurt?" I asked him, already wondering. "Did you break something?"

"No," he answered. Not much more information there.

I'll spare you the long time it took me to get the information - he is fine; will be fine. They were running up and down a mountain side and he landed on a rock (a common enough occurrence in the desert) and went flying. His commanding officer came to him right away. He got back up...finished the course...and as they were standing there...well, that's when it became apparent that he was scraped up and bruised up.

He's got scrapes on his hands, a small cut on his leg and a huge bruise on his hip. He landed on his gun. "I guess the gun won this one," I said after seeing the black and blue and yellowing bruise almost the size of my hand.

"No," Shmulik corrected me, "I won. It was on the floor, I wasn’t."

I guess that sums up so much of my beautiful second son. Anyway, as to the pun...I thought of writing something about his having fallen but on a day that commemorates 22,682 fallen sons, it would have been, at best, a bad pun on a sad day and so I'll cry a little today when I think of those soldiers and I'll smile a bit when I think of mine.

The memorial candle flickers there on our side table, a constant reminder if it were needed, that we cannot forget. Tomorrow is our Independence Day - tomorrow we will celebrate, have a barbecue, sit outside and do no work...tonight, somewhere around 8:00 p.m., we will release ourselves from this sadness, this choking need to remember each name, each life, each story.

We will do this because this is what they died for - our freedom, our right to celebrate in our land. All that they did, all that they were, all that they gave...comes down to our being in our land, where we belong. It is only right that we first thank them, remember them, mourn again that they aren't here with us.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Time to Remember

Somehow, in all the times I've written or thought of Memorial Day, I have never explained to Elie what Memorial Day was like in America when I was growing up...and even until the day I left. We were making plans for Memorial Day and I suddenly wanted to explain. He stood there astounded. He clarified it, "Memorial Day?" as if I had made a mistake. Surely, he thought, I must have meant Independence Day.

I lived with my family on a main street in a small town in New Jersey. Every year, the parade went in front of our house. Most years, we took out chairs to sit and watch. Sometimes, we had plans and so we moved our car to a side street so that as soon as the parade passed, we could go drive somewhere. I remember Memorial Day as a day of barbecues and shopping. It was the opening of the summer season; beaches opened to swimmers and flags flew.

I'm not sure if I ever associated Memorial Day to the concept of fallen soldiers. Certainly, it was a day of pride in America, in democracy, in freedom...but did I ever realize that without our soldiers...we would not have had America, democracy, freedom? I wish I could remember and say I did, but as a child, as a teen, even as a young married woman, I'm not sure.

By contrast, from the start and even before, I always understood that Yom HaZikaron "Day of the Memory" or Memorial Day was clearly connected to the soldiers. It is so different here. The concept of doing a barbecue or visiting friends or a sale in honor of this day is an impossibility to comprehend. There is no celebration - it is a day of agony here; of remembering in pain those we have lost and sharing quietly with those who still suffer.

Each city has a ceremony, from the tiniest to the biggest. Candles are lit; flags lowered to half mast. All movie theaters are closed, all shows canceled. You don't go out to eat, to celebrate. Your heart aches to the deepest reaches of your soul and you know your eyes will burn with tears. For the first two years that Elie was in the army, I just couldn't bring myself to go to the ceremony. It was enough, I told myself, to let him serve. I mourned quietly at home; I watched the names flow past on the screen...those who died in 1948 fighting for our country to be born, and all those who have followed...from the first until this year - when Eliraz Peretz fell just a few weeks ago.

Last year, I told myself I could handle it, and I did. I went with my youngest son and prayed never, ever, ever, to be anywhere but there deep in the audience, unnoticed, unimportant as I watched mothers that I know, walk up and light candles for their sons. I prayed with all that I was worth, ashamed that I was thinking of mine when I should be mourning theirs. I told myself that God and country would forgive me and understand. I had come, hadn't I? That had to count for something.

It's a year later and I have a different son...two even...in the army. I asked Elie if he would come with me tonight, "yes," he answered in that tone that said it had never been a question.

It is a night of tears, of sad stories, of lives cut short. It is going to be good to sit there with Elie this year.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kam You Get Any Dumber?

