Saturday, May 29, 2010

His Words, My Thoughts

One of the most satisfying moments as a parent is when your children say something that you feel deeply but you know that they are their thoughts, their feelings. In sync with your feelings...but they are not voicing what you want to hear, but what they feel.

It was going to be a quiet weekend...I like having those sometimes. My oldest daughter and her husband were going to friends; Shmulik is on base. That leaves us at five...for me, a small weekend. I enjoy these quiet weekends when they come...and I'm philosophical enough to not mind when plans change...even at the last minute. On Thursday, my husband asked about inviting a man who lives in the neighborhood who was going to be alone this weekend...six.

Around 2:00 p.m., Chaim called and when I asked where he was, he gave me the best of all answers, "On my way to you soon, if that's okay." Each time he calls, I want to ask when he is coming "home." Sometimes, I do a bit of dirty work and ask one of the kids to ask him so he won't think I am pressuring him. More often, the kids do it without asking. They do it automatically because we really do love having him here.

So, my quiet weekend became more exciting, more energized, more family. Elie and Chaim get along very well - different than Yaakov and Elie, but still wonderful. Chaim has more patience for Davidi, my youngest son, than either Elie or Shmulik often do. We had planned on a simpler meal. When you have a soldier coming home, you want to make more food, more meat.

I had a package of steak in the freezer...that came out. Now that I had a way to send Shmulik some cake...and Chaim was coming so I would send with him too, I decided to bake brownies rather than skip desert completely (something I had planned to do before).

The brownies went into the oven; the steak went into the sauce. Chaim called me from the Central Bus Station - he brings me flowers each time, though I tell him he really doesn't have to. This time I asked him to do me a favor. We aren't alcohol drinkers...really, not at all. Yaakov came and taught us a bit about wines...or at least he tried. Chaim is the same. Both understand wines and beer...we just don't.

The stores were closing soon and since I didn't know he was coming, I had no beer in the house. I asked him to buy me seems silly, but I would enjoy the Sabbath more knowing I had cold beer to offer him if he wanted it. He laughed but said he would try and showed up a while later with a six pack!

Later, after the meal, after it was quiet, we talked. It was nice to hear about army things, what he was learning, how they were treating him. He told me about a night on patrol a while ago. It was late at night and he was on guard duty on the Jordanian border - probably our quietest border. There he was in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. And he thought of his friends, others his age. They were "hanging out" while he was here in Israel, guarding the borders of the land he loves.

But most important, he was realizing what tremendous value life has, what a tremendous gift he has been given...and he is giving to this country. It reminded me of an article I read while Elie was in the army - it was about teenage habits of drinking, driving, etc. and I thought about how distant that life was from the one Elie was leading.

Yaakov, Elie - now Chaim and Shmulik took this time from their lives to do something important. I have known this all along, this tremendous sacrifice that they make at a time when had I not come to Israel, my sons would likely be like so many others their age. Perhaps not drinking and girls, but certainly not as mature, not as responsible.

Elie never voiced this feeling, though I hope he had it. Shmulik has not voiced it yet, but I hope someday he too will feel as Chaim did the other night. His description left me so proud.

"There I was," he told me, and I could see him there. Wearing a protective vest, holding his M16, looking out towards Jordan with Israel at his back. I envy them this time, this pride, this knowledge that what they do is so important. They guard their families, those who love them and those they love. A short while after Chaim called, his mother called from the States to wish us a good weekend, a Shabbat shalom.

I hope she can feel the same pride in her son. She knows that we love him, that we consider him ours a bit too. I hope she can feel our pride and gratitude. I've only met two of her children so far - two more to go but already I know that she has raised them with the right values, the right love of home and homeland.

Friday, May 28, 2010

When the News Hits Too Close

Sometimes, you are driving or doing something, and in a distracted way, you hear something and realize that this time, the news has hit too close. It happens fairly regularly in a small country because you were always...just on that road, just in that city, just met someone...or you have a son in the same division, the same age, the same something.

It happened a lot when Elie was in the army - Azzoun, near where he was stationed, is a small Arab village that loves to throw stones, demonstrate, throw firebombs, and even shoot at Israeli cars. It happens fairly regularly and so my ears perk up when I hear that name...even now, more than 6 months after Elie left that area.

Hebron is where Shmulik will be in a few months...and so, again, that city or simply the name Kfir catches my attention. And so it goes.

Driving home yesterday from the north, which I do fairly regularly now, affords me quite a bit of time to listen to the radio. Yesterday, on the way home, there were two things that caught my attenion.

