Thursday, April 30, 2009

All's Well, He's Home, I'm Not

I guess that about sums up the situation. Elie called this morning to tell me he was already on the bus coming home. He offered to do the weekly shopping, if I leave him a list and a credit card (and a car).

I didn't ask him on the phone why he wasn't available the last few days. Perhaps it was just bad timing on my part. He's fine. He's home. He's safe and I'm feeling very foolish for having let the worries get the better part of me last night. I think that's what happens in the middle of the night - fears seem so much worse and with the rising of the sun, comes the setting of many of those concerns.

So, except for a case of burning eyes and a mad desire to just go home and sleep...all is once again well in our lives. I can think of a dozen other reasons why I couldn't sleep last night (the economy, world-wide health scares, we are supposed to sign a contract to buy a house today, stupid arguments with other people, I can't find a blue shirt, I need to finish a document today for a client, I have to write up three bills and send them, and yeah, I couldn't reach Elie for a few days).

I think, to a larger extent - this was also a message from the Heavens. Just when you think you've got this soldier's mother thing down and are feeling vastly more experienced than all those others who have sons that just went in, last night was a wake up call (literally) that there are no certainties in life. You take each day, and each night, as a blessing and you deal.

So, I dealt - not as well as I should have - but the night passed, I'll sleep later. By now, Elie is probably home and sleeping himself. And no, I won't tell him about the sleep I lost last night until I can laugh about it....which will likely be after I get some sleep for myself.

Fearing the Unknown

The problem with it being 3:50 a.m. and not being able to sleep, is that the mind can race in all directions. Today, or I should say yesterday, we celebrated Israel's Independence Day. We commemorated the day, as we often do, in two parts. During the evening, I attending the local ceremonies and enjoying the fireworks display with my two youngest children. Cuddling on a blanket in the midst of some 15,000 or more people, we watched the fireworks soar into the sky.

As I always do at that moment, I wish my country a happy birthday, a good year, a safe one. May God continue to bless my beautiful land and help it go from strength to strength. May He finally grant it peace and may it continue to prosper and truly be a light unto the nations.

My youngest son used his new camera to videotape the fireworks but there is no comparison to watching them live, sitting under them as they explode in glorious colors, accompanied by music and cheers. Guest singers were there, including one of Israel's longstanding star singers, Boaz Sharabi. Before singing one song, he dedicated it to Gilad Shalit, a 22 year old Israeli soldier kidnapped and being held in Gaza for three years now. Another singer also dedicated his songs to Israel's soldiers and prayed for their safety.

Sitting there and watching, I thought of Elie. He has attended these celebrations in the past, always volunteering for the local ambulance squad and therefore roving around through the crowd rather than sitting with us. He would help treat the kids who fell or got sprayed with the foamy cream that delights the children, until they get it in their eyes. And somewhere, late in the evening, he would meander his way back to us, once to carry his sleeping sister to the car, or bags of blankets and food.

I tried to call him earlier in the day, and then again as we were leaving for the celebrations. I haven't succeeded in talking to him in the last few days, though I've tried. As I sat listening to the music, I sent him a message instead, "Happy holidays, cutie." It doesn't translate well, but Israeli kids accept the endearment as inevitable. Elie's young sister asked if she could send him a message too. She slowly typed it into my phone, "Shalom, Elie. I miss you very much. Love," and signed her name.

During the day, we joined friends for a barbecue and came home with hearts and stomachs full. While driving home, I tried calling Elie again, and again he didn't answer. His sister again asked if she could send him a message. "Shalom, Elie."

"Can I still wish him chag samayah (happy holidays)?" she asked.

Technically, as it was after dark, the holiday had already ended, but I told her she could, and so she continued. "Shalom, Elie. Chag samayah."

As she was typing away on my phone in the back seat of the car, I noticed that there were a few raindrops on the front window. It is very unusual for it to rain in Israel from late March/early April through into October in Israel. "Tell Elie, it's raining," I told my daughter.

"Shalom, Elie. Chag samayah. Ima told me to tell you it's raining here. Love," and again signed her name.

Elie didn't answer any of the messages and I haven't spoken to him. He's supposed to come home tomorrow for the weekend. On the scale of things that Israeli soldiers are called upon to do, Elie isn't really in a dangerous area now, nor is he tasked with the really dangerous jobs.

The day before our Independence Day is our Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror. Each year, the airwaves are filled with loved ones telling about the lives, and deaths, of their sons, husbands, brothers and yes, daughters and even wives. Every year, there is always at least one mother who says she didn't know her son was doing such dangerous things, that he was involved in that sort of operation. Israeli sons love to keep this from their mothers and mothers honestly want to believe it. It works well, unless the son gets injured, or worse.

Years later, the sons will laugh that they fooled their mothers; their mothers will either admit to never knowing, say they really knew but didn't want their sons to know they knew, or just surrender and accept that they couldn't have handled the truth anyway.

I honestly don't think Elie is involved in anything more than what he has told me and no, I don't believe that statement either. I don't know where he is or what he's been doing. It's unusual that he didn't answer our messages or my phone calls. But there are so many explanations - he could have broken his phone (again); the battery could have died and he didn't have time to recharge it. He might have set it to silent while he was sleeping or on patrol and forgotten to change the setting.

He might simply not feel like talking, or might not have noticed the missed calls. Chances are very good that he'll just come home tomorrow and never know that it's 4:12 a.m. and I'm just a bit nervous or worried. Years from now, he will probably not have anything scary to tell me about what he did while in the army, and no, I'm not dumb enough to believe that either.

I do believe that bad news travels with the speed of lightning and I would hear if something had happened (not to mention the fact that it would be on the news). So, no, I don't imagine even for a moment that he is hurt. But I do imagine him being somewhere, doing something, where the potential is there. It's a bit chilly outside, but then again, I'm in the hills of Jerusalem and it's a lot warmer where he is, without this desert wind. And no, I don't even know that he's outside now.

Of course, using my standard reasoning, having now gotten that scary picture in my head, I have little doubt Elie is fast asleep, nice and warm, and that he will call in the morning, or just show up at home, hungry and wondering what there is to eat. And while a bunch of friends have sons who have just gone into the army, I have been taking pride in the fact that I, like Elie, am now a senior in my position. I've made it through 2/3 of this process. Sure, there are mothers who have survived having several sons pass through their army service - they are the real "old-timers" and they too have had their share of nights like this one when it is so dark outside and the mind so awake with ideas and thoughts.

4:17 a.m. I need to try to go to sleep; to let the worries go and know that tomorrow he'll be home so, I'll end this with the hope that some day, some 20 something years from now, Elie will read these thoughts, find comfort, and go to sleep, knowing his son is safe. But of course, Elie will never be a soldier's mother. No, there's a much greater chance, God willing, that Elie will be asleep in his bed oblivious to it all, while Elie's wife will be sitting at her dining room table reading and worrying.

So - to Elie's future wife, go to sleep. I'll take the worry this evening and tomorrow your son will be home as handsome, as wonderful, as dirty and tired and hungry as he is each time he comes home. Tomorrow you'll have a sack full of dirty laundry and wonder why you allowed those silly thoughts to go into your head and keep you awake at night.

Go to sleep and trust that God never sleeps and that He watches over your son and all the soldiers of Israel this night and every night. Go to sleep.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Ceremony of Remembrance

I'm a fireworks-aholic. I love them, especially if I can sit right under them and watch the colors and bright lights explode in the sky. I love the sound, the sudden light, the color. Tomorrow night, here in my city and throughout Israel, there will be huge fireworks displays celebrating Israel's independence.

In the middle of Maale Adumim is a beautiful park with a small stadium surrounded by grassy fields on three sides. When people crowd into the stadium area and fill the fields above, when it seems like every square foot is taken, the people who are leading the celebration announce that there are about 15,000 people there, and everyone cheers.

Tonight, just 24 hours before that massive celebration of dance and song and flashing lights, there was a somber crowd. The ceremony began with the principal of the local yeshiva asking more than a dozen teenagers to come on stage with flags. They lined the two sides of the stage and stood at attention as three soldiers lowered the flag to half mast.