I'm reading an article published in the Haaretz news site about Anat Kam, the idiot woman who stole 2,000 secret and top secret documents while working for a top level military commander...and now wants the world (or at least the courts) to believe she didn't do anything wrong. The full article in which Anat Kam admits to having stolen the documents can be read here (please make sure not to click on any advertising links on the page...I would hate to think I helped Ha'aretz in any way!): www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1162458.html (I rejected to comments posted to my blog by the once-again brave "Anonymous" trying to alert us to this article and suggesting if true, that he (the poster) fully supports Kam...I guess as dumb as Kam is...there are still even dumber...but as to the full nature of Kam's arrogance and stupidity...here are some example:

She said she stole sensitive military information because: "certain aspects of the IDF's conduct in the West Bank that I thought were of interest to the public." Really, this naive, stupid 20-year-old girl thought she had the right to decide what was of interest to the public? Amazing, the arrogance.

Anat Kam says she turned to Israeli journalists (as opposed, one would assume, to Israel's legal system) because "the censorship would not allow the publication of information classified as top secret or that is dangerous for publication." Gee, can you imagine? A country not allowing the publication of top secret and dangerous for publication items...who would have imagined that?

She talks of her wish to "serve" the nation: "I didn't have the chance to change some of the things that I found it important to change during my military service, and I thought that by exposing these [materials] I would make a change." Gee, again...here I was thinking that the purpose of national service was to SERVE the nation...not change it, not reform it into the nation you, in your incredible ignorance and arrogance, think it should be.

It is nice to see that at least one judge realizes the seriousness of what Kam did and that she must be stopped. The more I hear, the more I am convinced that she should be charged and convicted of, at least, espionage, theft and whatever else is possible and, once convicted...based on her own admissions thus far, she should be sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed by law. Kam must learn SHE does not decide for the nation of Israel. SHE was not elected, selected, or chosen in any way. The one trust we gave her, she betrayed. Now it is time for justice.

According to Haaretz:
The state has decided to prosecute Kam for the most serious crimes of espionage: passing on classified information with the intent of harming state security, charges which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Kam faces other charges, including gathering and possessing classified materials with intent to harm state security, which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
Presiding Judge Ze'ev Hammer wrote that "in order to inform the public of several aspects of IDF action in the West Bank, or to investigate war crimes in the West Bank, there is no need to gather and steal thousands of classified documents from the IDF which deal with the various military planning and action."
"Kam admitted during her investigation that her computer is not guarded and that she did not take interest into where the Haaretz reporter Uri Blau would store the documents or who would have access to them," Hammer added.
"She disrespected their [the document's] safekeeping and the importance and secrecy of the information," Hammer added.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Decompression

At one point after the Gaza War, Elie showed me some pictures they had taken there. They were on his phone. I wondered if I could share them on the blog, but knew it was too early, too much, too soon. In those early discussions, Elie told me one of his soldier's had gone home for a break, a break that Elie gave to others but never took for himself because he was holding out, if the war continued, with the hopes that he would be allowed to attend his brother's bar mitzvah ceremony that was coming closer and closer (he came home on Wednesday; the first part of the bar mitzvah was the next day and the weekend that followed).

So the soldier went home, logged into Facebook, and uploaded pictures of what was happening near Gaza...while the units were still in position, the war still very much a reality. A very short time later, Elie's commanding officer's commanding officer got a call. A few minute conversation and another call. The commanding officer called Elie's commanding officer who called Elie. Elie listened...and made his call.

"Did you put pictures on Facebook?" Elie asked his soldier.

"Yes. Why?" the soldier answered.

"Take them down," Elie told him. "The Magad got a call."

"Already?" the soldier replied, clearly shocked. "I just put them up!"

"Take them down," Elie said again.

He got a note from the soldier today, long out of the army now. The soldier put the pictures back up on his Facebook, he explains, "because now I can." The faces have changed, those soldiers have moved on to other places. Now it is simply pictures of soldiers, in a position that no longer carries any significance. Where once cannons fired, fields now grow. Now the soldier can share his pictures, because he can.

Elie will be emailing me a few of the pictures and I'm going to put some up here. "There's one of me holding a Miranda," Elie explained, referring to the orange soda he sometimes drinks.
"Did I tell you about the game with the Miranda?" he asked.

"No, what game?" I responded.

"During the war, they brought us Miranda, Pepsi and 7-Up. I only like Miranda, so I told the guy in charge to save me a Miranda and each day the guys tried to steal the Miranda before I got it. So there's a picture of me holding the Miranda because I got it."

