Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Are You Chaim's Mother?

I got a call today from someone named Shlomi. He asked if I was Chaim's mother...I was about to say no, or Chaim who...when I thought of my adopted son, Chaim. All sorts of thoughts came into my mind, and I knew to get answers to my questions, I had to answer that one first.

"Yes," I answered mostly because I didn't want to waste time explaining when I thought something was wrong, "did something happen? Is he okay?"

Shlomi explained that he was Chaim's commanding officer and was quick to assure me that everything was fine. He was calling because he wanted to come visit and explain to me all about how Chaim is doing in the army, what he is doing, and what he will do for the next few months. This happened during the early weeks of Elie's service (The Uniform and the Visit). The commanding officer comes to the parents and answers all their questions.

As soon as I realized the purpose of the call, I explained to Shlomi, "Wait, I'm not really his mother. His mother is in America. We adopted him." But then, I thought, that isn't a good enough explanation and so I explained that our children consider him like a brother, like one of the family...here, while he has a wonderful family there. I explained that I have a son who just finished artillery and my second son also just entered another Kfir unit.

I was trying to save Shlomi the visit, but he wants to come anyway. I told him straight out - you don't have to come. I'll hear about Kfir when Shmulik's commanding officer comes - "I want to tell you about Chaim," he explained.

I finally gave up...maybe he has orders to visit and doesn't have a choice, I thought. Elie explained that it is as much for Chaim as it is for us - Shlomi wants to tell us about Chaim, but he also wants to see what kind of support system Chaim has here in Israel, and tomorrow we will show him that Chaim has a loving home here as well as in America, a place he can come any time. This visit from the commanding officer is, in many ways, more about the soldier than it is about the family. I missed that the first time around with Elie. I needed the visit and so didn't think about the army's needs. But the army needs to know the soldier can concentrate on being a soldier, on learning what he needs to learn, on becoming what he needs to become.

If the family doesn't have food at home and this son was the one who worked extra hours to help, the army wants to know that. Special arrangements can be made; organizations brought in to help. Elie had a few special needs soldiers - one was given every weekend off so he could work for a few days and bring in extra income; Yashar LaChayal (http://www.yasharlachayal.com) is an organization that focuses on lone soldiers and soldiers from needy families. It has been known to buy stoves, refrigerators, even beds for these families.

This is the first introduction to the soldier's family - the first time they can calculate if the family will drag the soldier down...or help lift him up. Elie was blessed...we are blessed...that his home represents a place that welcomes him, supports him, frees him, loves him.

Tomorrow, Shlomi will want to calculate if Chaim has something similar and I'll tell him that as blessed as Elie was...Chaim is even more so. Chaim has an older brother...two even...Yaakov by birth and Elie by choice...who have been through the army and with whom he can share his thoughts and questions. He has parents that adore him, a younger sister that will love him and send him special messages and an older sister who will share her pride and support too. He has three adorable (I've seen the pictures!) nieces and grandparents...all a phone call away...and yes, here in Israel, he has many friends and our family as well.

All this I understood this time, where I didn't understand the first time with Elie. I thought it amazing that the army would care enough to escort the parents through this army business, but now I understand that while it is a wonderful thing...there is a purpose to all things in the army, including this first visit with the soldier's family.

Later in the day, Shlomi called again to explain that he didn't have time to come today and would come tomorrow to our home. We made arrangements to pick him up at the front of the city and drive him here where we will sit and listen. It was then that I asked him a question "Could I record your talking?" I asked him.

"You mean with video?" he asked.

"No, just your voice. I want to send it to Chaim's mother. Not all of it, maybe the part where you say what a good soldier he is," I said with a smile.

"No problem," Shlomi answered. "I'll even try to speak in English."

So tomorrow is my second visit with a commander of one of "my" sons. No doubt in the next few weeks, Shmulik's commanding officer will come here as well. I'll let him come...I hope I can convince him that Shmulik has as much support as Chaim will have!

When Or came to tell me about Elie's army service, I was anxious to learn, to understand where Elie was, what he would do. I knew nothing and relied on Or to explain so much. Now, I smile at this visit. I don't need Shlomi to tell me that he is watching over Chaim...I know this. I don't need Shlomi to tell me about basic training and advanced training, of the daily routine and more.

But perhaps the army needs me to tell them that Chaim has support outside the framework of the army and so this I will explain back. And as for that little kick of concern when Shlomi asked if I was Chaim's mother and all I could think was that something had happened to him...(illogical as it was because Chaim isn't even IN the army now but rather on a Passover break), I'll take that moment and pray it is all the fear I will ever have for any of them.

