Monday, November 30, 2009

Hanukah and the IDF

There are many customs in Israel related to the Jewish holidays. Some are identical to those customs followed by Jews around the world - the lighting of the menorah, each night adding a new candle until all 8 candles are lit; eating potato pancakes; spinning the dreidel (a four-sided top with a letter on each side).

But as with many things, there are some things that are uniquely Israel. For example, all over the world, the dreidel has four letters: nun, gimel, heh, shin - the initials for the phrase: A great miracle happened THERE.

Here in Israel, the dreidel has three of the same letters, and one different one: nun, gimel, heh...and paiy - the initials for the phrase: a great miracle happened HERE.

Another custom that is uniquely Israel, one that has already started, is that the stores are filled with sufganiyot - jelly donuts. In this video, a chef is teaching some army cooks how to prepare the jelly donuts. The music is one of the songs that we hear on chanukah, the narration explains how to mix and prepare the donuts...even if you don't understand Hebrew, it's still fun to watch the quick preparation...each base throughout Israel will receive donuts in the weeks to come, culminating with the holiday itself.

On each base, the soldiers will gather and light the menorah. I'll write more about Hanukah soon, but for now, enjoy the presentation:

Defining Identities

Twitter is a great social media tool for meeting people from around the world. What you find is that you make contacts with people who are similar...and yet not. You have that one thing in common that binds you, compared to so many things that are different.

I have many "followers" (that's what Twitter calls your network of friends) who live in Israel, as I do...and a whole world of people who do not live in Israel. I have many who are Jewish, as I am...and a whole world of people who are not of the same religion. There are many who are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of soldiers, and many who are not.

Ultimately, the beauty of social media is that you reach outside your natural borders and touch others. It began, in many ways, with this blog. I started it for myself, as I have told so many. Elie was 19-years-old and going into the army. It was a reality he had lived with since we moved to Israel when he was barely six years old.

He grew up with the knowledge that he would go into the army, as almost all young men (and women) in Israel do. Each year, it came closer and each year in school and among his friends, it became more of a reality...except to me. I was blind to it - intentionally and blissfully.

Somewhere around two months before he went in, it hit me and hit me hard. There was no more denying, no more avoiding. It became a part of me and where our family was heading.

Elie went into the army in March, 2007. This coming March (2010), he will finish his service...and, as fate would have it, our second son will be inducted into the army the very same month. So what does this have to do with Twitter and defining identities?

This morning, someone posted a tweet (a Twitter message) about a new Twitter application. These are fun little tools that you run and they tell you something - where most of your Twitter followers are, what Twitter grade you get, etc. etc. This one, compares all the words you have tweeted and tells you the most common ones. They are calculated and then displayed in a "tweet cloud."

I was curious and so I followed the procedure, amused by the warning, "If you didn't screw up on the above two steps click the "make and tweet cloud" button to generate your tweet cloud."

Here's the results...the words that are most common in the messages I share with people (in the following order):

# israel # people # israeli # thanks # goldstone
# love # report # world # gaza # home
#jerusalem # hamas # hope # peace # amazing
# soldiers # free # iran # news # shalit # army
# thank # life # sorry # attack # believe
# shabbat # live # soldier # human # rocks
# rocket

I think what I like are the words that flow together. All in all, there is a common theme to my posts there on Twitter (and I guess here too). Israel is very much a part of our lives, Jerusalem not just a place where I work, but a city that I love. We dream and hope for peace, and trust our soldiers and the army to defend us against endless attacks. I like that love and life and live are in my top few words, as are peace and thanks.

I guess without meaning to, often the words we use repeatedly do often define our lives, our dreams, our hopes and that which we cherish most.

Quiet Fridays

It's a quiet Friday. We went to a wedding last night and watched a young couple join their futures amid music and song and dancing. It was lovely and bright. We got home, I played around a bit on the computer and went to bed...only to be awakened at 4:00 in the night...no, not by Elie, but by our youngest daughter.

Her stomach was hurting horribly, she was frightened enough to find it hard to breathe and kept crying that she just couldn't stand it any more. I was terrified it was her appendix; unsure beyond comfort, what I could really do for her. I wondered it I should take her to the hospital and finally settled on calling my brother-in-law in America in the middle of the night. He's always been an island of calm and information and the more questions he asked, the more I realized that this was really most likely a stomach virus...severe...painful...but nothing more serious.

Best of all, for our young daughter, it met her criteria that she wanted someone to check her. It was interesting how she asked for Elie or her middle brother, somehow knowing that I wasn't completely convinced it was just a stomach virus.

Finally, after what seemed like endless hours, it calmed down and she slept. I slept at the foot of her bed and in the morning, her middle brother came to check on her. By then, she was fine (I was a mess). And then the sweetest of offerings.

It was Friday; Shabbat was coming and I needed to get things done. She wanted me to stay close. There was really no reason other than the lingering worry that it would suddenly come back. My middle son brought her his movies to watch on a small laptop computer and offered to carry her to the living room couch. She was actually quite well and without pain and could easily walk.

