Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Uncomfortable Interest

Elie is, in some ways, the "man of the house" while his father is visiting relatives in the States. This shows in many ways - he's helping with his younger siblings...including discipline and ordering them around.

At the Sabbath table, it was Elie who made the blessing over the wine and over the bread. Friday night, he did as his father does - cutting the bread down the center. My husband does this to show that the Sabbath is different in all ways from the rest of the week. During the week, we eat pre-sliced bread or cut from one end, on the Sabbath, we enjoy a sweet bread for what we hope will be a sweet day.

And at the Saturday meal, Elie did it his way - grabbing the challah (sweet bread) and pulling off a chunk for each of the people at the table. This is Elie - his father's son...and his own person.

Elie is also helping me with the move to the new house - going with me to speak to contractors who may be doing the work. One was an Arab - a Palestinian who lives in Hebron. I've had conversations with him in the past. He is one of those with whom we could easily make peace. His interests are his family, his work - politics isn't his focus. He wants to build - that's what he does and he doesn't mind at all building Jewish homes in the Jewish land of Israel.

I met Daoud in Jerusalem where he is working on a project and drove him to the home we are buying. I asked Elie to meet me there for many reasons. There is still, within much of the Arab world, the concept that men are more capable of discussing such things as building plans and measurements than women. Also, Elie came to Israel as a young child; his Hebrew is excellent, while mine remains that of an immigrant, even one here for many years.

On the way, Daoud asked me about my children - where they are, what they do. It's easy to talk about the one who is married, the ones in school. But it gets awkward to speak of Elie. This is my son...I am so proud of him...and yes, he fights your people. Not all of them, but many.

"Was he in Gaza?" Daoud asks and I choose to be honest.

"Yes, he was," I answer. "It was a very hard time."

Daoud didn't ask any more questions, I didn't volunteer information. We spoke of the sink and the walls and painting. He greeted Elie with a handshake; Elie greeted him back. It was fine; it was friendly. There could be peace, I thought to myself, if the world consisted of only Elies and Daouds.

When we finished measuring, I asked Elie if he would mind taking Daoud to the front of the city, from which he would find his own way back to Hebron. Elie said he didn't mind and so I asked Daoud if that was okay and he too had no problems.

When Elie returned to the house, I asked him if they'd spoken, or, more precisely, what they had spoken about.

"He asked me if I'd been in Gaza," Elie said.

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him, yes." Okay, that was clear.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He asked me if it was true Israel had used illegal weapons," Elie continued and then answered with, "and I told him no, that wasn't true."

"Did he ask you..." I stopped. How can I phrase this for my son without him thinking that I question his actions for even a second.

"No," Elie answered, "he didn't ask what I had done and I didn't tell him about..." Elie answered, listing the places he'd fired into, what he hit. He knows these things, lives with these things.

No, there are things I can't list here, things I won't say. Elie did not choose to go to Gaza, but once there, he did what was required of him. He did not "follow orders" because that might imply a mindless acceptance of things beyond his understanding. That isn't the way Elie is, isn't the way the Israeli army works. Once, my people were victimized by a nation that "followed orders."

No, our army does not "follow orders" blindly. Our soldiers are encouraged to think, to understand, to evaluate and yes, to confirm the morality of the commands they receive. A soldier who does something immoral IS held liable, even if he attempts to argue that a commanding officer ordered this action.

The army takes the time to explain and so Elie understands. He did nothing that brings him or his nation shame; nothing illegal, nothing immoral. He feels no guilt - nor should he.

What he didn't tell Daoud was a double-edged sword. Had Elie opened the discussion, it would have started with rockets on our cities, our children terrorized for years by missiles and rockets that send them running for shelter with 15 seconds to find cover. What Elie didn't say is that Israel warned Gaza and Hamas repeatedly. Stop firing the rockets or we will be forced to respond. Stop shooting at our citizens, our children, or we will be forced to fire back...even if your gunmen hide among YOUR citizens, your children.

Elie didn't tell Daoud and Daoud would not have wanted to hear so it was left at the simplest of levels - yes, Elie was in the Gaza war and no, Elie and Israel did nothing wrong.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Taking a Break

For the last few days, I've been less drawn to writing on the blog than usual. It's something I enjoy doing, and do quite regularly and yet, I've had to remind myself that I need to come here and post. And today, I figured out why.

I was driving to work, consumed with thoughts of the technical writing class I've just begun, my husband being away, our imminent move, and more. You see, today, Elie is on break for a period of two weeks. This week, his entire unit gets "regila" - vacation. Next week, he asked the army to give him a special break to help with our move. I can't explain how human, never mind humane, the Israeli army is - it is something we all understand here and accept. The army of Israel, is Israel and they have families that need them, houses that need to be moved and happy (and sad) family events.

The army understands when a soldier needs to be home, and when home needs the soldier, so Elie has not only this week, but next week too. And so, Elie isn't a soldier now. He's a regular young man with a dirty room that has to be packed, a sister that MUST be teased, a younger brother that MUST be ordered around. Now he is Elie, who cooked dinner last night, insisting that I don't add enough sauce to the spaghetti, and Elie who saw I was losing the computer game can grabbed the laptop to victory...and kept it for another game as well.

Now it is my Elie, always my Elie, and not my soldier. And, I realized this morning, if he isn't a soldier, I'm not a soldier's mother, am I?

That doesn't mean I'll stop writing, when do I ever? But, now it feels more like I'm writing about my kids and less about my soldier. But, of course, there is a difference that is never forgotten. News comes into our home - an arrest near Kalkilye - Elie's friends. A firebomb attack on a bus; smuggling attempts and more. Elie keeps one ear on the news, which is not normal, at least not according to the standards of my youth and there is a gun in Elie's room so the door is locked more often than not.

Elie is taking a break from the army and I can sleep and breathe more easily - in a strange way, I love being a soldier's mother...because I love what the army has done for and to my son and what he has become as a result of his service. But, I also love taking a break and having him home!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

He Knows How to Shoot

After Shabbat had ended, as I was doing something on the computer, I got a phone call. While I took the call, Elie turned my laptop computer around to face him and began playing one of those games on the computer where you aim a colored ball and if you place it correctly, all adjacent balls of the same color evaporate.

I finished my call and went to sit down. Elie kept playing. "Are you almost done?" I asked.

"Almost," Elie answered.

A few minutes later and more rounds, "Much longer?"

"Soon," Elie answered.

I got another phone call and when I returned, Elie was deep into his second game, having won the first one with more than 200,000 points racked up. We went through the "almost" and "soon" a few more times and I made some comment about his playing the game quite well.

At that point, my youngest son answered, "he's in artillery; he knows how to shoot."

Well, when I finally got my turn, I decided to play the game Elie says he "always wins." I've lost 10 times already; my highest score is 28,000 and I'm seriously thinking of how I can get revenge for his getting me hooked.

And, as for the answer to how it's possible to get 200,000 points...I guess it's because "he's artillery; he knows how to shoot"...or...maybe, in a week or two or three or four, I'll figure some other answer.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Son of Israel - Gilad Shalit

It’s now just after midnight in Israel and Gilad has entered his fourth year in captivity. There are rumors, as there often have been during the last three years, that he might be moved to Egypt soon, that there might be a prisoner exchange, etc. etc. But there are no concrete plan or hopes as of now – at least none that are being confirmed by anyone in the know. Today, thousands – literally thousands of people posted brief messages on twitter praying for Gilad Shalit. The messages were encouraging, demanding, angry and hopeful.

The goal was to reach the top of trend tracking…and we succeeded. It would have been nice to get to # 1, but with a solid # 3, we clearly achieved our goals.

Our goals were to make people aware of Gilad – this we did.

Our goals were to make the media and world leaders aware – I know of at least one Knesset member who commented on our campaign to me privately and all around the world, world leaders and ordinary people gave their support for Gilad.

Our goal was to let Gilad’s family know we have not forgotten him – this was accomplished as well.

No, Gilad is not sleeping in his bed tonight – but we never thought our efforts would bring this to be – that is for others to accomplish and ours to support and hope for.

