Sunday, September 23, 2007

How Do You Tell Him?

How do you give your child bad news when he's far away and you can't see him, hold him? When you can't know that he's okay after you shake his world? Today, I got a message on my phone saying Elie's best friend from his early years in Israel had been badly injured in a serious car crash. How could I tell him when I knew so little? Scary words were thrown around in conversations - neck injuries, back injuries, trapped in the car. It was overwhelming and worst of all was the thought that I had to call and tell Elie.

How much should I tell him? Other than prayers, there isn't much Elie could do...but could I deny Re'em the prayers of someone who loved him so much and had known him for so long. Re'em was the easiest of Elie's friends because he spoke English so well. He accepted us from the start and we accepted him. They played together, went together, celebrated each of their bar mitzvahs together, and mourned together when Re'em's father was killed in a car accident shortly after Re'em's bar mitzvah.

They grew together, each towering over me long after we'd moved away and conversation between the two boys became sparse. Some conversations here and there, each knew what the other was doing, where they were, how they were. Until today.

Re'em, too, is in the army. He was on his way back when his car overturned, trapping him inside. It's a nightmare for any mother, for all mothers, and for sisters and friends. A frantic network of calls alerted me to what had happened. When we learned he was in the operating room, I decided to call Elie. I told him only the basics - an accident, he's in the operating room.

Elie is supposed to come home on Wednesday - once again, if the Syrians don't attack. If all goes well, he can stay home through Saturday night or Sunday. So perhaps we can go to the hospital on Friday to visit Re'em. Think positive, I said to myself. Don't let him hear your voice break. Don't cry on the phone. Wait with the tears and the fears. Little Re'em, who always smiled when he came to my house.

Elie's sister was good friends with Re'em's sister. That's the way it is in small towns and so she spoke to another friend, who was sitting with Re'em's sister. Wait and pray. Pray and wait. Hours after they said the operation would be over, we were finally told it went better than expected on his knees, but we didn't yet know about any injuries to his neck. Too soon to talk of any long term problems. Too soon. For now, he's out of surgery and sleeping.

I had to call Elie and update him. I couldn't put it off any longer. I knew he would be worried and yet before I had nothing to say. What should I tell him? He can't do anything? He can't rush to be by Re'em's side, as they were so often growing up. What should I say?

I called and he answered right away - another sign of the army's understanding that the soldiers are human. Two days ago, I couldn't reach Elie all day. Today, no matter when, he can answer the phone to hear about his friend. One word to his commanding officer and Elie was allowed to answer the phone. One of the boys in his unit is newly married and lives in the city of Sderot, which is constantly being hit by rockets and mortars launched from Gaza. The soldier had permission, even during basic training when the soldiers weren't allowed to even carry phones, to have his cellphone on and loud all day. If it rang, he answered. Today, when Elie's phone rang, Elie was allowed to answer. Israeli soldiers are soldiers, but they are human - with families and friends and needs.

"All day, people have been calling me to tell me," Elie said.

"Who called?"

"Everyone," was the typical answer of a child who doesn't want to give details, spoken in the voice of a mature man, but still a child's answer.

"What did they say?" I asked. Perhaps it was a delaying tactic. I still hadn't decided what I would tell him.

And then I heard his voice break, just a little, but there anyway, "Ima, please just tell me," and I knew I would tell him whatever I could. I started slowly, "they said the operation went better than they'd thought it might. He's sleeping now and will till tomorrow."

"That's good," Elie said, and then my heart broke just a little more when he continued, "they said he was hurt in his back."

"It might be his neck," I told him. "But anyway, it's too early to know. For now, he's out of surgery and resting. We just don't know yet."

How do you give your child bad news when he's far away and you can't see him, hold him? When you can't know that he's okay after you shake his world?

I guess the answer is with love, with tenderness, with prayers for a friend and hope that tomorrow God will bless Re'em ben Chaya Margalit (ראם בן חיה מרגלית) with a full and speedy recovery and may he have the knowledge that all over Israel, people love him and are praying for him.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Yom Kippur: Judgment Day

"The tenth of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement for you. It is a holy holiday when you must fast and bring a fire offering to HaShem. Do not do any work on this day; it is a day of atonement, when you gain atonement before HaShem your God."
VaYikra 23:27-28

Yom Kippur is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. It's a day of fasting, of prayer. It's a day when you pull into yourself and examine all the corners inside your mind and heart to search out the things you've done wrong to others and before God. And, when you find them, you repair them as best you can.