It was a sweet gesture, the offer. She decided to stay in her room and watched the movies on the computer. In all the hassle, I didn't get a chance to call Elie and I guess he was too busy as well.

I finally only called him on Sunday to hear his voice and see how he is doing. He's fine, looking forward to coming home next weekend. She's fine, back to school.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mental Debate: Two Sides of Fence, and a Mirror

There is a debate going on in Israel now - two sides, each in agony.

There are those who say Gilad Shalit has been in captivity too long. We have to do all, we owe all, to bring him home. More than three years, Hamas has gotten away with violating international law by denying Gilad and his parents their basic right of contact with their son. For more than three years, Hamas has refused to allow international representatives such as the Red Cross, to even see Gilad, confirm he is well treated, safe, healthy. Unimaginable agonies, unbearable torture. His parents have lived with all of this, traveling the world, begging them to listen, to do something for this boy who grew into a man without them. He was 19 when he was taken, as my Elie was 19 when he entered the army. Today, Gilad is 23-years-old...his parents have missed so much in those years. It is enough.

There are those who say that leaving Gilad in captivity breaks all that we hold dear. We don't leave a soldier behind; morale will fall among incoming troops if they can't believe their country will do all to bring them home.

All this, in varying degrees, might be true. That is one side of this great divide. They will agree to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, their identity and crimes almost unimportant, for the one son that Hamas holds. Yes, they smile sadly, the numbers are absurd, but what can we do? We can't leave Gilad there; would you leave Gilad if he were your son? Look now, in the mirror and answer that question for yourself. If it was your son...your son...the one you love so so much...could you, would you, leave him there?

On the other side of this great divide, are those who say that though they want Gilad home, it cannot be at any price. We must think of the future, says this group. We must think with our heads and not our hearts. Hearts are for feeling, for rejoicing and for mourning - the head is what we must use. These 1,000 - beyond the absurdity of the equation - are murderers, terrorists - convicted security prisoners who were not strolling on the beach when they were taken into custody. Some have murdered and the blood of their victims thrills them. They yearn for more, promise there will be more.

It was Hamas and the Palestinians who created the concept of proportionality. Look, said Hamas - yes, we shot 124 missiles into Israel in November, 2008 and even more in December, 2008 - but look what Israel did in January, 2009. Our missiles mostly missed and hit open fields. We only killed a few, maimed a few, traumatized a lot, but really, how much actual damage did we do? Israel - they hit their targets; the artillery smashed the buildings from which we launched rockets and even if the buildings were attached to others that fell too...look at the damage. Proportionality! Where, says this group of Israel, where is the proportionality in releasing 1,000 for 1?

Within this group that agonizes over Gilad no less than the first group, are Arnold and Frimet Roth - two nice people who never wanted to do more than raise their children in Jerusalem, in Israel, in a place they love. They raised their children here to be free and gentle and loving...and their daughter, Malki was friendly and outgoing. I know, though I never met her, because we are friends with a young woman who was Malki's friend and was on her way to meet Malki on a beautiful August summer day in Israel.

But this young woman never got there. She got a call from her father telling her to come home NOW...and even before she had switched buses to go home instead of meeting Malki, she heard the news. Sbarro Pizzeria had become the latest suicide bombing...15 people, including young Malki and seven other children, died that day. Murdered by two terrorists, the man who carried a guitar filled with explosives, and the young, smiling woman on his arm to give him cover.

There is a great divide in Israel - do we release Malki's killer, who served but 5 years of 16 consecutive life sentences, who to this day, wishes she had killed more. She said, in an interview just a while back, "I am not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence…"

This woman helped murder 15 people...destroy families forever. She is one, only one of 1,000.

Those who are against the prisoner deal include huge numbers of soldiers in the standing army. There is no loss of morale there. They worry about Gilad; they want Gilad home; and they tell their parents - if it was me, don't allow this deal. Don't let them release 1,000 for me.

I haven't asked Elie specifically what he thinks. I know he is against it. I know he views it as a weak deal, no bargain at all. They asked for 1,000 three years ago...if we were going to release this number, why did we wait until now? Silly, stupid deal, Elie would tell me.

And where am I on this great divide? I am sitting on the fence, with the third large group of people. We on the fence are in unspeakable agony. Our hearts aching, our eyes filled with tears. We are parents who cannot for a moment imagine the horror, the agony, of years slipping by with each day knowing our child needs us and we can't answer that call. We are Israelis and Jews - so incredibly proud of our country, our army, our people, for worshiping life and not death; for having values that focus so much on a single life that we would even consider the absurdity of trading 1,000 for a single life.

One day, I am for the deal - not because I believe it is just (it isn't); not because I believe it is in Israel's best interests (it isn't), but because I just can't bear the suffering any longer. I can't face another day of knowing I can talk to my son...and Noam and Aviva Shalit can't do the same.

