Monday, November 26, 2007

Deep Breath Time

Not for Elie this time, he's just fine. In the Commanders Course in the south, doing well, eating well. Safe. I sleep at night and only worry when I allow my mind to think of training accidents or the fact that he said he knees were bothering him from all the training, but Elie's good. Elie's safe.

Months before he entered the army, much more actually, he received a note from the army calling him to a day of testing. It's a full day of mental and physical testing for those who will enter as combat soldiers. It is the start of a road the lets the army (and the boy) choose which division, which path, his national service would take.

With Elie, the day at a major national sports center was almost fun - it was a day away from 12th grade, a day off from study. If I remember correctly, I even drove him part way so he didn't have to hassle with several buses. The army was well into the future; it was just a day off. Maybe it was even exciting.

Yesterday, in the mail - we got the call for Elie's 17-year-old brother to go to the full day of testing and this time, this time my stomach started to churn. "No, you can't have another one now," I almost said out loud.

It's a silly thought. First, because the army can have him, and they will (God willing). Second, he isn't going into the army that fast. Like Elie, I will encourage him to take a year and study and/or prepare. They are better for that year, more disciplined, more mature. One of Elie's teachers, who had served in a "special unit" once told me that the army had a simple way of dealing with recruits, "they break them, and then they build them back up, stronger, better, more mature."

"But I don't want my son broken," I almost cried. "I like him like he is."

"Then don't give him to the army at 18. Give him a year of preparation."

And that's what Elie did. That year and a half prepared him for what the army would do so that he could understand the psychological reasons, as well as the physical. So he could meet the challenges without it breaking him. He, and the army, were better for that time.

So, it wasn't the impending entrance that got to me and it wasn't really the single day Elie's brother will spend in a few months. It was that feeling you have just before you go on a roller coaster, that knowledge that your life is about to go up and down and twirl around outside your control. It's exciting. It's breath-taking. It's wonderful...but you wish the line would move a little more slowly. You wish you'd considered taking another ride first.

No, I'm not ready for a second son to go into the army. And, fast along those lines, comes the thought that I never will be. I wasn't "ready" for Elie to go into the army. I simply followed along, and the army gently took me through what I needed to know.

Or came to our house and explained; he answered our stupidest of questions with patience and a smile. We were invited to see where our son was, what he was doing and allowed to celebrate those milestones with him. They told him to call us; they sent him home to us often. He explained. He shared. We learned. We understood. We accepted, and we watched in awe as the man he is becoming took shape from the boy we had raised.

I had thought, until yesterday, that having gone through this with Elie, having become a seasoned soldier's mother (don't laugh too hard at that one), I could handle, even with ease, a second son and then a third son entering the army. I was so wrong. One day later, with the paper staring at me from the board above my computer, I now know another army truth.

A mother is never ready to see her son into the army. Each will be as shocking as the first time. No, I'll never be ready for him to go off that first day. No, I won't relax until I get that first call at night. I'll wait for his first weekend at home and wonder what he is doing, what he is feeling, what he is thinking. I'll have night terrors with him too and worry what our enemies have planned and where my son is at any given moment.

It's all a lie. A blog won't help me be calm; experience with one son won't help with the second or the third. The roller coaster tosses you every time you take the ride and knowing its twists and turns doesn't stop you from taking the deep, terrified breathe as you know it is about to take you through the steepest dives, the longest ascents.

And the greatest truth of all is that my second son, like my first and some day like my third (God willing), will become a soldier in the army of Israel and I will watch each, worry about each, love each. Each will never know my terrors and fears (or I'll fool myself into believing that), but they will know my love and my pride.

In two months, my second son will spend a day in the hands of the army. They'll learn his likes and dislikes, his preferences and abilities. They took Elie, a boy so much more capable than his academic scores alone might have shown, and pegged him so perfectly. They'll do the same with Shmulik. Then he'll come back home and I'll put it all aside, until another letter comes telling him what division, what day. I'll buy him gray socks and green undershirts. I'll take him to the drop off point with a quick kiss and a smile and let him go, and spend the rest of the day thinking of him.