The first was that a fire was raging on the Golan Heights. It had caused tremendous damage, acres and acres (dunams and dunams) of land has been scorched in this heat wave and the fire burned out of control, despite the efforts of local fire and emergency crews, airplanes, and soldiers. At some point, they announced that it had been started by a stray artillery shell during training.

"It's not my g'dud [battalion]," Elie answered when I called to tell him. He tracks where they are, what they are doing. It wasn't them.

The second notice hit very close for a different reason. There is a mindset among many young people in Israel to leave for extended travels after the army. Look what we have been through for three years, they say to their parents...we want time away from Israel, time away from having every minute of our lives regulated for three years. We want to be free. So they travel to far off distant lands.

Most have amazing trips that they remember all their lives...too many meet with tragedy. Yesterday, Adi Paran died in an accident in Bolivia. He'd finished the army recently...probably the same time as Elie. He was 23-years-old; Elie turned 23 recently. Adi Paran was an officer in the Israeli army; Elie is a commander. Both Adi and Elie were in artillery.

I have no idea whether Adi was involved in the Gaza war, which unit he was in, if his path ever crossed with Elie. Artillery is a huge division; probably not. There are easily as many differences between these boys as similarities, probably even more. I have no idea the color of Adi's eyes, whether he was religious, if he liked to cook, to run.

If he was an officer, chances are, he was a leader, someone to take charge. He died so strange to have survived three years in the army and then to die so far from home, in a traffic accident, alone. The one thing I know is that a soldier's mother is crying today and though I have never met her, I mourn with Adi's mother.

May God send comfort to the family of Adi Paran. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they know no more sorrow.

When the Heart Sings and Time Calls

Friday is an amazing time for me. It's filled with things to do that were put off all week long. No more excuses; no more time left to put it off. Yet, Friday, the first day of our weekend, is also a time when my brain feels free and I need/want to write. I could spend the day just typing away, pouring out my thoughts and words in my latest book. It's coming along really nicely...if only I had more time to write.

Friday is the eve of the Sabbath here, Erev Shabbat. It means cooking, cleaning. Thankfully, now that Elie is out of the army, it doesn't mean shopping. I have barely done any shopping in the last few years. Once Elie got his driving license (before the army), he decided it was worth doing the shopping for the chance to have the car and the drive. He drove the younger children to school, drove to fill the car with gas, whatever.

When Shmulik got his license, it was much the same - they love to drive, my boys. Even more, they love cars...they've learned from their father how to take care of the inside of the car, as well as the outside. They have changed the oil, the brakes - even rebuilt an engine with my husband. It is a talent, a love they share.

While Elie was in the army, Shmulik did most of the shopping. I got used to writing shopping lists in Hebrew, but truthfully, both Elie and Shmulik wing it as often as not. When Elie finished the army, just as Shmulik went in, things switched again. Elie does almost all the shopping, drives to get the gas (and the free newspaper on Fridays), run errands, and more.

So, yesterday, Elie did the shopping - everything is ready to be cooked. I got home late yesterday from a day in the north with a client, ready to sleep. Forgot I'm made an evening meeting for something else...long day.

I'm ready to cook now...more ready to write, which is why I am stealing these few minutes. When Elie would call and tell me he was bored, I would (sometimes literally) look to the heavens and thank God. Life is, to some extent, at least on the Shmulik front, boring now. Basic training is weeks of doing the same thing. Going into the field, shooting, running, walking, climbing, jumping.

They are being trained more intensively than Elie was because in war, this groups primary function is to engage the enemy from close...hopefully not too close. These are the ground forces, the ones that go in. There was little question about artillery - one of the reasons why mothers love it, I guess. From a physics point of view, you need distance. Tanks shoot straight...artillery arches through the sky to find its target.

The arch...requires distance. Mothers love artillery. Kfir focuses on anti-terror. We already know the cities where Chaim and Shmulik will be stationed after they finish basic training. Chaim's future encounter is in an area that is relatively quiet and controlled; Shmulik's less so. But that is tomorrow's worry; not today.

Today, I will debate between pea soup and chicken soup...last week I made pea soup...chicken soup...definitely chicken soup. Last week, I added barley to the whole wheat dish I improved it very nicely...I'll try that again. We have company for dinner...something that happens pretty regularly.

So for now, my heart sings...I'm in a happy time...and time calls...have to start cooking. Shabbat shalom - may it come in peace, stay in peace...and this time, perhaps, choose to never leave.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Days into Weeks, Basic Training

Basic training is a mindset, a learning experience. The army doesn't quite expect the soldier to be a soldier yet, but this is the way they start. Elie glided through basic training, as Chaim seems to be (despite a scorpion sting which I found out about later). Shmulik was having a rougher time. So unexpected, but a reminder that each "child" is unique.