I'm sorry that Shlomi is coming to my home and not to Chaim's mother's house. I wish she could be here to sit and ask questions and be assured that the army is watching out for her son. I feel a bit disloyal that I answered that Chaim was my son...I only did it because in that split second, I was afraid he wouldn't tell me something important. As soon as I said I wasn't Chaim's real mother, Shlomi said he knows.

He understands that Chaim is a lone soldier with a family in America. Tomorrow, I hope I'll succeed in taping a bit of the interview so that Chaim's real family can share this moment and know that Israel is grateful for their son's service, that Israel is committed to Chaim...as Chaim has committed to Israel.

May God always bless Chaim with the love and support of his family...his families, near and far.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Vision of an Art Sale

I’m often asked on various social media networks about my political stand, where my sons are, what beliefs I have in the future. Recently, a series of emails and Twitter conversations got to me. One cousin in America, who supported Barack Hussein Obama, argues that Obama isn’t anti-Israel and that my claims that Obama is blackmailing Israel are unfounded. He quotes relatives who lived in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s but refuses to acknowledge today’s realities.
From my perspective, I see that Obama wants Israel to toe his line and has canceled sending Israel necessary military equipment until Israel buckles. Sounds like blackmail to me. Obama is demanding Israel stop building in Jerusalem, something Israel never promised to do because it is on Obama’s agenda, not ours. Sounds anti-Israel to me.

And a gentleman from Brazil who says he is left-wing, offers me a choice: withdraw from a good portion of our land, establish a bi-national state, or become an apartheid state. I rejected his options…each and every one of them. We have given good land, only to get rockets; we know what a bi-national state will bring us, and Israel is nothing like the apartheid South Africa once was…with 10% of the Knesset being Arab, with Israeli Arabs having all the same rights we have – the right to travel anywhere in our country, the right to vote, the right to education and government funding.

The Brazilian gentleman asked me if I see a light at the end of the tunnel. After I answered, he asked me if I would be willing to trade land for these visions and I explained that his question was absurd. It’s like going into an art gallery and asking to buy a painting that isn’t for sale in a place you know believes in bargaining.

The owner steps us and says it isn’t for sale, but what is the most you would pay? If you answer $1,000, you know that should the owner decide to sell, he will begin at $1,000.

The opening bid is the one you last state and you can never go back and offer $800. Your final bid becomes the opening one, the final price so much higher than you can afford to pay…or more likely, the sale will never be made. People ask me if I would agree to trade land for some distant peace…and my answer is simply “is the painting even for sale?”

And finally, the man from Brazil who speaks Hebrew and loves this land and wishes my sons well; a man who prays for a day when his sons and mine can play soccer on a field with Palestinian children, asked if I had a vision. It isn’t often I let myself dream of what the future could hold. For what purpose, I ask myself, when there is no chance of a peace agreement while Israel has no partner, what is to be gained?

And then I realized that because we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean we lack hope. Perhaps it is our error, that we often don’t explain to the world that yes, we do have a vision of the world we dream of, the one that could come…if the Palestinians allow it.

So here is my vision – of a time when the painting is on sale…when the Palestinians seriously want peace and an end to this endless war. I dream of a day:

-- when Muslim extremism ceases to exist and Islam doesn't consider non-Muslim "infidels" worthy of death and terror.

-- when Palestinians recognize Israel is too strong to be destroyed and are willing to live WITH it permanently on viable borders that aren’t simply a staging ground for their next war.

--when Palestinian mothers say to their husbands and government - enough. We won't lose any more sons. Stop the terror, stop the rockets and go talk.

-- when the world says to the Palestinians (and Iranians) - NO, you cannot continue. WE will stop you. Israel has the right to live, a right to land, a right to peace and until you negotiate, we will not give you, we will not support you, we will not back you and we will not arm you.

-- when, God willing, my third son doesn't have to be a soldier as my first and now my second has to, or a time when my sons’ closets aren’t filled with green clothes, when there are no bullets in my home and no talk of violent attacks or incoming rockets.

I dream of a day, perhaps, when I can get in my car and drive to Amman for shopping after lunch in Jerusalem - and see not a gun or a fence along the way. And perhaps I’ll stay in Amman overnight, perhaps not. The consideration will be what I want to do and not my Israeli passport, security and safety.

I dream of a day when my children don’t look and wonder at the person who walks in the restaurant because there is no fear of violence.