My second son has also chosen to go into a combat unit. I will deal with this. I will take a deep breath and let it out slowly (and then I'll take a few more). I'm going to leave that letter right above my head and look at it for the next two months and send him off with a smile, and maybe some homemade cookies. That is all a soldier's mother can do and that's what I've become, that's the role the army has given to me.

It was my dream to come to Israel, to bring my sons here. And now, as each goes to serve this nation, I have to do my part too. But first I'll take a few more deep breaths. It isn't quite time for the roller coaster to start...we've only just received the ticket and are standing at the start of the line.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What the Future Holds...

No one can know, and so we accept it in little pieces, little glimpses. Elie came home last night, bringing his cousin with him. In the United States, families celebrated Thanksgiving. Many Orthodox (or ultra-Orthodox) families reject the notion of thanking God "only" one day a year and thus don't observe this holiday. When we lived in America, most years we used the vacation time as a chance to gather family and enjoy a quiet meal, and yes, we served a whole turkey with stuffing and tons of food.

When we moved to Israel, where Thanksgiving is another Thursday before another Friday, before our Shabbat, followed by a standard working Sunday, the tradition mostly faded. Here and there, over the years, we have bought a turkey, cooked it and gathered family or friends. This year, dear friends asked us many months ago and I issued an invitation. As the day approached, I had no idea if Elie would be joining us or not.

In the end, our friends came over, plus I invited my parents (Elie's grandparents) and then, when it was clear that Elie would be home, I invited his cousin to come along as well. They made arrangements to meet in Beersheva, the nearest city to the base (this is no military secret as everyone knows that there are many bases throughout Israel).

Since they are at different levels in their service, the base bussed them off separately, so they agreed that whoever got there first would wait for the other. They arrived starving and exhausted - in other words, normal.

Elie ate several brownies, while Yair was carefully arranging them on a platter (and leaving holes for Yair to fill). They looked beautiful together in uniform (and then they both rushed to get out of uniform and relax). During dinner I spoke to Elie about what next week holds. Last I'd heard, he was holding out for the Medics Course and would therefore leave the Commanders Course.

So, what does the future hold? Elie has decided to stay in the south, in the Commanders Course. He said that there are very few medics in the Artillery (something a mother can only be grateful for) and even fewer taken from his type of unit. The chances that he would actually get approval seems dim and so Elie has decided to stay with the current course. On the one hand, this fills me with pride and, on the other, more concern.

To understand the concern, one must understand the Israeli concept of "follow me." It is the basis upon which the Israeli army is built and the reason why so many commanding officers are injured. Israeli soldiers lead, they do not order their troops into battle, but lead the way instead. It is logical, as these are the most experienced, the best trained. The less experienced are safer for having their commanding officer right there, in the thick of battle, issuing orders and making decisions. It is not logical, as it risks those who are in command, leaving behind the less experienced should the leader fall. But most of all, it is Israel.

This is how it is done. Many months ago, Elie told me about how only the commanding officer can shoot the massive machine gun on top of his armored personnel carrier. Only the commanding officer knew how to take it apart and put it back together. Yedidyah saw something in Elie, I believe, because he showed Elie how to do this. Now Or will train Elie to be a commanding officer; Yedidyah will be there as well. Elie takes this step into the future with them, gaining experience, learning how to lead.

If Elie passes this course, he will welcome a group of new recruits and they will call him "Commander" and not "Elie" for the first few months together. He will teach them to be soldiers, as he was taught.

So, what does the future hold? No one knows, but at this moment, Elie is asleep, having eaten a full meal of turkey and stuffing, side dishes and more dessert. He'll share the Sabbath with us and so my heart will be at peace. On Sunday, he'll return to his base in the south and begin. As usual, I'll send some large boxes of homemade cookies and brownies with him. He doesn't know how often he will be home - every two weeks, every three weeks? No one knows the future.