He told me of other pictures - of the cannons being fired, "an amazing picture" he tells me, where you can see the shell leaving the cannon. There are pictures from their time in the north, and many faces.

All of this is what I call Elie's decompression, his taking out his thoughts and memories and ordering them in his mind. He's looking into taking courses and beginning his studies. He's investigating job possibilities and has already spoken to the firm responsible for the local mall security. They have plenty of non-combat soldiers coming for jobs, but the thought of a combat soldier pleases them. Elie will be able to quickly get a license to carry a gun. I don't know yet whether he will bring it home.

He sleeps easily, goes anywhere - freedom from the gun, for now. He rearranged his room today, moving all the pieces we had placed because he was in the army when we moved and so I chose the layout. His new design is so much smarter; it feels like his room is twice as big. And there, up in the top corner of his closet, the highest shelves where you put those clothes that are out of season, he folded away his army clothes. Maybe it is therapeutic, maybe I'm reading more into it than there is. For now, though I remain a soldier's mother, Elie doesn't really feel that he is a soldier. He's come back to being Elie after a long journey...a good journey...one of growth and friendships built, challenges conquered and lessons learned.

He's ready for tomorrow - whatever that will be. His personal space is clean and organized, his mind open to the things he'll want to accomplish in the coming months...and the smile that got me through so much - it was there when he got his Miranda, as it was there today as he showed me around his room.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Israel's Child

This isn't about Shmulik or Elie, Chaim or Yaakov and yet...it is about a child in Israel - one they all love.

My youngest daughter (if you've been reading this blog for a while, you met her here in A Candle and a Wave and A Child's Alarm) is learning something that I don't know how to translate - basically Medical Care, First Aid, Human Care or something like that - its the rudiments of first aid at a fourth grade level. She has a test today and so spoke of what she knows on the way to school.

"ABC" she said.

"What's that for?" I asked.

"Air waves, Breathing, and Circulation"

"They teach you that in English?" I asked her.

"No, but they tell us ABC because it isn't the same in Hebrew." Okay. It was cute and I went along with it as she spoke and then my mind stopped and I heard not the cute tone of her voice, that I love listening to, but the words. I asked her to explain it again and then asked if this was the teacher's explanation or hers.

"The teacher. He's really funny. He told us 'If a doctor says a patient doesn't have a pulse, but he does, what does that mean?' "

She giggled and then answered, "it means it's a bad doctor."

But it was the analogy that she told me before that stuck with me. This ABC thing is: "It's like a missile hitting a building," she explained. It took me a while to get the image and understand what she was saying...

See, you have a building, she explains. If the missile hits the top of the building, the people can live, but if it hits the bottom, they won't. So, if the person isn't getting air, for example, they will die - check the airways first. If the airways are clear, but the person isn't breathing, you do one thing....I don't remember now. My brain stopped after the explanation of the building and the missile.

It's actually a good description - the concept of prioritizing...but the image remains and the wonder. I can't see any teacher in another country using the same example...and yet it worked. It didn't distress the children. They live with the reality all the time. They understand what happens when a missile hits and the physics of where it hits a building.

That, I guess, is Israel's child and listening to my child give that explanation was enough to make me regret, just a bit, the abnormality of it all. I'm happy she's learning about ABC, even how to do CPR, though I confess that concerned me a bit and yes, she won't forget the prioritization of what to do in first aid. I am thrilled beyond all words that we live in Israel, that our lives and futures are in this beautiful land but I regret...just a bit...that a child could be taught...and can understand based on the imagery of a missile hitting a building.

Israel's child.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The IDF over Auschwitz

This is an amazing video in so many ways...I have yet to watch it without tears in my eyes:

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel...