It's a day of forgiveness - where you ask forgiveness from those you have wronged. It is not so much their job to forgive, as your job to ask forgiveness. And, once you have done your best with your family, friends, neighbors and all those around, you turn to God and say, "Look, I have asked forgiveness and I have forgiven. Please forgive me for the wrongs I've done before you."

In the prayers of Yom Kippur, there is a long list of sins, of pride, of arrogance, or dishonesty, of speaking or thinking ill of others. No one has committed all of these sins and yet we all confess to them - it is a collective prayer for forgiveness. And even as we say this prayer, we have accepted the reality that not all will be forgiven, not all will go as we wish.

One of the most awesome prayers is simply a paragraph long. It sums up the day as simply as possible.
How many shall pass, and how many created: Who shall live and who shall die; Who in their time and who not in their time; Who by water And who by fire; Who by the sword. And who by a beast; Who by hunger And who by thirst; Who by disaster. And who by sickness; Who by strangling And who by stoning; Who will rest. And who will wander; Who will be go peacefully And who will go violently; Who will be calm. And who will be harried; Who will be poor; And who will be rich; Who will be degraded. And who will be exalted. By repentance, prayer and charity. Remove the evil of the decree.

Yom Kippur is a time when Israel as a whole pulls into itself. It is the one day a year that the international airport closes completely. Local television and radio stations shut down. Buses stop running throughout the country and certainly within the cities, there are few or no cars seen on the streets. For 25 hours, we concentrate only on the confines or our soul, both personal and national. We spend time with our friends, our family, our neighbors and think only of the day and what it means.

So, what does all this have to do with Elie and A Soldier's Mother?

Elie isn't home for Yom Kippur. I'm not sure if this is the first time this has happened, but it certainly is the hardest. He called a little while ago. For the most part, he's in a good place. He's on a base in the north and will sleep in a bed rather than out in the field. He sounded good and rested. They had just eaten lunch and would, in a few hours, begin the final meal before the fast.

Again his group was divided and some were allowed to go home. This means, if things stay quiet, that Elie will be able to come home again for the first days of Sukkot. But that's beyond the fast and today we focus only on now. Elie told me that their vehicles and cannons are nearby, ready should the Syrians attempt to do now what they did in 1973, to attack Israel on the holiest day of the year. In the first hours of the Yom Kippur War, many young Israeli soldiers died because the better trained, reserve soldiers had been allowed to go home for the holiday and the standing army was all that stood between the Syrians and much of northern Israel.

Today it is different; the army is more reactive and the standing army better trained. I am beginning to think that the Syrians will make noise, perhaps demand something as meaningless as yet another United Nations vote condemning Israel (to add to the hundreds of other meaningless anti-Israel resolutions they have passed previously).

Hopefully, the soldiers in the north and the soldiers in the south, those standing on our borders and those protecting our cities, will have a quiet peaceful Yom Kippur. May the mothers of Israel have peace over the holiday to focus on their prayers without frantically worrying about where their sons and daughters are. May the fathers of Israel have peace over the holiday so that they too may think only of the solemn day and not worry about their children.

And may the God of Israel watch over all of us, from the start of the fast until the blast of the shofar. May He forgive us our sins and bless us with happiness and safety and peace - but most of all, with life.

Gamar Hatima Tova - May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a long and happy year.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

And Back in the Army

The holiday went so fast but it was wonderful having Elie home. He talked of what happened that night in the north and what might happen in the coming weeks. The news is filled with stories of what the Israeli air force did, what it targeted, how it got there, and what this means on an international level. I have no real knowledge of what really happened, whether it was arms for Hizbollah or nuclear components from Korea or something else entirely. All I know, or rather all I can assume, is that if the stories are true, Israel felt it needed to take out a threat great enough to justify the action. This is the meaning of their action on a national level with international repercussions.