"How many boxes do you want to take back?" I asked him.

"As many as I can," he answered.

And so, I hope that the future holds only sweet things for my son. As it seems now, Elie may well be a commanding officer in the army of Israel, leading others and teaching them. While that isn't certain, my role hasn't changed.

I've baked brownies and will make cookies for him to take back and I'll continue to watch as this boy becomes a man, as this soldier becomes (hopefully) a commander.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cousins in the Desert

Another certainly in the army is that nothing is certain. The army took a gamble that they could convince Elie to stay with the Commanders Course. While he didn't have the right to refuse their "offer" to take the two-week preparatory course, he does have the right to refuse to actually sign up for the actual 4-month course.

Elie went with the attention of arriving and immediately quitting. He was soon convinced to give it a few days, and a few more, and now has decided to finish the preparatory course for the Commanders Course...and then decide what he will do (an added incentive for him is that it means he'll be coming home this weekend). So "Decision Time" has been pushed off, again, this time to next Sunday. In the meantime, we just found out that Elie's cousin has also entered the Artillery Division, albeit several months behind Elie.

This difference means that while Elie has the "freedom" of the military base in the south where he is once again stationed because he's now a "veteran" artillery soldier, his cousin is still in the phase where he is restricted and can only move around with a commanding officer. I called Elie to tell him that Yair was close by and Elie immediately called him. Then, last night, Elie called to tell me that he had a chance to see his cousin a few times during the day. While they are eating at the same time and in the same location, they can't actually eat together, but Elie was able to go over and talk to him.

It must be wonderful to have that piece of home, that special family connection on a base with thousands of others. The two boys have already gotten along so well together and it's fun to know they have each other...even if it is only for a few days, a few minutes each day, across a crowded room or by quick telephone calls and messages.

Elie told Yair that if he needs anything in the supermarket (to which Elie has the freedom to go most times of the day, while Yair can only go with his commanding officer...a few times a week), Yair should send him a text message and Elie will get it and bring it to him. Elie also had the chance to talk to Yair about what to expect, what comes next in the training. Suddenly, Elie, at only 8 months in the army, is suddenly the expert. It's almost as if he's back in the role of big brother, after months of being one of the new kids on the block.

Elie will still likely quit the Commanders Course this coming Sunday in favor of returning to his unit and waiting for the option to enter the Medics Course but in the meantime, he'll have a few days close to his cousin.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Determined to Serve

A recent article to an Israeli news site publishes information saying that there has been a drop in the motivation of young men to serve in combat units.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3472547,00.html

Sunday morning marked the beginning of the November army draft, and according to military sources, the number of inductees requesting to serve in combat units
has reached the lowest point in four years.

"Whoever closes his eyes to this now will wake up in a few years-time to even lower
levels of motivation," said one senior officer.

The draft that began this morning will continue for a few weeks. Thousands of soldiers will join the ranks of the infantry, armored, engineering, artillery, and field intelligence corps. The IDF utilizes detailed reports to analyze the percentage of those inductees with a combat profile (based on physical and mental tests) who request combat duty.

Statistics from the current draft indicate a trend-reversal: 67% of those with a combat profile expressed the desire to serve in the aforementioned units, in contrast to 69% in 2004-2005 and the record high 70.8% after last summer's war in Lebanon....

"We cannot ignore this; otherwise we will find ourselves with more draft-dodgers than inductees, especially in combat duty, the most crucial type of service."

I can't argue statistics. I can't say which are accurate and which are not, or if this slight decrease means anything in real terms. I can only remember the determination and pride of the soldiers of Elie's division as they stood last week and celebrated their having finished eight long months of training. I need only think of my 18 year old nephew, who even now is also in a combat unit, having entered the army this past summer.