The principal asked everyone to stand and seconds later, the siren began. It's a sound that tears the heart, pulls out the fear, the pain, and so much more. It lasts for two minutes, but in those two minutes, the thoughts fly through the brain so quickly. So many thoughts, "God, please keep Elie safe. Please send comfort to the families today and every day. Please don't let any more die. Please, please keep Elie safe."

My young daughter turned her face against me and I hugged her close. I didn't ask her what she was thinking; I'm not sure I can stand to know.

As we sat down to begin the ceremony, I looked around me. The stadium was full, the grassy fields as well. Tomorrow most of these same people would come to laugh and cheer and sing. Tonight, they sat quietly and listened. No one announced how many people were there, but it was so full, so crowded, and yet, so subdued.

Three mothers were escorted on the stage, one at a time. One to light the large memorial torch that would burn throughout the ceremony. Her son was killed in Gaza a few years ago in a horrendous explosion. Two mothers slowly climbed the steps to lay wreathes in memory of the soldiers we have lost.

One is the mother of a soldier who was killed in a terrible accident, a case of mistaken identity. Our soldiers thought he was a terrorist and called to warn him to surrender. But the soldiers thought he was an Arab and so they called out in Arabic. Yehuda heard the Arabic and must have thought he was being attacked by terrorists. When Yehuda was killed, I went to his parents' house and sat and listened as they spoke of him and of the special relationship he had with his little sister.

The other mother seemed so lost; she was guided to the place, helped to lay the wreathe, and then guided back to her seat. I could only think that her son was killed more recently and she hasn't yet learned how to carry the pain inside. It was there for all to see and yet we all knew there was nothing we could do to help her. This was something she never wanted to experience; an honor she wishes with all her heart was not hers to receive.

Several young high school students stood on the stage. Two girls read the names of the soldiers our city has lost. I recognized a few of the names, including one who was a volunteer in the local ambulance squad. He was a paramedic and fell in the Second Lebanon War. Both Elie and my second son knew him. The volunteers room of the local ambulance squad is dedicated to his memory and his picture hangs there. There were so many soldiers named that the names began to blur together.

And suddenly, I saw and heard "Eyal Tsarfati" - the name of the artillery soldier whose grave Elie was assigned to stand beside last year. I don't know why they read his name. Maybe his parents live here now; maybe he went to school here at one point. All I know is that he died in 1990, was an artillery soldier in the same battalion as Elie, and last year, Elie stood by his grave on Memorial Day as a sign of honor and respect.

There were sad songs, special prayers, some speeches, the singing of the national anthem, and the night was over. I had made it through, attended the ceremony I'd been dreading all day.

Perhaps the lasting memory I take from this evening comes not from the speakers, but from the huge crowd - all ages, from very young children to elderly couples who slowly walked away when the evening ended. Tomorrow night, perhaps more than 15,000 people will crowd into the same area. They'll enjoy the evening and have a great time, a national party of sorts right in our own city.

But tonight, there was no enjoyment, no joy, no celebration. And yet, a huge crowd of people - likely close to 15,000 as well, came to listen, to remember, to mourn and to support the families.

Tomorrow night, dignitaries and honorees will crowd the area near the stage that is partitioned off. Tonight, that area was filled with the families of the fallen. Tomorrow night, there will be those who wish they could sit or mingle in that closed off area, perhaps even those who will try to sneak in to get closer to some singer or politician; tonight there were only the bereaved families, those who wished never to sit there and thousands of others who silently prayed that they too never have that opportunity.

Tonight, all over Israel, 22,570 are being mourned - 133 who fell in the last year. There are 8,000 widows and orphans in Israel this year. And among the saddest statistics I read were these. The oldest widow is 96 years old and the youngest widow is 18 years old. One who probably lost her husband 61 years ago in the War of Independence, and one who probably just lost her husband in the Gaza War a few months ago.

May their memories be blessed and may their families know no more sorrow.

Video: The Price of Freedom

Take a moment (sorry for the commercial, but it's worth it) and see this video, please:

Single-Sourcing Posts: Yom HaZikaron

In my real life, the one that takes place during the day and far from my children, I'm a technical writer. One of the things we practice is something called, "single-sourcing." It means, in a nutshell, writing something once and then reusing it. I'm going to do that here because sometimes the emotions overwhelm and drown you. Maybe it's other pressures in life (and I have a bunch of them going on now), but I just can't do this. So, I'm going to single-source and go back to what I wrote in the past to explain what will be happening this week in Israel.

It is a time that pulls the soul out of the body and demands that it bleed. The soul agonizes, cries, despairs and then, just as you reach the bottom, the tempo changes, the soul soars and you realize you can rise up, you can celebrate all that we have created. Tonight begins Yom HaZikaron - the Day of Remembrance. We mourn to a depth that is hard to explain. It is all encompassing, our grief. It defines the day, the society, every breath we take. Tomorrow night, at the moment Yom HaZikaron ends, our independence day begins.

It is a concept that makes so much sense, it is hard for me to believe other countries haven't done this. You cannot celebrate your freedom, your independence - you have no right to celebrate it, unless you first thank those who gave the most to ensure you are free. So first we mourn, and then, amazingly enough, we shake it off, somehow, reluctantly, to celebrate all they gave us, all that we have, all that we have built.

That will be tomorrow night - tonight, we mourn. This year, Elie will be on active duty, defending, patrolling. He'll stop and recognize the day, but he wil not stand, as he did last year.

From What Elie Stands For:

This week, a uniquely Israeli event will happen. We will remember and then celebrate; we will mourn and then go from the deepest depths of despair to the greatest celebration our country has ever seen. On Wednesday (beginning Tuesday night), we will commemorate our Memorial Day to remember the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers (and many thousands of others who have died as a result of terror attacks), and on Thursday (beginning Wednesday night), we will put aside our mourning to celebrate that for which they fought. Our independence, our freedom, our country. Israel has reached the age of sixty - sixty years since our founding, sixty years in which Jews all over the world have felt a sense of home, a sense of relief and security. Sixty years in which we have sent our sons to the army, and dreamed of peace.

Many countries mark a memorial day in which they honor their soldiers. In some places, it is a day of mourning; in too many places, it is a day of work or holiday sales. In Israel, we are so close to our soldiers, so close to families whose lives were forever changed by the worst news a family could imagine. In Israel, on Memorial Day, our places of entertainment are closed, our theaters and amusement parks shut for the day.

Our television and radio programs speak of those we have lost in somber and sad tones; even the music makes us cry. One station each year, scrolls the names of soldiers and victims of terror for 24 hours. All stations interview bereaved families to tell the stories of their sons and fathers and husbands. Each year, more names are added and the rate the names scroll just a little more quickly so that all will have their brief time of acknowledgement.

On Tuesday night, when the siren sounds, there will be ceremonies all over the country and on Wednesday, there will be more ceremonies and families will quietly go to the graves of their loved ones. On each grave, a flag has been placed - a reminder of why they were taken from their families, what they stood for, why they fell.

Last year, I read the story of what the paratroopers division does to remember their own. The article in the newspaper spoke of how beside the grave of each fallen paratrooper, a soldier in the current paratroopers division stands. The families come and see that their sons have not been forgotten. I couldn't imagine what goes through the head of that young man, whose job it is to simply stand there, in honor and in mourning. I can't imagine what the family thinks, seeing this young man stand so proud and straight, beside the grave of their son.

Last year, when I read that article, I didn't know that the artillery division does the same. I didn't know that my son would be asked to go and stand beside the grave of a fallen artillery soldier. I don't know what will go through Elie's mind as he stands beside that grave. How old will that boy be, that young man who died protecting our country.

I want to protect my son from such grief; such serious thoughts as death and families who come to mourn. Silly things come to mind - Elie, bring water against the heat and don't stand in the hot Middle Eastern sun for too long.

And as I concentrate on my son, I realize that someone will come and see my son standing beside their son, who cannot stand. I don't know how old their son was on the day he died; I can't imagine what they feel each year going to visit him there in that place where he will never grow older. I hope they will know that Elie is there to honor him, there to remind them that we remember. They will see the uniform their son wore; the color of the beret.

My heart hurts, just a little, for Elie too. It is just another thing I wish I could do for him, wish I could help him do, and yet another thing he must do alone.
The next day, I posted more (Who Elie Stood For):
Eyal Tsarfati was only 19 years old when he was killed defending Israel. His parents came to his grave today, one of 22,437 families who mourn for their loves ones who died since the State of Israel was founded.