What this means on a personal level, was that the army woke my son in the middle of the night, telling him to get ready quickly; that it was not a drill but something real. As he had been taught to do, he and his unit swung into action and got ready. They knew the potential threat came from Syria and as the night wore on, they were told more. Bombs had been dropped on a target and there was every possibility that in the minutes that followed, Syria would make the wrong decision and draw the wrong conclusions.

The correct conclusions were there for Syria to grasp: Israel has the military intelligence to know what you are doing and the military power to stop you when you seek to escalate or exacerbate the situation in our region. We can hit where we need to, when we need to, how we need to, in order to protect our country. We are not crippled. We will act - swiftly, professionally, brilliantly to take out any threat to our national survival.

But in those tense minutes when my son and his unit prepared themselves, the wrong conclusions could have been there as well. Syria could have decided that Israel wants does not. Syria could have thought we were invading...we weren't. Syria could have started a war and though it is unlikely that Syrian forces could have accomplished much, soldiers and sons on both sides would have died.

By the time Elie called me, the minutes after the attack had spread to hours...hours in which I slept while my son was awake and perhaps minutes from war. This thought went through my head over the weekend, like so many others, never to be voiced. I stood in the synagogue praying for peace and thought how close my son had been to war...and I'd been asleep. It was a humbling thought, enough to cause a mother to vow never to sleep again. And then I remembered that night when Elie ran off into the darkness to help an accident victim. Don't you trust me? I have to trust Elie and the soldiers...even when I sleep.

In the days that followed the Israeli raid on Syria (if that's what it was), Elie's unit went about the task of ensuring they were ready while outwardly doing nothing to encourage the Syrians to attack. Israel did not confirm the mission or its goals, and Elie's unit cleaned their equipment, performed the daily and weekly maintenance tasks, and waited.

International news agencies and "secret" sources leaked what Israel had done or might have done, and Elie's unit patrolled within the boundaries of their base, and waited. If things stay tense and on alert, the unit will again be divided in the coming holidays and only a small portion will be allowed to go home to their families. Elie is unlikely to get home this coming weekend, when we will fast for Yom Kippur and contemplate the year that has passed and pray for the year to come.

If the army has any notion that the Syrians may attempt an attack on Yom Kippur, our holiest day of the year, as they did in 1973, it is doubtful that any of Elie's unit will make it home at all for the holiday and if that is the case, then Elie is unlikely to make it home for the festive holiday of Sukkot that follows Yom Kippur. Sukkot is a holiday of joy, of fun, of time with your family. It lacks the seriousness of Yom Kippur in which you feel you and all the world is awaiting judgement. Sukkot is about returning to the basics, leaving the comfort of your homes to the relative insecurity of temporary dwellings. But beyond that, it's about family meals and time together and the celebration of freedom, of eating outdoors under the stars.

Knowing that he may not make it home in the next few weeks, Elie took four huge containers of homemade cookies and brownies back with him. His backpack was overflowing when I drove him into Jerusalem last night to catch an army bus up north. In effect, it was his first experience with a mobilization. He was told that he would be contacted right after the end of the Sabbath and told where and when to meet a bus. He would be given not more than 2 hours to get himself ready and get to the meeting point. This is how Israel mobilizes in a time of war and this is what they wanted the soldiers to experience.

Driving him in to Jerusalem, with his sister and brother-in-law sitting in the back and Elie in the front, the discussion again turned to the Syrians. Elie was talking about the Syrian army and mentioned one major difference. The Syrians, Palestinians and Hizbollah, Elie explained, are given a mission, just as the Israeli soldier is tasked with a specific target or operation. The difference, Elie said, is that they rarely have a return policy. The need to get back safely is not stressed, not of great importance.

I knew this about the Palestinians. Few Palestinian terrorists enter a bus, crowded mall, or community with any goal other than to kill. They do not set bombs and run because there might not be any people around. It leaves too much to chance. Better to stand there, even carefully position yourself next to children or between families, as was done in so many horrible attacks in the last few years. Maximum death and destruction are achieved when you can see your target, when you can pick who you will kill, and so escaping is equivalent to failure.