And, with pride and fear in my heart and the knowledge that my stint as a soldier's mother won't end when Elie finishes his service in just over two years, I think of my 17 year old son, who will enter the army in the next few years. Like Elie, he received the highest profile awarded to an Israeli soldier (97) and, like Elie, when asked if he would serve in a combat unit, answered that he would.

Fewer boys may be agreeing to enter combat units, but motivation is not down. Those that serve do so with pride and determination.

Never Alone

I talked with Elie the other day, a few hours before the Sabbath was coming in. I'd hoped that he would be able to come home. As the week was closing, it became clear that the army planned to keep the Commanders Course participants for Shabbat so that they could patrol the army base. As with Elie's Tekes Kumta, the new graduates of the basic training course were allowed to go home to their families, leaving Elie's course among those left to guard the base.

So Elie stayed. And Saturday night, there was another "event" that he would miss, another lesson to all of us that our lives and his go on despite the separation. There is a tradition, though it takes a tremendous amount of work and therefore isn't that common, for a young boy to begin learning the immense Mishna, all six large "orders" (each one called a "seder"; collectively, sedarim in Hebrew). Each seder encompasses 7-12 tractates called masechtot, each of which is divided into verses called mishnayot. The goal is to study these hundreds, even thousands of pages, and to complete it in honor of the boy's 13th birthday, his bar mitzvah.

Each is read, learned, studied. Because it is such a major endeavor, there are milestones along the way. There are sections within sections, each one brings a small celebration, but the biggest celebrations are held when the boy successfully finishes a "seder" - each of the six volumes.

Our youngest son has now finished his second seder and on Saturday night, at a pre-planned community celebration of song and dance, we added our small family celebration to our community's event to celebrate Davidi's efforts and accomplishments. Davidi stood and read the final section and explained it and finished by reciting the prayer thanking God for helping him achieve this great goal. And Elie wasn't there.

It brought to mind the conversation I had had with Elie just the day before. We talked about his plan to join 10 other soldiers today in asking to leave the Commanders Course. I don't know why the others want to leave, but Elie's reason is that he wants to go to the Medic Course and once he would pass the Commanders Course, the army would not allow him this other path.

"What if you decide later you want to be a commander?" I asked him. "What if, in four months time, you don't get into the Course Hovshim?"

"Then Yedidyah and others told me already I could come and take the Commanders Course," Elie responded.

"But you won't know any of the boys, as you do now," I told him.

"Ima, you are never alone in the army," Elie told me. He used Yedidyah as an example. Yedidyah entered the army almost three years ago. Today, he serves his country by training and leading younger soldiers. Not a single soldier under his command or in his unit was part of his initial group and yet, Yedidyah makes friends in each new group in which he serves, knowing that in a few months he will move on and meet others.

Yedidyah explained this to Elie and his unit. It is the way of the army. The army shuffles the boys around as they are needed, as they show individual talents and needs. In the end, they are never with the same soldiers...and, as Elie said, they are never alone.

Saturday night, our family celebrated without Elie, but we weren't alone, and neither was Elie. He'll come home next weekend, or perhaps the one after that, and we'll show him the pictures we took and he'll give his younger brother a pat on the back and we'll hope that the next time Davidi finishes a seder, Elie will be here to join in the celebration.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Where He Was, Where He Will Be

"Ima, do you remember the soldiers that came out to meet us at the Tekes Kumta?" Elie asked me last night.

"Sure," I answered, remembering the group of soldiers that came out from the base at the last minute and walked out to greet the tired and dirty soldiers who had walked all night. The soldiers looked fresh and clean, and cheered as Elie's group came into sight. Not content to wait on the top of the hill as we were instructed to do, they set off into the distance to meet up with them and encourage them, re-energize them. We stood and watched as they met somewhere in the middle. There were hugs and high-5s...and then the small group escorted the larger group back to the top of the hill where we waited.

"Well, we did that this week," Elie explained.

