Monday, June 30, 2008

She Knows...

Recently, I wrote about The Big Debate in Israel - the discussion about releasing Samir Kuntar and other terrorists in exchange for what is likely to be the remains of two soldiers who were kidnapped two years ago.

While most in Israel agree that releasing this child killer for the safe return of our soldiers is the proper thing to do, the Israeli thing to do, there remains a debate about completing the deal, if our soldiers are no longer alive.

Yesterday, I watched as Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife and champion over the last two years, stood outside the Knesset while the debate raged inside the Cabinet. In the end, the vote was 29-3 to accept the terms of the deal. Within the next few days, two weeks at the outside, Israel will indeed release the murderer Samir Kuntar (may he know no peace and may the truest of justice be his in the world to come) and others.

On Karnit's side, as the day dragged on, were more and more Israelis. All have agonized with her, all have debated, and all have come to the conclusion that ultimately, what sets us apart from our enemies is that we cannot willingly allow her suffering to continue. Smadar Haran, the wife and mother who lost everything on that horrible day back in 1979 when Samir Kuntar murdered her husband and her young daughter, and caused the death of her other child as well, came forward. She too cannot stand the suffering anymore.

The family of one of the three soldiers captured in 2000 was there to lend his support. Former prisoners of war stood with the family as well. Throughout the debate, my anger at Kuntar's brutal attack burned inside me, warring with my own feelings, and the mother inside me added yet another perspective as well.

In the end, as the announcement was made that the Cabinet had approved the deal, my anger melted away with Karnit's simple words. She wanted to go home. She was tired. She wanted to be alone with her pain. Until now, I have opposed the deal very strongly and couldn't really explain why.

Certainly, I believe, if they are alive, we should do all in our power to bring them home. But, everything points to their not being alive and with the government's announcement that they were almost certainly dead, I was not convinced that we should agree to this deal. The possible dangers to future soldiers, the injustice of freeing this murderer and yet again caving in to Hizbollah overwhelmed me. No, there is no mitzvah, no victory, no justice in releasing Kuntar to receive back two bodies.

What convinced me, in the end, was Karnit's words. She knows, I thought to myself. She really knows. It is not a question of a family deluding themselves into believing that their sons will be home soon and resume their lives. It is about bringing their bodies home to be in Israel, a promise we must make to all our soldiers. We will not abandon you, no matter what, no matter when. She knows.

And with that reality came a change in my heart. It is no longer about them, though Karnit would say otherwise. For me, it is about her. It is a promise that we must make to each mother, to each wife. We can't stop you from worrying when your sons go off to war; we can't protect them in all cases. But we won't allow you to suffer more than necessary; we won't abandon you either.

The Goldwasser and Regev families have suffered enough and, in many ways, always will. The Haran family will never stop suffering - that was Kuntar's wish and he will receive it. Justice was lost to us when the Olmert government caved in and stopped the war prematurely. Justice was lost when several years ago, the Sharon government swapped hundreds of terrorists and security prisoners for three dead bodies and a drug dealer, and finally justice was lost when our government lost its nerve and placed the interests of our enemies above the interests of their own people.

This deal is the best we can get, not because we don’t deserve better and not because it is just, but because until the Olmert government finally leaves office, a weak and cursed deal is the best such a weak and cursed government can achieve.All we can do for now, is be what we are - a society that cares and loves its own.

The strength of Israel may not be in the government, but it most certainly is in the people and in the love we have for one another. Smadar Haran helped us yesterday when she released Israeli society from the fear of causing her yet more pain. Her dignity and courage, then and now, enables us to look at Karnit and the Regev and Goldwasser families and do what is right for them. Ultimately, what it comes down to is a choice of this world and the next one. Judaism teaches that there is justice, ultimate and final and fair.

In this world, the justice for Ehud and Eldad is to stop the suffering of their families and to let Karnit rest. In the next world, we will all have our justice. If Samir Kuntar receives a heroes welcome when he goes home to Lebanon, he should enjoy it.