So little, do I know about this young man. He died in 1990 and today, Elie stood by his grave as his family came to pay their respects. Each of Elie's soldiers was assigned a cemetery and a name and had to call Elie when they arrived. Elie can tell me how many artillery soldiers died during their three years of military service, and how many died while doing reserve duty in the artillery division. By each, a soldier in the artillery division stood today.

Elie called his commanding officer when all of his soldiers had checked in. That commanding officer called his commanding officer and on it went. Today had to be perfect, from a logistics point of view, so that beside each soldier that has fallen, a soldier in today's army would stand. No family would arrive to an empty grave. Each has a soldier, a flag, a token of this nation's ongoing commitment to honor and remember their sacrifice. So little in return for such a great service given.

It was my hardest Memorial Day ever, my brain searching for appropriate thoughts as the siren wailed. I had already known Eyal's name because I asked Elie yesterday, though I didn't know he was only 19 when he died. In the two minutes that I stood and listened to the siren, I thought of Eyal and of a friend's son who was killed during the Second Lebanon War two years ago. I thought of Elie, begging God that I never live to mourn a son or a daughter.

Today isn't about Elie and the boys who serve in the army now. They stand as a quiet backdrop to the real heroes of the day, those who could not stand, could not comfort their families today. It was a hard day for Elie's younger sister too. She cried last night when she heard the siren and began listening to the memorial ceremony. We talked and I knew that she too, at only 8 years old, is projecting her fears and worries onto the day.

At schools around the country, after the siren sounds at 11:00 a.m. for two minutes, there is a ceremony. I felt it would be too much for my daughter; too great the fears she already faces. Each time something happens to a soldier, she asks if Elie is ok and last night she asked if she could stay awake to see him when he got home. Too close for her, this year, I thought. I called a friend, who told me to follow my heart. I called the school counselor, who told me to do what I felt was right and that she would have years to face memorial days. Eventually, she would have to, the counselor told me and as she knows our family, she knows that I have two more sons who will some day become soldiers (God willing).

Yes, I answered the counselor and my heart. Many years ahead to face, to give respect, to honor. But eight is young and the fear is great. Children deserve a chance to escape things that parents have to face and so I let her skip school and come with me to the office. She stood by me as the siren sounded; quiet and listening. In the morning, when we dropped Elie off at the national military cemetery on the way to the office, my daughter asked if we could go into the cemetery. "Not today," I told her. She wanted to prolong being with Elie, and she was curious. But today, the cemetery belongs to the families and I didn't feel it was right. She is young and full of questions.

Denied peace during their lives, having fought our enemies and sacrificed their lives, I can only hope they have found peace now. May the memory of Eyal Tsarfati be eternally blessed and may his family and all the mourners of Israel find comfort in knowing that the deaths of their loved ones enables us to close the first 60 years of Israel's re-established history...and begin the next.
My youngest daughter is only 9 years old. She'll come with me again to the office, rather than go to school. I don't know if this is the right thing to do, but re-reading what I wrote last year reminded me that she has, God willing, a long life of Memorial Days ahead of her. This year, I will stand with her in silence and think of Eyal Tsarfati, and so many others.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ostrich and the Ceremony

Every year, my city (and most cities in Israel) hold a memorial ceremony on the eve of Memorial Day. The ceremony begins, all of them, with the siren that sounds at 8:00 p.m. I've been to many of these ceremonies, though I haven't gone in the last few years.

Each town across Israel joins in the collective mourning of more than 20,000 soldiers and close to 2,000 terror victims and each remembers their own. Unlike Memorial Day in many countries, here in Israel, the day is not considered a vacation. There are no sales, no special shopping discounts. Places of entertainment such as movie theaters and amusement parks are closed. National radio and television, even those for children, focus on the sadness. One station runs the names of all those we have lost, from the first who fell in the War of Independence, through the most recent killed in war or military actions.

This year, like all years, there will be more names and the station will have calculated the speed with which each name must be flashed across the screen in order to have all names shown by the end of the 24 hour period. I want to be an ostrich, and stick my head deep into the ground. I don't want to think about what the day means to the families, to the mothers who once baked brownies for their sons, drove to their bases, did their laundry.

I don't want to project, to imagine, to think. For the last two years, I have told myself that I didn't have to be cruel to myself; that I was entitled to skip these ceremonies; that the mothers would understand. Maybe they too skipped the ceremonies before their sons were killed fighting for this land.

This is the first time I almost feel strong enough to risk going, dare to listen as the stories are told. I'll light the memorial candle, as I do each year. I'll stand and listen to the siren, as I do each year. I'll think, or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just stand there and listen to the siren and pray.

I can't decide about the ceremony, about going, about listening. I could get through the day if I don't hear the stories of the families, of how they still mourn and will forever. I don't want to hear about their sons, of their bravery, of their sacrifice.

I'm being selfish; it's wrong not to give them the honor they deserve. For two years, I have denied them this honor, hiding within myself. I tell them that after Elie finishes, or maybe after Shmulik finishes, I'll come back and listen. I know it isn't right and yet, the ostrich in me, the one I learned about years ago is still so strong.

For now, I'll put off the decision. Tomorrow I'll decide whether the ostrich will win this battle and whether I'll ask Israel's brave heroes to forgive me, just one more year. Elie will be home this coming weekend. I spoke to him briefly today. He was busy but when I offered to call him back, he said he'd be busier later.

I'll find out soon where he was, what he was doing for the ceremonies of our Memorial Day and our Independence Day. His younger sister is already saying she doesn't want to go to school, doesn't want to hear about the soldiers. She said it will make her cry. She cried when the teacher taught her about Anne Frank, "it was so sad," she explained.

Nine years old is a very difficult age. Everything in the world is seen as it relates to her. She has a friend whose brother was killed in action before the little girl was born. Can I blame her for wanting to be an ostrich, when I sometimes want to be one as well?

So - I'll decide tomorrow. That's what I'll do. Tomorrow, when the sun is shining I'll decide.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Things a Mother Doesn't Need to Know

Kids love to tell their mothers things they really, really don't need to know. As they get older, they become more sensitive and don't tell us...and, amazingly enough, that is so much worse (except, of course, when they do tell us). I know that makes no sense, but if you are a mother, you understand it; if you are a father, you accept that the mother of your child understands it; and if you aren't a parent...wait, wait.

So, Elie asked me if I happened to be in the neighborhood, could I drop off the hair-cutting machine. With a meeting in Tel Aviv, it seemed I could hop, skip, and jump over there. I stopped at the bakery and bought the onion rolls and pastries he loves - another reason why I just HAD to stop by and see him. I called him as I was leaving for the first meeting of the day - he was asleep. I joked with him about his sleeping on the job, and said I'd see him later.

Called him when I got off the highway - he had gone back to sleep and was now getting up and he said he'd meet me at the front of the base. I waited about 5 minutes before I saw him walking towards me, backpack and gun strapped to him. I know that he can't go anywhere without the gun. The backpack too was obvious - dirty laundry.

We stood outside the base for a few minutes and talked. He explained that his 8 hour patrol the night before had turned into 12 hours and that's why he was still asleep. And then he began to explain. There's an Arab village nearby that has caused many problems. Recently, the Arabs have been watching the patrols and as soon as the patrol passes, they light tires and roll them against the security fence. Of course, if the fence wasn't there - they'd be rolling their fire-tires into Jewish towns, Jewish fields and who knows what, and so the fence stands until the violence stops.

"So, what do you do, knowing the Arabs are waiting to send the burning tires?"

Elie smiled, "we circle back a lot." Well, that wasn't what I really wanted to hear. It was something like, go hide on base and let them do what they want so long as I'm safe...but that isn't realistic, I know.

"So what happened?"

Elie continued. The more they circled, the longer the Arabs simply waited. They decided to give the Arabs more time, hoping to catch them in the act, and so they made a bigger circle and finished out their patrol on the other side of the area they were watching. They shut the engines and waited a while. Then, as their patrol was ending and they were about to head back to base, confident that perhaps the violence was over for the night, the Humvee wouldn't start. And, just then - they got a call that the Arabs had thrown more burning tires and were heading to the fence.