Back in July, it was Elie walking through the night with several hundred others soldiers in his division and another. It was one of several "rites of passage" marking the end of the grueling basic training. But who were these soldiers who set out to meet them? I didn't know at the time, but was touched by the warmth and encouragement they offered.

And now I know. The other group of soldiers were young men, only 4 more months in the army than Elie was at that time, and they were taking the Commanders Course. The army released them from the course so that they could come out and greet Elie's unit and bring them home, the last few kilometers to the base.

Now, it was a new group of recruits marking the end of their basic training by walking through the night and about to celebrate by receiving the blue berets that mark their membership in the artillery division and this time it was Elie, 4 months older and 4 months wiser, who left the base to cheer them on, to encourage them and greet them after an exhausting night.

It's part of the never ending chain of army service in our country. Boys are inducted into the army, put through basic training as their parents stand back and watch them change. They wonder, as I did, who will love them and take care of them. They worry and fear. They watch them march from behind a hill and they celebrate the victory with them. The boys become men before our eyes, continuing their training, just as we learn more and more. Or will love them, and Yedidyah. Whatever their names, they will guide our sons along the path, come out to greet them and encourage them.

For Elie's group, four months after the Tekes Kumta, they have finished the full scope of their training and are now soldiers in the regular army. Some go to Commanders Courses, others to the Medic Training. It's all part of the path they walk and as they do, the army gave them a moment to look back and see some of the soldiers who are where they were four months ago.

The soldiers who walked out to greet Elie four months ago are now fully trained commanders, ready to take on fresh recruits and teach them what they need to know. Elie's group is now ready to take the place of those soldiers, just as the boys who celebrated their Tekes Kumta in the desert this week are about to move into the phase that Elie has just completed.

It's all a circle, but the beauty of it is the way that the army freezes the moment and says - look where you were once...look where you will be one day. Smile, greet each other. You are soldiers in the army of Israel.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In the Oops Department

According to the latest news reports, an Israeli soldier accidentally fired a missile towards the Lebanese border during a training exercise. The missile landed within Israeli territory and apparently did no harm...

So - now we wait and hope that the Lebanese understand the Oops Concept. Let's hope somewhere in Beirut, they are laughing about this and don't take it as any kind of threat. As for the soldiers up north - let's hope they have a quiet night. It's cold in Israel, with the first hint that winter is finally around the corner. That's typical in Israel - we go from winter to summer and summer to winter...almost always within the space of a few days. No long autumn to enjoy the changes, no leaves falling gently to the ground. Just one day - COLD...and then a few months later...HOT.

So - here's hoping things stay cool on the border and somewhere, on both sides, the soldiers are all inside staying warm and thinking...gee, that could have been a lot worse! As for Elie, he's down south starting the preparatory section of the Commanders Course. He's hoping to opt out in favor of the Course Hovshim...and get back up north. In the meantime - let's all hope that the quiet of the desert where Elie is now...extends all the way to the northern borders.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Exchanging Pins

We went to a ceremony "celebrating" the formal ending of Elie's training. He received a promotion (customary for soldiers after completing the first eight months). Each division of the armed forces has a special place they call their own. It is where they honor their new inductees, celebrate milestones in the soldiers' service, and, in some cases, remember their fallen. The paratroopers were critically important to the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967, and often hold their ceremonies at the Western Wall. The tank division has a memorial and many of their ceremonies at Latrun, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And the artillery division has The Gunners House in Zichron Yaakov which serves as a museum (you can see many examples of older artillery vehicles that have been used in the past and even a guided missile on display) as well as a memorial.

There is also a large open area used for ceremonies such as the one we attended this past Thursday. In the background are several walls containing the names of all soldiers from the artillery unit that have fallen in Israel's many wars. I couldn't bring myself to read the names, to walk among the walls. I'll do it one day, but I couldn't do it this past week. We arrived early to spend some time with Elie before the ceremony. Elie had already told us that he would be going home with us for the weekend and would be bringing home everything he had in the army. After the ceremony, Elie explained in advance, he had to turn in his gun and one uniform. It was a formal signal that he was leaving his unit.