His reception in the world to come won't be nearly so enjoyable. And in that, there is justice.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Big Debate

Far removed from Elie and his daily life, is a discussion that is breaking Israel's heart and challenging both soldiers and parents of soldiers. What is the worth of a son? The answer, of course, is everything. What would you not do for your son? The answer, of course, is nothing. And yet three families in Israel are challenged, as is the nation.

Gilad Schalit is only 21 years old, the same age as Elie. For the last two years, he's been held captive in Gaza, with no communication from his parents (and they only received a few letters and a video). Enough to torture, barely enough to reassure them that he is alive and well.

Ehud Goldwasser was a newlywed when he showed up for reserve duty almost two years ago. His wife celebrated their first wedding anniversary alone, not knowing if Ehud was even alive.

Eldad Regev, whose face and eyes haunt us, was captured by Hizbollah, along with Ehud. Their fate is not known, but evidence and statistics give a strong indication that they did not survive.

The big debate in Israel revolves around what we can and should do to get them back. For Gilad, Hamas is demanding no less than 1,000 prisoners, including those that we classify as having "blood on their hands." These are terrorists and murderers - and the Palestinians want them back. There is little doubt that if we surrender these thousand, as we have hundreds before them, many of them will return to the lives they led - attack, terrorize, murder. We might be able to save Gilad now, but more Israelis will die in the future.

This is the price we are being asked to pay, and already, a majority of Israelis are willing. We can't afford to let these terrorists go...and yet there isn't a single parent who could imagine saying no. We will deal with attacks in the future, we tell ourselves; bring Gilad home now.

For Ehud and Eldad, the price is also in the hundreds of prisoners, at least. But the price is even higher. Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbollah has played this game before, and played it well. The last time, we exchanged hundreds of prisoners for three dead bodies and a drug dealer. This time, they are demanding Samir Kuntar.

Of all the attacks in all the years we have been a state, there have been those that stand out in our minds and continue to haunt us, even decades later. The Munich Massacre is remembered because it happened where it shouldn't have - at the International Olympics, games of peace. It was a time when our team should have been safe.

Ma'alot - when dozens of teenagers were taken hostage and ultimately 16 were murdered. On the backs of children, Golda Meir explained in a broken voice, we cannot fight.

The Sbarro Pizzaria was another tragic attack. The terrorists entered on a beautiful summer day in August when families were relaxing and murdered, in cold blood. These were innocent people, in the center of Jerusalem, enjoying their lunch and their families.

The murders of Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran stand out for their utter brutality. Palestinians took these two young teenagers (each just 13 years old), and beat them to death in a cave, just a few hundred meters from their homes. Their blood was smeared on the cave walls, their bodies left there.

And the murders of Danny Haran and his young daughter Einat, only 4 years old. Samir Kuntar broke into their homes after having infiltrated from Lebanon and murdering a policeman. He dragged Danny and Einat down to the beach, where he shot Danny Haran at close-range and threw his body into the sea. He then bashed Einat's head on the rocks and hit her with his rifle, killing her instantly.

When caught and brought to justice, Samir Kuntar was sentenced to four life terms for his brutal crimes. This is the price that Hassan Nasrallah is demanding and the choice facing Israel.

If Eldad and Ehud were alive, most Israelis would probably not hesitate. Kuntar has served 28 years in jail. Certainly, he deserves more but if you believe, as I do, that there is justice in the end, no amount of punishment we give him in this world will be enough and his true and lasting punishment will come from God.

But if Eldad and Ehud are not alive, as many Israelis are coming to believe, should Israel still exchange Kuntar for their bodies? This is the big debate taking place now. I spoke to Elie about this. He believes the price is too high and that other soldiers will pay in the future as we continue to show that we will pay any price for our sons' return.

But Elie isn't a parent. Elie cannot imagine the agony of not knowing, the worry, the pain. When we are young, we have little understanding of how precious a child is and how there is nothing we would not do.

When I'm angry, I think of telling Nasrallah that we have no problem returning Samir Kuntar in exchange for Ehud and Eldad - with one catch. We will return Kuntar in the same condition that you return our soldiers - alive and well, or dead.