The next day, I am against the deal because I know that what we release today, will sneak back in to murder and kill again. There will be more funerals, more pain - unspeakable, horrible agony. Lives crushed, families torn apart and so many more parents who will mourn like Frimet and Arnold Roth. They will mourn forever, without even the glimmer of hope that at least their child is alive somewhere.

On those days, when I am against the deal, I want to point out the simplest of truths. What we should do is call up Hamas and the German mediators who are working to close a deal that probably easily could have been closed three years ago if we are to release the same numbers anyway. So, we call them up and say:

Good morning and thanks for your efforts...really. But, no thanks. We realized that despite all, this is a bad idea. A really bad idea because these terrorists and murderers will just come back and kill and kidnap again. So, let's stop and think. Part of our religion includes the concept of redeeming hostages. It is, as you clearly know, very important to us that Gilad comes home...but we are also commanded not to endanger lives, not to choose between harming an innocent person in order to save ourselves or another. So, here's the deal. Pick one prisoner - any one you want. We don't care how despicable, how inhumane this person is. We're willing to release the most vile creature who has done the most horrible things. Hey, we released a child-killer last time...so why not another. Pick one, knock yourself out. You know what, because, like you, we realize the value of Gilad compared to what we are holding in our prisons - so have a great day. Pick two.

That's right - go ahead. Pick two. You want that Ahlam Tamimi, disgusting woman that she is - may she rot from the inside in horrible agony...she's all yours. You want Marwan Barghouti, murderer and uneducated thug that he is, he's all yours. Take them both - take some others. We don't care. That's our deal. It's a bargain really - two for one. We can have them at the edge of Gaza within 5 hours, just say the word and we can make this really easy. We'll even send them with sheets and blankets because we wouldn't want anything they've touched anyway.

Oh, by the way, we forgot to mention something. If you don't want this deal; Israel is finished with negotiating. Tomorrow morning, we are shutting off OUR electricity that we have been pumping into Gaza all these years. We are also stopping shipment of OUR fuel that we have been shipping in to Gaza. We are closing all deliveries of everything but food and medicine...and even that will be searched carefully. Turkey, who has condemned Israel for just about everything - they have tons of water. A ship from Turkey takes how long? 12 hours? Okay, so here's the rest of the deal. We are shutting off OUR water that we have been pumping in to Gaza. Tell Turkey to fill the tankers and start shipping in their water...they certainly have more than we have. After all, a few years back, we contracted to buy shiploads full of water from them. We even paid for it and just as it was arriving, there was a huge earthquake in Turkey and we turned around and donated the water right back. So, we'll give them 24 hours to begin shipping water to Gaza. Plenty of time to fill the tanks and get the ship.

So, there's our deal - two Palestinians for one Israeli, and we keep supplying you with fuel and electricity and water as we have for years...or, no deal, no electricity, no water, no fuel - oh, and your sick people...the ones who travel regularly to Israel for medical treatments...tell them we wish them luck. Maybe you can get them to Cairo, although their medical care isn't anything near as good as ours, but hey, that's your problem, not ours.

So, do let us know and please, please tell Gilad that we love him and we are doing this for him too because hopefully, one day soon, he'll come home and marry and have children. And Gilad's children should grow and be healthy...and not have to worry about being kidnapped or blown up in a pizzeria. So for Gilad and for all the people of Israel, we aren't going to release 1,000 for one...we're going to be more than reasonable. You have 24 hours to decide...2-1 sale ends and the electricity, water, and fuel stops.

And to answer my own question across this great divide...would you leave Gilad if he were your son? Look now, in the mirror and answer that question for yourself. If it was your son...your son...the one you love so so much...could you, would you, leave him there?

I can't look in the mirror; I can't answer the question. I can't imagine that it was Elie because if I did, I don't think my heart could continue to beat, my head continue to think, my lungs continue to breathe. I sit here on the fence, shamed that I can't at least move to one side. I understand both sides so clearly...I can see what they are thinking, know what they believe. The only thing I can't do is get myself to look in that mirror.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Tune on the Brain

It happens to everyone - you have a tune running through your brain and you keep whistling it or humming it or just hearing it over and over again. Elie was home this weekend and several times, we caught him whistling a tune.

"Do you know what you are whistling?" I asked him.

He smiled that funny smile of his, like I had caught him unaware. "Yeah," he said, and then started again.

He was whistling "Mary had a little lamb." It was adorable. We "caught" him whistling the tune two other times.

Tonight, I got an SMS on my phone. The Lebanese army fired at an Israeli drone and has warned that if Israel returns fire, things will escalate. In response, Israel raised the level of alert on the northern border to "Gimel."

"What does that mean?" I asked Elie.

"I don't know," he said in that tone that said not so much he didn't know as it meant very little and he wasn't particularly concerned.

"What does level 'gimel' mean?" I asked. Gimel is the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, bet, gimel)...and so his answer was very logical, if not very informative.

"One below bet," he answered.

"Very funny," I responded,"should I worry?" It is a code between us. It means, tell me I shouldn't - because I already am...if only a bit. Of course, Elie has never told me I should worry, not once in almost three years, so I guess I can't rely too much on his answer.