I don't know if I knew this about Hizbollah, or just assumed it to be true. After all, their own leader said, "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death." And, if Nasrallah says that, who am I to doubt it?

As for the Syrians, I guess I always assumed that their army was...well, an army. How can you send sons to battle without a plan for their return? It's an incredible concept and yet, maybe that is one of the reasons why we have been victorious in the past and why we have such a strong army - they fight to live, and not to die. They fight to return.

I think Nasrallah is right. The culture he and other Arab leaders have created is one in which they "love death." But where he is wrong, is in his promise of victory. They aren't going to win, because loving life doesn't lead to defeat. It doesn't make you weak, it makes you strong.

May Elie and the soldiers of Israel go from strength to strength and may they always know that we await their return.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Elie's Home

It's been three and a half weeks since Elie was able to come home. He's exhausted, filthy, thinner. He's gotten even darker from being outside. He's tired, he's hungry - God, he's never looked better.

He is so beautiful, I don't have words. Anyway, he's fine. He has the holiday and Shabbat home and has to go back to his base Saturday night (instead of Sunday morning). Most of his unit had to stay up north, but he was one of the lucky ones. I can't imagine what the holiday would have been like without him. There are several holidays coming in the next month. Most of the remaining ones, Elie will likely have to stay in the army, unless things calm down significantly on the Syrian front and things don't heat up further on the Gaza front.

The news is scary. According to Kuwaiti and Lebanese sources, Syria is mobilizing its troops. It went from the glorious claim of victory (having claimed it chased Israeli planes out of its air space) to embarrassment (CNN and other sources are claiming Israeli planes hit a convoy of weapons from Iran that were destined for Hizbollah. Others claim Israel hit some nuclear installations that were being set up by Syria and Iran.). Whatever the story, it is clear there is no victory for Syria. Whatever Israeli planes did that night, they left, again according to CNN, a huge hole in the desert.

So chances are, Elie won't make it home for most or all of the rest of the holidays, but that's more than I can think about now. For now - Elie's home. He's clean, he's eaten his favorite foods, I've got homemade cookies and brownies cooling so I can pack them for him to take back...and he's resting in his own room, in his own bed, in his own clothes, surrounded by a family that is so grateful to have him home safe. His younger sister made him a little card and put it next to his room welcoming him home. As with the last time he was gone for so long, she asked about him and when he came home, stayed by him just a little longer, held his hand just a little bit tighter. She's gotten used to the idea that Elie is in the army.

Amazingly enough, at only 7, she already has some understanding of what this means. She says she prays for him. She has a friend whose brother was killed while serving in the army. The young girl doesn't remember him at all. The concept frightened my youngest child enough to worry and ask questions about where Elie is and when he'll be home. When she heard he was already on a bus and would be home soon, she smiled and said she'd like to make him a picture. At 7, things are so simple.

Elie arrived to hugs and smiles. It was quickly apparent that he didn't want a fuss to be made. For him, it was a regular time away, if perhaps a little longer than he expected. For me, I've learned yet another lesson to add to the so many I've learned so far. He can't understand, he must never know how much we worry, how frightened we are. He is lucky because at every moment, he knows where he is, knows he is fine but worrying about us worrying about him can't help the situation. So, for now, his mind is clear.

Elie's home. Did I mention how beautiful he looks? Just don't tell him I said so, despite all the maturity...he'd still never understand being called beautiful!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

I thought I'd have more time. Time to adjust to being the mother of a soldier in training; time to adjust to being a mother of a soldier on patrol; time to adjust slowly to the inevitable unknown. This week we celebrated Elie's father's 50th birthday - another great milestone in a man's life, in a father's life.

We planned a special surprise birthday party, which didn't come off for several reasons, but Elie had already gotten permission to come home a few hours early and so we settled on a plan to have the whole family together for dinner. I got a text message from Elie last night at midnight telling me he'd be on a bus at 6:00 a.m. and home by 11:00 a.m. Time to rest, relax, sleep a little and be refreshed for dinner.

Elie called at 4:00 a.m. to tell me they'd been put on alert. Clearly something had happened, but I didn't know what. It's the whole country, Elie told me. I wondered what was happening in Gaza and why that should effect Elie.