When I have a moment to think, I realize that there are areas of our mind that we cannot afford to explore if we want to stay sane and be able to function. We can handle this moment and we can handle the plans we know about, such as where Elie will go in a few weeks and in a few months after that. But we can't handle the unknown. The thought of being told the Elie is hurt...or God forbid worse...the idea of a kidnapping. It's too much to think about, too great a fear. We prefer never knowing.

For two years now, Eldad and Ehud and Gilad have been kept from Israel and from their families. For two years now, the unknown has haunted them and tortured them. Whatever Israel decides to do, whatever the fate of their sons, what must come out of all this is the belief that Israel did everything it could do to bring them home. The big debate in Israel is nothing compared to this.

May the One Who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron,
David and Solomon, bless the kidnapped and captive soldiers, including among them Gilad ben (the son of) Aviva Shalit; Ohed ben Malka Goldwasser; Eldad ben Tova Regev; Guy ben Rina Hever, Ron ben Batya Arad; Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben
Sarah Katz; Tzvi ben Penina Feldman; and Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel.

May the Holy One, Blessed be He, watch them and save them from all trouble and
oppression and from all evil and injury. May He be filled with mercy for them, to cause them to recover and to heal them, to strengthen them and to invigorate them, and to bring them speedily to freedom, to return to the embrace of their families. May they merit long lives and years of much strength and peace.

In the merit of our forefathers, may the descendants be saved and fulfill through them the verse, 'Release my soul from imprisonment to praise Your Name' (Psalms 142:8), swiftly and soon, and let us all say Amen."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Following the Light

A few short weeks after Elie entered the army, his commanding officer (named Or), came to visit us to explain what Elie would be doing in the weeks, months, and even years to come. It was a visit that touched me very deeply and I listened to each word, questioned, and marveled that I actually understood.

Or stayed as Elie's commanding officer for the first three rotations - through basic training, advanced training, and the commander's course. Only when Elie himself became a commander, did Or move up and on to another position.

Elie called yesterday, to tell me that the army had informed him that after the next rotation, he will be pulled back to where he first started when he was inducted into the army. Only this time, like Or, he will be taking command of new soldiers as they enter the army. They will call him "Commander," not Elie. They will look up to him, listen to him, try to be like him. He will take a group of boys and run with them, push them, and demand they find within themselves, the men they will someday become.

Elie is enjoying commanding others (which is no surprise, he's been doing it to his brothers and sisters for years). He likes analyzing aspects of a situation and finding solutions - he always has. His next rotation, starting in the next few weeks, will take him to a checkpoint near the center of the country, where he will be responsible for guarding and securing part of the central region of our country, where so many terrorist attacks have occurred.

In the last few months, Elie has trained and guarded our northern border. The enemy there would have attacked with missiles and tanks and planes. The enemy there would, for the most part, fight army to army or, if they attacked on a smaller scale, it would be to attempt to kidnap yet another soldier. Again, army to army, force to force.

The enemy Elie will face in the next few months is more insidious. Elie is not his target. They do not have the courage or training to face Elie soldier to soldier. Their goal would be the innocent, Elie's younger brothers or sister would be so much more a target. Buses and malls and cafes. The unsuspecting, the unarmed, the untrained.

And, as Elie told me this week, after this next rotation, he'll be going back to his first training base. It was then that I thought of Or. Elie is following in the path Or himself took as he made his way through the army. It's hard to believe, in all of this, that Or is only a year older than Elie. He will leave the army this coming March. Like Elie, he did the basic training, the advanced training, the commanders course. Like Elie, he led a unit for one rotation, then was called back to the same training base where he became Elie's commander. He came to our home, as Elie will go to the homes of those in his command, to explain to the parents what the army has planned for their son, to include them, to calm them. Or took my son through basic, advanced and commanders courses. Soon, Elie will take someone else's son on this same path, through the physical challenges, the training and learning, the discovery of the inner strengths they each have, and finally, a commitment to our country and all it stands for.