I want to thank all those who thought of Gilad, all those who twittered or posted on Facebook or elsewhere as part of this campaign – or any campaign. I think we all did a great job and only hope that Gilad will know of our efforts soon – when his parents will have him home and tell him how much we all tried to do what we could.

Shabbat shalom – may it come in peace for all of us, and for Gilad.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Prayer for Gilad

Today, the 3rd anniversary of Gilad's being held captive by Hamas in Gaza - the pain, the worry, the anger, threaten to overwhelm.

A message from Gilad's father on this sad anniversary:

"My wish, today, on the 25th of June, 2009, from every person in the state, man and woman, from children to the elderly, is to close your eyes for three minutes," he told Army Radio Thursday. "For just three minutes close your eyes and wait until those minutes pass, and during that time, try to think about what my son, Gilad, has gone through, a young man who is waiting with bated breath -- not just three minutes, and not just three hours, and not even just three days, but is waiting in darkness and despair, mentally and physically tortured, to regain his freedom which was taken from him three years ago."

You cannot imagine the desperation we feel, the hope, the prayers - here are just some of them:

Gilad # 3 on Twitter Trends

Tweeple (people who Twitter) have succeeded so far in raising Gilad to # 3 in the list of current top trends. Will it help Gilad?

I can't answer that - I can only say it shows the love we have for him and his family, the need to see one young man returned to his mother and father. Years ago, I knew an amazing man who worked so hard to help others. He spent long hours fighting so others in a far away land would be free and have the right to leave the country in which they were oppressed.

The man was married and his wife had a baby. The baby was born with many problems and died a few years later. Within a short time, his wife became pregnant and had another baby - that baby too was born with similar genetic problems and despite hours of people coming and working with her, despite the prayers of her family and community, the second little girl died.

At her funeral, the man stood up and looked around at the people who had come to mourn and in a broken voice, he told everyone, "Don't ever say her life had no meaning; don't ever say she shouldn't have been born. Look how much love came from the life of this one child, how many people loved her, came to help her."

Will all that we are doing on Twitter help? I don't know if Gilad will come home today or in the coming days but don't ever say that our efforts have no meaning. Look at how much love we are showing for this one child, this one family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gilad on YouTube - The Shark and the Fish

This is your enemy Hamas? This is the boy you hold...

Elie and Gilad

No, Elie doesn't know Gilad. They've never met. Gilad is actually a bit older than Elie; he entered the army several months before. Like Elie, he was 19 years old when he entered and then, within a few months after he'd finished his basic training, he was kidnapped, and the clock stopped for Gilad and his family in so many ways.

Gilad's army friends have completed their army service and left the army - Gilad still serves the state of Israel, though after three years, it is unlikely Hamas has left him much of the physical uniform he was wearing on the day he was attacked and dragged across into Gaza.

Someone asked - what have you done in the last three years? How has your life changed while Gilad has been held prisoner? Not once has the Red Cross managed to see him, not once was he allowed to talk to his parents, not once have his parents been told without question that he is alive and well.

What have I done in the last three years?
  • My daughter got married and I welcomed my son-in-law into our family.
  • Two of my sons finished high school.
  • One son started a post high-school program and will enter the army in March.
  • One son was bar mitzvahed.
  • One daughter went to first grade, and second, and third.
  • We sold a house.
  • We bought a home.
  • One dog died, we got another.
  • We got a bunch of birds - five more were born in the house.
  • I bought two new cars, sold one older one.
  • One adopted son got married and now has a baby girl.
  • And one son went into the army, completed his basic and advanced training, and became a commander and now a First Sergeant.
Like Elie, Gilad chose to serve in a combat unit. Gilad could have refused because his medical profile was border-line. Elie wasn't given that option, never thought to ask for it. Elie has grown stronger in the months and years of his service - I can't let my mind begin to imagine what physical shape Gilad is in without tears filling my eyes.

Along with someone else I have never met (@carolw), a campaign was started this week to try to bring world attention to Gilad. It's silly really, in the scope of nations and powers...what can we do? Well, we are tweeting. See, I told you it would be silly. We are typing 140 character messages asking people tomorrow to think of Gilad, pray for him, and tweet with the #Gilad hashtag that tallies the numbers and rates them.
  • We're trying to get #Gilad to #1 trending topic on Thursday - 3 yrs since he was kidnapped! Please RT
  • On Thursday, PLEASE change your avatar for one day to FREE GILAD avatar #Gilad http://twitpic.com/81e6a
  • To tweeps w/ 10,000+ followers-pls tweet for young Israeli soldier kidnapped 3 yrs ago by Hamas - pls RT #Gilad
  • We really appreciate your help in tweeting for Gilad. #Gilad is the hashtag we are all united in using. Free Gilad
  • Tomorrow, 3yrs since #Gilad Shalit kidnapped
  • R U free 2day? #Gilad isn't. Did U speak 2 yr mother? Gilad cnt. Did U kiss yr son? Noam& Aviva Shalit cnt! Gilad -3yrs
Our goal is tomorrow, though many have started today. We are "fighting" Jon and Kate, who decided to get divorced. I'd never heard of them - I'm not much of a TV person and watching someone else's lives fall apart isn't my idea of entertainment. We are fighting Outlook 2010 - apparently Microsoft decided to do something startling with Outlook. We are fighting IranElection and though their cause may be worthy, I only want one day for Gilad. They can have Wednesday and Friday...but please, just give Gilad Thursday.
  • Dear Jon and Kate - please get divorced next week; we need #Gilad to be #1 tracking on Thurs.
  • Dear IranElection - many Israelis have supported your hopes and dreams; pls support ours. Please tweet for #Gilad tom'w.
  • Outlook 2010 they're messing up our attempt to get #Gilad to #1 on trend tracking. Can't they do it next week? We need Thurs for Gilad.
So, Elie came home today and told me about the exercise that took place this week. He's tired, he's beautiful, he's mine, he's home. It makes me want to cry - for the first time. There are moments when you let your imagination go and you try to think...how will I cope, how will I breathe? You push the thoughts away because it does no good to imagine and still it lingers. You know, you believe, that there is nothing worse than death. So long as he is alive, safe...please God. But this - three years without a smile, a touch. Can a mother really live three years without her son's kiss and hug? I know she can...but what right do they have? What incredible pain. Please...no one should have to suffer this.

There is no where else I would want Elie to be - at least today, at this moment but home for when he is here and in the army for when he is not. I love what it has done for him, what he has become because of it.

But today my heart aches for Aviva and Noam Shalit. I can't imagine not seeing Elie, not getting a hug or giving him a kiss for more than a few weeks. God, how can they manage three years and still be able to speak? What amazing strength they have, what pain, what anger.

Please God, please bring Gilad Shalit home - safe and healthy and soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Twitter and Gilad

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Twitter (www.twitter.com). It's an amazing concept. With just 140 characters, you pass your message to countless others who have chosen to follow you, while you receive similar messages (tweets) from those you follow.

Within a given period (I think it is 24 hours), Twitter has a mechanism to count the number of times people are tweeting about a specific subject (when the people include a hashtag (#) before the word.

The protesters in Iran have understood and mastered the concept and so began a hashtag called #iranelection, which quickly rose to the top of the trends. Another, a television show #Jon and Kate has also risen to the top. While CNN and BBC and other mainstream media were relatively low key on the rising tide of protests in Iran, the Twitter world took fire. The Iranian government silenced, arrested, or expelled foreign journalists. They managed to block much of the Internet and Facebook connectivity, and yet, somehow, they failed to silence Twitter and its simple 140 character message bursts.

People, in sympathy and support of the Iranian people, began changing their avatars (those small little pictures people use to identify themselves), to green. Many Israeli tweeters did the same - even though Mousavi, the alternative to the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is hardly a friend of Israel. Mousavi helped found Hezbollah, supported holding the US hostages in Iran, and is most happy to continue developing nuclear weapons to be used against Israel. For Israel, is particularly optimal, but the Iranian people have a right to elect their own leader and if they do that, that leader should be the one to serve.

But out of the growing green images on Twitter, an idea was formed. One person (@carolw) and I thought of an idea - in "honor" of Gilad's 3rd anniversary in captivity, maybe we could get the Twitter world aware, maybe the media would take notice. We chose the hashtag #Gilad. Simple and clear, but filled with a wealth of yearning, anger, a demand for justice, and sympathy and pain for his family.