It is also something of a power play. The officers want Elie to take the Commanders course. The Hovshim want Elie to take the Course Hovshim (medical training). Elie has decided he wants the Course Hovshim, which means he would have to join the artillery division's four month training and then join the next round of courses. The Commanders Course formally begins in two weeks. The army cannot "force" Elie to agree to take this Commanders Course, but they can order him to take a two week preparation course, and this is what they have done.

So, next week, Elie goes south again for two weeks. He'll be issued another gun and given another uniform. At the end of those two weeks, he either signs on for the Commanders Course (as his officers are hoping he will do) or refuses to sign on, in which case, he will return to the north to rejoin his unit. If he doesn't join the Commanders Course, he'll return the gun he is issued in the south, and then get another gun when he returns to his unit up north. The ceremony on Thursday began with speeches and recognition of several "excellent" soldiers and then the formal pin-giving ceremony began. To simplify things, each soldier had already been given his pin, and then had covered the new pin by pinning a pocket flap over it.

The plan was for the commanding officer to pass through the lines of soldiers, quickly greet each soldier and unpin the flap to reveal the decorative pin that symbolizes their new rank and position in the army. Or approached Elie, and we noticed right away that he stood before Elie for a long time. We were much too far away to hear what was being said, but while others moved on, Or stood there, with his back to us, talking with Elie. From the distance, I suddenly caught the grin on Elie's face and knew something had happened, but didn't have a clue what was going on. Eventually, Or moved to the next soldier and on it went. The ceremony finished. The national anthem was sung by one and all, and then the soldiers marched off to the side. Elie came running over, grabbed a uniform from his duffle bags and ran to turn in his gun. When he returned, I asked him what had taken Or so long during the pinning part of the ceremony. Elie told us that when Or got to him, instead of unpinning Elie's pocket flap, instead Or took off the pin from his own uniform and pinned it on Elie, taking what would have been Elie's pin in exchange. In each unit, apparently, the same was done between each commanding officer and one soldier.

This is a special honor, a bond between two young men who clearly liked each other, between a commanding officer and the soldier he chooses to honor. It is not related to the army, no special rank, no note in his army record, just a gesture that each commanding officer apparently makes to one soldier under his command. It will never appear on Elie's army record or resume, but it is something that Elie will likely never forget. The other amazing part of the ceremony, like the pin exchange, is another Israeli tradition that goes beyond the "rules" or planning of the army. The army regulates the giving of the pins (not the commander's choice to single out a soldier and give him his personal pin), the speeches, the music, the marching, the salutes.

The ceremony begins and ends with army precision. The raising of the flag at the beginning, the singing of the national anthem at the end. It is all planned and staged, rehearsed and controlled. What they don't "control" is the emotion, the love between the soldiers. They don't "regulate" the hugs, the slaps on the back, the warmth, the touching among the soldiers before and after the ceremony. The army does not tell the commanders to not only walk among their soldiers, but to be one of them, to love them, to care for them, to share with them their highs and lows.

During the past several months, Yedidyah lost his father and now, three times a day, stands with his soldiers and says the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer. Before the ceremony began, Yedidyah and the soldiers stood quietly to the side and recited the afternoon prayers. This too, the army does not regulate. They have no control over the smiles, the feelings of success and the sense that these boys have become friends and brothers.

In some ways, this may be something unusual in an army, any army, which requires discipline and rule. In the Israeli army, there is discipline and rules aplenty, but there is also a sense of a greater good here. They defend their family, their land, not on some distant shores and not against some unknown enemy. Each day, they stand between us and those who would harm us, and they know this. These boys, these young men, have spent the last 8 months together. They have traveled a long road and have an even longer road yet ahead of them. There were approximately 200 soldiers participating in the ceremony. This weekend, they all go home to be with their families. Starting next week, some will go into regular units, others to special courses. The commanding officers will move on as well. I don't know where Yedidyah will go, but Or is heading south to take over training the next Commanders Course, so, at least for the next 2 weeks, Elie will be with him still.