Or means "light" in Hebrew - may Elie continue to follow the path of light, and may Or, and Elie, and all our soldiers follow that path safely.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Week Gone By

It’s Friday morning in Israel and another one of those hot summer days. Even in mid-June, Israel is sweltering under yet another heat wave. We accept it as part of life here, especially when we can sit in an air-conditioned room! As happens each time Elie is asleep in his own bed, my heart is whole and I’m calm and at peace. When he’s not here, there’s a part of me missing too. It’s strange because it is so different than other times when Elie or one of my children is away from home.

A few weeks ago, when Elie spent the holiday at his yeshiva, my heart was calm and fine and whole. Life holds no promises, I’ve told my children and been told throughout my life. I’ve often had friends or relatives tell me they were afraid to come to Israel and my response has always been the same. Fate will do with us what it will, no matter where we are, no matter where we go.

And yet, I simply can’t find myself able to apply that to Elie. When he is home (and home essentially means any time he isn’t in the army), I sleep, breathe, think, and feel differently.

These years put tremendous pressure on parents and, for the most part, we weather it silently as part of life here. I have an outlet, this blog. Most parents simply get through it. It’s like not breathing for days at a time, not sleeping with both eyes closed. And when our sons are home to rest, we rest too. We too recuperate from having a part of us gone because each time, they take it with them as much as they take their clean clothes, or the snacks we buy them.

It was a long two weeks away with Elie gone first for training and then a week of "vacation" with his entire unit (the whole g'dud). How the training went, I haven't a clue. As in the past, they were outside in the field doing…well, what soldiers due while training. I supposed once Elie wakes up, I'll find out more about that.

As for the week of vacation, the army did quite well. They went on various hikes and swimming almost every day. One day, they were taken for a 5 km. kayaking journey that was scheduled to take an hour to an hour and a half - it took 5 hours. When I asked Elie why it took so long, he explained that they were all constantly getting out of the kayaks, racing through the white waters, only to stop and have fun, explore, splash and wander. Then back into the kayaks for more of the same. The point wasn’t to finish the journey, but to enjoy it. After training them to be aware of every minute, they were giving them a well-earned respite.

The army over-planned and then canceled what was necessary so that each event was a relaxing time for them. The goal was to further bond, to spend downtime together. They canceled a trip into Kiryat Shemona, no time. They canceled another event as well. Karaoke night was fun, Elie said. The sports and hiking was wonderful. The army catered to the fact that about half the unit consists of religious men and changes or exceptions were made where needed. At one point, they went to hear a comedian. The commander spoke in advance to the comedian, explaining that his g’dud had many religious young men and detailed what topics were not appropriate.

Within minutes, the comedian veered off the permissible and entered into the firmly inappropriate (probably for anyone, never mind this group), and so, within a few words, the religious contingent stood up quietly and left. The commander later apologized, “he was an idiot and I can’t believe the Ministry of Education approves him,” he told Elie by way of apologizing.

The weekend started Thursday afternoon. I had yet another day at a client in Netanya, a short drive to where Elie's group was staying on Wednesday night so that they could enjoy a day of sports and recreation before being released to go home the next day. The timing worked out perfectly. With a bit of advance notice, I left work at 4:00 and went to pick Elie up.

"Do you have room in the car?" That's Elie's standard way of asking if we can give a ride to some other soldiers.

"Sure, no problem," I told him, and he told me that two others wanted rides to Jerusalem.

In the end, it was three and so my car was packed with four soldiers (Elie in the front, three very polite and tired friends in the back). The first logistical matter was figuring out what to do with all the backpacks. Each is huge (I can barely lift one and cringe when I see Elie and the others lifting two). As "master of the car," and the one who would be last out of the car, Elie put his backpack as far as possible in the back of the trunk of the car.

At this point, I should explain that my husband and I were taken with the environmental concept of a hybrid and so bought a Honda Civic. The wonderful part of this car is that it has an electric battery and an electric engine so that it uses less gas. The bad part, is that the huge electric battery is against the back seat of the car, in the trunk taking up space.