Sometimes, you think you've used all your words...and here are some of mine in the past:
And after re-reading all these articles from my past, I found in the end that I did have some words, posted in bursts on Twitter:
  • In loving memory of Shmuel...and in honor of my Shmulik who carries his name and tonight wears the uniform of Israel.
  • In loving memory of Binyamin Elimelech...who was murdered by the Nazis days after he was married...and to my Elie, who carries his name.
  • In loving memory of Shaye, my husband's grandfather...and with his death - we honor the 7 Shayes who are alive today and carry his name.
  • In loving memory of Raizel, my great-grandmother, who was murdered in Auschwitz and whose death haunted my grandfather to his dying day.
  • In memory of Gabriella, a young girl killed by the Nazis in 1944; lovingly remembered by her siblings (including my mother-in-law).
  • In loving honor of Saba Moshe, who has spent all his life remembering and helping others.
  • In loving memory of those whose names my children carry...a burden and an honor passed to a new generation.
  • In loving memory of my father's entire extended family. We were a family of no survivors...because none survived the Holocaust.
  • In loving memory… of 6 million and more… for all the names we know and the many we don't. May their memories be blessed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Message to Anat Kam, from Israel's Soldiers

Anat Kam considers herself a journalist. Her interest is in telling a story and selling copy. The more she sells, the more her editors value her.

Anat Kam is a 23-year-old Israeli woman who betrayed the position she was given during her army service. She served as the assistant to the bureau chief of OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh between 2005 and 2007. During that time, she copied or stole some 2,000 classified documents that, according to the Jerusalem Post, "contained top secret information concerning General Staff orders, personnel numbers in the Central Command, intelligence information, information on the IDF doctrine and data pertaining to central sensitive military exercises, weaponry and military platforms. The files also contained details on what the Central Command does in the event of a major escalation – how it deploys forces to the West Bank and where it stations them there. (http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=172658)

What she did with the documents is even worse. She gave them to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who is now hiding out in London, refusing to return other documents he is suspected of holding. This in itself is a crime - holding stolen, property...no?

What is interesting to me is the glorification of this woman, this thief who ran to the media after betraying the trust she was given. Perhaps even more interesting is how quickly her lawyers and others want to claim that accusing Anat Kam of treason is a betrayal of all Israel's media and that she is honorable...no, she is not.

According to Yuval Disken, Chief of Shin Bet (Israel's military intelligence organization), the leak “posed a direct and real threat to the lives of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens.”

I came home from work today full of anger at this woman's deceit and the idiocy of those who run to defend her without knowing much of the facts. Only Kam and Blau, those they showed the documents to, and the investigating teams know the full extent of the damage.

I sat with Elie to speak of other things and then we discussed this. My son summed up my feelings beautifully and so I present a message to Anat Kam from the soldiers of Israel...whom she betrayed, "I hope she goes to jail for ten or fifteen years."

Yes, I do. I do not support Anat Kam. If she felt that the army was doing something wrong, she had other avenues besides prostituting herself to the media. She is a "journalist" - no, she is a wanna-be journalist.

Her lawyer says she is a "young Zionist." I'll give you the young...but no - Zionism is about the dream of fulfilling and maintaining the Jewish homeland of Israel. What Anat Kam did was all about fulfilling and maintaining Anat Kam at the expense of our soldiers, our sons, our future.

If she is guilty of what everyone suspects she has done...I hope she gets a good, long sentence to contemplate her crimes.

Brothers!

"Is Shmulik coming home this Shabbat?" my youngest son asked me.

"Yes," I answered.

"Again?" he asked. "When is he staying a whole shabbat in the army?"

Well, I'm glad he's coming home. Yes, we were used to Elie being gone at least every other weekend, if not more, and yes, with the holidays, Shmulik has been home quite a bit, but still!

"Chaim might be coming too," I told my son. He confirmed that I meant our adopted son Chaim and not our son-in-law Haim (note the different spelling of the names, though they are pronounced the same) and when I said it was indeed Chaim, he answered "good."

Go figure! His adopted brother gets a "good" while his natural brother gets an "again?"

And...almost every week for the Sabbath, we cook large meat meals. Jews are commanded to separate between dairy and meat and meat meals are considered more festive, so the weekends here tend to be meat. With so many teenage and just-post teenage guys around...it isn't a meal if it isn't meat.

The thing is, the holiday of Passover is filled with many of these festive meals and so after seven or eight days, you long to avoid meat. So, it has become a family tradition that the weekend after Passover is all dairy.

I've got my marching orders...Elie wants me to make...wait, I'll list it: onion soup, fried fish patties, corn/tuna fritters, filet of salmon, lasagne, onion quiche, and homemade blintzes...

All I can think of is that if I have to make all that tomorrow...I'm going to bed now.

What Hasn't Changed...

What hasn't changed with having a second son in the army versus a first son...is the missing. Last night, Shmulik's aunt and uncle returned to America after a nice family holiday together. Shmulik was home for the Shabbat before Passover, home for the much of the holiday, and will, amazingly enough, be home this weekend as well.