"Wonderful," I asked, "what happened?"

Another patrol was sent out, they made their way back to the base, switched vehicles and decided to head over to see if the first patrol needed any help. By the time they finished, they had been on for 12 hours.

Yes, I realize that Elie is a soldier and faces dangers. Yes, I realize that those dangers include facing those who would want to harm him and our country.

And yet, hearing him talk about facing tires set aflame doesn't calm me. Except, of course, for one thing. My second son, who goes into the Israeli army in about a year, is threatening not to tell me at all and that would be so much worse. I've learned so much over the last two years but the one thing I know I haven't learned is where the balance is between needing to know, and knowing too much. My first thought when Elie told me about the burning tires was that this was more than I needed to know.

But the comfort came soon enough in realizing that I'd still rather know where he is and what he is facing than allow my imagination freedom to create even worse scenarios. Years and years ago, I heard a psychiatrist speaking about allowing our children to watch the aftermath of a terrorist attack. In the minutes after the bomb explodes, the carnage is horrendous and the television cameras roll without having time to edit images. Only later, when you catch it on the news are the images "cleansed."

I would have spared my children these first moments, and did, for as long as I could. But the so-called experts disagreed with me. They said that a child's imagination would come up with worse images, though I could not imagine that this was possible.

Sit with them, talk to them, listen to them, I heard again and again, until I finally surrendered. Now, years later, after Elie and his older sister and middle brother have grown up and seen so many attacks, I understand that the imagination is an incredible and powerful thing. I saw this during the recent war in Gaza. I could handle the news, I could eve handle hearing explosions in the background as I spoke to Elie. What I could not handle were the hours and days when he was beyond a phone call, when I couldn't reach him.

So, a few nights ago, Elie was involved in an operation against Arabs throwing flaming tires. I can handle that because I spoke to him the next day and knew he was safe. Yes, there are things that a mother doesn't need to know, but sometimes, despite the worry, knowing even these things is better than not knowing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Siren and A Tear

In just over 40 minutes, an air-raid siren will sound all over Israel. It's a sound that pierces the heart, a wailing that cuts the soul. My children will stand in silence and listen. My older ones may think of their grandparents, Holocaust survivors.

Last night, there was a moving ceremony at Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust Memorial in Israel. It was televised and I sat with my two youngest children and watched as six survivors told of their childhood memories. Some cried, even now, more than 60 years later. I wanted my youngest to go to sleep, even before the first survivor's story was told. She refused and I didn't force her. I told her she could wait through the first candle that survivor would light, in the end, she stayed through them all. They spoke in the voice of a child as they told of being separated from their parents, of the last time they saw a brother, a sister, a parent.

The radio is filled with stories today - of a child who was given to Polish neighbors and so survived but then when her family returned, they had to fight to get the child back. She knows her name only because on the back of one photograph of her mother holding her as an infant, her mother had written her name. Another knows nothing of her father.

My 9-year-old didn't want to go to school today, didn't want to hear any more. Stories of children are too close to her; she is a child herself and cannot imagine being separated from her family for more than a day. She doesn't want to cry. I finally convinced her to go to school, though the single tear in one eye nearly broke me.

Next week, we commemorate Israel's Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and terror victims. It is an interesting and difficult custom we have here. We mourn the loss of more than 50,000 young lives, lost in our wars and terror attacks. As the evening draws to a close on Memorial Day, the nation does a sudden "switch" to celebrate Independence Day - we celebrate as deeply as we mourn; we mourn as deeply as we celebrate.

With Elie in the army, I thought this day would be hard for my little daughter and suggested that she go to school today and perhaps stay home next week.

"But Elie is fine," she said. "Is something going to happen to him?"

I reassured her that he was fine and God willing would be fine. That being the case, she saw no reason to stay home next week and began again to focus on today. In the end, she went to school and I drove to work.

I spoke to Elie last night and asked him where he will be when the siren sounds. They will have a ceremony on his base. They will stand in honor, in memory. Elie won't cry as his sister is likely to do; but he will remember his grandparents, as his younger sister cannot. She never knew them. She carries the name of a Holocaust survivor; Elie carries the name of a Holocaust victim.

In a few minutes, the siren will sound. I'm in my office, alone, as I prefer to be. I'll stand and I'll think of those, like Elie's namesake, who were the victims of such hatred, such anger, such evil.

And somewhere in the wailing sound, I'll take a few seconds and remember that Elie and his soldiers, standing there outside on a hill in the middle of Israel, are the reason why today, we all stand here.

I'll think of my daughter's tears and fears and have a little regret that yet another generation will be touched by the horrors of World War II. And I'll remember the bravery of those who picked up the pieces of their lives and built new ones. I'll think of my husband's mother who was younger than Elie when she was separated from her parents and sent to Auschwitz.

She was put in a gas chamber, sent to die only because she was a Jew. What we consider a badge of honor, the Nazis considered a crime. They closed the door of that horrible little room, perhaps the one I stood in a few years ago with my older daughter and then, just before they dropped the gas in, they opened the door and pulled a few women out for a work detail, including my future mother-in-law.

There were so many horror stories she lived with, so many she took with her to the grave. She lived much of her life in fear, always wanting to avoid the spotlight, the attention that might have caused the Nazis to kill her or her sister. My children know no such fear, fear no such future.

Once, years ago, I spoke to a survivor. He told me that in Poland, he learned even before the war to step in the street when his non-Jewish neighbors came near. He learned to bow his head and, like my mother-in-law, to avoid getting attention. I listened to his description of pre- and post-WWII Poland and said without thinking that I would not have survived because I never learned to walk with my head bowed down. I never learned to fear the light.

My children have grown up this way and that is perhaps my greatest pride today. The siren wailed and Israel stopped today. We stopped and mourned and then, two minutes later, the cars began to move, the people began to walk, the phone rang, and somewhere, not very far away, Elie and his unit went back on patrol.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Question and a Request

Tomorrow night begins Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. I have a request. Wherever you are in the world - tomorrow night as darkness sets in, light a candle and think of the six million Jews and the millions of non-Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

Maybe tomorrow night I'll write about my visit to Poland a few years ago - but right now, I want to write about something else. I just read that today a group of partisans, fighters who fought the Nazis in the forests of Europe, anywhere and any way that they could, visited an air force base today. Israel is home to thousands of Holocaust survivors. They have lived here since the beginning - leaving the gas chambers of Europe to help build a nation.

Especially at this time of the year, as the annual commemoration of those horrible years arrives, we honor them and we listen to them, to the nightmares they still suffer, the fears they still have, the scars they still carry. Today, they had a request for our pilots. A request, and a question.

More than half a century ago, they faced an enemy that wanted, needed, dreamed of annihilating our people. They know such evil existed in this world and they know that it still exists. One woman asked an officer in our air force if our pilots could reach Iran. “They can reach anywhere,” he answered.

I love that answer for its simplicity. He did not explain about Iran's nuclear infrastructure, spread over many sites, miles apart. He did not speak of the hatred they knew better than most; he did not talk of oil and political maneuverings. He did not speak of America and if it would talk or act this time, as it failed to do for the Jews dying in Auschwitz - the ones that could have been saved if American had bombed the rail lines, as they were asked.

He did not speak of other European nations, of the silence that murders as effectively as poison gas. He did not talk of how much uranium the Iranians have, when their nuclear development will reach critical mass. Instead, he offered them a simple answer carrying the reassurances these survivors needed. Yes, he was explaining, we can stop them. No, we will not be helpless again. No, you have nothing to fear and yes, this time they will not succeed because we will stop them.
We will not depend on others; we will do for our people now what we could not do then.

An air force plane slowly rolled past the group, and the partisans began to clap. The pilot wanted to honor them; they gave their honor right back. Israel has given them a home, a land, and the courage to live after learning all that would encourage a person to want to die. More than a decade ago, one of our defense ministers went to Poland, to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. In a sad and solemn tone, he spoke to those who could no longer hear him. He told them that the air force of Israel had come to pay their respects. They'd come 50 years too late to save them, he explained, but they'd come to Warsaw. It was a promise that the air force would never be too late again. We would fly to Yemen, to Ethiopia, to Uganda. We would fly to Iraq and to Sudan, and we may yet fly to Iran.