I'd forgotten so much.

Elie went into the army, a boy on the verge of being a man. I thought I wouldn't write this, but I guess I will. Last night, we went to a wedding - beautiful bride, happy groom, thrilled parents on all sides. It was a beautiful wedding both in the amazing setting - in the hills just outside Jerusalem, in the forest, among the trees. It was a combination of Israel, the best we have to offer in many ways. The groom comes from a Russian family; the bride comes from an American family. Together, they speak Hebrew and their friends and guests reflected this mixing of cultures.

We sat with friends and at one point, the topic turned to Elie and what he is doing now and what he plans in the coming months.

"Will he return to the army?" the friend asked.

"50/50" I answered, but I don't even think it is that much. I explained that though part of me wanted Elie to stay in the army for another year, it was never something I could have voiced. Had he stayed, has something happened...deep inside my heart and head, I admit, I would never have been able to live with myself. He has to choose his path. It's a moment for a mother, a letting go. He's all grown up. Whatever job I did with him...I now have to trust.

"He's a man now," I said to the friend and with a smile, he answered, "and he's a real man."

That's what the army did for Elie, as much as time and life. That's what, I have to trust, they are doing for Shmulik. It's harder for me this time. Perhaps because of personalities, perhaps for other reasons. Physically, Shmulik was probably in better shape than Elie when he went in to the army. I don't remember Elie really running or doing more than lifting weights before he went into the army. Shmulik went for long walks, ran often, lifted weights, went swimming.

And yet, Shmulik has had a harder time acclimating. I don't know why. Perhaps Elie "fell" into great commanders. Never once did he feel that the commanders didn't care about him and his success. I don't know the reason, but this morning, after not speaking to Shmulik for a few days (I sent him a text message, but had not heard back), I decided to give him a call.

I really didn't expect to reach him, and yet he answered. He sounded tired (that's what you get when you wake them up), but he sounded good. He's been with his unit, doing well, participating. For him, that's a good step and leaves me hopeful.

In a week, we will attend Shmulik's Tekes Ha'ashbaa at the Western will will be amazing because this will be the moment when all my moments come together. I'll write about that another time, soon - for now, I look forward to that, to watching him promise to defend this land...standing before the holiest place in Judaism, a symbol of all we were, all we are, and all we will be.

For now, I'll thank God for this moment, these children, this life, and this land. I'll go back to my work...yes, I should have been editing that manual and not blogging...and I'll know there is no where I would rather be and nothing I'd rather be doing - than living here, this family, this life...this land.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Tag, A Pin, An Exchange

When Elie finished his Commanders Course, there was a ceremony. After the speeches, his commanding officer approached each of the soldiers in his group and pinned up the pocket flap they'd left dangling down. In this way, they were uncovering the new pin each had been given. It would take too long to pin on each medal and so it was easier to go and fix the flap as a sign that each had been given the new rank and job of Commander.

When Or approached Elie, he seemed to be standing there a long time relative to how long he stood before the others. I wondered what was happening...and suddenly, Elie's face broke into a grin. Or tapped him on the shoulder, a brief hug, and on to the next soldier.

I caught the grin on camera and asked Elie what had happened. He explained to me that there is a tradition. In each group, the army designates an "Excellent" soldier. There are many factors to this - how they do, but also other factors that make the army want to recognize this soldier. Another "undocumented" feature is the pin exchange. Put simply, this is a private moment between each commander and one soldier that he chooses. As he approaches, rather than give the soldier the new pin, he removes his own from his shirt, gives the new soldier this old pin as a sign of respect and honor, and keeps the new pin for himself in place of the old one.

This is what Or did for Elie - and Elie recognized and appreciated the honor. It is done quietly with no announcement - it is for the soldier and, if the family is lucky enough to see it and understand, for them too.

On Monday, as I watched Chaim receive his rifle and Bible, I noticed his commanding officer reach up to his own shoulder and remove something. Later I would learn it was his tag, that announced he was part of the Kfir Brigade. This time, I caught it all on video - all clear. The commanding officer placed his own tag on Chaim's shoulder and then gave him a hard push - some other tradition I don't know but saw was done with each soldier.

At this point, I was able to understand - he had chosen Chaim. My eyes filled with tears and I was afraid I was going to mess up the video. I blinked my eyes furiously to clear them, to keep watching and tried to hold the camera straight. This is an honor - from soldier to soldier; an exchange between a commander and his soldier, but so much more.