For most things, on a day to day basis, this means little and the trunk space is adequate. For piling four huge army backpacks, it doesn't come close to big enough. So, three went in with a lot of grunting and pushing and maneuvering. One went on the lap of one of the boys, and off we went.

Traffic was a pain, with a planned demonstration of truck drivers promising to close a lane on a major highway during rush hour. To avoid that, we drove first south - far enough to turn around, then back north beyond our starting point. From there, we took the latest "super" highway in Israel (called Road 6). All in all, it was much better than I expected.

One by one, as they nodded off to sleep, I felt such contentment. Elie almost never sleeps when I am driving, no matter how long the trip. I've always joked that perhaps he doesn't trust me. I've picked him up at times when he's been so exhausted, and still, he only slept when he got home. Even as a child, this was his habit. I can’t count how many times everyone else was asleep, but there in the back were these two blue eyes watching me, watching the road. I guess this time he was tired enough and relaxed enough that he too began to doze as we moved from the traffic to the flowing highway on the way home.

As they slept in the car, driving through the beautiful hills on the way up to Jerusalem, I listened to my music (having finally changed the station after Elie too fell asleep) and enjoyed the feeling that I had with me the most precious of cargos. No, I'll never fight for the State of Israel, never risk my life, never guard its borders. But I give my contribution where I can and when I can and this time, it was as simple as offering three young men a comfortable and air-conditioned express service to get them home more quickly.

Along the way, I marveled at the fact that my car carried four Israelis soldiers, and one was my son. Several times along the way, one of their phones would ring. It was their families calling to see where they were and when they would be home.

It reminded me of all the times I call Elie on Thursdays or Fridays, "Where are you now?" or "So, when will you be home?" The wonder was in the patience each boy had as he explained, "I got a ride home with the mother of one of they guys," and "Yes, all the way to Jerusalem, see you soon." Each spoke quietly, not to awaken his friends. Each spoke gently, closing the gap between their families and them. It was the voice I heard on the phone when I called Elie; the understanding and need to communicate with those you love, knowing they love you too.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, I still had another meeting to go to and knew that Elie wanted to get home, so I dropped all of the young men near the central bus station, from there, each was a bus ride away. Because I needed to make a U-turn I agreed to drop them all off a block short. I pulled to the side, slightly blocking the entrance to a driveway and popped open the trunk.

All four got out, each slinging their guns onto their backs before reaching for whatever they had in the car. There they were, all in uniforms, all a bit tired and stiff from 2 hours in the car. Within seconds, even before the last had gotten out of the car, and while two were still struggling to get their backpacks out of the trunk, a mini-van shuttle pulled up and gave a short honk and a wave.

Israelis are known for their lack of patience and behavior that sometimes appears harsh or rude to others. And yet, as he saw the soldiers piling out of the car, he leaned out and politely asked if I could move forward just a bit.

I inched the car forward, he drove slowly passed, and as he passed, the look he gave to the soldiers was what is reflected in all our eyes. There was such a special glance filled with pride, a gentle smile and a nod of his head to me. It was a silent thanks, a show of recognition that I had done a good deed by giving these boys a ride. He didn’t know that one of these boys was my son. These are our sons, was the message I saw there and a shared thought when he looked at me. Even the most impatient of Israelis melts when it comes to these men, these boys, these sons.

And the most precious of thoughts passed through my mind as I acknowledged his look with a smile. Yes, aren’t they wonderful, was our common thought, these soldiers of ours. So tall, so handsome in their uniforms, so strong.

And, even more wonderful, one of these beautiful young men was mine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Happy Ending of a Sort

Yesterday, as we entered our city and drove towards the house, I saw a young man carrying a very large backpack. He was standing on the side of the road, trying to get a ride. I thought of Elie's backpack, stuffed as much as it could be stuffed and recognized the similarities. The young man was wearing regular clothes; no gun in sight. Probably not a soldier, I thought, but a soldier nonetheless. We pulled over and after he got in and confirmed that he was, in fact, going to our neighborhood, I asked him if he was a soldier (despite his not being in uniform).