I dream of a day when I can wander the hills of my land without concern for guards and escorts, when a mountain or field calls to me through the car window and I can stop the car and not have to think if it is near an Arab village…or a firing range.

No, I explained to my Brazilian friend – I do not see a light at the end of this tunnel we are in but I know what the world outside the tunnel would look like. We who live in this world are not without vision or hope. We are simply realistic enough to understand that desperation does not make reality; that wanting peace is wonderful, unless the other side does not…and then it becomes a weakness they exploit.

The underlying truth here is that we who pride ourselves on being on the Right side of this great debate of our lives and realities are no less interested in peace and security than those on the Left. We dream, as you do, of a day when there will be peace, when our sons will not have to guard our borders with such vigilance. We yearn for the days when rockets stop and guards are no longer needed at malls and restaurants and airports.

The difference is not in the dreams and hopes we have for the future of our nation, but rather in the path we think we must take to get there. We know that appeasement and surrender simply whets the appetites of our enemies, feeds their thirst to have it all.

We have tasted of the bitter waters of surrender, unilateral actions, and land trades and find today’s reality is a direct result of these desperate and incorrect policies. Tomorrow’s peace will come only when today’s partners want it. Until then, the painting isn’t even for sale so talk of what we will pay is not only premature, it is potentially suicidal and most definitely bad politics.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The First Pictures

That first picture is priceless...it is the moment you can no longer deny that your son is a soldier. It's real...he's wearing green...and he's on a path you can't follow, you can't control. When they are in school, you can complain to the teacher who doesn't recognize your son's abilities or the store manager who cheated them because they were talked into buying something they didn't need.

There are so many times as my children have grown that I've stepped in - perhaps as some suggest, I do it too often and don't let them fall enough. There are different parenting modes and I have mine. Sometimes I'll let them fall, but they'll know that I'm there to catch them if I can...until the army. I can't yell at their commanding officer; I can't convince the army that they should release them an hour earlier or let them sleep that much longer. And so the first time they come home in the uniform, you realize that this son that you have raised so far...is yours...but someone else's as well.

It is the army's clothes they wear, the army's discipline and rules they follow. The army will choose when they sleep, when and what they eat...even when they come home. A few hours after Shmulik went off to the induction center, he called me to tell me he was already in uniform and on his way to the base. I asked him to take a picture of himself and send it.

 It isn't a great picture, but perhaps it is better for its quality. He looks...uncertain, tired...
He came home this weekend, and I took a few more. I remember the first picture I put up of Elie...only later did the "one" for the blog occur. So, yes, to those who have asked, I'll be putting pictures up of Shmulik and Chaim (who already has a great picture on my computer and has given me permission) and Yaakov's picture too (if he'll let me).

A few weeks ago, I wrote of how my youngest daughter had already experienced one brother in the army and Yaakov wrote to me asking how I could have forgotten Elie? Yes, he's right. Aliza has had TWO brothers finish the army (Elie AND Yaakov) and now has two more in (Shmulik AND Chaim). So, Yaakov - can I put your picture here too?

As for Chaim...you're on the other computer, so I'll put you up next...along with more pictures...if I can get this blog thing to just upload the picture!


Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm Protecting Israel

I called Shmulik to find out when he was coming home. It's silly to call a soldier during the first three months of training - they can't answer (aren't even supposed to have the phone in their pockets). This is when they teach them, shape them, guide them, create them into the soldier they will be.

Of course, he didn't answer - I'm not even sure I can say I was disappointed. The nice thing was that he called me back later and I asked him what he was doing and he answered, "I'm protecting Israel." It was the laugh in his voice that warned me he wasn't serious.

"Against what?" I asked - images of them walking around base filled my mind, but it's too early.

"Against plants," he said and we both laughed. Apparently, this is one of the details Elie didn't tell me about but when new recruits enter the base, the first thing they do...is clean up the base. So for the last week...Shmulik and these new recruits have been picking up garbage, weeding, and cleaning the base.

There's a deeper message there for Shmulik and these soldiers. Next week, he'll begin the "real" soldier stuff. He'll get a gun and begin to learn its weight, its responsibility, its reality. This week, as he killed weeds, he served his country...that was the message I think. By wearing the uniform, by giving your time to this country...all that you do is part of the whole - from jobnik to combat soldier...from gardener to pilot.

So, my son, with no gun (wearing sandals because he dropped a metal bed on his foot and got permission to wear sandals instead of boots for a few days), protected Israel this week.