These are the traditions I knew nothing about the first time around and which mean so much now that I do understand. It is one more thing I love about the Israeli army.

Those Messages

Before the ceremony at Ammunition Hill (and yes, I still want to write about Ammunition Hill...but not yet), the parents were ushered into a comfortable air-conditioned room where the officers spoke to us. One showed a PowerPoint presentation that made me laugh and think of recent articles I've seen about PowerPoint and the army. One was about a general in the US who looked at a PowerPoint slide and said something like, "If we could understand that slide, we'd win the war."

The presenter was a young man. I teach many skills in our technical writing class, including using PowerPoint and presentation skills...and this young man broke a whole bunch of rules. He read from the slides...he filled the slides with words...on and on. But the message was that they were taking our sons, building them into men, taking care of them, and guide them in the months to come.

The head of the base spoke. This is the second time we've heard him speak...the first time was at the Parents' Day event some weeks ago. Again he introduced himself and mentioned his wife and four girls. He smiled again, laughing with the parents. Yes, working on a combat base with mostly male soldiers, he was told that was an omen when his wife was expecting his first child, his second...those and the two who followed were girls, he laughed.

After the smiles and a repeat of much of what he said that last time, this time he was more serious. "We are preparing your sons for war. The harder we train them, the better."

"It might be this year, maybe in the next three years, but there will be another war, and we will be ready."

It isn't a message a mother wants to hear. I was there as Chaim and Yaakov's adopted mother, standing for their family to cheer Chaim on this time as we did at Yaakov's ceremonies...but it was a message to me as Shmulik's mother, as Elie's mother, and amazingly enough, as Davidi's mother, even though he is only 14.

There were messages of pride, messages of encouragement. We were asked to support them at home, give them love, warm food, time to rest...and leave the rest to them.

We went out to celebrate Chaim's ceremony and Elie's birthday - hamburgers and tons of food all around for everyone. A moment of together. I sat beside my husband and watched as the "children" simply enjoyed each other. They laughed, they talked...they sang Elie happy birthday and shared different samplings of food. These are the precious moments we save in our hearts.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ammunition Hill, Masada...and our Sons

I went to the first of two Swearing-In Ceremonies that I'll be attending (this one was Chaim’s, next comes Shmulik’s). This one was at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. It's quite beautiful, there in the middle of Jerusalem - quiet, open areas, tall trees. It was built by the British in the 1930s, when they were held control of the area. They were sent there by the League of Nations, with whatever dreams or expectations they intended to enforce on the local populations (sort of like President Obama’s current attempt to enforce his concept of peace on us today).

The local populations then (like now) had other ideas - and those didn't include ongoing foreign occupation and so sick of the fighting between the Arabs and the Jews...and their own role which too often had them leaning towards the Arabs...they threw in the towel and tossed the "problem" back to the United Nations (successor of the League of Nations). The United Nations decided to take a Solomon-like decision to split the land. They called it the Partition Plan, which would divide the land (then known as Palestine…or what was left of it after the British took 2/3 of the land and created the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) roughly according to population centers with Jerusalem to be internationalized.

The Jews agreed and established Israel. The Arabs did not. They figured odds were in their favor - five Arab nations, established, with armies, could defeat a bunch of Jews...many of them having only recently fallen out of concentration camps where they'd been starved, beaten, weakened. The Arabs were probably right on the odds but forgot two major things.

The first is so esoteric you can't really blame them - as much as they profess to being a religious culture, they didn't care much for the concept that this land was promised to us by God, that it was ours by history, by ancient wills, longstanding dreams. All things you can't factor into a battle. Whatever we Jews believed about our land and our right to be here was rejected by them. Their Mohammed and Koran trumped our Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David…and the Torah, at least in their minds.

The second thing they forgot was something a lot more easily grasped, though also as much concept as reality. When you go to war, you have to take into account the person or nation you are fighting. The Jews at that time...and today...are a people bound by a simple reality. We will not allow Masada to fall again; we will not allow another Holocaust.

It’s funny how these posts take twists and turns. I didn’t set out to write about Masada and yet it feels so right…so let me explain. Masada, for those who don't know, is a barren hilltop about an hour from my home. It's in the middle of the desert, high above the shores of the Dead Sea. Two thousand years ago, Jews fled Jerusalem and established a community on its heights. It had been a summer palace for King Herod; it became a fortress, a last stand, a place of such dignity that to this day you can feel it there when you visit. For a few years, the Romans conquered Judea, enslaved the population and hunted down those who tried to resist This was in Judea, as Israel was known before it was called Israel, before it was called Palestine, when it belonged to the Jews, then as now. Those who had fled because they refused to submit to Roman rule established a community there on Masada. They farmed up there, collected water, and for a few years, lived relatively well.