But last night, they left, and as a going away event, we decided to take the whole family out to a restaurant (with thanks to my sister-in-law who ended up taking us rather than us taking them). For me, after days and days of cooking, it was a nice break. At first, I thought Elie might decide not to come, but he did, along with my oldest daughter and son-in-law.

It was really nice - we sat around and talked. We played a table game where someone thinks of something in the room and others have to guess what it is. My youngest daughter never tires of it; my older daughter was close to begging us to stop. The kids loved the bell on the table (I apologized to the waitress and the neighboring table). We changed the order a dozen times, ordered more things as we went along.

We sampled each others dishes, talked about everyday things and nothing much at all. It was just a nice night out...and Shmulik wasn't there. That aspect of having a child in the army never fades, never dims. It wasn't a crippling or depressing feeling, it wasn't nearly as strong as it was once. We had a great time - much laughing, good food, smiles. It was something more than a footnote for the evening, but nothing close to ruining or lessening the fun. I guess it was...just a feeling.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Out in the Cold

I'm so glad I started this blog...

Yes, I'm happy for all the comments and support I've received.

Yes, I'm happy for the support I seem to be giving others.

But I'm happy for me too. When I go back and read the start of Elie's service, I remember, I hear, I feel what I felt then. Sometimes, I'm embarrassed a bit; sometimes I smile and wish I could reach back and comfort that mother the way other mothers are reading this and learning and feeling and understanding.

Last night, Shmulik called during his free hour. They were camped out "somewhere" in a tent, in sleeping bags. They'll be awakened at some point, and start shooting practice. I asked him all the right questions, if he was tired, if he was cold. He has a coat they gave him and a sleeping bag. He's out there in the desert...though a different one than Elie was...and I smiled.

Gone was the fear, the worry. He'll be okay. It will toughen him. Even if he's a bit cold...that's really okay. He's okay. See how far I have come, I thought to myself. I didn't think of rocket attacks, of Arabs sneaking up to the encampment. I didn't think of Bedouins and wild animals...I didn't think. I just asked him if he would be home this weekend, smiled when he said he thinks he will be, said our good nights, and went to sleep.

I really did. Look at me. I am the mother of an Israeli soldier and I'm good. I didn't worry. This is what it is all about, I thought to myself this morning. This is where so many were, when I was so afraid last time. They smiled at me, tried to reassure me...and now I understand. It is something each mother must feel...and overcome.

Just as Elie learned the night; just as Shmulik felt the cold...I have to conquer the fear and worry. I have been given perspective and it is liberating. It is so different the second time around.

I can be there for Shmulik in a way I never could for Elie because I was following Elie, pointing out worries and concerns and unsure what to expect. Each time he left, it was to an unknown world...now that world is more known to me. No, I don't imagine I can understand so much of what Shmulk is feeling, but I can listen to him with a different ear.

I question him to give him a chance to explain to me; not with the same blindness I had before. I know they set up guards; I know it wasn't really that cold. I know that if this boy can sleep in his underwear in his room in the winter, he can sleep in a uniform, a coat and a sleeping bag in a tent in the desert and be safe.

That mother has grown and I'm not really laughing at her...I envy her the journey she took. It was a hard-won battle filled with real terrors. My fears were not unjustified or wrong. They were right - an outpouring of my love for Elie just as my understanding this time is a show of my love for Shmulik.

In many ways, comforting me helped Elie gain perspective, gave him a support line behind him. He knew that I worried, that I was there. Shmulik is such a different child, always has been. He's the sweet one who bought me those endless presents on his way home from school - the flowers he'd picked that were flattened and half dead; the earrings (when I didn't even have pierced ears); the "gold" necklace that was chipping off even before I'd put it on.

He was the "cuddler" while Elie was the tougher one. Shmulik has gotten tougher too now, stronger, more sure of himself. And yet, Sunday when I drove him to the mall to catch the bus, it was Shmulik who leaned over to give me a kiss, where I always had to corner Elie and give him one.

Last night, my second son slept in the deserts of Israel with a gun. No, he doesn't know it well enough to use it, has only begun to learn and yet, and yet...

May the God of Israel watch over our sons and daughters as they sleep and as they defend and may He grant us mothers the wisdom to learn, to grow, to love, to trust our children as they serve our land and our people.