"I finished the army today," he told me.

Instantaneously, I felt the joy his mother must be feeling, the relief. It's over for him, I thought. He got through it safely. "Mazel tov," I told him. Congratulations.

"Do you say 'congratulations' when someone finished the army?" I asked him, and he smiled. I asked him about his unit and immediately recognized that he was in one of the more dangerous divisions. I told him my son was in artillery and that the army had been so kind to me. By putting him in artillery, he would, I was told, regularly be far back from the front lines of a war.

"Artillery is important," he said to me. "They do important work."

Yes, they do and it was kind of him to say it, to recognize it, to believe it.

"Your mother must be so happy," I said to him.

Again he smiled, "yes, but I have to go to reserve duty in three weeks."

So soon, I thought. So little time and already he was starting the next phase in his service. It hardly seemed fair to me - that he would be released from the army, only to have to go back in only 3 weeks, but then I remembered that this is what life is about in Israel and that a man isn't actually discharged from the army until he is in his 40s.

So this young man's mother and I continue to share this part of our lives - our sons remain soldiers in the army of Israel while we take the pride and joy, the fear and the worry with us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rambling Thoughts

My thoughts are rambling today. It was a series of of those perfect moments with your family, not really all together, but in pieces here and there. Elie came home on Friday to a house that was mostly ready, and some of his favorite foods already cooked. His younger brother and sister made signs for his birthday and I bought a cake and decorated it because it had been a long week and I decided to focus on foods and brownies.

The clear star of the day, beyond Elie, was Davidi. Davidi had walked to the local stores several times over the previous week, carefully purchasing several small gifts for his older brother. Some were incredibly thoughtful and personalized - like the 11-tools-in-one screwdriver and some were just for fun, like the "Barrel of Slime." Elie opened the barrel and played it for all it was worth.

It was - as the small black can said, a "barrel of slime" and Elie laughed and let it ooze through his fingers as we all smiled and made jokes. When he'd shown enough appreciation, he let his younger sister play with the slime. Not to be outdone, even Elie's middle brother came along and touched it and thought it was great.

Elie liked the two PSP (Portable Sony Playstation) games we bought him and as soon as he could sneak off to his room, he began playing with them. In short, each of us were rewarded by Elie's appreciation for what we had bought. After things calmed down, Elie told me about the recent exercise that he's seen and participated in.

As the news had said, it took place close to the Syrian border, well within hearing distance for miles and miles, and countries in several directions. It was a training exercise to help confirm that the various divisions - air force, tanks, artillery and engineering - could work together for a common goal. "It was amazing," Elie told me as he described the action.

It was loud. Planes flew low overhead and dropped "bombs." Tanks and artillery shot at the target. Engineering moved in and created a bridge over which the tanks and artillery easily moved. All coordinated, all meant to send a message in many directions.

Look at us, Israel - we have learned, we have bettered ourselves. We are prepared to defend you.

Look at us, Syria. Listen to us, Lebanon - Hizbollah, and even Hamas. We are ready to defend ourselves. The exercise took place on the anniversary of the Six Day War. In that too, there was a message.

Elie was quick to explain the importance of the exercise and the massive scale of the endeavor. And when he'd finished, he talked more about his unit. They spent most of the week out in the field practicing. This coming week will be very similar. Elie went out Saturday night to buy a camping burner and a pot. Other boys will bring noodles next week.

"Who will cook?" I asked Elie. Elie is a great cook - something that always amazes me. He is quick to throw together all sorts of meals when the mood strikes. He'll quickly come into the kitchen where I am cooking. Look what I am making, and move to the freezer where he'll decide to add some additional dish (most especially if it contains meat).

"Not me," said Elie. No, he'll be in commander mode and so apparently his men will be cooking.

"Guess what we are doing next week," he announced at one point. So many things went through my mind - all things I didn't want to think about. Will he go back to the border? Back to guarding one of the checkpoints? Where else would they send my son?

"To a hotel."

"A hotel?" I asked incredulously.