And then the Roman army came and realized they had no real way to reach the Jews. They tried – it took them several years. Far below, miserable in the heat and the barren landscape, the Roman army sat and planned until they finally began building a ramp.

It was inevitable that eventually the Romans would defeat them. There was no escape Israeli air force to come save them, no artillery units, no Kfir ground troops. The Jews met atop the hill and together they decided something that we have been taught many times over the last 2,000 years - something Menachem Begin wrote in his memoirs, The Revolt. (I hope I get this right because I'm too lazy to look up the exact quote.) Essentially, what they learned then was that "There are things more precious than life and more horrible than death."

When the Roman general had silenced resistance in the rest of the land, he decided it was time to bring Masada down, to quell the final revolt. "Then", says Josephus - the only historian known from that time, "the Romans returned to their camp full of spirits, and with a fixed determination to attack the enemy by break of day on the following morning; and, in the meantime, to place strong guards, that their opponents might not escape in the night."

These are the words of the leader of the Jews at Masada, Eleazer ben Yair, Eleazer, son of Yair):

"It has been, my friends, the usual custom with the people of our nation, to deny the authority of every other lord than the great Sovereign of the universe, the eternal God; and this we have done without excepting the Romans or anyone else. The time has come when we must demonstrate our sincerity by our conduct; wherefore let us act like men of resolution.

Till this time we have run every risk in preservation of our freedom; but we must now expect thralldom and tormenting punishments if the enemy take us alive, since we first departed from their dominion and have been the last to resist them. This being the case, we may deem it a favor if we are permitted to choose the death we would die, a favor that has been refused to many of our people."

Over 1,000 Jews committed suicide rather than fall to the Romans and be forced to defile their God, their religion, rather than be enslaved. Each man killed his family before they drew lots and chose among them who would kill the next.

The Jews of Masada simply had no where else to go, no land that would take them, save their own, which they were about to lose. Had there been an escape hatch, they might have taken it and, in their deaths, they achieved a form of immortality. More, they set in motion a promise we have made to them - Masada will not fall again.

There were many messages that came out of yesterday's ceremony. I'll try to write them up, but somehow, without ever mentioning Masada, watching our sons stand there as made their promise to defend their land, their State, their people, Masada was there…one of the places to which they promised, one of the commitments they accepted.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Hope

Have you listened to your country's national anthem? What does it make you feel when you hear it? Years ago, when Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement, there was a ceremony and I listened as they played my country's song. It was so beautiful, it was so special. It was so, so amazing.

Then I listened to the Jordanian national anthem and thought - they sign for peace, but play for war. Later, I looked up the words of their anthem and listened again. It starts with a drum roll...harsh, loud. The sound of an army. And each time the softer instruments come in, the drum beats again. The sound of war.

The words, when I finally heard that there were words, are interesting. It begins with "Long live the king, Long Live the king!" and they aren't talking about God. It continues "All the youthful men, are your armed armies; His determination never dies out; Getting from your meaning a symbol of well-being...the honor of dynasty. Talked about in the depths of books. May you stay the light and the guide. A master in being away of all sins and wrong doing. Living your life happily and well-respected! Under your flying flag rests the glory of all Arabs.

I have to be honest - I haven't to a clue what they mean and the can listen and see their tribute to their king...listen for the drums, watch the planes and uniforms. We too are a nation of war...but it doesn't reach the depths of our souls - it is not our dream of the future, our hope. Apparently, it is theirs:

By contrast, our national anthem is called "The Hope." It speaks of a dream of 2,000 years to be a free people, free in our land of Zion and Jerusalem. It's so beautiful, so gentle...and Chaim called to tell me that I should pay attention because maybe, just maybe, he will be the one asked to sing it at the ceremony I'll be attending later today.

Here's the Israeli version - listen, please, listen to the promise of hope, from a land that has always been, and forever will be, in our hearts. This is not a song of war, this is not a song sung to man. This is the promise of a God to His people, and from His people to the land He gave us. My beautiful country's national anthem:

Artillery Marches On...

Despite Elie being out of the army, my attention continues to be drawn to items related to things related to artillery, or places he served while in the army. I'll notice when there is a stoning attack near Azzoun - a recent shooting attack as well. I watch for the places up north, south of Jerusalem, and more.