By the morning, it was clear that Elie couldn't leave the base but the reason still wasn't clear. For a few minutes around 11:00 a.m., Elie was told he could come home, but he called me to say there were no buses.

"I'll come get you," I told him. It's a two-hour drive, but the need to see him, to feel him safe, was strong enough that I didn't care.

"One of the guys has to get to Eilat. He asked if you could drop him in Tiberias," Elie asked. "He'll fly from there."

"No problem," I said as I looked around for a map.

"The other guys asked if you could bring them some snacks. And some cola," Elie added. "Not diet."

That was probably the first smile I'd had all day. "No problem." I loaded bags filled with bamba, the national favorite snack and added some chocolate, some drinks, and more. Map in hand...the phone rang.

"They shut it down again. I can't come," Elie told me.

I spoke to him on and off, each time wondering what was happening, where. Around 4:00 p.m. Israeli time, the story broke. The Syrians are claiming that an Israeli aircraft flew over their territory. "We warn the Israeli enemy government against this flagrant aggressive act, and retain the right to respond in an appropriate way," the Syrian spokesman said.

The gist of Elie's response to that claim can be summed up as a denial. It's not true, he said. The Syrians are making that up because they have a reason. It won't have happened by accident, it seems all agree.

Did Israel fly over? Did the Syrians make the whole story up in order to increase tensions? All possibilities that leave a mother panicked beyond words. Elie is calm. His unit is ready. Their vehicles are there, armed and ready if needed. There are bunkers nearby; secure areas. Radar, satellites. Nothing comforts right now.

I thought I'd have more time to come to terms with this. I couldn't get back to sleep after Elie called last night. "I told you now to worry," Elie scolded me this morning. At another time, I would silly for a boy to think he can command his mother not to worry. It is yet another small sign that deep in the man, remains the boy.

Syria will do what it wants to do. The political scientist in me (Barnard College, Class of 1982) tells me that nations act according to their interest, and it is in Syria's interest to keep the Middle East in the news. Peace does not serve their purpose; compromise is not in their vocabulary. Any peace without a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan will be seen as a defeat for Bashar Assad and so there can be no peace with Syria. If US efforts in November to bring about a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians are successful (something very few people believe is even a slight possibility), that success would leave the Syrians on their own. They have a vested interest in seeing that those talks don't succeed, and that might even mean going to war.

In 1948, Syria attacked Israel. In 1956, Syria attacked Israel. In 1967, Syria in conjunction with Egypt was preparing to attack, and in 1973, Syria again attacked. The Golan Heights is the only thing that stands between Syria and almost 1 million Israelis. The Golan Heights is there as a physical barrier. Whoever commands the heights, has the ability to secure...or destroy, much of northern Israel. The Golan Heights protects those vulnerable valleys...just as Elie's unit and the other soldiers who are up there protect the Golan Heights.

What I have learned today, is that life in the army is full of unknowns. Not much different than other aspects of life and yet, more frightening and frustrating at times. Elie was to come home for the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Now it appears that they won't be able to release him. He was to have come home today, but is still in the north tonight as the sun is setting. Tomorrow he might be able to get here, we still don't know.

And through all those unknowns, is the deepest unknown of all - what will Syria do, and where will my son be when they take whatever actions they will? The lump that has been inside of me since Elie entered the army seems so much larger tonight that it almost blocks my ability to breathe.

As always, I can see today's events from many sides. The Israeli in me refuses to be intimidated. I don't know what happened last night.

It could have been an intentional incursion by the Israeli air force - but for what purpose? We can see all that there is to see by our satellites. Sending in a single plane at midnight is absurd, unnecessary, and unlikely. The Syrians are unlikely to have actually seen anything and since they claim that the plane flew over an uninhabited area and did no damage, who then was there to say the plane "dropped ammunition." No, I would never credit the Syrians with actually telling the truth.

It could have been an accidental crossing over a dark border late at night - unlikely, given the sophistication of the Israeli Air Force, but possible.

It could have been...and likely was...a fabrication of the Syrian side. And so, we are back to the same question - for what purpose? Here the answer can be an attempt to destroy, in advance, any chances the US plan had for success. It could be many things.