"Nofesh g'dud," he answered with a smile. The army will take the g'dud - the whole large group to a hotel for a week's break. Swimming, hiking, relaxing. There's a pool in the hotel. Great food. Soft beds and pillows. Even some free time. Vacation.

The army could have sent them home for a week, as they do several times a year - but this is an additional gift and very much a part of army life. You are a unit, a group, a cohesive group. That's the message here. You serve together. You guard together. You train together. Too often, they end up mourning together. This week, soon, they will rest together. They will have fun, swim and play together. I don't know if other armies do this, but it seems so right that ours does.

The army will soon shift again. Elie and his group will soon find out where they will be, what they will guard for the next few months. But for now, all they focus on is a week in which the army will allow them to rest, when they won't be tested and challenged, when they will sleep and eat and swim and simply be.

The tomorrows will beckon soon enough, but next week will be filled with a series of "todays" - each a precious and fun moment for Elie to spend with his men, his team, his friends and, in many ways, his brothers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who's Concerned?

So Elie called last night to ask about his uniforms and mention that one of them had a hole in it and he'd really appreciate it if his father could sew it for him. He sounded happy and even excited, and then he told me about what he would be doing today. In the back of my mind, always, is the thought that what he tells me might be used in the hands of our enemies. Is there something they can learn from this innocent blog that is meant only as a means of expression for one mother?

Could my words endanger Elie or another soldier? I never post in advance what will be happening. I never post more than general locations, vast areas where our troops in general are training. The whole world knows our soldiers guard our borders. It can't hurt to say Elie is in the south or in the north, on the Lebanese border or in the Golan - he and tens of thousands of others. All that I write, while a way to connect with others who have gone through or will go through the same in the years to come, is worth nothing if even one soldier were hurt because something printed here could be used against us.

I love the comments from soldiers here in Israel and even American soldiers in the Gulf. I feel so connected to the other mothers of Israeli soldiers, and several mothers whose sons are serving in Iraq now, to the mothers of young children here and elsewhere who identify with me. It's so interesting to hear from others - soldiers who have gone through what Elie is going through and who add perspective and knowledge. It enriches me, it centers me, it calms me. But always, in the front of my mind, is the constant thought that there are others who could read this and so I think carefully before posting some of the things Elie tells me.

He called last night, "Ima, do you know what I'll be doing tomorrow?" He sounded excited. He sounded happy. I forced myself to listen to the words more than the simple pleasure of listening to the tone.

"No, what's happening?"

I listened for a while and decided to myself, well, this one isn't going on the blog, certainly not until after it takes place! He spoke of a huge exercise. Live ammunition. Important people watching it. Maybe next week, I thought to myself. Maybe not at all. Sure, the Syrians will hear it, but never mind. But there it is in the news, already posted on Israeli news sites:

The IDF is holding a live-fire military exercise in northern Israel today. Explosion sounds may be heard throughout the region. Such military exercises are part of the ongoing cycle of training and improvements initiated by the IDF following the lessons learned in the 2006 Lebanon War.

The IDF Spokesperson's Unit announced that there is no cause for concern.

Yes, Elie told me about the many divisions that would be participating in this exercise and the important government officials who will be watching. Yesterday, they practiced "dry" - without live fire and today, as I sit here working and typing away, a part of me knows that my son is up there with real explosives and real explosions.

Who's concerned? Well, the IDF spokesperson's unit says there is no cause for concern. Of course, they are talking to the civilians living nearby who can hear these exercises. Be assured, the unit is saying, we aren't really at war; it's just an exercise. It's part of our ongoing need to remember past mistakes so that we can better protect Israel in the future. Don't be worried, perhaps is the message to the parents as well. We know what we are doing. Don't be concerned.

I accept that and for now, I'll concentrate on the excitement I heard in my son's voice. It must be an awesome, inspiring sight, to see the might of the Israeli army and air force flex its muscle. It must be amazing. I envy my son this wonderful day. May they learn all they need to know. May they enjoy the sight of so much power - all meant to protect our land and our people.