Today, a news item from Israel National News caught my attention - a new weapon to be used by artillery. It is called the "Enchanted Spear." I find the name...enchanting...but more, I'm glad that the army continues to develop and improve its arsenal. As a mother, this means our sons will have better equipment with which to fight and, hopefully, it means a greater level of safety while they do it. Elie has moved on to the next phase in his life. Hopefully soon, he will begin working and studying. For now, he helps around the house, fixes things, reorganizes, explores. He is back to regularly volunteering for the ambulance squad, running out in the middle of the night when they call. It is a good time for him.

From Israel National News:
New Highly Accurate Mini-Rocket for Combat Units

Israel Military Industries (IMI) has developed an artillery rocket with a precise 40 km range. IMI reports that the new rocket, called "Enchanted Spear", is able to hit a target with a precision of ten meters. The new device includes a directive system based on GPS, and an advanced navigation system which is based on a miniature rocket engine. The rocket is constructed to hit and destroy targets on the ground, such as artillery batteries, headquarters and infantry centers of the enemy.

IMI says that during the last few years, the necessity for artillery aid to ground forces has become clear, especially during Operation Cast Lead whereby the IDF fired 7,500 shells as part of the ground firing forces’ operations. The Artillery Corps is also planning on upgrading the accuracy of its artillery shells in the near future.

Settling In, Again

We're settling in again to the army routine. Our schedule is the army's to determine - when they will come home, when we can talk. In some ways, I have a double role this time with both Shmulik and Chaim together and yet not together. They are in different units, on the same base...sometimes completely unreachable, sometimes thrown together as a surprise.

A few weeks ago, Chaim was on base for the weekend (Shabbat). This is a training base located in the Jordan Valley and since it really is only a training base, most units go home. Those who remain are there to protect the base and the area. Chaim was in the group that remained; Shmulik came home. I made chocolate chip cookies that week and packed two containers. "Give one to Chaim," I told Shmulik and explained that his commander had told me I could call him and he'd arrange to get the package to Chaim if there was a problem.

Both boys are in "Tiranut" - basic training. It is the time the army teaches them discipline and what it means to be a soldier. No other time is nearly as restrictive. They call their commander..."Commander Adi" or simply "Commander." They cannot sleep when they aren't given permission; cannot eat anything but army-supplied food outside the one hour per day of "freedom" they are given. Restrictions...discipline...learn. Become a soldier, prove yourself and you will be one of us.

But Chaim's group was out in the field. Shmulik remained with the cookies all week with no way to get it to him. Finally, the next weekend, Chaim was going off-base; Shmulik still had Chaim's cookies (his were long gone). Chaim went home...Shmulik got Chaim's cookies.

That weekend, I made brownies and we took them to Chaim, who had stayed in Jerusalem for Shabbat. I asked him if I could send two boxes - one for him and one for Shmulik. He agreed - and even took other things as well. But this time, Shmulik was in the field and so the package and brownies stayed with Chaim all week.

"Eat whatever you want," Shmulik told Chaim. We told Chaim. Chaim couldn't bring himself to do it. He finished off his brownies, and left Shmulik's alone. Finally, they met up on Thursday, "Why didn't you eat anything?" Shmulik asked him.

Chaim couldn't bring himself to do it. Well, they were both coming home the next day, so Shmulik started pulling out the sweets I had sent. He opened the brownies and told Chaim to take some. They shared the cans of energy drink and the other snacks. This is what brothers do.

The next morning, I met Shmulik on the highway near our home as the bus passed to take the soldiers to Jerusalem. I called him in the morning and as we were talking, I heard him say, "Hey, there's Chaim." A surprise meeting.

As the bus stopped near me to let Shmulik and another three soldiers off, I saw Chaim waving from the front seat. I waved back with a smile, feeling so happy that I'd had a chance to see him, even for a second.

Today, we are going to a ceremony for Chaim. I'll videotape it for his real mother and smile with pride when I see him receive his Bible and gun. I didn't get to see Elie's "Tekes Hashba'a" (Swearing In Ceremony). It was done without parents, on the top of a mountain in the Negev Desert.

Shmulik's is in a few weeks - it will be held at the Kotel, the Western Wall. I went to another ceremony there a few months ago and met a lone soldier and his wonderful parents...touching lives, connecting them. This is what the army does. It makes brothers, friends.

It's been two months since they entered the army. It isn't as smooth a ride as it was with Elie, but it is a journey of discovery, nonetheless. As with Elie, as summer comes to this region, so does talk of war. It is as regular as the winds, the heat, the turning of the season.