"I'm still here, aren't I?" Elie countered.

Yes, he is. It's late at night. Elie has long since gone to bed. He returns up north tomorrow; back again in two weeks...I am, for now, once again firmly in the flat of the roller coaster, the time when there seems to be nothing to worry about.

There were special moments this weekend; Elie cuddling with his younger sister chief among them. He helped with the shopping and the cooking; ate tons of meat, slept, and talked. In short, we are, once again, back to normal...with one more thing to tease him about, "Mary had a little lamb"...perhaps I'll see if I can find him a little stuffed lamb.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Could it be real this time?

How many times can you fall for the same trick? The same lie?

How many times can someone yank your cord, pull your chain? The answer is directly related to how much you care and the depth of your need.

Israel as a nation keeps falling for the same propaganda, the same trick, the same lies. Each time, our hearts fly, our hope soars, our eyes fill...and then each time, our enemies rejoice as we realize we've been fooled again. They laugh at our gullibility and how easy it was for them. Just a rumor is enough to set us to hoping, to praying.

They play us so perfectly, each time, every time, all the time. They did it last year, last month, last week and likely this week too.

Gilad will be free next Friday - this is the latest in a long series of rumors. Gilad has been transferred to Egypt awaiting release - that was the last time...or perhaps the time before that. This time it is Hamas.

Once it was Hezbollah - Ehud and Eldad are alive. Hurry, make the deal. They would hint of injuries and talk of exchanges while denying us even a glimpse. Despite all evidence, they are alive...don't you want them, they taunted us?

Germany is negotiating for Ron - then it was Hezbollah too, and the Iranians, maybe Syria. Maybe he is alive, maybe he is dead. Don't you want him? A child grows up without her father; a woman made a widow while her husband yet lives.

Back to Lebanon and Hezbollah - mothers who want to believe, need to believe. Last time it was three soldiers. Last time it was two soldiers. This time, it is one soldier. Last time they were dead...returned to us in coffins. This time, he is alive. We believe, we pray, we believe, we hope. Please, let him be alive; let him come home this time.

Over and over, their faces haunt us and the need to bring them home burns inside of us - almost to the point of desperation...almost to the point, they hope, that we will make a deal beyond all reason. In their equation, Gilad is worth 1,000 prisoners - a mere video showing him reading from a piece of paper is worth 20.

We needed to believe Ehud and Eldad are alive...against all odds, against all evidence. And so we believed and seeing their coffins being unloaded as we turned over a child-killer and other terrorists, alive and well to return to their celebrations, was a massive kick in our collective stomachs and souls. We felt sick and nauseous. They celebrated with their guns shooting in the air; we cried bitter tears. Again, all lies. Again, they give us mutilated bodies. Again, we mourn.

But Gilad is alive, we tell ourselves. We have seen him. They have dared to show us videos. He looks thin, but healthy. He's beautiful. He has to come home. We have to bring him home.

Hamas says negotiations are going well. Hamas says we have made progress...

We lost a lot of faith, as a nation, when Ehud and Eldad were returned to us, only to be buried. Hamas understood this and played us yet again.

They knew they could not get away with claims and so they dangled videos - close enough to see, to hear, but not to touch. For days, we all watched Gilad over and over again. We looked at his eyes, how he moved his hands. The shuffle near the camera, the little smile he gave. This is a game they are playing, Gilad told us. You know it; I know it, but bring me home.

Our hearts broke, as Hamas knew they would. Today, the phone beeps and the Internet sites carry the news - Gilad will be free next Friday on the eve of a Muslim holiday.

Could it be real this time?

Are we falling, yet again, for Hamas' emotional torture and blackmail?

Will we ever stop being so gullible?

No, the answer is no. We will always weep, always worry, always pray to bring our sons home. We do not glory in martyrdom and death. We want our sons with us, alive, well, safe, home. Yes, we will cry a river of tears between now and next Friday, and a river more if these rumors prove, yet again to be false.

That once bothered me, that Hamas could play us for the weakness of caring for a single life of a single soldier to such a crippling extent. But I see what they are, what they have become. I see a society that encourages its children to hate and to die. That is what comes from the violence they preach, from the value they place on their own lives. No, I would rather my son believe he is the center of my world, than believe he is expendable. I would rather he worship a God who loves him and his people and commands that he seek life, than that he worship a god who calls for Jihad and Shahid and death.

No, it no longer bothers me that Hamas plays us so perfectly. I would rather live in a society that can be fooled, time after time after time, because ultimately what it shows is that we are a country built on hope, on love, on life.

I hope, I pray, that Gilad Shalit will come home next Friday to a family that has waited more than three long, horrible years for his return, to a country that has stood by his family, and by him.

It will be another hard week for Gilad's family while they wait and see if this is yet another example of Hamas' inhumane and barbaric torture. It will be a week in which we all pray that this nightmare has finally ended and that Gilad will come home alive and well.