A few years after that defense minister was in Warsaw, an Israeli pilot, son of a Holocaust survivor, honored those who died in Auschwitz by flying over the concentration camp. It was a message to his grandparents who had died there and to all the world. See us. Hear us. Know that this time, this time we can reach anywhere, not because we want to, but because we know that in this world, we have to.

Today, another survivor made her own request of the air force of Israel, “What I ask of you is to make sure that there will not be another Holocaust.”

Tomorrow night, when you light that candle, please think of my son Elie, a young and handsome soldier, one of tens of thousands of strong, proud young men who guard Israel today and tomorrow. Think of them because what they do, they do for this precise reason. Tomorrow night, my son will guard Israel. Our sons will guard the skies of Israel, the borders, the seas. Europe and America did what they did more than 60 years ago, and we know what they did not do. We know the railways to Auschwitz were not bombed and we know deals were not made. People were sent back to die rather than given refuge.

Today, Israel can send the bombs, make the deals, and offer refuge. It is an unbelievable thing, to ask a young man to make sure there will not be another Holocaust, but that survivor's request was made to Israel and today, as our sons stand on our borders and fly our skies, they assure us all that they will honor that request, even if it means flying to Iran.

Israeli Air Force - flying over Auschwitz, 2003:

Elie, Where are You Now?

The last time I wondered, worried, where Elie was...he was heading south to be stationed near Gaza. This time too, he was heading south - but I wasn't worried and he wasn't heading to a particularly worrisome area. They've finished the training in the north, leaving the snowy hills of the Golan to join much of the rest of Israel in the often sweltering coastal area.

Once again, Elie and his unit are stationed on the line between populations, an area where thousands cross each day on their way to work, school, play. Most cause no trouble - but a few try to sneak through explosives, guns, knives. A soldier is a handy target, a holy one, a desired one. But a soldier has a gun and can fight back, is trained to watch and be on alert, so more often than not, a terrorist will try to hit a civilian traveling too close.

But that's really the nature of Israel - too close. We live mere meters from their homes - just as they live mere meters from ours. We, however, don't throw firebombs on their cars nor do we send our children to blow themselves up in their cafes. Our wives and mothers don't celebrate the deaths of their husbands and sons, don't take pride in the martyrdom of our youth.

And so Elie will spend the next few months patrolling, guarding. He's in a more senior position than last time. This time, he will be able to make the schedules and assign soldiers to the various tasks. At some points, he will be in command - other times, he is free to do whatever he wants. He can choose to do nothing, or he can put himself into the framework of a patrol.

Already when he explained this to me, I knew that Elie was not the type to sit back and do nothing for long stretches of time. He arrived today at the new base.

"How is it there?" I asked him.

"Nice," he told me.

"So what are you doing?"

"Nothing much now. We just got here today. Know what I'm doing tomorrow?"

"No," I lied, of course I know what he's doing, but there is a game to be played. "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Going on patrol," he said and as is often the case, I can hear the smile in his face and imagine the grin.

Oh yes, he loves going on patrol. It's spring in Israel so that means there are no massive puddles to ram the Humvee through, but there are mountains to climb, roads to travel.

"Where will you be?" I asked him. "In an Arab village?"

"No," he answered. He then named a Jewish village nearby. It's a lovely village - with a pizza shop and a hamburger place. Oh, yes, I know my son and tomorrow, he's going on patrol.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Fast Can You Shoot?

While Elie was home, he told me about shooting practice that they had last week. Sometimes, when someone explains something, the picture becomes so real that you can see it, hear it, feel it. I can’t explain why it happened this time, but it is an image I hold dear because of the smile Elie had when he spoke, and the pride he felt.

The thing is, boys love to boast – their car is faster, their computer stronger. My sons, even the 13-year-old who is ever so quickly gaining my height and preparing to go beyond, enjoy showing they are stronger. They smile this patronizing smile when I struggle with a jar and even though, given just one more second, I could probably open the darn thing, they will step in and twist. Yes, of course, I loosened it. Duh...but no, they will smile because THEY opened it and clearly, before they gained this great strength, I must have never succeeded in opening a jar in all the years of their childhood.

They are faster than I am, stronger physically. My two oldest sons will now lift things that I cannot lift, carry what I can't. They love picking up their little sister and throwing her over their shoulder as she squeals in terror. Just this past Shabbat, she appeared to be upset - a game she plays so well with them. She too is learning to "use" her talents. She can't out-lift them, but she can make them feel bad if they accidentally hurt her...and even if they don't actually hurt her.

Her older sister stepped in on her behalf, explaining to Elie that their little sister did not LIKE to be treated this way, she's a person, not a toy. Elie smiled his most wicked grin and claimed, as only older brothers can, that she actually likes it. I was about to agree with my oldest daughter when a suspicious giggle escaped from my youngest. Elie took that for the confirmation it was. Yes, she loves his strength as much as he does.

It is the way of a 21-year-old - that mix of man and boy that I find so overwhelmingly charming. Whatever the challenge of the moment, they have to be the best; they imagine themselves the best and strive to prove it. Elie takes tremendous pride in his army and can easily explain why it is so clearly superior to all other armies in the region. He can explain the strength of the Syrian army - especially their artillery, and show how our army - especially our artillery, is better. He can tell you about Egypt and Lebanon and Gaza and with each explanation, always Israel is stronger, better, smarter - it is the way of the age. He is, as his army is, the one who has learned discipline and conquered each challenge. He has learned, grown and now, as he enters his last year in the army, he feels he can show others, as they follow along the same paths.

Each soldier was given a magazine of bullets that they had to shoot in 30 seconds at a target, many meters away. The goal was speed and accuracy. They are using M16s, set on semi-automatic – meaning they have to manually pull the trigger each time. A magazine has something like 29 bullets in it (that’s what he said, I think). So – you have to pull the trigger 29 times in 30 seconds – I’m not sure if that includes loading the magazine in place or not.

When it was Elie’s turn – he moved into place and apparently the other soldiers understood what he was going to do. Elie's gun had a double magazine attached to it, not just one. Those that weren't shooting - turned to watch him. I can see it - all eyes on my son as he raised the gun and took aim. They all watched Elie for 30 seconds. He shot his first magazine of 29 bullets, reloaded and shot the full next magazine – all within those 30 seconds. Almost sixty bullets in 30 seconds – 2/3 hitting the target right on – the rest hitting relatively close – close enough to do damage and stop the enemy.

“You could have lit a match off the barrel of the gun,” Elie explained.

“Everyone was watching,” he told me.

I could see it, hear it, feel it. The pride he felt came from the show of admiration he received. Imagine moving your finger so fast, so many times, without hesitation. The gun never jammed – Elie keeps it clean and ready.

And there is surprise that I take pride in this achievement too. I have always told my children that I didn’t care what grades they got on a test – so long as at the end of the day, when they brought the test to me, they could honestly say they had tried their hardest, done their best. I will (and have) welcomed a 75 with more grace and happiness than a 90.

This wasn’t a test, certainly no grade will be written for this day, but there is pride in knowing he tried his hardest, did his best – and excelled.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Elie Feels It

Perhaps the best part of Elie being home so much in the last few days was that we had some time to talk about where he's going, what he'll be doing. He explained where he'll be stationed in the coming months through the next few rotations.

He recognized that this was his last Passover in the army - by next Passover he will, God willing, have been discharged to begin whatever he plans and dreams for his future. Barring a war, Elie will face about six months of patrolling and guarding in an area that separates two large population masses - one Jewish/Israeli, and one Palestinian. Last week, explosives were found there and an Israeli car was stoned, its occupants lightly wounded.

On Thursday, a huge weapons cache was found – so large, the Palestinian police couldn’t destroy it themselves and turned to Israel’s army to assist them.
Israeli Defense Forces sappers have arrived at the West Bank city of Qalqilya in order to perform a control detonation of the ammunition dump found in the city earlier Thursday. All of the city's entrances and exits have been closed off pending further notice. -- Ynetnews.
What was most interesting in our discussions was that Elie has risen, over the last two years, to be among the most senior of the soldiers in his unit. Two new officers have joined the unit, but Elie has more experience in the field and in the locations where they are to be stationed. He knows the base where they will be better than these new officers do and so last week, Elie and another senior officer took the new officers on a tour to explain the strategic considerations of the area they will soon guard.