Last night, Shmulik slept in the cold...but his heart is warm, his home just a few days away.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ima, I have a Problem

Shmulik left for the army today. I drove him to the nearby mall, picking up another soldier along the way. I got there just as a bus pulled up behind me and both boys jumped on the bus. I drove home, checked email and a bit later, my 9:00 meeting arrived...a friend who needs some help with a business plan.

Within minutes (just after I gave my friend a cup of coffee, luckily), Shmulik called, "Ima, I have a problem."

When your son calls, and you hear his voice, the concept of "problem" doesn't terrify you. My first thought was that he'd missed his connecting bus, "What's the problem?" I asked.

"I'm wearing bet pants."

Long ago, I learned that there are two kinds of uniforms. Aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) are dress uniforms - made partially of polyester. They aren't terribly comfortable, but they always look quite nice and barely wrinkle. You wear Aleph off base - travel from home to base and base to home, on culture days, ceremonies, etc. Bet (the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet).

Military police are positioned at key locations on days when soldiers are known to be returning home or to base...all to catch any misbehavior (or a soldier not properly in uniform). "Ask Elie if it's a problem," he told me.

I woke Elie up...and he agreed to drive to Jerusalem to meet Shmulik near the pick-up point where thousands of soldiers gather and are taken by bus directly to their bases. I grabbed the Aleph pants that had slipped off the line and Elie was off.

He met Shmulik with some time to spare. Shmulik climbed into the car, they drove around to the side, Shmulik changed into Aleph pants...and was off. Elie came home with a smile.

"If his commanding officer doesn't laugh too much, Shmulik will be fine," he told me. "It's a mistake only a new soldier can make."

There are messages, I explained to Elie, that a boy, a soldier, must learn. Shmulik is on a new path - he will learn that a new soldier is forgiven many things. Had he gone to base wearing the wrong pants, he would likely not have been punished, and his commanding officer might well have laughed. It is not a serious error - such as forgetting one's gun or failing to follow an order. Beyond what he will learn about the army and how it rates its requirements, there is another lesson that Shmulik may learn from today...when he has a problem, he can call home and if we can help him, we will.

Today, we went running to help Shmulik over something that wasn't really that important on the scale of things the army might consider relevant...except that it was very important to Shmulik, as a new soldier, that he follow the rules.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Holiday of Freedom

Passover is the holiday of freedom, of Spring, or rebirth. Amazingly enough, to get to this holiday, we work very hard to rid our houses of all leavened products (that means cakes, noodles, bread, etc.). We clean everything...to the bottoms of the drawers and the tops of the cabinets.

We switch our dishes and pots and utensils to special sets (one for dairy and one for meat) that we only use for these 7 days (8 outside of Israel). And, after all this work, this exhausting, time-consuming work...the holiday arrives and we too feel free. We sit down to a seder, a festive meal in which we read the story of the exodus from Egypt...of the time when we were oppressed as slaves and were set free.

Of an amazing journey across time and desert...to home. To a land we were promised, a destiny, faith...to home. When you have a son in the army, the concept of home takes on new meaning. It is an anchor you provide to your son or daughter. For all their wanderings, for all they learn, for all the challenges they meet as they explore and grow in the coming months, this is the home we make for him.

I don't know if I realized how a soldier clings to home as a foundation through his service until I watched Elie. Home was the reward for weeks in the army; home was more than a destination. That's what the people of Israel felt when they left Egypt, I believe. They were going home.

There is such joy, such calm in having your children home on the holidays. Elie's first and last Passover in the army was spent at home; the third was in the army. This first for Shmulik, he is at home.

And, as I prepare the final meals for this holiday, as I welcome and enjoy all my children at home and guests from afar, my thoughts go again, as they often do, to another son of Israel.

Gilad Shalit was kidnapped almost four years ago from Israeli soil. Hamas terrorists (for what else can you call people who terrorize a million people with rockets and bombs and firebombs and stones?) infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel, attacked Gilad's unit, killing several, and dragging Gilad across the border.

Perhaps that is war; perhaps that is the way of enemies. We have thousands of Palestinian security prisoners in our jails, after all. Why are they any less important than Gilad?

The answer is in the response we get from Hamas - they could not care less for these prisoners...keep them, don't keep them; feed them, don't feed them. It is we who agonize for Gilad, we who demand his freedom.