I have little doubt that Israel will be called upon to release hundreds of prisoners for Gilad, including murderers and terrorists. I have little doubt those we release soon, will return to their ways and we will capture them yet again in the future. I have little doubt Hamas will try to kidnap another Gilad and so it will all return again and again.

I don't have a solution; I don't believe we can change who we are and what we are and so we will cry this week, each week, every week. But we will also celebrate. Hopefully we will celebrate Gilad's coming home...but even if we don't, we will celebrate living in a country that cares enough about its sons to encourage them to live and not to die.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Return to Health and Responsibility

Elie's back - healthy and whole. I keep looking at him to see if he seems feverish or weak. I'm getting to understand that this was probably more traumatic an experience for me than it was for Elie. He was sick...he had fever...he doesn't have fever...he's fine.

He's back to eating whatever he finds, back to wanting to drive and run errands. He's back to ordering his brother to clean the bathroom, his sister to put her backpack away NOW.

He returns to the army tomorrow. There is no reason for him to go tonight and get an extension and "they need me on base."

He has learned that two other soldiers were sent home with high fevers, developed around the same time he became sick. The unit medic thinks all of this was a reaction to the regular flu shot given to the soldiers.

Elie explained the concept...who do you give flu shots to? He asked me and then proceeded to answer. The weak and most susceptible, and those whom you need to run the country. The doctors and nurses, perhaps the teachers, and, as Elie pointed out, the army.

What would happen if the army was needed to fight a battle, and flu raged among its ranks?

What indeed. Yes, Elie is correct. The army has already given the soldiers vaccinations against the regular flu and has now begun vaccinating against swine flu. Elie returns to base with no fever, a cough that is still a bit worrisome, but a spirit returned.

He kept changing the radio to his favorite stations on the drive in, gave me my obligatory kiss when he left to catch his bus up north. I'm...missing the word that describes how I feel - melancholy, fanciful though that sounds.

I'm do grateful he's healthy, worried that he should have waited a bit longer, sad to see him go, happy he's returning. Yes, a bundle of emotions...

Yesterday, the IDF confirmed that almost all of Israel is within missile range of Hezbollah rockets - including Jerusalem. Today, the sun is shining, the sky clear and beautiful. The buildings of Jerusalem shimmer with their golden beauty...Israel remains today, as it was yesterday and it will be tomorrow.

Last week, Israel's navy intercepted a ship carrying 500 tons of ammunition, thousands of rockets and more from Iran to Hezbollah. A rocket was fired at Shderot the other day, knives and explosives found.

Yes, melancholy is a good word.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thoughts that Break the Heart

Yesterday afternoon, Elie didn't feel like eating much...a sure sign he's sick. He took a nap in the afternoon and when he woke up, he was hot, miserable, glassy-eyed.

What now?

When he was officially inducted to the Israeli army, his national health insurance policy was automatically canceled. He was now the responsibility of the State - for all health care, everything, anything. Israel would pay. They have an entire medical system within the army - doctors, nurses, emergency centers, rehabilitation. All there...but he was home for the weekend. What now?

He clearly didn't have the energy to travel more than three hours, taking multiple buses to get to the Golan. His fever was raging, his head pounding, his throat aching. He called his commanding officer and got the name of the army's nearest clinic in Jerusalem. He explained that they were open in the evening so that soldiers wouldn't claim to be sick to get out of a day in the army. We had all night to get there, but we already knew that there would be a long wait.

This is a first in a journey for which I had hoped there would be no more firsts. In more than 2 years, Elie has never needed to get this type of emergency medical care, never tried even once to pretend to be sick...now, really sick, he needed to go to a doctor.

Within 15 minutes we were out the door, but he was wilting before my eyes, getting weaker and weaker. It was a terribly frightening drive...more terrifying in some ways than going to war because while he was near Gaza, it was my imagination working, and reality was a phone call away. There was no reality here other than a very high fever which wasn't coming down despite Advil and Tylenol and a strong young man who could barely stand.

We got to the place and I saw a parent walking in with his son. Okay, that was the first worry. Parents were allowed to be with their children; girlfriends, everyone. A bit of relief as we walked in. Elie got a number and sat down, slumped back and closed his eyes. He was bundled in a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket he uses in the cold and snow of the Golan Heights...and he was still cold.

We were 20 numbers away from being called when I gave up and went to the nurse. Can't you see he's really sick? Other than one other soldier who was also sitting quietly looking miserable...none of the others were in nearly as bad condition as Elie was and I was amazed at how fast he had deteriorated. What was happening?

It seems the older I get, the less calm I can be in a medical emergency and, for years now, there's been no need to be calm at all. Elie or his older sister or middle brother have been trained by the ambulance squad. They have taken dozens of hours of training. I hold hands; they administer, check, whatever. With a look of an eye, they warn me to not scare the child. I remain silent. I hold hands while they put in the bandage or check the injury.