The new officers recognize and respect Elie's seniority - and this too is something special about the Israeli army. What makes you a good soldier is the experience you have gained, even more than the rank. So Elie is now respected and treated well in his unit, recognized as someone who has experience at the checkpoints, experience with the equipment and the order required to see the unit runs efficiently.

He's been promoted to First Sergeant, though the ceremony has not yet taken place. Apparently, this is an internal ceremony celebrating the discharge of some soldiers and the promotion of others. Elie has promised me a picture of their pinning on the new rank.

What all this means to me as a mother, is that we are in the home stretch and, boy, does that sound like a scary thing to write. I almost want to delete it, but it wouldn't be honest. We have come such a long way, changed so much, my son and I.

We survived the first few months, the sudden reality of basic training that teaches a boy to value time and listen to the commands of others. We have overcome the advanced training, when the young man is taught the theory of war. This is when the power of the weapons they are taught to fire becomes real and this is when the army brought us, the families, to feel the earth shake with the power of the explosives our sons have now mastered. This is when reality set in. Our sons are soldiers, part of an army. This is no game, not some cute parade.

We watched as Elie flew through the Commanders Course. This taught him something we’d suspected all along - inside the man that grew from the boy we raised, there is a leader of men. The army taught him not only to take charge of a situation, but how to do it in a way that inspires others to follow.

We survived months with Elie on the checkpoints and borders of our land and finally, we watched and worried as the unimaginable became reality and Elie was sent to war. We listened when he came home and watched and worried more until we accepted, really accepted that Elie is at peace with what he and his soldiers had to do, what they did, and what they would do again.

Elie feels at peace with the Gaza War, because he accepts that there was no option, to other way the war could have been fought and that it did accomplish something. Not all we hoped for - as proven by the rocket that fell two days ago as people prepared to go out and enjoy the holiday atmosphere, but still so much better than it had been before.

And finally, now, with this latest visit home, I see that Elie feels something else, or at least he is beginning, just beginning to feel the end of this phase of his service. The months are count-able. Two months doing this, another four doing that. Four months of training, another two on the front and then out.

After he finishes, there will be years when Israel will call him to serve in the Reserves, and he will go, as he went now - with dedication, with love, with determination, and with faith in the army itself.

Elie will finish...just as Shmulik goes in. I don't know where, I don't know exactly when. I'll buy my second son the required socks and undershirts; I'll count the days until he calls and comes home. I’ll take the pictures, attend the ceremonies. I’ll do all I’ve done for Elie, all over again, and yet again when my youngest son is called.

Elie feels the end of these three years coming closer; I feel my stomach tightening a bit as I think of it all beginning again, all the things I'll have to learn, again. It will be easier the second and third time around, I tell myself, because this time there is a known, there is more trust that they will see to my second son's needs as they saw to my first.

Somewhere during the first year Elie served, the sudden realization that I would be a soldier's mother for far longer than Elie's time in the army settled in. Elie feels the close coming, I am not sure what I feel, other than the hope that perhaps, perhaps, what my first and second son will likely never see during their army service, perhaps, perhaps, my third son will.

I find that I am wise enough to believe, to know deep down, that the war we just fought won't be our last. As Elie fought, so too, I believe, will Shmulik be called to fight. The Arabs haven't finished yet, haven't accepted that we exist and that we will exist. And yet, my heart can't give up the foolish hope that maybe, just maybe, by the time my third son reaches the age of 18, perhaps he won't have to fight.

Elie doesn't feel that way - Elie is prepared for years to come to rejoin the army each year and serve in the Reserves and so, as we begin Elie's final year as a soldier in the standing army of Israel, I find myself prepared to remain what Elie made me two year's ago, what Israel wills me to be, and what I made myself years ago when we decided to move here - a soldier's mother.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Child's Game

It's a child's game that I have played with myself for as long as I can remember. It is based, I think, on a deep-rooted insecurity that if you want something badly enough, you aren't going to get it. So, the best way to get something that you really want, is to pretend, even deep inside yourself, that you don't want it. Got all that?

Well, either you are like me and you understand, or you don't have a clue what I mean. Either way, it works. It really does. Elie was home for the first days of the holiday. After going to a base in central Israel in preparation for the unit moving there in the coming weeks. This rotation is all but over, the next about to begin. To avoid keeping soldiers from their homes for a full three weeks, Elie's commanding officer decided to release some for this coming weekend and the rest next weekend. That puts them, more or less, all together again by the time they have moved to the new base.

I asked Elie when he would be home again. He had no idea.

"Either this week or next," he told me as I dropped him at the base, just an hour or so away.

"If it's this weekend, would it include the last days of Passover as well?" I asked him (OK, I used the Hebrew "Pesach" for Passover, but the point was the same).

"No, probably not," Elie told me.

"What a waste," I answered, knowing I was being greedy - if not for Elie than for the other soldiers. The holiday, the last day of Passover, begins tonight. As with the Sabbath, it is a day that the army does what it must - it defends the land which is a commandment, to save and defend life. It doesn't train, as that is not directly saving lives. The holiday ends Wednesday night. That leaves only one day, Thursday - and then Friday is again a day where the army spends most of its time releasing soldiers to go home for the weekend, the Sabbath.

So - they could release the boys on Friday, but by giving up that one day, which really isn't enough to do much training anyway, the soldiers would gain a really nice bunch of days at home - like Elie had last week.

Would Elie come home this weekend? That was my hope. We dropped him at his base on Sunday and then the rest of the family drove up north to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We joined long traffic lines - all made worthwhile by the fun we had in the car, the barbecue, the water, the shells and the sunset over the mountains as we turned to go home.

Yesterday, we visited with friends and had a barbecue at their home on a beautiful moshav. I thought of calling Elie, but figured I'd wait. A short time later, Elie called and told me there was a chance he would be coming home for the last day of the holiday (starting today), or, if not, then on Friday.

I went to sleep content - a quiet holiday with the family, a day to finish off holiday things, put things away, do tons of laundry and some work, and maybe Elie would be home for Shabbat ... or maybe he would be home to join us for the end of the Passover holiday ... would he come home today - that's where I began to play the child's game. Deny it. Say he won't, and maybe he will. Believe he will, and for sure, he won't.

I called his phone, thinking already to listen in the background. Would I hear the loud echoing noises in the background that suggest he is on a bus, coming home? No answer. That's not good, I thought to myself. If he doesn't answer, it means he is busy. If he's busy, it means he can't be sitting on a bus coming home. Maybe he's asleep on the bus? No, he would still hear his phone, feel it vibrate. He can't be on his way home.

He called a few minutes later - he was in a rush. He hasn't left yet - but he's coming home. For today and tomorrow, until he returns to base on Thursday! There are moments in your life when you know the world is in a good place - or as good as it can be. Today is one of those days.

Elie is on a bus coming home. My daughter and her husband will come for one of the meals. My younger daughter's face is ever-so-slightly sunburned on the cheeks from two days of playing and running outside and I have watched the sun gently kiss the mountains of Israel on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Sometimes the child in all of us wins the game.

Sunset looking towards the shores of the Sea of Galilee

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Time Races

Elie came home on Monday, went back for a briefing on Tuesday and returned on Wednesday. He was home for the Seder and holiday on Thursday, and then Friday morning got a phone call. It was from one of the officers in his unit inviting him to a barbecue in the Old City of Jerusalem - he asked if he could go, he asked if he could borrow the car.

I happily sent him on his way; released my middle son to spend much of the day as he wanted, and encouraged my husband to take our two youngest children to the park. With the house to myself, I prepared for the coming Sabbath and enjoyed the quiet of the house. By the time they returned, the table was clear and ready to be set, the candles ready, most of the food finished.

Isn't it funny, I thought to myself, that they want to get together even when they don't have to - that they care enough about each other to schedule these "down-time" affairs. Elie went and came home relaxed, having eaten his fair share of all manner of meat. The head of Elie's division had come with his girlfriend; other officers came as well.

Elie has no choice but to spend the majority of his days with these people. This is where the army has assigned him to be, the division, the battalion, the unit. That he decided, on his free day, to spend time with these same people means he has chosen them in some way as well. For a mother, there is great joy in knowing that Elie cares about these people, that they care about him.