Carol and I began posting to our "followers" asking them to RT (re-tweet - or send on to their followers) and it took off, it really did. The message is being sent around the world. The target day is Thursday. We asked people to change their avatar for one day. To a picture of Gilad, and already, several people have done so (and it's only Tuesday). And then I noticed something strange. On the #Gilad page (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23gilad), none of my messages appear. Instead, I see so many other posts referencing @ASoldiersMother, but nothing from me. It's a problem I have seen before, but it never bothered me.

This is important - every post that includes the #Gilad hashtag is needed if we are to get Gilad to the top for that one day. There are other things we can do, but this is one.

So I wrote to Twitter and got a ridiculous response. "My name is Luke and I’m going to try to help you. I know you’re frustrated and I’m sorry for the general instructions, but I don’t want you to wait too long, so to help you as quickly and efficiently as possible, I’m going to first ask you to try to help your self. I've marked this as 'solved' for my own purposes. If this info doesn't solve your issue, all you need to do is reply to this email and it will re-open the ticket." And with that, Luke sent me a list of fix-it-yourself instructions that had nothing to do with my problem at all.

I wrote back, asking Luke to hurry. This is important. This is Gilad.
"I'm disappointed that the request was handled this way. It assumes that we didn't do our research and read carefully the options for solving the problem ourselves. While this may be true of some of your users, others are technically savvy and the vast majority of the above list has nothing to do with the problem I mentioned to you. Nothing to do with changing my email, sending direct messages etc. I really feel your answer was, please excuse me for saying this, a polite "blow off" when I wrote on what I feel is an important matter.

With the problems in Iran, Twitter has blown away the normal media communications avenues and positioned itself in a fantastic place. Beyond the celebrity stuff, which hopefully no one takes seriously, Twitter has become an important and even life-saving tool for a country in desperate need of a communication line out.

I was hoping, am still hoping to do the same for a young man - he's barely 22 years old and has been held captive since he was 19, when he was kidnapped by Hamas and dragged across the border from Israel to Gaza.
I want, for one day, to let people pay attention. It's working - look at how #Gilad is building...and me - the one who started it...isn't even listed. That's pathetic and sad. I wrote needing your help...please, please find a way to solve this for me.

Thanks
Paula
A Soldier's Mother (another one, not Gilad - mine is named Elie (www.israelisoldiersmother.blogspot.com)
Isn't that silly? To write as if Gilad's life were to depend on this? To worry so much that we won't succeed? But what else can I do to help Gilad? Is there anything you and I can do? Probably not...but maybe on Thursday, if Gilad gets to the top - maybe BBC and CNN will write about it; maybe government leaders will take notice; maybe the Israeli government and others will say to Hamas - enough, even you have to be human for one day in three years. Let Gilad go home.

Will Luke care about Gilad? Stay tuned - and on Thursday, if you are on Twitter, no matter what you post, just add #Gilad - please.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

1093 Days and Counting

Today is the 1093rd day that Gilad Shalit has been in captivity, denied even the most basic rights of any soldier - to be in contact with his family, to hear from them and to let them know he is alive and well.

This Thursday, it will be 3 years. If you are on Twitter, please post using the hashtag #Gilad. Our goal is to push Gilad's name to the top of the trend tracker, which tracks the most talked about topics on Twitter. The pressue must mount, the world must demand that Gilad comes home.

On Thursday - Israel should close all the Gaza crossings in protest.

On Thursday - every Israeli ambassador in every country where we have an embassy, should pass a letter to the leaders of that country demanding that they do all they can to bring Gilad home.

On Thursday - everyone should call their government leaders, send an email or a fax.

On Thursday - say a prayer for Gilad, send a tweet with the hashtag #Gilad.

Gilad was a 19-year-old boy when he was kidnapped from Israeli soil. I have watched my son grow from the time that he entered the army, also at 19 years of age. Gilad's mother has missed all that has happened to him; she has been denied his voice, his hugs, his smiles.

Those that entered the army with Gilad have all finished their service to our nation - but our nation has not finished its service to Gilad.

Thursday is Gilad's day! Please - on Thursday - join us on Tweeter! #Gilad... till Gilad comes home.

A Unified Army

Over the last few years, and most especially in Gaza, the picture that has emerged is that for all that Elie is in one particular division - Artillery - he is part of a greater machine - the Israeli army. This is one of the key lessons that the army seems to have forgotten during the Second Lebanon War and one that has been hammered home ever since.

United, they went into Gaza and united they defended each other as they accomplished what they had to accomplish. Part of the reason they were able to work this way was the training they continue to do at times when things are more quiet here. Several times, artillery has been called to participate in exercises with other units - sometimes firing live ammunition.

This week, Elie and another commander, along with several soldiers, will go north to take part in another exercise. There will be no live ammunition from the artillery units. Instead, Elie and the others will "talk" on the radio. They will be told to shoot at a position and then, in all seriousness, they will announce that they are firing on that position. No loud booms, no deafening explosions. No incoming rockets, no fear of war.

After more than a month at war, this is nothing on the scale of things and even provides me with a few days in which I don't have to wonder where he is, what dangers he might be facing. I'd much prefer knowing that he is sitting somewhere talking on a radio, "yeah, hit that too" and "sure, no problem, we're shooting - boom, boom" than standing on a road searching cars for guns, explosives and knives. I would rather he be speaking on the radio to other Israeli soldiers than be interrogating or arresting or searching.

No, this practice this week isn't a joke. It is very serious and Elie isn't playing. He will, in all sincerity announce that artillery is aiming at the target area; that artillery is firing; that artillery has successfully eliminated the enemy and the tanks can move in. He will "fire" his weapons, his smoke, and all that he must do so that should the day come when Elie's artillery, and the tanks and the planes and the ground forces must again go in, they will do so with confidence.

Elie will finish later this week and come home for a much deserved vacation. I am overwhelmed with details of things I have to do, things I have to take care of while my husband is away and yet still, through even these busy and stressful times, I somehow still have that part of my brain, that part of my heart and soul that remains pre-occupied with where Elie is, what he is doing.

On Friday night, I lit the Sabbath candles and closed my eyes and, as I always do, wished each of my children and husband well. It's a ritual I follow...well, religiously. To think of each and wish them safety through the week and a certain level of peace comes with knowing that next week Elie will be home.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Working Vacation?

Soon, Elie will be given a week's vacation from the army. They will start the week by taking the soldiers to a local water park and giving them a day of fun. Another day may be scheduled for the commanders to go to PaintBall again, as they did right after the war.

Other than that, Elie plans to be home helping us pack and move. He asked the army for another week and they gave him permission, so towards the end of this week, he'll be home for just over two weeks. There is no impatience when I ask him to help, no complaints that he should be entitled to time to do nothing.

Though I welcome the sense of maturity that enables him to realize I really need his help, it's nice to know he'll be home. This week, he came and took our car so that he could use it to go to physical therapy for his knee, and then come home without buses. I had a meeting with a client, so I picked Elie up at his base and drove him to our Training Center in Jerusalem, where the car was waiting for him.

When we walked in, he saw that there was a bucket under where the air conditioner is installed in the drop ceiling. We explained that it has just started leaking and with my husband away, I need to figure out who to call.

"Where's the ladder?" Elie asked. Never mind. He put his gun down, set the ladder in place and climbed up. He pulled out tape from his back pocket, tried to tape something, and then released something else - and water poured down on him.

"There's my shower," Elie joked with more humor than I would have had in the same situation.

"I need something," Elie announced a minute later. I didn't have a clue what he wanted, but he scavenged around, found a piece of something that would work, climbed back up, put the piece in place - and there it was, a working air conditioner that didn't leak.

His job done, I got my kiss and he left to go back to base. He's on night patrol for the next few days - he likes that better. It's cooler and more interesting.

Two days ago, he called me. "So, did you see the news?"

Oh God, I thought. "No, what happened?"

"You didn't see YNET?"

"No, what happened?"

"Kalkilya is actually a nice city," he told me.

"You aren't supposed to be going in there," I told him. His first commanding officer told me that artillery units would secure the perimeters while other units went in. "Or promised me," I said, knowing it would make him laugh.