What Elie Didn't Have

What Elie didn't have in the army was someone in the family who understood where he was, what he was doing, where he was going. He didn't have someone to talk to who could speak of other experiences. I knew it was missing, but didn't know how important it was, how much easier it makes the experience, until I watched Shmulik and Elie last weekend and especially this one.

It isn't just how Elie spoke to Shmulik about uniforms and how to dress - it was so much more. Several times now I have listened as they spoke. Shmulik defers to Elie in some ways; and Elie speaks to him in a new way...more respectful, more brothers of an age. It was the little things; not one thing in particular and yet it was all things.

Elie gave Shmulik his large backpack to use, and a smaller one for the times he doesn't have to bring too much home. Shmulik's commanding officer saw the backpack and asked him where he got it.

"From my older brother," Shmulik answered. It has the emblem of Elie's artillery unit and the commander was impressed. They spoke of guns and training; of the weather and sleeping on base. Of how the army cleans the bases before Passover and so much more.

What Elie didn't have was someone who understood his army talk. He tried to talk to me and tell me things sometimes, but I could only listen and not share my own experiences back...I don't have any. But Elie does and so when Shmulik talks about the long hours; Elie understands. When Shmulik talks about cleaning the base; Elie explains that he did too. On and on they went as I watched these two beautiful young men...mine, I thought. They may now have each other in a way they never did before...but I am the most blessed because I have them both.

Tonight, Shmulik is with friends before returning tomorrow to the army; Elie is on call with the ambulance squad.

I'm at peace - silly concept that, but it is true. Today, Israel was hit by four rockets fired from Gaza. Thankfully, there were no injuries. Yesterday, it was two rockets. Thursday, one rocket that killed a Thai worker in the field. Wednesday and Tuesday other rockets. This is going back to the daily firing that led to war...where this will go, I do not know.

By army rules, Elie won't be called to Reserve duty for one year following his finishing the army...but that is ignored for war. I haven't asked him about the rockets, about war. As for Shmulik - he has yet to receive a gun and the training he would need. For at least the next four months, if not a bit longer, the army won't be sending him anywhere...yes, tonight my sons are home and other sons guard our borders.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mitzvah Money

A mitzvah is a commandment, more, it is something understood as an action that enriches ourselves, our lives, others. In the strictest sense, it is one of 613 commandments we were given in the Torah, but more, it is about doing good, being good. Eating kosher food and keeping the Sabbath are mitzvot (plural of mitzvah), but performing an act of kindness, making the decent choice, the honorable one, these too are mitzvot.

If you give charity, help a friend, etc. - again, a mitzvah. Somewhere along the way, I learned that there is a custom to give someone who embarks on a trip a small amount of money, a symbolic gesture more important for the act than the amount - a dollar, a few shekels and tell them at the end of their journey, they should give it to charity.

By giving them this money, you are making their entire journey a pathway towards fulfilling a mitzvah and in making the journey a righteous one, there is the belief that God will give extra protection. When our relatives come visit, often their friends give them money and tell them to donate it in Israel and (when we remember), we try to give them money to do the same upon their return.

Shmulik came home last week and showed me what someone had done. They took 100 shekels (about $30) and folded the bill into the shape of a heart so that he wouldn't mistakenly use it. This is his "mitzvah money" and he has been told to carry it with him and when he finishes his service, to donate it. That means that all of the journey he is about to take is part of the path towards fulfilling this mitzvah.

Of course, simply serving in the army and protecting this country is a mitzvah, but I thought what a beautiful thought this was, what a special way to wish him safety on his journey, throughout his journey.

Shmulik carries this in his wallet, and will for quite some time. May his journey be a safe one from this day, and each day, until he finishes and is able to deliver this charity to a worthy cause.

The Gentlest of Slides

Elie went on Sunday to his base. He took uniforms, a backpack, and honestly, I'm not sure what else. He gave all this to a soldier there and received a small piece of paper - a free bus pass for a return trip for his visit today.

Today, he left early - driving by himself - to the induction center where just a few days ago, he took Shmulik. There, he will give them his military ID...they will shred it in a large device and give him a card showing he is no longer a member of the standing army, no longer a soldier in active duty. He'll get a Reserves card he'll keep in his wallet beside another that shows he was a "lochem" - a fighter.

He'll walk out of the induction center and come home. That's it. The end of the road that started three years ago. It was a gentle slide into a time of unknown, a time of fear and sometimes internal terrors. It was a call to parts deep within myself to overcome...and mostly, I did.

Elie will walk out the same and yet so much more than he was when he entered. There are physical changes. He was 19-years-old when he entered, more boy than man. He had a temper, a messy room, a way about him that enabled him to think, to analyze, to understand.