For me, I have to find comfort, from day to day and moment to moment. At this moment, my son is safe. Closer to danger than I would like him to be, but safe. May he and the protectors of Israel have a safe and quiet night and may they each have the chance to be with their families soon. Lila tov, Elie - I love you.

Note: It's Friday morning. I heard from Elie only briefly saying that the army would be keeping them in the north "just in case." Yesterday, Syria claimed Israeli aircraft "dropped bombs on an empty area while our air defenses were firing heavily at them." Today they admit that we didn't drop any bombs and have reduced their claims to a whine "They intervened in our airspace... which they should not do -- we are a sovereign country and they should not come into airspace."
It still isn't completely clear if an Israeli plane even entered Syrian airspace - but what seems to be happening, one can only hope, is that Syria is backing off. Perhaps there too, there are mothers who fear for their sons and want only peace. One mother wrote to me "I still think we need a conference of mothers – I’ll bet there are more than a few American, Israeli, Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi mothers out there who don’t want their children in harms way either."I think that is the conclusion to all things - let the mothers rule!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Two Weeks Away...and Counting

Elie hasn't been home now for two weeks...and won't be coming home until the end of this week. It's another relatively long stretch and during this time he's been very busy up north, unable to call quite as often. I've sent him messages; he's called to tell me what's happening. He sounds tired at times and the hot weather isn't helping.

It's tense up north, but the general feeling is that we have made it through the summer and the chances of war in the immediate or near future have diminished significantly. To some extent, Israel is standing down from its earlier speculation. Syria, though still belligerent, simply isn't ready for a war at this time and unless something stupid or accidental happens, we seem to have avoided "the bullet" this time. It is good to know that they understand what we have known all along - no one wins in war.

I spoke to Elie on Friday and asked him in general terms what was happening. They are still training, learning how to communicate as a unit and how to work together to target a specific location whatever, whenever, wherever that location will be. Pinpoint accuracy is a major issue for artillery, air force, and all units. Though much of the world would have you believe that Israel would indiscriminately aim at its enemies, the reality is far from this absurd claim. In reality, the Israeli army goes to great lengths to avoid civilian injury...and this is done by making sure that when we must target something, we do it as accurately as possible.

Typically, the training for the artillery division involves a combination of simulation and live fire training with one, some, and then all elements of the division that is posted with him. Elie told me that because of the sensitive situation with Syria, his unit is not training with live fire. "What's important is how we work together, loading and aiming," he explained to me. For my part, having heard the sound of these large vehicles shooting artillery (during the Tekes Kumta), I'm more than happy to know that Elie isn't near those huge explosions.

The other good news, at least so far, is that it seems Elie will be spending Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) at home with us. This year, it falls on a Thursday/Friday, which means we will have 3 full days with him - even a little more, as he will have to arrive home on Wednesday to get here before the holiday starts.

For now, we have settled into a routine where Elie is still relatively safe in training. He's learning about the terrain in the north and how to maneuver and respond in this changed environment. The north has always been our vacation land, the place we go almost every summer to camp, to relax, to hike, to swim.

Years ago, we spent 3 days in the north, and during that brief holiday, Hizbullah shot a katyusha rocket into Kiryat Shemona, a few miles away. Elie's father and I heard the booms (outgoing and incoming) and knew what it was, what it meant. For Elie, it was a new and frightening experience. Many people on vacation immediately decided t cut short their plans and return to the center of the country, out of missile/rocket range. We talked to local residents and decided this wasn't necessary and that we'd stay the planned period of time. We stayed because we believed we weren't in danger and running would hurt the local economy, ruin our vacation, and send the wrong message to our children. We stayed because we didn't want our children to believe that retreat was the answer. At first, Elie wanted to go home. We spent the night sleeping on mattresses in the center of a house in an area with no windows. By morning, the army gave the "all clear" sign and we decided to stay in the north.