"What did you do?" I asked him.

"We found guns and explosives," he told me, "and we arrested someone."

These are the things we want our sons to tell us because we are calmer when we know...or so I keep telling myself. It's better to know...at least, I think it is.

For now, I'm just happy he'll be home soon for several days. This weekend will be a very quiet one - my husband is visiting his family in the States for the first time in more than a decade. We have rarely been apart in all the years of our marriage and I miss him. It's a different kind of feeling with him not here and the children feel a bit lost as well. But we have so much to do while he's gone. We're packing and I'm hoping to actually move as much stuff as I can between the houses before he comes back. We set it up to have the month of August to move, but I want to surprise him.

Elie's getting this time off will go a long way in making that happen. His willingness to give that time means so much. So, with a simple Sabbath almost ready; with my daughter staying at her in-laws, Elie on base, and my husband in the States...we are a very spread-out family...but it just makes me look forward even more to the first weekend we'll have all together once everyone is home again.

Shabbat shalom - to everyone, everywhere. Be safe.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Universal Soldier

When Elie went into the army, I knew that others would see him as an Israeli soldier, that the green of his uniform would blind people to the blue of his eyes and more importantly the way he grins, his intelligence, his strength of body and mind. He would be, for all the world, a man with a gun, worse, an Israeli soldier with a gun.

I was prepared, or I thought I was, for the condemnation, automatic and without much base. I was ready for people to send me letters that he was a murderer (and I got those), that he killed innocents (and I got those too). Amazingly enough, what I wasn't prepared for, what shook me to the roots of my soul, was understanding, support, and even love.
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There is a whole world of people that fly below the radar in this world, who understand Elie and the boy/man he is. They too love their soldiers, support them and know that many people are blind to the heart behind the green clothes, the eyes that shine with love, the soul that is so much more than the gun.

I am forever amazed by the love and acceptance I have received. In truth, I expected to receive this from other Israeli mothers, from other Israeli fathers. I expected former soldiers to laugh at me, realizing that their mothers once worried as I do and thinking it rather cute...in an oh-so-condescending way. That's what Elie does - he smiles that killer grin of his when he asks me to hold his gun for a second while he does something, or reaches for something.

He knows that I am not so comfortable with these weapons, that I don't know what they can do or what goes where. I know I should learn and I know with equal determination that I don't want to.

So what triggered this universal soldier post - simple - a bunch of universal emails and comments I have received from non-Israeli mothers. They know little of the world I live in, and everything about what I experience as a soldier's mother. They too take life day by day and fight to avoid imagining the worst.

Most of all, they accept Elie as I do - not as a uniform, but as the person he is. If I have learned anything in two years, it is that there is a universality to motherhood that transcends politics and borders.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Two Weeks...Three Barbecues

Early in the week, I called Elie and told him that I had agreed to take someone to the airport (another of my "adopted" children who was returning to her family in the States). My parents moved to Israel about 8 years ago and live about 20 minutes from the airport; my brother flew in from the States to attend a conference and was staying with my parents.

So, I took my two daughters, along with my adopted daughter (the daughter of close family friends) out to dinner and then called to suggest we quickly stop by and see my brother. The idea continued to develop and I thought - just another 20 minutes or so beyond my parents' house - is Elie's base. I checked with Elie, who checked with his commanding officer and all was set.

I would drive my daughters to my parents' house. Pick up my brother, drive to pick up Elie, return to my parents' house - and then do it all in reverse. As planned, I got to the first stop - daughters out; brother in - and onwards. It was great to visit with my brother; to talk of many things and, as I exited the highway, I called Elie to tell him we'd be at his base within 10 minutes.

Instead of answering, I got an SMS, "I'll call you later." This is a standard message he sends - it means he is busy. I kept driving and pulled up in front of his base and waited about 10 minutes. To show the guards that all was well, my brother and I got out of the car and stood leaning against it as we waited. A pickup truck drove by and a few soldiers came out of the base to take the food they'd ordered. A motorcycle drove up, and another soldier came out to get the pizza he'd ordered. Ten minutes passed - and no Elie.

I called and he closed the phone. Not a good sign. We waited a while. The pickup truck returned with more food; more soldiers came out. A father came and dropped something off for his son. We waited. I sent Elie an SMS, "We are waiting outside." He sent back a message "In meeting."

Not good. We waited and talked. The pizza motorcycle came back; soldiers came out for a run. Army vehicles drove in and drove out. Humvees and bulletproof personnel carriers. And still nothing.

"Should we keep waiting?" I asked Elie in another message. He answered back "5 minutes" and so we waited. The five minutes came and went, along with another 10 minutes. I wasn't sure what to do; hated the idea of just leaving. And then he called, "Did you leave yet?" he asked. You can't imagine the joy I felt at being able to tell him we were still there.

A few minutes later, he came out. We drove to my parents' house stayed a short while. My brother is in the US Navy Reserves - my son is in the Israeli army. They talked of silly things - of how they tie their boots, or restrictions and army life in general.

Our original plan was to get everyone together for Thursday night, but Elie told us on Monday that it looked like the army was scheduling something for him to do. In the end, plans shifted again and Elie was able to come home early on Thursday instead and so, we gathered on my parents' rooftop to have a barbecue. Two of my nephews joined us - one is also a commander in another artillery unit.

There were so many impressions that crossed my brain. One was Elie telling me it was his third barbecue in two weeks. Just the night before, Elie and the rest of the commanders took the unit's barbecue and went off and gave themselves a break. They were given some food from the army base; they bought other food, and had time to relax.

My nephew was finally released for the weekend at 6:00 p.m. (where Elie had been released at 6:00 a.m.). Yair finally showed up around 9:00 at night; took off his army shirt, grabbed food, and began to relax. Elie was busy doing the cooking; the rest of us were sitting back and relaxing.

When the food was all cooked, I looked over to see Elie and Yair standing to the side speaking quietly with each other. There is a common thread there - one that goes beyond being cousins. I don't know what they spoke about, in their quiet tones but it was wonderful to watch them standing there.

Watching Elie cook, clean, and in general jump to do whatever had to be done, made me again see the man more than the boy. More and more, he is the man and so when the boy teases his sisters and argues and complains, I find I object to it less. Where once it would have driven me crazy to have him behave in an immature way at a critical point in a discussion or family meal, I find I laugh at it more, even encourage him to some extent. I still love that boy so much that when he is around, I let him know more than I should, that he will always be a part of my life.

The man will soon have vacation from the army. The man will help us pack and move to a house we just bought. The man came to my office and fixed my leaking air conditioner...I love the man...but I so love that boy and it was the boy that laughed when I invited him to a barbecue this week - his third in such a short period of time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's it actually like in Israel?

I get many comments on or about this blog, and I enjoy each one. Wait, that's not true...I enjoy MOST of them. There are a few, like the one I deleted this morning (from yet another brave "Anonymous" who wrote jews=parasit ..jews=pig ...jews=dog kakakakak :) ), that I don't enjoy - although I do enjoy deleting them! But most are supportive, sweet, complimentary.

This morning, I got a nice comment from Tom, who likes the blog, and then asked this question:

What's it actually like in Israel?

I love this question because it suggests a genuine interest in my country. It doesn't assume; it doesn't condemn. It simply requests that I do something I love to do - explain what Israel is like. So here goes.

Israel is a country like no other. It is a country of joy, in a place where all others would think there should be none. It is a country of miracles, of unbelievable awe. It is a country built and sustained on faith - the deep kind that simply fills you with the knowledge that this land is yours and all is right with the world so long as you can awaken here each morning, go to sleep here all night and know your children will do the same.

Its people are warm and caring in a very honest and direct way. Perfect strangers will come up to you and tell you that you haven't dressed your child warmly enough or that you really shouldn't buy that candy for your child. And you don't ever mind this because you know it comes from love -worse, you'll actually be shocked to find yourself do the same one day and wonder how that could have happened.

Israel is a country of incredible beauty, of a variety you might not have realized existed before you came here. The beaches are lovely - yes, there are others that are more lovely in the world, but it doesn't feel that way when you are seeing the sun kiss the Mediterranean waters while you sit on the shoreline.