We live our lives this way, all the time, every day. The trick, I think, is to focus on the little things - like a box of brownies shared by two who are brothers in everything but blood.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When Time Disappears

Shmulik is undergoing the hardest part of army service - the basic training. There is no leeway given to soldiers, no extras. Though the army watches them carefully...and watches out for them, they give the soldier the impression that they do not care, that the soldier is merely a part of a great machine.

This time around...I expected more from the army...and in return, the experience is worse. For a variety of reasons, this is coming harder for Shmulik than it was for Elie. This is actually funny because Shmulik went into the army in better physical condition. Years ago, when he was around 14, he was a bit pudgy (is that a word?). I wasn't concerned because I was sure he would grow out of it as Elie my husband had when he was the same age.

Not only did Shmulik grow very quickly, but he got in shape. He started exercising and strengthening his muscles. But more, he went on a diet and lost weight. So much so, that I was afraid he was too thin and took him to the doctor.

“How do you feel?” the doctor asked my son.

“Fine,” Shmulik answered. The doctor turned to me and asked what the problem was. I explained that he’d gone on a diet and lost weight…but I thought it was too much. He throws up sometimes, I explained, and I was getting nervous.

The doctor weighed him and measured him…and asked him if he was forcing himself to throw up. Shmulik looked a bit surprised at the idea and answered that he wasn’t…it just happened sometimes.

The doctor asked him what his favorite foods were. “I don’t know,” Shmulik said with some hesitation, “Pizza? Ice cream?”

“He’s normal,” said the doctor. “Leave him alone.”

That was years ago. Since then, Shmulik has been into exercise and food. He eats well, sometimes snacks too much, balances it out. I thought he’d sail through the army as Elie did. It isn’t happening.

So that’s the update on Shmulik, who is still complaining of headaches but is hopefully settling in and, in any event, coming home on Friday morning.

As for Elie, the explanations, the decompression continues. Yesterday came yet another really funny story. He was explaining how the army takes new soldiers out into the field. It simulates battle conditions – less food, less sleep. And, as part of this, it collects all of their watches. From the first, they are taught the importance of time…to the minute they are given tasks to do…and then suddenly, the minutes still count, but the time of day is gone. After a little while, they return the watches set to 12:00. They’ve already been out in the field for hours. They can’t tell any more what time it is. Time of day has no meaning…the hours blend together, the days. It is meant to confuse you, disorient you…and it probably worked…

well…sort of…once upon a time…

This is where modern technology defeats the old army way. The concept of taking the watches and resetting them was created at a time…when there were likely no cellular phones. Or, if there were…they made phone calls.

Apparently, the army overlooked this flaw in their logic when Elie’s group was taken out to the field and so they held onto this anchor. The goal of the army is to make you improvise, make you follow orders, but thinking is valued too.

I'd say that one went to the soldiers!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm So Jealous...

Slowly, stories are coming out from Elie's time in the army...operations he went on; not major details that might be problematic, but things he did or saw; encounters he had while on the checkpoint, impressions from his time near Gaza. I let them flow, almost unsolicited.

Perhaps it is my projecting...wanting to believe he needs this as much as I do. Some stories involve danger...more danger than I knew about. It's silly to be scared or concerned now...he's here in front of me, after all.

We were talking about something and Elie mentioned a helicopter.

"Have you ever been on a helicopter?" I asked him a bit wistfully.

"Yes," he answered with a smile, "and it was cool."

"No way," I answered, already aware that he was sounding so much older than me. "Really?"

He explained that he and another commander had flown in a helicopter planning out a training mission that in the end never came about. Other things got in the way, but Elie got his helicopter ride. So cool.

I'm not interested in tanks - too large, too bulky, too...fierce.

But a helicopter...oh how I would love to ride in a helicopter.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Different Children...Different Experiences

Almost from the moment you have your second child, you realize quickly that there are differences - child to child, experience to experience. When I was pregnant with my first child...I couldn't stand to eat meat...beef of any type - hamburger, steak, whatever, was just more than I could handle. My daughter was born on a beautiful day in September...and immediately, eating meat again was no problem.

A few years later, I was pregnant with Elie - meat was no problem...but I simply could not tolerate chicken...not the smell, not the look, certainly not the taste. It was the same when I was pregnant with Shmulik and again with my third son.

When I was pregnant with my fifth child (and second daughter)...I kept eating I had with Amira...but I couldn't handle beef again. It was my first hint that it was a girl again, and not a boy. And it only continued.

Amira was such a girl...she played with dolls and loved to cuddle. She used toy cars to transport her dolls to the store and to the library. Elie was such a boy...he used dolls to fight, smashed his cars into walls (maybe the library?).