Elie was happy to come home, to sleep in his own bed, to have that one extra day (he only has to return on Monday). But come Monday morning, he will get up early and head south to start another adventure, another road through his army service. He might choose to be a commander; he might choose to return north and hold out for the Course Hovshim - but whatever he chooses, he goes among brothers and friends and for a mother, there is no better knowledge to have, no greater feeling of pride and honor, than watching your son's commanding officer hug him, exchange his personal pin for your son's, and finally, watch the smile fill your son's face.

Eight months after Elie entered the army, I see he is among brothers even when he is away from his family and I know that a circle is being completed. I worried about Elie before he went into the army. I knew that the army would care for him physically but I worried about who would love him, who would be his family and care for him beyond the rules and disciplines and once again this past week I saw the answer before my eyes. There is much truth in the concept of “brothers in arms” and on Thursday we joined Elie’s brothers, his two brothers by birth and dozens of his brothers in service, celebrate the receiving and exchanging of pins.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

And Nothing is New

All sorts of things trigger an entry here. Funny things, sad things, news items, threats to our country, the threat of a threat, fear, hope, worry. But there's another part of the army that I haven't written about and this is as good a time as any.

There's nothing new. I spoke to Elie only briefly two days ago to discuss his upcoming ceremony in Zichron Yaakov. He doesn't know yet if he will be able to come home for the weekend. There's no news in the family and other than a message wishing him a good night, there's nothing really new to tell him.

There are little things - his youngest brother has another loose tooth bothering him. His younger sister leaves me adorable notes and his middle brother is hoping to take a driving test on Wednesday. We've been renovating our new offices and despite tons of aggravation, the place is actually looking very nice and we ordered the new desks. We haven't made the necessary calls to move forward with the house. I haven't spoke to his uncles and aunts. He didn't get any mail. No new pets (thank, Heavens). We are out of diet soda (well, that's major to me, but not to Elie, who doesn't touch the stuff).

It's silly, really, feeling that he's being left out of these events and non-events. He'll hear about the important ones - the tooth will fall, the notes will keep. The driving test will be scheduled and hopefully passed, the renovations completed and the desks...well, he'll see them eventually. But the point is more the time passing, than the events. Here with us, and there with Elie.

For each thing that happens here, there is another happening there. Elie is talking to someone, doing something. I might hear about it or, like the desks that will be a fait accompli or the tooth that will fall with another to take its place, elements of his life will just happen and not be worthy of a mention.

It is as inevitable as it is just a little sad. It's bound to happen with every child, not just a soldier. Certainly, when I went off to college, I didn't tell my mother everything that happened (and some things I probably never will). So this news of nothing new might have left me feeling just a little sad, if something hadn't happened to make me realize that a memory is never quite forgotten and so it holds the possibility of a renewal.

Sometimes, even many years later, it comes back. Tonight, Elie's middle brother was standing in the bathroom about to brush his teeth. The bathroom door was opened and I could see him as I was working on my computer. We were talking about something that triggered a memory and he told me that he remembered a time when he and Elie had gone to the local pizza shop and ordered a pizza. A whole pizza. Just the two of them. And, they ate it. They consumed the whole thing and, as they walked home, they took a "shortcut" through a staircase that all too often smelled rather foul. No sooner did Elie enter it than he began to vomit. Seeing that, it triggered Shmulik to vomit as well.

"Why did we go eat pizza?" Shmulik asked his brother, "if we were just going to throw up?"

It's a memory. A missing piece. And it made me think of the missing pieces now. We'll see Elie on Thursday for his "Completion Ceremony" marking the formal end of his training. His commanding officers will leave his unit. Or, his direct commanding officer, will take on a new group of recruits and he will order them to call him "Commander" until the day they pass beyond their basic training, as Elie did; Yedidyah, his senior commander who treated Elie so well and often singled him out, will be reassigned as well.