There are tall mountains in the north of Israel - beautiful and green, that give way to amazing valleys. Within these areas there are many small towns with the most amazing views. I've always loved Kfar Tavor - a small town at the base of Mount Tavor and each time I drive through, I am so grateful that Israel is small enough that I can drive there and back in a day. When you drive up north, you see the desert fall away, and as the mountains rise up, the trees and greenery begin. Suddenly, the Sea of Galilee comes into view, a refreshing sight after the barren heat of the desert.

There are two "vacation areas" in Israel - way in the north, in the Galilee and in the Golan Heights where there are water falls, the Jordan river, mountain hiking and amazing views; and the southern city of Eilat, which opens to an under-water world you can only imagine exists. The fish are so incredibly gorgeous; the beaches so clean, the water so clear.

The Negev Desert fills most of southern Israel. It takes over the land gradually as you descend from Jerusalem and see the trees become fewer and fewer. You can drive along the Dead Sea and see the amazing blue-green of the water and blocks of salt just floating or attached to the seashore.

(opposite: Elie picking blueberries in the north years ago.)

The center of Israel is filled with cities and towns that are as modern as anything you'll find in the US or England.

We have a huge hi-tech industry busy developing some of the world's greatest innovative ideas. Medical breakthroughs and scientific wonders. Did you know the disk-on-key was developed in Israel? The Pentium? Drip irrigation? ICQ? All developed here, like parts of the cellular phone technology that began an industry that has changed how we live our lives.

And yes, amidst all of this, is the Israel you hear about in the news but is so small compared to the way it really is here. You'll hear (and read) that a terrorist tried to attack a cafe or ram a tractor into a bus and you'll think that that is all there is to Israel. It's a part of what we live with, but so small that for the most part, our lives are amazingly peaceful. That's right - peaceful. We walk even at night without fear - even children, especially women.

If I get stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire (three times in 15 years here), I know that some amazingly sweet young man will pull over within seconds and change the tire for me. He will never ask for payment, never expect it and should I dare to offer, will look at me as if I am insane. The most I was able to do one time, was offer him a home-baked cookie from the batch I was taking to friends.

It would never occur to me to fear this stranger who stopped to help; and it would never occur to him to harm. He is one of us; I am his sister, his mother, his wife, whatever. I am family. My husband had a terrible headache one night as we were returning with his sister, brother, and our children from the north. It was relatively late at night; all stores were closed. We pulled into the last place I thought I could find an open store and all was closed and so I knocked on one of the houses and explained.

Moments later, they came out with medicine, water, and an offer for my husband to come inside and lay down and rest for a short while. They were genuinely surprised when we thanked them for the medicine and water, but declined the place to rest. They were sure he would feel better if he would sleep for a short while. This is what Israel is actually like.

My son was coming on the bus yesterday when I called him and we figured out that the bus would actually take him further out of the way. He asked the driver if there was any way that he could stop to let him off. This is an express bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem's Central Bus Station - stop to stop...with no stopping. The bus driver promptly pulled to the nearest bus station and wished the soldier, my son, a peaceful Sabbath. This is what Israel is actually like.

If you take all the pieces of the puzzle, you may begin to see what my country is like - too often, all you hear about is one tiny piece. It is a frightening one, a depressing one. Yes, we have no peace with our neighbors who have been on a 61 year campaign to rid themselves of us. But on a day-to-day run, their campaign is nothing compared to what we have built and will continue to build.

Israel is the most amazing country - strong because it has to be, caring because that's what we are. Our emergency teams have flown around the world, at a moment's notice. We have pulled survivors from earthquake-destroyed buildings, we have rescued survivors from the great tsunami a few years ago. And, because of all that we have suffered here, we have become world experts in identification and handling of dead bodies - giving them the honor and respect they were denied in death.

Israel stands for Jews around the world, so no where can a country attack its Jewish citizens without knowing Israel will respond. We have gathered our people from Yemen and Ethiopia and Russia, even under fire. And today, quietly while the world does little to stop the suffering in Darfur, Sudanese refugees know that if they can somehow get past the Egyptians (who have beaten them and shot them), these Moslem refugees may actually find shelter in Israel.

We welcomed the boat people from Vietnam, some of whom still live here, when the world debated and wondered. We stand, even if we stand alone, against Iran because we know what till happen if Iran goes nuclear.

And yes, we put our sons on the borders of our country and ask them to sacrifice three years of their lives defending our land at a time when they too would prefer to get on with their lives, have fun with their friends, go to bars, and do nothing that has anything to do with wearing a uniform and carrying a gun.

What is it actually like in Israel? A lot of times, it is like living in heaven here on earth - waking to the beauty of this land and simply thanking God that today, yet again, you were lucky enough to awaken here.

May God bless the land and the people of Israel with health, with happiness, with prosperity, and yes, with peace so that the day will come when our sons won't have to go to war and those living outside of our country will come without fear and find out what Israel is actually like.

(Thanks for asking, Tom - I hope this in some small way answers your question.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Saving the Victims - a Universal Goal

One of the things that is close to Elie's heart is his on-going service with the local ambulance squad. I saw him last night - I wanted to write about that, and I will, but first a short post about something else. Elie went to physical therapy again this week, teaching him to strengthen his knees. They spend hours on their legs, hours running to remain fit, and it takes a toll.

So Elie got a referral to a doctor who confirmed that Elie was fine, but just needed a bit of exercises to help ease any discomfort. After the appointment, he took a military bus back to his base. Suddenly, the bus driver slammed on the brake and jerked the entire bus to the side. I was afraid for the soldiers on the bus, but Elie immediately told me that no one was hurt.

"Why did he do that?" I asked Elie. The answer was to avoid killing the motorcycle driver who had clipped the side of a truck and gone skidding in the road. As soon as the bus driver stopped, Elie and a few others jumped off the bus and ran to the fallen cyclist.

"Try to get up. Are you okay?" one soldier said to the man laying on the ground.

"No," Elie said quickly, already putting on gloves that he keeps with him always. "Don't move."

"Try to get up," the eager soldier who wanted to help said again.

"You, shut up," Elie said with less patience. "And you don't move."

He took out his phone, called an ambulance and said, "I'm a medic from Jerusalem. Get an ambulance here NOW." Then he handed his phone to a soldier and said, "tell him where we are."

The man was lightly injured. His safety gear saving him from the bulk of the crash. Scrapes and bumps and hopefully a lesson learned.

That isn't always the case. All too often, the damage is more severe, the victims injured more seriously. A call goes out and medics come and they help their victims. The beauty of this post by the Muqata shows how saving the victims is a universal goal:

http://muqata.blogspot.com/2009/06/humanitarian-settler-hilltop-youth.html

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Outrage: Ambulances are NOT Military Vehicles

The Palestinian Media Watch organization has spent years monitoring Arab media, to listen and learn...in Arabic, the truth that many of us who do not speak Arabic never know. This article caught my attention for a variety of reasons. First, because it reminded me of an article I had written years ago called, What the Arabs Have Done to Themselves. Although his name does not appear in the article (written in 2004), it is about a time that Elie was on call with the local ambulance squad. They got a call that there had been an accident inside an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. They ran to the ambulance, raced to the front of our city, raced towards the edge of the Arab neighborhood ... and then waited. When Elie told me this story, I was horrified. Inside the car that had been hit was a pregnant woman. Why had the Israeli ambulance stopped?

The answer, explained as clearly as I could, was that this is what happens when you abuse the sanctity of that which is holy to us. When you stone an ambulance and set it afire, do not expect us to send more ambulances in to help you. When you store missiles in mosques and schools and hospitals, do not then cry out for the innocents who may get hurt when Israel bombs these arsenals and rocket launching pads. And finally, when you use ambulances for military purposes, don't be surprised when we do not honor your ambulances, when we stop and search them, when the innocents suffer delays at checkpoints.

Four years ago, and today again, I tell you that this is what the Arabs have done to themselves. Mosques are not arsenals; arsenals cannot be called mosques. Ambulances are not military vehicles, and military vehicles cannot be called ambulances. The sanctity of the innocent should not be blurred and tainted to serve the needs of terrorists.


