This morning, as I once did long ago, I drove him to the Central Bus Station and took my place in a long line of parents dropping their sons off - to catch a bus up north or down south. Each soldier has a huge backpack; many have guns. Most are in the dress uniforms required for travel and ceremonies. The army looks good as its soldiers return to base after a weekend at home...except for those other guys.
They are older, dressed not in the crisp uniforms but in the wrinkled ones. Some have gained weight; their hair is often longer. Today, Elie was one of them. Yes, for the first time, Elie looked like what he is, a man...a married man with a child compared to those boys on the brink. The walk is different; the way he held himself compared to them.
It's a strange feeling seeing him go off in that uniform. It's the first time I see the physical differences. A man of 27 doesn't have the same body, moves differently, than a boy/man of 18 or 19. And the differences aren't all on the outside...perhaps most are actually on the inside, unseen by most. He goes off with a heavier heart; home calls to him more. His stride is more confident, older. He's walked this path so many times already. There is no hesitation and he doesn't look around.
He has no gun - he'll get that in a few hours. He is not in dress uniform. As a member of the Reserves, he can travel in "work" uniforms...they are more comfortable, can breathe in hot weather, and they look wrinkled and worn in.
Last night, his daughter had a fever and today his wife will stay home with the baby. He will miss a week of school - engineering college that will shape his future. All this is put aside, painfully - especially leaving Lauren and the baby, because the country calls to him.
He's on a bus now, headed for a training exercise that has made some of the newspapers. Like regular soldiers, they go prepared - yesterday, Elie raided my cabinet for Turkish coffee and another guy who is driving up north went shopping. Whatever food the army will serve them is nothing to what they will bring.
I'm calm - maybe because I understand more, maybe because he's not "IN" the army...he's training. He's close to one enemy, far from another. I know when he'll be home to his wife and baby and I know that he knows the army, the task, the job. This isn't war that he goes to...as he has already done twice. And so I can feel pride in his going, not fear. I can look back to those first days when he went off and smile because that mother was so different than I am today.
I guess that's the point here - time stops for no one...not for Elie, and not for me. It's been an amazing 7 plus years since I started this blog here. He was so young; I was so scared. I've made three weddings since then - including Elie's. I've had two grandchildren - including one that is Elie's.
Tomorrow, Amira will celebrate the third birthday of her son - it's a special and beautiful custom in our religion. For three years, they have let his hair grow long. Tomorrow, they will cut it for the first time. He's got the most amazing long hair - filled with curls upon curls upon curls. Tomorrow the family will gather as his hair is cut and this little boy, my first grandchild, leaves his babyhood behind and becomes the little boy that has been shining through more and more each time I see him.
Yesterday we had yet another long conversation. He remembered our camping out in the backyard - I am hoping that he holds this memory into his adulthood. That even when he is 27, he'll come to me and say, "Savta, we played in the tents and I slept in the tent with Aliza and you slept with Saba, and Ima slept with Abba and everyone ate."
Amira feels time flying as she watches him. I wish I could help her slow it down or not mourn just a bit how fast it goes. I can't tell her that it never slows down, though I think by now she suspects it.
Elie won't be here to see his nephew change into that little boy; see the full beauty of that face emerge from the hair that he has worn tied back for so many months.
My baby is 14 years old...my oldest about to turn 29. So much of this has sped by without my noticing. Wasn't Amira just three as her son is now? Wasn't Elie just an infant learning to crawl and just starting to pull himself up to stand as his daughter is now? It all seemed to crystallize as I watched Elie cross the street and enter the Central Bus Station...it is the same uniform but a different person. This is a father who yesterday diapered, fed and rocked his baby. This is a husband who will have called his wife several times this morning already. He left them, as he has before and as he will, God willing, do in the future, because the country calls to him.
This is a brother and an uncle, who will miss an important moment in our lives tomorrow, because the country calls to him. If you need to understand Israel, understand this moment, this day because it says so much of what Israel is about.
Amira (her mother-in-law and I) will be cooking our hearts out today for a celebration tomorrow. Lauren is home today with the baby because that too is Israel - we are families who love our children, watch over them in health and in sickness. Aliza went off to school this morning because we are a modern nation that educates its children. Davidi spent the night with his friends, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Lag b'Omer and today will continue studying for his final exams as he nears the end of high-school.
Shmulik went off to work this morning, starting a new job - an entry into the hi-tech, computer world that represents the innovation and brilliance Israel brings to the world.
And Elie left his family, his tiny family and our larger one. He won't be there to help Lauren; he won't be there to join in celebrating Amira's son's third birthday. He'll soon be somewhere with thousands of soldiers simulating battles we hope will never come. Soon enough, Shmulik's year-after-the-army will end and he too will be called into the Reserves. Soon enough, Davidi will enter the army.
On the day Elie first entered the army, I wrote:
My son is a soldier in the army of Israel. Why that makes me want to cry, I can't explain when it is something that I have accepted, something in which I feel pride. For now, the fear and worry that threatens to push the pride aside will be my personal battle in the next day and week and year. My son is where I have always wanted him to be, doing what he must do. It is something that Jews have been unable to do for thousands of years - to defend their land and their right to live here. My son is a soldier in the army of Israel.And because I can laugh today instead of cry, I'll add this story I had forgotten...from Shmulik's first day in the army:
Shmulik left this morning and as they approached the Induction Center...realized that he'd forgotten slippers. He'll be issued boots...reddish brown ones it seems to go with his uniform but when he'll shower or for that hour a day when he can relax...it's slippers or sandals or something.May God watch over Elie as he serves his country.
He had only his sports sneakers.
Luckily, Elie was wearing his waterproof, perfect-for-the-shower Crocs and the two made a switch. Elie gave Shmulik his Crocs, which soon, perhaps even now, Shmulik will put in his backpack in place of those army boots. Elie put Shmulik's sneakers on...and almost limped back to the car. Elie is a few centimeters taller and at least a size larger than Shmulik in the shoe department. Elie's feet fit in Shmulik's sneakers...right up to the end of the show.
He got in the car, removed the painful shoes and drove home. No great lessons to be learned from this, other than a smile at two brothers who handled the situation brilliantly. Shmulik's sneakers are back in his bedroom waiting for his return; Elie's Crocs are somewhere near Tel Aviv wondering how they got drafted again.
May God watch over Shmulik as he begins his new job.
May God watch over David as he begins the long path to where his brothers are now.
And may God watch over Amira, her husband and her son - as well all celebrate how a baby becomes a child, beautiful and smart and sweet.
And may God watch over Aliza, my baby.
And may God watch over Lauren and the baby (refuach shlayma).
And may God watch over Na'ama, Shmulik's beautiful wife.
And may God continue to bless this land, this people, this nation, His promised land; His chosen people, His blessed nation.