Now, years later, Elie is back in the north, a few miles away from where we vacationed, learning how to help protect the north from similar attacks. It is, in its way, a circle. Elie isn't frightened any more - he is a soldier. He knows the answer isn't to run from aggression and so the Israeli army continues to train in the north and Elie's unit will continue to study and practice...and I'll spend the week on ordinary tasks - getting kids to school, work...and thinking about Elie coming home next weekend.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Gilad Shalit...a Birthday in Captivity

In the back of every Israeli mother's mind and deep within her heart, is a prayer for Gilad Shalit and a deep sense of sympathy for his mother. For the mother of an Israeli soldier, there is also the fear of being in her position.

Gilad Shalit turned 21 years old this past week. It's a huge event in a young man's life, especially in Israel. They are, these young men of ours, in one of the most exciting and challenging periods of their life. All is ahead of them, all doors open, all options and choices calling.

They entered the army at 18...or 19. They have served for more than half their required national service. Long out of basic training, these young men are trusted, trained, dedicated. But then, on a hot summer day last year, the world changed for Gilad, for his family, his friends and, in many ways, for his nation. Gilad was captured by Palestinian gunmen who crossed into Israeli territory. In the same attack, two soldiers were murdered and four injured (one seriously). Gilad was dragged into Gaza. He was 19 years old. Just a few weeks later, his family marked his 20th birthday in fear, sadness, and desperation.

A year from that birthday has passed and Gilad is now 21 years old. A year gone from his life that his mother and father can never reclaim. Never to have touched their son for his entire 20th year, never to have spoken to him, to know he is safe, healthy, whole, and happy.

For me, I almost hesitate to even write Elie's name on the same page as Gilad, the fear is too great, and the guilt for feeling that as well. I didn't need to have a son enter the army to know that there are few greater agonies for a parent than what Noam and Aviva suffer through each day, each hour, each minute. But to have a son in the army, to feel the distance while he is away, and to know that on a sunny day like today, someone's world came crashing down ... means understanding that you have to come to grips with this worry.

Beyond the issue of negotiating or not, releasing prisoners or not, is the simple sad reality that Gilad isn't home. I listened to Gilad's father on the radio a few days ago at a large rally to "celebrate" his birthday. Celebrate is the wrong word, because there can be no celebration. Rather, people gathered to mark his birthday. A reporter asked Noam what message he had for Gilad's government, for the Hamas government, and finally for Gilad himself.

Anger was in my mind about how little the Israeli government has done, and it could be heard in Noam's voice as well. There was a slight hesitation when it came to the issue of a message for Hamas. On the one hand, Noam didn't want to make the situation worse for his son, and yet there too there is anger.

And finally, the question - what would you say to your son? For some reason I will likely never understand, the news cut off at that point. I don't know what Noam said but my eyes filled with tears at the thought of a father having to communicate with his son only through the media.

This blog is about my son, Elie, who entered the Israeli army about 5 months ago. I thought that this blog would be important to friends and family, so they could follow Elie's progress and feel more connected (and save me having to say the same things so many times). I also thought it would be sort of cheap therapy...I can express my concerns and fears without driving Elie crazy. And, from the many kind notes and comments I have received here on the blog and privately, I believe this blog is important because it presents the reality of one Israeli soldier, who is typical of so many others and I, as Elie's mother, am but one of tens of thousands of mothers who are going through (or have gone through) my experiences now.

Aviva Shalit is one of those mothers and Gilad is one of our sons. A few months ago, Hamas released a short tape of Gilad. His most important words were the first few words he said,
"I am Gilad, Son of Noam."

With these simple words, Gilad Shalit identified himself. Though he talked about his time in captivity, his wish to be home and other words most likely forced upon him by those who have kept him from his family for just over a year now, Gilad's most important words were the ones he spoke in the first few seconds. They were, I believe, the only ones that were truly his.

These are not merely the words of a soldier held prisoner, a young man kept from his family in harsh conditions. These are the simple words of a Jew. This is how we identify ourselves, how we are called to bless the Torah on the Sabbath, how we are called on the day of our wedding, how we name our children, and even how we are buried. This is the name of a Jew, the child of my fathers and mothers for generations before me. All that I am, signaled Gilad, is the son of Noam, the son of my people.

And now, as Gilad passes his 21st birthday, still in captivity, we all think of him, pray for him and want him home. Happy birthday, Gilad. May you live to 120 only in health and happiness and may you soon be returned home to your family and to all of us.

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