Hamas converts 46 ambulances to military vehicles, misusing humanitarian aid
by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook
PMW has documented the repeated use of foreign funding by both the PA and Hamas for terror and glorification of terror. The following is another case of well intended humanitarian assistance given to Palestinians that is appropriated for military or terror purposes:
"The [Palestinian] Health Ministry stated yesterday that Hamas militias had raided 46 ambulances, donated by Arab states during the recent aggression on the Gaza Strip, of the medical equipment that they contained... and used them as military vehicles to arrest civilians, after painting [the ambulances] black.

The Ministry's director of public relations and information, Dr. Omar Nasr... said that the medical equipment removed from the ambulances was expensive. He demanded that the Hamas militias declare, courageously and openly, what had become of the thousands of tons of medical equipment which had been brought into the Gaza Strip as assistance for the Palestinian people, and which had passed at its [Hamas's] orders to private warehouses and its own medical centers, and was later sold to the helpless citizen..."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 20, 2009]

Friday, June 5, 2009

We Forget, Sometimes

We forget sometimes, that we aren't alone, that others have gone through what we are now experiencing. We forget sometimes, the universality of the life we live. Israel is a nation at war. We have lived in constant warfare for all of our existence. We have never experienced peace, never a moment when we weren't anticipating the next barbaric attack and wondering who, where, how many. The one thing we never wondered about was the why. We know why we fight, why we live here, why we belong to...and in...this land.
Since Oct. 2002 I've been a military mom, first of one, then two, now back to one. I remember the day my son came home from the long day of physicals and papers and, finally, signing the dotted line. I had cried all day, but I said to him "You have chosen an honorable thing and I'm proud of you. But I'm going to cry, I can't help it." With that understanding, I've cried and he's hugged and we said goodbye and hello many times during his four years of active duty.

About 6 months prior to his enlistment a childhood friend of mine, married with two small children, was killed in a car accident by a woman who was drunk and high on drugs. While I grieved the loss of my friend, I was struck by the realization that although her parents (her dad performed our wedding ceremony) lived down the road from her, they could NOT take her next breath had she been standing next to them and I can't take the next breath for my children either. Only G-d can do that. Only He knows the number of their (and my) days. I need to remember the one who created them, who knows them by name, and who loves them, holds them in the palm of His hand. That brings a peace, even in the tears, and makes it easier to serve on the sidelines, which is what we moms do. That knowledge sustained me even when I knew he was in combat.

Write often! Talk even if he calls late at night and wakes you out of a sound sleep! Keep relatives and friends updated; their prayers will be the wind beneath your wings and his.

Blessings and hugs from one military mom to another.
We forget sometimes, that we aren't alone, that others have gone through what we are now experiencing.

We forget sometimes, the universality of the life we live. Israel is a nation at war. We have lived in constant warfare for all of our existence. We have never experienced peace, never a moment when we weren't anticipating the next barbaric attack and wondering who, where, how many. The one thing we never wondered about was the why. We know why we fight, why we live here, why we belong to...and in...this land.

That we don't forget - but we do forget, sometimes to thank the others who support us. So, today, I want to thank so many of you. I started to type your names, but then got scared I'd forget someone, so let me just thank you all for all you do to support and encourage me. Sometimes we forget there are other people out there experiencing the same thing, or those who have come before us. Just as we now try to give advice to those entering this long and uncertain period of our sons and daughters lives...there are those ahead of us who help us and those who follow, that we try to help.

For all the hugs I have received, please know that I return each one. Yes, MamaTod, you are so correct, May we all share "Blessings and hugs from one military mom to another."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Many Calls Can a Mother Make?

In these modern times, we mothers of soldiers, at least in Israel, have an amazing advantage that mothers in other countries, in other war zones, and in other decades never had. We fight an enemy within our borders, and enemies on most of our borders. What that means, in simple terms - is that our enemies are close, and so are our sons - a few hours by bus or car and seconds by phone once they finish their initial basic training during which phone use is severely restricted...oh, and when they are on an operation or at war - no phones then, either.

Arabs attacked an Israeli motorist late on Thursday night as he drove in Samaria, near the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Kalkilya. The motorist was lightly wounded in the attack.
But now that Elie has settled back into the "routine" of a non-war war, I can call him and hear his voice quite often. Conversely, if I listen to the news, as I do, and react each time there is something near where my son is stationed, how many calls would I make in a single day?

The answer for today, would be at least twice.
An Israeli was lightly injured Thursday evening when the car he was travelling in was hit by rocks next to the Samarian Palestinian Authority village of Azoun, east of Kalkilye.
In addition to all the rock throwing attacks, there was news that Fatah had decided to go to war against Hamas in Kalkilya. Last week, six were killed (3 Fatah members, 2 Hamas members, and one bystander). Today, four more were killed. Last week, it happened on the days that Elie was home. He spoke to his commanding officer and found out that Israeli troops moved near the entrance to Kalkilya in case violence spilled over and they had to enter.

"Why would they enter?" I asked Elie. "The Palestinians want independence - fine, leave them to do what they want."

"They didn't go in," Elie explained. "The Israelis were there to make sure the violence didn't spill over," and, Elie continued, "to evacuate the wounded." But no wounded came out.

I thought it amazing that the world was silent that six Palestinians had been killed in a single day. But then again, they weren't killed by the Israeli army, so the world didn't bother to notice. "Ima, the Palestinians HATE each other," Elie told me. He explained about the rivalries, the hatred, and more.

Today, another four were killed. I wanted to call Elie. No, Israel didn't go in, but I wanted to hear that he was fine and hopefully not even one of the ones standing nearby. I consider it a triumph over fear when I manage not to call. It's a test that I fail too often. I don't want him thinking that I live my life in fear of something happening to him. No, wait, that's silly, of course I live my life in fear something will happen. So, rather, let me say I don't want him to think I am crippled by the fear. I'm not.

I function, I work, I parent, I do all that I have to do while inside a part of me is always on alert, always listening for those words that shatter my concentration. Sometimes they are general words like "IDF" or "soldier" and sometimes they are more specific like "Kalkilye" or "Azoun."

Most times, I am able to beat back the concern and function. Sometimes I give in and call. Each time, Elie sounds the same - nothing to worry about; it was really nothing. I've had this post in "draft" mode for a few days. This morning, I am finishing it with news that
Palestinian Authority terrorists bombed an IDF force on Saturday near the city of Kalkilye. The bomb thrown at the soldiers did not explode, and the soldiers were unhurt.
I didn't beat this one. I called. Elie was half asleep having been on patrol during the night. At first he acted like he didn't know what I was talking about (or perhaps that I didn't know). I read him the news alert above. His comment, "Ima, it was a little bomb and it didn't explode. They threw it at the fence. No one was hurt."

Some day, when Elie has a son in the army, I hope I'll remember the comment about "a little bomb." There is just no way he'll understand what my reaction was any time soon. "A little bomb"?

Makes me want to give him a kiss on one cheek and a slap on the other! Maybe I will do exactly that when I see him later this week...and when I do, I'll have to remember to tell him that was for the "little bomb."

Pictures Explain...When You Shoot a Missile

A relative in the States sent me this video...it's so very simple, so clear...

The missiles are smuggled under the ground...they are put into mosques, loaded onto ambulances, taken into schools and homes and mosques...and shot at Israel. Eventually, Israel comes and destroys the rocket launching locations.

And then the UN comes...and rebuilds while the missiles still move below ground, into the mosques and schools and homes, still get launched at Israel...and the UN comes and rebuilds.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. How many words, then, does this video speak?

video

I'd like to ask the UN if they realize that if they FIRST stop the rockets, they won't have to rebuild the places from which the missiles are being launched. And one final comment I made during the Gaza War, while my son was there, within missile range and fighting to defend our land: if you put missiles in a mosque, the holiness of the place is diminished to nothing.

A mosque cannot be an arsenal, and an arsenal can never be a mosque. This same idea works for schools and hospitals too. Our ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, years ago said the simplest of truths, a warning to the Lebanese at that time, and the Palestinians at all times, "When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you don't wake up."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Giving Advice

I'm not sure when it happened...when I suddenly began to feel that I could help others along the path I have taken (or been forced to take) over the last two plus years.