There was no one there last night to get in between me and the medical emergency, no one to explain that while taking numbers and standing in line may work in a bakery, it was a stupid way to handle a medical clinic. I gave up. I couldn't sit there and watch Elie another minute. I went to the nurse and told her Elie couldn't wait.

"Look at him," I told her. "He needs to see a doctor now."

She must have heard, must have seen. She told me to go to the nurse and I got Elie to comply. At the nurse's station, Elie sat down and put his head on the table as the nurse gathered equipment and finished with the previous patient.

Elie started flexing his hands. "Elie, why are you doing that?" I asked him.

"I can't feel my hands." Okay, that's enough to panic any mother. Why are his hands numb????

I told the nurse - she seemed much less panicked than I was, but she took his blood pressure and his pulse (BP low, pulse high).

Elie told me he needed to lie down. I knew that already. The nurse told us to go into the hall and see the doctor. What word don't you understand? I wanted to scream.

"He's going to fall on the floor," I told her. "He needs a place to lie down NOW."

I guess it finally got through - she pointed to the beds across the room and told me she would get the doctor. Salvation, I thought to myself. Well, I was wrong.

I helped Elie to get across the room. He more slid onto the bed than anything else. I helped him straighten out a bit. He started fumbling to close his fleece jacket because he was still freezing. I took over and closed it while he touched his lips.

"What's the matter, Elie?"

"My lips are numb," he answered. Okay, what little was left of my heart fractured even more. Perhaps the scariest moment for me was when I took his hand before the doctor came in...and he held mine. That is so not Elie. He'll give me a kiss upon parting, accept one when he comes home.

He's not the little boy who comes over for a hug any more. Each hug or kiss is a treasure I must claim and yet, he held my hand for a few minutes till the doctor walked in and that was so frightening because it meant somewhere inside of him, he was scared too. I was about as close to frantic as I could be when the doctor walked in.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"He has a high fever and he can't feel his fingers or his lips," I said none too calmly.

"Who are you?" he asked.

I looked at him for a second and thought about all the things I'd like to say...like, what difference does it make, you idiot...but I was so good. With as much authority as I could muster, I answered, "I'm his mother."

That apparently isn't as impressive as I would have liked it to be. He turned to Elie and asked him some questions. He checked Elie's breathing and came up with the brilliant idea that it was a virus and to cure it - lemon tea. That's all. He didn't need to check his throat, his ears. He listened to his breathing, he checked his stomach because Elie said it was hurting, and told me to give him tea...with lemon! He stressed the lemon.

I was thinking along the lines of asking to see his medical license or suggesting another alternate location for the lemons, but restrained myself, "Don't you want to run any tests?" I asked, quite proud that I had sounded so calm and reasonable.

"Gevarti [roughly My lady...but not nearly as poetic], what tests would you like me to run?"

Okay, now I'm not appreciating this so much...and finally realized he was about as close to useless as could be. I just wanted him to make my baby all better, but of course, was smart enough not to say that.

He concluded with excusing Elie from the army for three days, giving us papers to indicate Elie's blood pressure etc, and dismissed us. I looked at Elie and asked how he was doing. He could feel his hands and lips again and said he was "okay." Of course, he'd been saying that all along.

I told him we could get him a wheelchair to get him back to the car. He absolutely refused. He was, he insisted with what little strength he had, okay.

I helped him back to the car, watched him sleep on the way home. He put his legs up on to the dashboard. He was smarter than the doctor, wanting to encourage his blood flow to pump blood back to his hands.

We got to the house. He was so weak. I helped him up to the living room and let him lie down on the couch. He slept with a cold towel on his head for an hour until the fever went down enough for him to eat something and take Advil. At some point, he asked for his telephone to send a message to his commanding officer. He held the phone till he got the response, then put it down and closed his eyes again.

Another hour passed before he was feeling well enough to go upstairs to his bedroom. He felt cooler - the Advil had finally kicked in. I set an alarm, woke in the middle of the night, around 4:00 a.m., went to check on him, and though he was much cooler, I woke him up anyway and gave him Tylenol.

This morning, and all day, I've brought him cups and cups of tea - with mint and sugar the way he likes it, not lemon! He's had toast several times, some water, some apple juice. He's not in pain, he's fine. He's smiled each time, thanked me for giving him whatever. He's had no fever for the last few hours, has gotten up and gone to the bathroom on his own.

He is, in short, my Elie.

And since I titled this post "thoughts that break the heart" - I'll confess that of all the thoughts that came to me last night and today, the one that finally broke my heart had nothing to do with Elie at all.

Someone sent a tweet (Twitter people understand that one) about Gilad Shalit and it hit me. Who takes care of Gilad when he's sick? What agony does his mother feel, knowing that over the last three years, Gilad has been alone through each illness? What would I have done if Elie had been this sick in the Golan? The answer is easy - I'd have gotten into my car and driven up there. I'd have pulled him home, begged him home, anything, everything.