I welcomed the Sabbath Friday night, with all my children gathered around. It came in peace; I don’t even know where I left my phone, nor did I give a thought to what was happening in the world outside. We ate, we slept, we talked of nothing in particular, of nothing important.

Today at lunch, neighbors came over to join us. Two other artillery soldiers were here - all in all, six people in or about to be in the army in the next few years. They spoke of the various divisions, of weaponry of war. There is a comfort to be found in the ease with which these young people face the reality of the conditions of our world and accept the tremendous burden we place upon them. They are normal in every way; speaking of cars and music and computers. They are the defenders of Israel.

It's Saturday night and already time is running. Tomorrow morning, Elie travels back to the base where they will be in a few weeks to continue the briefing they began a few days ago and prepare for when the rest of the unit comes.

We made plans to go north tomorrow on a family trip. I thought it would be a great way to steal a few extra hours with Elie – that we could drive him to his base and then go relax. The north is a place of great beauty; many people vacation in the north to enjoy the beautiful trees, the waterfalls. The Jordan River, the nature preserves, and so much more.

Elie thought maybe the army would give him a few extra hours and he could join us and return to base later in the day. The plans solidified; meat was bought and all plans set. On Wednesday Elie learned that half the commanders would return to the north; half would go to the base in the center. I was hoping Elie would be sent to the north and thus could ask for those few extra hours to be with the family. In the end, Elie has to go to the central base and so he can't ask for the time to join us.

We will still go north but Elie won’t be going that far with us. Instead, we'll drive him to his base - a bit of a detour, but worth the time. Then we will do what we often do on these intermediate days of the holiday - we will take a break from work and enjoy the land. We'll barbecue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and enjoy some family time together. I'll miss Elie, but at the same time, I'll remember that he is with others who he cares about; others who care about him too. They are the defenders of Israel and they stand for us all.May the Defender of Israel always protect the defenders of Israel.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Where Elie Was When He Blessed the Sun

On Wednesday morning, throughout the world, Jews blessed the sun, as it begins another 28-year cycle before it returns back to the same spot it was when it was created. I had picked the location I wanted to be, gathered those of my children who has slept at home, and shared the moment with them. I hope, 28 years from now, they will remember. When I returned home, I sent Elie a text message on his phone, afraid that he and the others, busy preparing for future patrols in the coming weeks, might forget.

When he came home later that morning, I asked him if he'd remembered and where he was.
He had returned to a base in "central Israel" the night before. This is where he'd beed stationed before the war took him near Gaza and training took him to the north. Soon, the battalion will again patrol the line that stands between Arab and Jew, until we can live in peace in this land and not need such protection.

The commanders had gone home on Monday, as had the soldiers. Only the commanders returned to the base late Tuesday night, woke early, and began their patrol. They discussed the areas where they would be, which unit would take the checkpoints, and basically synchronized future plans. Elie's commanding officer suggested that for the blessing of the sun, they would meet at the front gate of the base.

Elie suggested a different location - at the top of a hill overlooking the whole area for miles around. All agreed and they went up there early and waited for the sun. I couldn't have wanted more for him than that moment, surrounded by his friends, his fellow soldiers, and his land.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where were you at that moment?

There are many customs in the Jewish religion - customs for how to go about so much of our every day lives, our weekly and monthly lives. Once a month, we bless the new moon. It's easy to follow its short cycle as it crests in the middle of the month and wanes toward the end. Judaism follows the lunar calendar, adjusted at incredible mathematical accuracy so that each year the earth does what is expected, just as each holiday arrives.

Passover starts tonight - Spring comes and the winter rains end. Perhaps there will be a sprinkle or two, if the land and people are lucky, but we all know the winter is behind us and the earth is preparing to grow and stretch and enjoy the warmth of the coming months. To bless the moon is easy - there is a beginning and an end to each month and so as the new one comes, we bless it.

The sun is a much harder case - it is there, every day, the same as the day before, no real beginning or ending, no perceivable cycle. But actually, there is a cycle to the sun, a blessing to be said.

And Hashem [God] made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night and the stars. And Hashem placed them in the sky of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from darkness; and Hashem saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning, a fourth day.
Once in 28 years, the sun is in the same location it was when God created it on the 4th day of creation and so there is a blessing we say. There are all sorts of rules, or suggested rules - we are blessing the majesty and the grandeur of the sun, so it is appropriate to say this blessing surrounded by many people. It is best to say it after you say the morning prayers, but not necessary.

You should say it just at the moment when the sun begins to rise over the horizon, though you can say it even later in the day if you have to. You aren't saying it on the light the sun gives, but on the sun itself. If it is cloudy, you are supposed to wait a bit with the hope that the sun will come out. As I said, many rules, even on this one simple blessing.

It takes, according to one source, about two and a half minutes for the sun to rise above the horizon, from the moment you see it start, until it is fully visible. That is the most appropriate moment to say this blessing; to thank God for the sun and all He created.

Once this moment passes, it will be another 28 years before the sun is again starting this new cycle. Where were you at that moment?

Twenty-eight years ago, I was a college student in New York City. We gathered just after dawn on the rooftop of the building; we printed t-shirts that I've long since discarded with the date and a picture of the sun and some slogan that has long since faded from my mind. I think I knew then, that the next time I would say this blessing, I would be living in Israel - it had been my dream to live here since I was 13 years old. I probably assumed I'd be married; though I don't remember if I had formally started going out with my future husband or not. I never imagined having five children, though I guess I must have understood that to live in Israel means having children that serve in the army.

So, where was I at this moment? My oldest daughter is with her husband. Elie came home Monday but had to go back to base late last night for an over-night patrol and briefing in preparation for his unit moving in a few weeks. I woke my three youngest children up at 6:10 a.m. "Hurry, the sun is coming," I told them.

They dressed and shuffled out to the car; tired, a bit cranky, but they went by choice. As we arrived a few minutes later to the location I had chosen, there was a line of light coming from the mountains to the east, toward Jordan. We parked and walked - and as we stood there for less than a minute - the sun broke through the horizon and began to conquer the mountains.

I held out the piece of paper my husband had printed for me and asked my youngest son - the one who just celebrated his bar mitzvah, to say the first paragraph. He read it out loud as the sun moved quickly. Two and a half minutes - the world was created just this way. A new day, a new beginning, a new cycle, a new blessing.

We said the blessing together - all four of us, there, alone and together, surrounded by Israel, the mountains, the people. The sun broke free as we finished the blessing and began to climb into the sky, to rule for the day. We finished with another few prayers and I told them that they should remember, twenty-eight years from now, where they stood today.

My youngest son told me that he had brought his new camera, a present from his adopted brothers for his bar mitzvah and planned to take a picture. I told him that was a fine idea. In the end, it came and went too fast and he didn't have a chance. I'm glad about that. This is a moment that should be captured in the soul and sometimes when you are busy taking pictures, you miss the moment and see it more as part of the picture.

My husband printed out a page for Elie to take with him to the base. Early this morning, he and the other commanders began a patrol of the base and the area to which they will bring their unit.
"Stop when you see the sun," I told Elie, "and say this with all of them."

Elie said he would try. I hope he will. All over Israel, and around the world, Jews today prepared to welcome the Passover holiday and to bless the sun as it begins its latest cycle from creation to this moment. I don't know if I thought of this moment twenty-eight years ago and I don't know what to think of this moment in twenty-eight years from now. I hope my younger children will remember, and tell their children as they too stand by the side of a mountain and bless the sun.

Maybe one of their sons will be in the army or maybe, by then, we will be blessed with peace and not have to have our sons serve. Maybe as a parent they will understand the pride and the fear, the wonder and the terror that are so much a part of my life these days. Whatever reality they (and I) find ourselves in, God willing, in twenty-eight years, I hope we will again gather on the edge of some mountain and watch the sun climb again over the mountains of Jordan to shine on our beautiful land and rule the day, as the moon rules the night.

Blessed are you, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who effects the works of creation.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Two Attacks, Two Versions

Two things happened during the Sabbath while I rested at home and enjoyed the family quiet. The first time, my phone beeped, but I was unaware of what had happened until moments ago, after the Sabbath ended, and I checked my phone. The second incident only became known after I opened my computer to learn more about the first.