My son turned 17 last week and received a letter from the army about his physical. Since the letter is in Hebrew, we only understand parts of it. Does anyone have any advice about this? Is he supposed to go by himself, or with a parent? Any other advice from those who have done this before would be appreciated.

And so I found myself in an interesting position - I am the "veteran" mother with two years of experience behind me. I've been through this moment twice already - sending them off to the recruitment office knowing that from this moment on, what they do has nothing to do with me. I cannot control where the army will send them, what they will tell the army. I answered this mother's inquiry from the heart and was surprised to find my eyes filling with tears when I explained to her that this is the beginning of letting go of your son.

Totally let him go by himself. He has to start.

A few words of advice - tell him not to be nervous and tell him to speak out if he has an interest. If his profile is high enough, they will ask him if he is willing to serve in a combat unit. He probably should decide this in advance - neither of my sons asked me for an opinion - both opted to go to combat units.

Elie is serving in artillery...it looks like Shmulik is going to go to Golani...

However, if your son is going to go to yeshiva or whatever, it doesn't matter what really happens now. This first appointment is for the army to test him. From there, they begin considering what is best for him (and for the army). Your son will have opportunities along the way in which units will approach him and ask if he wants to try out and join them. Some, like the Navy and Air Force are very "prestigious" - but also require a longer commitment.

If your son excels in school and wants to become a doctor or engineer, there is a possibility that the army would pay for this direction against a further commitment in the future.

For this initial meeting - there's nothing he really has to do - other than answer the questions honestly, and no, this is the moment when you begin to start to let him go. It is hard...I can't tell you how hard...but you have to do it...and more importantly, he has to do it. For what it is worth, I can tell you that I am in awe of the army's ability to fit the kid into the right peg.

Maybe I lucked out, I don't know...but so far, the process has worked. The main thing is to have your son determine his own future and his preferences - let him know you are there to listen, you'll help where you can...and you will FOLLOW him.

The thing is, without this "army" in our lives, I think maturity is a gradual process. There is this hazy line between infancy and childhood. There is no one moment when you suddenly say, my child is no longer an infant, but a toddler or no longer a toddler, but a young boy.

When is the moment when a boy becomes a man? I would have told you a few years ago that it isn't a moment, but a series of moments, a gradual process. I would have told you that you won't suddenly look at your son and think, "wow, he's a man" where yesterday you thought he was a boy.

I would have told you it is something that happens over time, that maturity was like a warmth that slowly slips into the body with time. But the army changes all that. You cannot hand a gun to a boy. Well, I'll probably have the National Rifle Association and right-to-bear-arms people tell me I'm wrong about that, so let me qualify it by saying that with the gun comes tremendous responsibility.

When you hand a gun to a child, it is because you are going to teach him to shoot an animal, a piece of cardboard in the shape of a target. When you hand a gun to a soldier, it is because you are going to teach him to kill another human being. See this man, see this terrorist. He wants to kill your people, your family. Stop him. Shoot in the air and maybe he will stop because life is precious and if you can save your life AND his life, you should.

Shoot at his legs and maybe he will stop because life is precious.

Kill him. Shoot him in the head or in the heart, but stop him and stop him now because life is precious. That is not something you can teach a child.

If you raise your gun and aim it at a person, you may have to fire. Elie has raised his gun several times and he was prepared to fire. He was seconds away. With more gratitude to God than you can imagine, Elie didn't have to fire his gun at anyone (at least not that he's told me).

And so, when this mother is asking advice, what she is really asking, or what we will really have to tell her, is that this is the beginning of the process. It will start the first time the boy leaves home and goes to the recruitment office.

They will test him physically and give him a profile. Based on that profile, if it is high enough, they will ask him a question, "Are you prepared to serve in a combat unit?" or "Are you willing to serve in a combat unit?"

And the moment the boy answers, that first step to manhood is taken. He will answer, not you. He will decide, not his mother. Months will follow in which the boy will return to high school, take his tests and be with his friends. And while he is doing this, his name is traveling around the army as they decide, as they ask him more questions and offer him possibilities.

And then, the letter will come. And then the day will come. And like you sent him off to the recruiting office, you will send him off to the army. If it is any consolation, your job is not done once he becomes a man.

He will still need you, call you and you'll still need him, call him. But it will be different because he isn't your little boy any more. You can't call him home when you want him (you can't even call him at all some of the time). And, at first, he'll come home in "army" mode. He'll be the new man, tired, dirty, hungry, more serious.

He will go so many places without you, do so many things you'll never really understand. He'll tell you that he is going to train in the night and laugh when you worry he'll be cold. He'll tell you he is hiking up mountains and running kilometers and you'll worry about his knees and he'll smile and tell you he's fine. He'll come home alone and go back to base alone and you'll realize that you have to let him.

He'll follow all the rules the army tells him, dress carefully, shine his boots and clean his gun. You may not realize it at this point, but he is already closer to what he will be than what he was when he left your home. And what you will learn is that you will love him in all his forms, all his moods. You'll tolerate all that he does because you are just grateful to have him home. And that's when the second shift will take place. He will swing back, ever so slightly, to the boy he was. He'll shine his boots less often because he has learned the powers and limitations of the military police; he will polish his gun because it is important, but he won't take it with him when he doesn't have to.

He will tease and laugh and show you more of what he was and that's when you'll know the transition is complete and this is who he is - the boy and the man will find peace within the one body they share and you will smile and turn to some other mother and tell her to let him go alone. And yes, you'll tell her, this is what I did and I cried when I did it; I cry when I tell you to do it.

That's the only advice I can give - let him go alone when he has to - and be there when he comes home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Difference in a Warning

What a difference a warning makes...four months ago, Israel was at war. When a siren sounded suddenly, you didn't think, you just moved. We live a bit over an hour away from the edge of the area where missiles could hit. People there had up to 60 seconds to find shelter. We live a bit under two hours driving from the areas where people have a mere 15 seconds to find safety. You can probably get from one corner of your house to another, if you are scared enough, and run fast enough...but can you get to a sheltered room if you are outside in the street? What if you are driving? What if you weren't expecting it.

Last time, during the war, the siren sounded accidentally, sending our children into panic as they were quickly herded into shelters. There was no time to calmly explain, no time to ease their worries. The guard yelled; the teachers scurried with their charges; and my daughter and two friends ended up in the wrong place, separated from their teacher and their class. It was a trauma for her that took her weeks to smooth over. We were lucky this time.

It was a national drill - we knew the exact second the siren would sound and so, with this warning, there was no worry, no panic, no sudden heart-stopping fear that a missile is about to fly through the sky and come crashing down on you or someone you love.
"We had just 3 minutes to get down [to the bomb shelter], the teacher told us and some kids wanted to bring games but I told them, 'you can't bring games.' If it was real, you just have to go, you can't take games with you. And my friend's father told her we'd be there for an hour, but we were only there for 15 minutes, like you."
I didn't lie to my daughter. I told her that when the siren sounded, I went into the bomb shelter at work. It's true, I did. I just didn't stay there for 15 minutes - but children miss the subtleties of life. I went because I wanted to be able to tell her that I'd gone. As I'd expected, telling her in advance (as did the teacher a few minutes before the siren sounded) meant there was no fear.
Downstairs - it was really only 5 minutes. They thought it was a lot of time for us, for third grade. So they gave us a page to color. I read a newspaper for kids. It was fun.
In the long run, it might be considered strange that a child would think going into a bomb shelter and simulating a nationwide attack would be "fun," but she will have years ahead of her to wonder and worry. For today, the best thing I can say is that it was "mission accomplished." She got into the bomb shelter on time, and wasn't traumatized along the way.

And one more thing. she's a tiny, thin girl who is always starving. For the last few months, I've been making her three sandwiches to take to school. Israeli children typically have small breakfasts at home (and sometimes not even that). Then, at 10:00 a.m., they eat something, and then again around 1:00 p.m. So, three sandwiches seems to work. Today, as we were talking, I noticed that there were two sandwiches left over.

"Why am I making you three sandwiches if you aren't going to eat them?" I asked in frustration. This is another difference between a 9-year-old and an older child. The older one will understand when I am asking a rhetorical question.