Shmulik was somewhere in between. He cuddled every bit as much as Amira and yet he too loved to smash those cars into anything within reach. And so it went...each child, each in his or her own way.

Shmulik is very different from Elie is so many ways. Easier, gentler in personality and so much harder in other ways. These last two weeks have shown me again how different they are. Last week, Shmulik was sick on base. Only now am I hearing about times when Elie was sick...but it comes in the form of hearing how well they took care of him. This unit seems to be less attentive to the soldiers, less caring of the individual.

When they had Parents' Day on Shmulik's base (something they didn't have with Elie), they were so positive, so encouraging...and yet, when it came down to it...Shmulik was left two days feeling miserable and unable to see a doctor...and when he did, the unit took part of what the doctor ordered...but added on their own commands so that Shmulik, though not out in the field, was left to wash dishes (and where is the logic of a sick soldier washing dishes?).

On the other hand, from the start, Elie learned that to survive and triumph as a soldier, he had to adapt his lifestyle to the army. The army was not going to adapt to him. The army assumes the boys will try to get out of working and so it forces them into a new reality, a tough one. You are a man now, not someone's child. Be a man, grow up. Deal.

It worked for isn't working nearly so well with Shmulik.

When Elie came home from the army...even from the beginning...he went to bed early and awakened on his own to get himself back to base. Shmulik still insists on staying out late Saturday nights with friends and comes home tired...only to awaken and return to base tired as well. I knew from the start it was a bad formula, but I hoped it would change.

My husband was plagued with migraines as a child, as a young man, and even now. Most of my children get them occasionally as well...Elie did, and now Shmulik does as well. You can control them...if you sleep enough but Shmulik didn't sleep enough this past Saturday night, woke early to return to base Sunday, and then was marched around doing soldier stuff till Sunday evening, when he told me he had a bad headache. No wonder, I thought to myself.

But today it was much worse - again, not unexpected. He went to the medic and the medic recommended that he not go out to the field but stay on base until he could be checked by a doctor. These weeks in the field are critical...and the units don't want their soldiers left behind. Already, two from another unit have "fallen" - meaning they have been sent out of the combat unit to become "jobniks."

A few hours later despite being told he should stay on base, Shmulik was ordered to go out to the field and called to tell me. He sounded bad, in pain...and asked me to try to call someone in the army. He also called a friend, who then called to tell me Shmulik still sounded bad, having been moved out to the field...the friend said Shmulik sounded horrible, dizzy and sick with a headache.

I had numbers given to me while attending Parents' Day and so I called first his Mem Pay (Commander of the Battalion) and when he didn't answer, I eventually called even higher. The gist of it was that they finally brought Shmulik back to base, where he is resting now.

The officer I spoke to was annoyed - he felt that I should not have interfered. He told me it was a "cultural" mistake - and clearly it was that I didn't understand the army culture...but I do, I thought to myself as I tried to explain to him that he doesn't know me, doesn't know Shmulik. I explained that in three years, I had never once called Elie's commanding officers...I explained that my son is not one who whines and cries at every little thing. It would be easier if he did.

He referred to one of his little daughters, implying that Shmulik was acting like a baby instead of a man of 18. He's 20, not 18, I told the commander...and he's obviously in pain.

I never liked hearing stories from Elie about parents who interfered with the army...Elie felt...and I agree, that in the long run, they weaken our soldiers and damage the work of the army because the soldiers are often less tough. It seems parents are always trying to fight the army to protect their children...and in so doing...they actually damage their children because they are then less prepared for battle, less able to cope with the harsh realities that a soldier must face.

And yet...and yet...

In the end, with the pressure of a parent, Shmulik was brought back from the field...with the pressure of a parent...that leaves me feeling sad and angry. I didn't want to pressure them; didn't want them telling me I was wrong to interfere...and I didn't want my son in pain.

Different children, different experiences...this one, I didn't want. I hate having called the army and yet someone or something has to budge...the hard truth here is that Shmulik will have to learn to adapt to the army because the army will not adapt to him.

Noam Shalit speaks on Gilad

This YouTube video was posted in honor of Israel's 62nd Independence Day...a day in which Gilad was not free, was not independent. This is a day on which we celebrated, knowing it was a day that Gilad's family continued to suffer.

Please take a moment and listen to Noam...who wonders what Gilad is thinking and feeling as he remains in complete isolation...almost four years into his captivity in Gaza.

"For you Gilad" - his father says...their lives have been dedicated to seeking Gilad's freedom. "We are fighting for his rights according to international law. For us... a night is not a night; a holiday is not a holiday...until he returns home.

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