Elie has joined the artillery division in the fullest sense of the word. He'll spend the next few months training with them. And I'll continue to collect memories and moments that I'll store up to share with him when he comes home or when he calls so that he feels the connection and doesn't lose the sense of home waiting for him.

I didn't think Elie was storing up memories, and yet when he calls or when he comes home, he talks, he shares, he explains. He seems to have a need to strengthen the connection too, to make us aware of what has happened in his life.

Nothing is new, and yet by Thursday, when I see Elie, even the ordinary will be shared so that he doesn't think there are any missing pieces or missing moments. I'll tell him about the tooth and the desks. He'll know about the driving test and the notes and we'll listen to what he's done and what he's seen and even if nothing is new, it will be new in the telling and the sharing because part of having a son in the army is making sure he never feels that the family is moving on or away from him. He has to know that we are here waiting, thinking of him, supporting him, loving him, having faith in him, proud of him and even though I don't want him to know...he does know, that I'm afraid for him, I'm praying for him, and I'm hoping that the man that comes out, with God's help, at the other side of this national service retains as much of the boy that went in as possible.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Night Terrors

It's 3:30 a.m. here in Israel. Deep in sleep in the middle of the night after attending a family wedding, and the house phone rings. We answer it but no one is there. Annoying, but it happens once in a very blue moon. Close the phone. A few minutes later, the phone rings again. More annoying. I'll let my husband pick up the house line. It's better if they hear a man's voice on the phone. Maybe I should listen in.

On separate extensions, I answer too, and again, no one is there but my husband.

"Check the caller ID," I tell my husband over the phone, "and then we'll call the police." Good, let the creep know that we can see his phone number and maybe he'll stop.

"I did," he answered back through the phone, "and it's Elie's number."

"Oh, God," I say, not so calmly, "I'll call him."

"He's probably sleeping on his phone," my husband responds back. He is ever the logical one, but it's no match for my ability to imagine, to fear. My mind is racing. He's injured somewhere. The Syrians have attacked. He's back in the Golan, first night there - something has happened. Breathe. Think.

"I'll call him," I say out loud, about to close the phone.

"I tried that," my husband says. "He doesn't answer."

"I'll try," and I close the phone, already dialing on my cellular phone, as my husband has tried on his.

I tried to call, and I keep getting a tone that tells me the phone is already engaged (probably still connected to the house phone) and I'm transferred to voice mail. No, I don't want to leave a message. I want to know that he's safe and asleep.

I quickly click in a text message and send it. "Are you calling us? The house phone rang twice and it says it is your number. Call me."

I send the message. I click to redial Elie's number and a groggy voice answers, "Mmmmm?"

"Elie, are you ok?"

"Yes."

"Is your phone in your pocket?"

"Yes."

"Close your phone and go back to sleep. I love you."

"Mmmmmm."

So, here I am. Typing at 3:49 a.m. Beginning, very slowly, to see the humor in this. No night terrors. No wounded son, thank God forever and more. No Syrian attack, again thank you to the Most Merciful One. My husband is back in bed, gently snoring nearby. Elie is probably sound asleep, back in the north where he went today for the next round of training and I'm wide awake at 3:51 a.m.

May I never get any call in the middle of the night from Elie - except one dialed in his sleep automatically by a phone that doesn't understand that mothers get terrified so quickly...wait, too broad a wish - ok, may the only calls I ever get from Elie in the middle of the night be deliberate, not accidental, and may they be filled with only good news (I'm getting married to (fill in the blank here); my wife (fill in the blank here, same as previous) has just given birth, etc.).

Me? I'm going back to sleep for the next two hours and hope that my heart settles back into a normal rate and catches up with my brain. He's fine. He's asleep on his phone. This is funny. It really is. He's safe. He's safe. He's not hurt. He's safe. A few more times, I'll whisper it to myself and I'll sleep.

Good night, baby.

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