A gunman opened fired in an immigration center in Binghamton, NY. He took dozens of hostages before killing 13 and turning the gun on himself. By all accounts, he was a depressed individual, unemployed, desperate, even haunted. His actions were criminal but I'm not sure whether in the end we should consider this a terrorist attack so much as yet another example of a lone individual seeming to simply reach the end of his ability to cope with life and taking others into his misery. The news is full of whatever information can be obtained about the killer and the victims, interviews with his friends, thoughts of what drove him.

Today in Israel, a young Palestinian woman, only 16 years old, decided to kill. At 2 p.m., Basma Awad al-Nabari, a 16-year-old high school student from the village of Houra, arrived at the Border Police base near the Shoket Junction (located between Beersehba and Arad). She was armed with a gun. She opened fire at the soldiers, who quickly followed their instincts and their training and were able to stop her...permanently.

In the next few days, Israeli police will find out if she's been compromised in some way and was facing social ruin (this has happened many times in the past), or was bribed by love or money (this has happened many times), twisted by religious leaders (yes, this too), or whatever. No matter what her motivation, her intention was clear. She went to kill.

This is too common a story in Israel - young Palestinians blinded and brainwashed attempt to murder innocents and, when things go well, are neutralized before they succeed. No, the story here isn't Basma Awad al-Nabari because if we let her be the story, we reward terrorism. And yet, CNN has no worry about rewarding terrorism and still didn't focus on young Basma and what drove her to attempt to murder others. CNN cares why Jiverly Wong murdered 13 people today in New York, but the sum total of CNN's story about the police reaction.

Why do CNN and probably other news networks feel they must twist the story as best they can? The answer is likely that the true story doesn't appeal to them, doesn't get across the message THEY want to portray. This is not journalism, but it is CNN.

The CNN story was published out of the Gaza City CNN office - the headlines announcing this latest attempted terrorist attack reads, "Israeli police return fire, kill Palestinian woman." (7 words) and "Police return fire on Palestinian." (5 words) . Basma is not named, nor is her age given. One would wonder about a society that sends a 16 year old to commit murder. But we aren't done there.

There was another incident today - this one on the border between Gaza and Israel. This is what CNN reports:
Earlier Saturday two members of a Palestinian militant group were killed in clashes with members of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, security and medical sources said.
And this is what they don't report:
IDF troops on Saturday killed two terrorists who were seen planting explosives at the Gaza border. The two were caught in the act by troops who were alerted when an alarm on the border fence went off. There were no injuries to IDF troops, and the explosive device was neutralized.

Isn't that kind of significant? That they were planting a bomb?

Back to their report on what happened today in Israel, isn't it interesting - there is a cause and a result; an incident and a reaction. Leave it to CNN to report the result almost as if it were the cause. Perhaps they were trying to save, that doesn't work, "Palestinian opens fire, police neutralize terrorist". No, wait, CNN can't call a Palestinian a terrorist...that might cause them trouble with their wealthy Muslim backers. OK, how about, "Palestinian opens fire, police neutralize gunman" - gun-woman?

Either way, the report should have covered what was done. Obviously, police are going to return fire - that is not the story. Worse, by saying the police killed a "Palestinian woman' in their headlines, they leave the casual headlines-only reader to believe that the police shot an unarmed woman. No, she wasn't unarmed - she wasn't even really a woman.

Police shot a 16 year old want-to-be martyr whose goal was to murder. Isn't that what police are supposed to do? I guess the real question is why CNN needed to twist the report? Why CNN is not held responsible for accurate journalism?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

When Will I See You...

I tried calling Elie to tell him about the attack in Bat Ayin.

He tried calling me, but I was downstairs.

I called him back and he answered. I asked if he had heard about the terrorist attack and he told me that he had and that as soon as he did, he called the soldier's new commanding officer and told him to tell the young man. It's all they can do as a group - show the soldier support and let him come to terms with what has happened.

They will be with him, while he calls home and finds out the news. They will let him go early if he asks. They understand - our army is one made of people, of humans and when tragedy strikes, the army cares for its own.

Last week, Elie told me he had a surprise for his soldiers. He wasn't telling them yet, because he didn't want to disappoint them if something happened, but as of that day, the army was planning on letting them go on Tuesday, instead of Wednesday.

Years ago, our "adopted" son was a lone soldier; his family lived in Florida while he had come to Israel to volunteer and had joined the army. In his mother's place, I sent him brownies and went to his army ceremonies. I watched as he finished his basic training and went there for the final ceremony, releasing him from service. One Passover, Yaakov's unit was able to go "home" for the Seder and so Yaakov came to us.

He was, as soldiers often are, exhausted and starving when he arrived. Like Elie often does, Yaakov walked around my kitchen and munched whatever there was. By the time the Seder started, Yaakov was literally falling asleep at the table. He could barely lift the spoon to his mouth and several times, his head started to fall towards the bowl.

He finally went to rest on the couch, and joined us again just as we were finishing the meal. He caught up quickly and we finished, but the sight of him dozing at the table is one I'll never forget. I envisioned seeing it again this year and, as with Yaakov, didn't really care. All is worth it, just to have my "sons" home.

So, when Elie told me he was coming home Tuesday, I was thrilled - a day to rest, a day to sleep - a day to be normal before we all start the holiday together.

"So, I'll see you Tuesday?" I asked him this morning.

"No," Elie replied. I knew it was too good to be true...

"Wednesday, then," I said.

"No," Elie replied. I can tell you in those few moments I had two feelings burst inside me - one was hope - maybe Monday, and one was concern - maybe not at all?

"When?" I asked.

"Monday," Elie answered as a bubble of joy burst inside me.

"Monday," I repeated.

"Can I take the car on Tuesday?" he asked.

Oh yes, Elie's coming home!

What are the Chances?

The thing about living in a relatively small town or village is that after a while, you pretty much know everyone. For the good and for the bad. For more than two years now, Elie has been in the army - the army, at least artillery, works in units. Small units, which are grouped together under a single commander. That unit is grouped with several others, each having their commander. Those commanders report to another officer. Several of those officers report to a higher level and on and on. It's the nature of the military, here and around the world.

Bat Ayin is a tiny little village of slightly over 1,000 people. This morning, an Arab terrorist entered the small village and attacked two boys with an axe. There is chaos in the news reports. Some say one boy was 16 and one 7; another says the older child was only 13. By all accounts, he died this morning.

My phone has sent me a message saying that the 7-year-old has died; someone else sent me a message asking for prayer for Yair Tuvia ben Michal, who is seriously wounded. By all accounts, the terrorist succeeded in escaping.

In the first group that Elie was given to command, there is a soldier from Bat Ayin. What are the chances that Elie's soldier doesn't know these families, these children? The answer is likely very small. I tried to call Elie, but he doesn't answer. What would I tell him anyway? By now, I'm sure the boy knows and has hopefully spoken to his family.

This is the second time I have had to call him about bad news. The last time was after he'd been in the army about 6 months and a good friend of his was in a terrible car accident and was seriously injured. The army was amazing when this happened. Elie was told to go off-duty, rest and find out what was happening. Friends from all over the country called him, each trying to find out if the other knew something more.

It's a frantic attempt to get whatever knowledge is possible, as fast as possible. It doesn't change the outcome, but it makes you feel like you are at least doing something. A seven year old boy is fighting for his life. Seven year olds shouldn't have to fight for their lives. It is, seemingly, a never ending reality we live with here.

And as I try to continue with my day and catch glimpses of the news reports, another thought comes into my mind. What kind of man sneaks into a village and attacks a child with an axe? What sickness is there in his mind and soul that allows him to think this is the right thing to do? And why kind of a sick nation would they build if they were ever given the chance to actually build a country...if murdering children is holy, if fighting a 14-year old is sacred, if it is honorable to leave a 7-year-old fighting for his life.

Shlomo Nativ, of blessed memory, will be buried today at 5pm. He was 14 years old. May God send comfort to the family of the child murdered today and may He avenge his blood. May God protect Yair Tuvia ben Michal and all our children, our sons and our daughters. And

may Elie find a way to comfort his soldier, who will go home in just a few days, to a village in mourning.

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