In all the time Elie has been in the army, he's had sniffles and colds, but never anything like this high fever. Never so weak he could barely move, that he couldn't feel his fingers or his lips. I know now, from my brother-in-law the doctor and NOT the army doctor...that this isn't nearly as unexpected or as frightening as I thought it to be.

But does Gilad know that? Elie has had medical training and yet seemed surprised that he couldn't feel his lips, his hands. Does Gilad know not to be scared? Who was there to hold his hand as he lay weakly on the bed...does he even have a bed? The thoughts are useless...the ability to imagine endless, the heart broken for a mother who cannot hold her son's hand.

My son is upstairs in his room, with a cup of tea made by his mother. At his worst, I was there to hold his hand and be with him. Throughout the day, I checked on him. He never felt alone, he was never alone.

There are so many crimes that Hamas has committed. Today, I discovered another.
May Gilad know that in her heart, his mother and all the mother's of Israel are with him, reaching out with love to hold him. May he come home soon.

An Attack on Fort Hood, Understood in Israel

Last night, we all ate dinner at my daughter's house. It was supposed to be a quiet Friday night with only two of my five children home (Elie, my soldier, and my youngest daughter). It was going to be quiet and lonely in some ways. When you are used to having five children grace your table, there's a lot of noise. Then one got married, one went to the army, one went to yeshiva, and suddenly, there is an almost unbearable quiet.

It's silly, of course. Don't most families in America have two children and feel their lives are full? But I guess life is indeed one of perspectives and the sudden emptying of my house and Shabbat table has come as a bit of a surprise. Still, they come home enough that we are rarely with only two children, but also rarely all five (six, including my son-in-law; seven, eight, or nine including the three "children" I have adopted to my heart and family).

My youngest son is almost always here, and yet, irony of irony, this Shabbat he had to go away to a school weekend and interview, perhaps to transfer there next year as he enters high school. So, when my daughter invited us, I was thrilled. We would still be only four on Saturday lunch, but Friday night, we would be six.

I sat with my daughter and talked, waiting for everyone to come back from synagogue. And, when they did, my middle son walked in with a bag of presents - a birthday surprise for me. I hadn't exactly forgotten it was my birthday, but somehow this year it seems less relevant, less significant.

It was wonderful to see him, to hug him. My youngest daughter made wonderful pictures; my oldest made a fudge cake desert. There are moments in your life where you know it can't get any better.

It was a long walk back and as my youngest daughter proudly carried the helium balloon, she was stopped repeatedly, "Whose birthday is it?" they would ask with a smile and I quickly answered, "MINE!".

There is no shame in being a year older, no sadness, no fear. I love each day, each week, each year God blesses me with life and these children. Mine! I said, my life, my children, my balloon, my birthday!

For part of the way home (it's a long walk), I ended up walking next to Elie as my husband walked slowly with a friend we met along the way. It was nice because it gave us an opportunity to talk. Amazingly enough, as aware as Elie is of so much that happens here in the Middle East, he had heard nothing of the attack on Fort Hood, Texas.

He listened as I gave all the information that I knew. We talked of how it was possible and Elie could easily understand. "Ima, they have to go on a ship to get to the war zone. They'll be armed when they get there. Why would they need arms there?"

"You have a gun," I pointed out. So often, I am the petulant one; the childish one wishing things were different faced with Elie's understanding and realism. He's right, of course. And yet, I wanted the soldiers to have been armed, to have stopped these murderers before so many were hurt.

There was no reason for them to have been armed. They were safe there, among their own...or should have been.

"How long does it take to fire so many bullets?" I asked Elie. "Almost 50 people were shot and either killed or wounded."

"Not long," Elie answered. Not long at all.

Elie was not surprised to hear that the shooter had an "Arabic-sounding" name. He raised an eyebrow when I told him there were reports that the terrorist had screamed out "Allah Akbar" - "God is great" before opening fire.

He raised his brow again and gave this knowing smile when I told him the Americans didn't think it was terrorism, "they never do," he said.

That isn't true - not really. But isn't it funny that this is his reaction. We jump to assume terrorism here. The police will quickly try to calm us when something happens but only after they are sure. And in America, the opposite. It isn't terrorism until all other motives are ruled out.

We understand this shock, this pain, this reality here in Israel. It was this way after 9/11 too. We looked with sadness to the Americans as they reacted as we have.

How could this have happened? How could anyone do such a thing? Innocent lives? Why? We live this reality in Israel and after so many decades, we know there is no answer except hatred and an evilness within a culture that supports the idea that it is acceptable to murder in the name of some elusive, self-serving goal.

May God bless the memories of the victims of Fort Hood, Texas. May He send comfort to the families and may they know no more sorrow.

May the day come when hatred gives way to compromise and acceptance of values and religions different from your own.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Army's Gift

As each soldier leaves the Israeli army, the division and the unit do something for them. They get monetary benefits to see them into the next phase of their lives (more on that when Elie actually gets out and I learn what they are); they get courses that help them learn skills, they get backpacks and hats and scarves and gloves, shampoo and personal hygienic kits, and they get honors in society. Forever, God willing, Elie will be labeled as an artillery soldier, a commander at that.