And so she answered, "I don't know. When you make me less, I'm hungry and then when you make me three, I don't eat them." She said, her voice filled with as much frustration as mine had been.

Clearly, we have discovered another of the great wonders of the world. Children will, even in the strangest of circumstances, be children. Today, because she had a warning and knew what was coming, she handled it well. Her biggest concern was not being bored, and the fact that she was coming home with uneaten sandwiches. The difference is all in the warning. What she doesn't know, at her age, is that should the real attack come, it is likely there will be no warning, no relaxed walking, no pages to color.

Getting Ready for Armageddon

In America, I remember fire drills where we laughingly shuffled out of the building and stood and talked as the principal and teachers measured how quickly they had evacuated their precious charges. For us, it was fun - a break from learning; fresh air; being outside. My parents told me how there was a time they had practiced getting under the desks in fear of a nuclear attack, but that was so long ago, few Americans today really remember that. And even then, it was done on a school-by-school basis. Perhaps a city coordinated effort - but did an entire State ever organize something? An entire nation with millions of people in it?

Today, in Israel, my country will imagine the unimaginable. The entire country will, for a brief period of time, pretend that madness reigns; that Israel is hit by a massive attack - perhaps even a nuclear one. The entire population will go into bomb shelters - except for those living near Gaza. "They've practiced enough," said the man on the radio.

This is a nation wide drill (http://oref.org.il/14-en/PAKAR.aspx) in which emergency forces will simulate treating thousands. Schools will be "evacuated" to safety; government offices will empty. Hospitals will function as normal; people who are driving during the siren should continue to drive and not stop. But everyone else should quickly find shelter.

For some reason, perhaps to add to a feeling of urgency, the school decided not to explain to my 9-year-old daughter in advance that this would be an exercise. During the war (read A Child's Alarm), a siren was accidentally sounded in our city and the children were quickly moved to bomb shelters, fearing it was a real attack. There was no warning (as we have now) and therefore no chance to prepare the kids. All that mattered, was a frantic but orderly move to bomb shelters in case our city, so far from Gaza, would somehow also be hit by missiles.

I didn't want her to go through that again and so I told her, secretly, that when she heard the siren, she should listen to the teachers, but not be afraid. Every child has the right to live without fear, including that sudden panic that comes with hearing a siren and knowing you have to run quickly to seek shelter.

There is a message for our enemies, said a member of the Parliament today. If you choose to attack us, see that we are ready; see that we are prepared to protect that which we cherish most about this land, the people. It was interesting that he was actually talking to our enemies - telling them to watch, knowing that they would.

It is a message that my son, Elie gave me yesterday, as I drove him back to his base where he serves as an artillery commander. I debated about writing it here, but, according to Elie, "Nasrallah knows," (Nasrallah is the head of Hezbollah and has been making threatening remarks as the national exercise grows close). If Nasrallah knows, it doesn’t hurt to explain the yesterday, as we were driving north, we passed a huge artillery vehicle traveling north, "that's ours," Elie said.

We passed another and another - each vehicle Elie recognized. He knows them by number, by which unit it belongs to, and he knows where and why they are being moved.

“Are those sleeping bags?” I asked him, noting the items strapped to the outside.

“No, they’re mattresses,” Elie said with a smile. “Yeah, we have mattresses to sleep on in the field.”

"You spoiled kid,” I answered with a laugh and then a more serious thought crossed my mind. “Do you expect something to happen?" I have this theory that no one else seems to want to accept. I think it should be made a rule, here and around the world, that no one is allowed to fight in more than one war per year. See, I told you it was silly, but there you are. Elie fought in one war…so, shouldn’t that mean he shouldn’t have to fight in another for at least a year? It does make sense to me, but then again, when you are a mother of a soldier, you grasp at the absurd and make it holy...all to keep your son safe.

"Who knows?" Elie answered. The "who" in this case is likely to be Nasrallah and the other Arab nations. They will decide but as Elie explained, and as the government official explained, the Arabs have to know that we are ready for Armageddon; we are ready to defend; we are prepared as much for war as we are for peace. We will prepare our people - on a national scale; and while we do that, we will remind our enemies that even in the midst of this internal exercise, our sons are on the borders, watching, guarding.

The unit that is being moved up north to show Nasrallah that we can and will be ready, to encourage him to accept that this is a national exercise and no more, is not Elie's unit. But that unit had just gone on vacation when Nasarallah once again started threatening and so the unit was pulled back and have gone up north.

I don't know what this means for the vacation the army planned to give Elie's unit in a few weeks - but I'll deal with that in another hour, after we pass this national exercise.

For now, I and my students in our Technologies class, will stop learning in just over 15 minutes and go stand in the bomb shelter across the hall. They have suggested you wait there 10 minutes - we are likely not to wait that long as I expect it will be crowded and we do want to complete the course material for the day.

But in the schools, our children will be moved to bomb shelters, our leaders will seek safety, our people will be defended. This is what a nation does when it values its citizens. In a few minutes, we will pretend the unthinkable has happened and when we do, we will pray that it never does. We will pray that our enemies strive for peace with as much fervor as they do war.

Nasrallah - listen up. Israel will defend itself. Our army is ready; our air force will take to the skies, our navy will defend our shores. Artillery and ground forces, special forces, engineering - our sons will do what they must...and we, the people of Israel, will help by seeking shelter because we know that you relish the deaths of innocents and target those who cannot defend themselves.

I believe, and have always believed, that Israel united cannot be destroyed. In a few minutes - the nation will, as one, do what it must so that we are prepared, the rest, we leave in God's hands, and in the hands of our sons and daughters who serve our nation with love and courage.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Is this a "Most Inspiring Blog"?

If it is, would you mind my asking a favor? Would you be willing to vote for it under the Most Inspiring Blog category at

http://www.socialluxelounge.com/blogluxe/

Hope you don't mind my asking, but it seems fun, so, if you don't mind voting and asking your friends to vote, that would be totally cool! Thanks!


2009 BlogLuxe Awards

In Reverse and in Laughter

Elie "took" the day off yesterday, his English birthday. He spent the day running errands and then we gathered our children (all but one...our adopted son who is in America)...these are our natural children, our son-in-law, and our adopted son, Chaim (brother to our adopted son in America). The table was full - the boys for the most part went for the steak.

After, they brought a cake with ice cream and a sparkler and we sang Elie happy birthday. This morning, I had an appointment with a potential client and so Elie drove me there, took the car for a physical therapy appointment because his knees have been bothering him, came back and picked me up...and drove to his base.

My appointment finished early and so I walked a few blocks to Israel's only IKEA store (they are opening another one, but I don't think it is open yet). IKEA is about the fanciful more than the practical; it's about the unusual, the fun.

I have a confession to make - one that only my close friends and guests in my house discover...I am an ice tray fanatic. I simply love new shapes of ice. I can't explain why, but there you go. I bought a bunch of small things - a measuring cup, a set of knives, some more ice trays (of course), and finally, I've been wanting a plant for my office for oh-so-long, and there it was.

Elie called and told me he was approaching IKEA. I made my purchases and went to stand on the curb with my big IKEA plastic bag filled with my purchases, my computer hanging over my shoulder, my purse, and, of course, the relatively large plant in my arms. Elie pulled closer and as I started to walk towards the car, he put the car in reverse and moved it back a few feet.

I smiled at his game, went to walk to the car, and he pulled back again. He did it a few times before letting me catch up. He was laughing, I was laughing...God, I love that boy.

It was the first time he had driven in the parking lot - a huge area that is difficult to navigate if you don't know that some lanes go towards the exit, while others feed you into other lanes...that feed you into other lanes.

We watched several people drive against traffic to exit through the entrance. Elie was determined to find the exit, and in that too, there was laughter. I got a quick hug and kiss after he'd loaded his huge backpack over his back, strapped his gun to his side and then he entered the gate. Automatically, he checked his gun before entering - a safety precaution.

I put the car in reverse and as I drove away, I watched Elie talking with the soldier who was standing guard at the gate. They were smiling and talking and Elie looked happy. There are times, perhaps most of the time, when a mother knows she can't really ask for more.

May God watch over Elie and all the soldiers of Israel. May he grant them health, and safety, and happiness, and laughter.

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