For almost four years now, Gilad had been denied the simple right of seeing his parents or even receiving simple correspondence. For almost four years, he has not been home; for almost four years, he has not been free.

This Passover, with Gilad still captive in Gaza, this holiday means we are just that much less free and home is just a bit less home.

May this next year see Gilad free in a rebuilt and united Jerusalem and may all our sons celebrate their freedom in their homes!

Learning to Shoot

Shmulik came home for a long weekend (the normal Shabbat plus Sunday and Monday, which are the eve of the last day of Passover and the last day itself). He'd spent two days on base, during which time they began shooting lessons. He didn't bring his gun home.

I don't know if he realizes yet the freedom he still has, but is about to lose. Soon, the gun will be a 24-hour a day responsibility, soon, he will take it everywhere, sleep with it, know where it is...soon.

For now, the "big" story in the family was that he has begun to learn to shoot and the three kilometer walk at a fast pace, is now up to 4 kilometers. They did this in under 18 minutes...so it begins.

By the time he ends his training, he'll be able to walk and run so much farther. Again, there were long discussions with Elie, quick discussions sharing the realities of basic training. He's quieter than Elie was, less talkative and yet the funny thing is that in what he says, I learn more from both. Elie had no one to share experiences with and so he shared only his own.

Shmulik tells of something that happens; Elie shares a story; Shmulik tells another, and Elie responds back. Another story comes out. Weeks ago, there were several attempted stabbing attacks in the Hebron area. One after the other...Arabs approached soldiers or people and tried to kill them. In each case, alert soldiers stopped and apprehended the culprit. And then it stopped.

It turns out, one of Elie's last operations was to go into a village not far from his base and arrest the one ordering these attacks. "He looked like he was 12-years-old," Elie said.

"What?" I asked.

"Well, he was 17."

I think that's a sad commentary on Palestinian society - that a 17-year-old has already ordered 3 people to murder...and that those three were ready to comply. People often condemn Israel for the situation here, ignoring the simple reality of historical fact. The United Nations offered to divide the land, each people getting less than they wanted. The Jewish population agreed and set about creating the infrastructure it would need. The Arab population refused, and set about creating the reality of 62 years of warfare.

Our 17-year-olds finish high school and prepare to enter the army, where they are trained in how to defend. Our army is called the Israel Defense Forces - to defend our land. And meanwhile, mere kilometers from where we live, are their 17-year-olds, who train and order attacks.

This past week, a man was sitting in the backseat of a car between his two children when a rock was hurled through the back window of the car as it was driving along a road. The back window smashed, the rock slammed into the back of his head and fractured his skull. By the grace of God, his children were not hurt.

Yesterday, a rocket was fired at Israel, by the grace of God, it landed in an open field and no one was hurt. On Thursday, a bus carrying dozens of worshippers was traveling to a holy site when Arabs bombarded it with rocks - damage, several treated for shock, but no physical harm...by the grace of God.

This is how we live, by the grace of God. And as we do, Shmulik and thousands of new soldiers take up where Elie and thousands of others left off. A shift of responsibility...a new soldier. Shmulik and Elie are home this holiday; a 17-year-old Palestinian boy is in jail because his parents didn't teach him that murder is wrong, didn't teach him that you can gain more from talk than from violence, more from peace than from hate.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Do You Want to Be Sued by the Army?

Shmulik came home last week. I picked him up with two others from his unit along the path from his base to Jerusalem. When we got home, he confirmed he was hungry...little surprise from a soldier just home. The problem is that it was almost Passover and so pickings are slim in the house. Passover is a time of deep spiritual...and physical challenges. We clean the house of all bread and leavened objects. We use different plates and pots...clean it all away and startWe had pizza the night before so Shmulik made do.

As he was warming up the second piece, Elie came down. He was interested in a piece as well...but this was the last one. Shmulik offered it to Elie; Elie told him he could have it too.

I came up with the simple solution of cutting the piece in half. I took the pizza cutter...but the counters were clean...things were in the middle of moving to Passover and so Shmulik held it as I tried to cut it. Nothing happened...as in the pizza wasn't agreeing to be cut. But the funny part was that at one point, the cutter slipped a bit - no one was hurt, but Shmulik said, "Do you want to be sued by the army?"

It was adorable...and a sign that for the next bit...Shmulik belongs, in some sense...to the army.

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