Elie comes home tomorrow and I hope he'll tell me all about it. For now, I'll smile and wish him a glorious day of practice - and an equally strong wish that this is all we will ever have to do - practice, exercise, and blow up empty hills in mock battles.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Prayer for a Son

Ultimately, each person must find within themselves whatever they need to get them through whatever life throws at them or find the assistance they need. Overall, I believe I have been so blessed and each of the challenges that comes my way presents me with a new opportunity to learn and grow.

Yesterday was the eve of the Hebrew month of Sivan. Sivan is a gentle month for me, which follows the months of Nissan and Iyar. Nissan is the month in which we celebrate the festive holiday of Passover. It's a hard month for mothers, wives...well, for everyone. First, there is the preparation, then the long holiday, then the clean up. It's exhausting.

Iyar is a month filled with celebration and excitement. This year, especially, as we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the re-founding of the State of Israel. What was ours 2,000 years ago, is ours again and we celebrate our freedom and independence and all we have accomplished in these short 60 years. It's an emotional month in which we commemorate our Memorial Day and then jump into the celebrations for our Independence Day.

Finally comes Sivan, the month in which the people of Israel stood before Mount Sinai and became a people, were given our laws and our destiny. Whatever we were before we stood there, was changed as we were blessed and given our future. It's a gentle month in which we honor what we have been given.

In Nissan, we physically clean and prepare. In Iyar, we physically dance and celebrate and in Sivan, we honor the more internal, the more spiritual. Just as we celebrate the special relationship the Jewish people have with God this month, on the eve of the month, we celebrate and show our gratitude for our children and the relationship we have with them. We pray, especially on this day, that our children will be all that we dream they will be.

And so yesterday, I joined thousands (if not more) of parents around the world who said a prayer for their children. There is the formal prayer that asks God to bless our children and make them righteous individuals, have them walk in the way of our culture and religion, and grant them peace. And, there is the informal prayer in which we ask God for all the personal things we want for this child or another.

This one should learn to internalize less, this one learn to curb anger. This one should be granted this particular need or desire, and this one should be protected even more. Each according to his or her need, each according to the life they lead. Each week, as I light the Sabbath candles, I do the same thing - each individually, all collectively.

As a people, we were granted a great gift - the Torah and the life and laws it contains. As a family, we have been gifted with this moment in time, this day, this week, this month.

Elie's clean uniforms are washed and folded on his bed, waiting for him to come home on Friday. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, I will pray that my son, and all our sons, are safe and healthy and happy.

May the blessing of the new month be with you and may it bring only good things to all of us.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Smelly Gift

Well, Elie didn't get home this weekend, but his smelly laundry did.

He called me Saturday night to tell me that a boy from our neighborhood was going home for a doctor's appointment. Elie had tried to wash his uniforms but apparently, after several days in the field, he just couldn't get them clean. Rather than try to wash them again, he decided to send them home. He's coming home this weekend, and he doesn't need this set before then, so he asked the friend to bring home his uniform to be washed in a machine (rather than by hand, as he can do up there).

So - Elie didn't make it home this weekend, but his uniforms are spinning in the soapy water. It's a funny thing, a strange comfort. I'll run them through twice - they often need that extra run to really get the dirt out and then I'll hang them out to dry. In the US, most people use dryers, but here in Israel, the sun is so strong and the air so dry, clothes will often dry faster on the line than in a machine and there's something so fresh about sun-dried clothes!

Then, I'll fold them and put them on his bed...such a silly thing to mean so much to me. Elie will never think twice - oh, he'll thank me, but, well - he's never been a mother, has he? There is so little I can really do for him. I'm too far away to keep him company if he's lonely (and really, what young man would turn to his mother for that?). I don't have to cook for him - though I guess the homemade cakes and cookies do count for something.

I can't advise him on paths to choose and decisions to make - they are his alone and half the time, I don't really understand the ramifications of the decisions anyway. So here, in an easy way, Elie has unknowingly handed me a little thing I can do to help, to feel connected. Silly, no? But there you go.

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