They go through life, these soldiers of Israel, meeting others and with a word "artillery", "paratroopers", "pilot", "Navy", "tanks"...with a single word they tell something about themselves. That is for the future, to a place we haven't yet gotten, so I'll focus on now, on this week, when Elie received a gift from the army.

I can't say what other divisions do; I can barely say what artillery does or will do. They gave him the gift of a vacation with several other artillery soldiers who will also be leaving in the coming months. Elie had the itinerary, kept "secret" from the others. It was to begin on Sunday morning in the northern city of Afula. Meet the bus, surrender yourself for fun.

Don't come in army uniforms - this is about you. They had (all but Elie and another commander) checked their guns back into the army. It isn't hard to look at Elie, even when he isn't in uniform, to know that he is a soldier. It's in the short hair, the body toned by years of exercise. But it's also there in the way he walks, the way he listens, the way he watches. Security is always an issue for Israel, even when you are on vacation. Elie would go armed, magazine in the gun, ready. It is another reality he lives with.

It was to be two days of hiking, bowling, going on tours of local points of interest, going to some historical sites. Sunday was fine, even great. They bowled Sunday night. I have to remember to ask Elie how he did.

Monday dawned incredibly cold and nasty. Record rainfall. In Jerusalem, I watched as the rain fell steadily in Israel, something it rarely does. All day, sometimes harder, sometimes less. Sometimes thunder, always wet. In Israel, winter and summer come with a vengeance and Monday was a fine example. There was even talk of snow on the highest levels of Mr. Hermon.

They made it to the first historical site and had a tour before the rains reached way up north, but then the skies opened. There would be no touring, no hiking for the rest of this second day. And this is where the "Israeli" comes into "Israeli army". They called the battalion commander to inform him that there was not much they could do. The battalion commander made a single phone call and within minutes, Elie and the others were off to a local country club, there to swim in heated waters, use the gym, and relax.

It was a gift, a break, a wonderful day. It was a thank you from a land so grateful to soldiers so loved.

Being in Two Places and Being Needed

Elie's coming home today - through a series of complex twists, he is supposed to travel down to a large southern base to be one of the commanders of a preparation course training new commanders. It's a three week stint. One week training Elie on what he has to do, two week being the commander of the course.

Then it's back up north to rejoin his unit for training, then back in the center, this time near Jerusalem, on a checkpoint. That's how he will finish his army service. That's the plan, or was, or will be. The one great truth of the army is that no matter what they tell you will be, when it will be, where and how, tomorrow that will change.

"So you're coming home today?" I asked him this morning.

Elie explained that most soldiers leave late in the afternoon and get home in the evening. For him, living where we do, he has to take a bus to Tel Aviv and another to Jerusalem and another to our home. He gets home very late.

"I'm not sure what's happening Sunday," he told me. Sunday he was supposed to travel south to the base; return on Tuesday. Wednesday he was supposed to go north for the day and return that night, finally starting his training for the Commanders Preparation Course the following Sunday.

"They need me here. They're going to have a big problem if I go to . And I have orders to go to the . They need me in two places and I can't be in both at the same time."

"So what happens now?" I asked.

"They have to decide."

"Which do you want?" I asked.

He was silent for a moment and then finally responded. "I think . It would be nice to rest."

While he would be in charge of the soldiers as they go through the preparation course gearing up to the Commanders Course, Elie's life would be relatively easy. He would be responsible for some of their training, but also for helping decide who goes and who stays (many are rejected before the course begins and many choose not to stay because the training is hard). But there are many who assist; these soldiers will become commanders, as Elie was trained.

When there is an incident, as there was with Elie's unit in Jerusalem a bit over a year ago, it is the commanders and the officers who raise their guns and fire. When Elie went with a group of soldiers earlier this week for a parting vacation from the army, it was Elie, the commander, who took a gun along. The others were free to climb and swim, while Elie and another few guarded.

Their training during this course is intense. Physical and mental. Tests for intelligence and stamina. They learn navigation beyond anything taught to non-commanders. They learn to shoot weapons beyond their M16. Each of these are taught by experts. It is Elie's job to teach some, train some, be counselor and companion some and guide the group from expert to expert. In between, he would be free to "play on the computer. It would be nice to be in ."

Elie began his training almost three years ago on this base and spent almost a full year during his various levels of training. It is very far from home and to some extent it is coming home, or at least visiting home one last time before he leaves the army.

I sometimes feel very old when I see my son and think of the lessons he has yet to learn; the understanding he has yet to develop. He knows that he is needed in two places. What he doesn't recognize, perhaps it is the folly of youth, is that there should be great joy in knowing that you are needed, even if you are over-needed.

Where will Elie be next week? I asked myself this question so many times over the last few years...right now, I've come to the wonderful place where I can feel that wherever it is, is okay with me (and him).

May it come in safety and health. May it come in the knowledge that what he does, no matter where he does it, serves his people and his nation.

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