In his meanderings through the army, he was given access to computer information and was told or found out he aced the initial tests. Those tests he took even before he entered the army set him a bit apart and determined what task the army would assign to him.

In those first weeks, he learned, he listened, he adapted. That is the test of a good soldier and likely a good commander. Elie finished his basic training, his advanced training and his commanders course. There were so many moving moments in his service - but I will never forget the smile I saw in the distance as his first commanding officer approached to pin on the symbol showing Elie was now a commander. Or took his own pin, removed it from his uniform, and pinned it on Elie's shirt. The exchanging of pins is a beautiful custom and Or chose Elie.

There were moments I will remember, and ones I will try to forget but overall, as I see Elie gently slide back into life, I am so blessed. For all the fear and worry - the army of Israel treated my son with respect. They rewarded him in so many ways, built him up in so many ways.

What Elie will choose to do in the next few months of his life and in the years to come is still a mystery. He's great with computers. He wants to take the psychometric tests (similar to the US SATs or other qualification tests) and continue his education. In what field...I don't know yet. He'd make an amazing engineer but it will be his choice.

He has yet to completely stand down. We go through a checkpoint and he comments about where the soldier is standing "he's too close to the road" or "he's not supposed to do that," when the soldier opens the trunk of the car rather than making the Arab do it and risk harm from what might be inside. He watches, looks around and is ever aware of what is happening. He reads the news and increases the volume on the radio when the hourly news report comes on. I don't know if this will change in time or if this is a permanent change.

Yesterday and the day before, I sat with a new client going over a new application they want us to document. In the way of all things Israeli, we talked and as it is a large part of my life (and theirs) there was talk of the army. The programmer had been in artillery, recognized Elie's unit. He was an officer. A connection.

And so it goes. What Elie gained in the army these past three years he takes with him. He is now 22-years-old, even more handsome than he ever was. His room is sadly still a mess but his temper is more controlled. He thinks, he analyzes, he acts - the same and yet so much more. He stands on the edge of all the rest of his life. May God grant him a long, healthy, happy one. He has served his people, his land, his country, his God.

Now he moves on...his brothers remain to take over the tasks he did, to guard, to protect. He slides into a new life, confident and proud. I am so proud of him.

As for A Soldier's Mother...as you all have probably figured out...it continues. Thank you to all of you who have written to me, seen me through the good and the bad. I wish I could say there will be no more falls on this roller coaster but I no longer believe that. Yesterday, again, the Arabs threatened war, Intifada, whatever.

A new son of Israel steps forward this day and each day. That is the way of things here in our beautiful and holy land.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Allow Me to Explain

Each time Israel does something the Arabs do not like, there are two responses they issue. Sometimes, I feel like they reach into a hat and select one. It is always the same - either they are going to end the peace process...to which I desperately want to ask...WHAT peace process...or, they are threatening yet another Intifada.

For those unfamiliar with the term - an Intifada is a fancy word for mindless rioting and terrorism. Intifada is a code name for firebombs and stone attacks...but worse - suicide bombers in our malls, our buses, our restaurants. Intifada means - open season on murder...the more innocent, the younger, the better.

This week, the threat cards are being played for two reasons. The first is that Israel is daring to approve new apartments for families in our capital, Jerusalem. The new apartments would be in the north of Jerusalem (not the eastern areas as some inaccurate news outlets are reporting). The apartments would be built on unoccupied lands - open fields, directly adjacent to and within the area of Ramat Shlomo - a neighborhood I can see from my office window.

No, I'm not saying the Israeli government was particularly adept in how it handled the announcement, but there was more politics than reality in the US response and condemnation and a fair amount of stupidity in the US failure to understand the facts on the ground.

More curious, however, than the Ramat Shlomo fiasco...is the second reason why the Arabs are threatening yet another Intifada. In 1948, the beautiful Hurva synagogue was destroyed during our War of Independence. That was in May, 1948 after the United Nations voted to divide Palestine into two states - a Jewish one and an Arab one.

The day we declared the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and named that country Israel - five Arab nations invaded, promising they would push the Jews into the sea. They called out to the Arab residents and told them to leave their homes, to get out of the way of the incoming Arab countries and by and large, they did. They left...but the rest of their plan didn't work. Israel not only held onto the land promised to us...or most of it, we even captured much of the land that would have been an Arab state. This is the price of violence and war...when you choose war, sometimes you lose. They lost.

The synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was lost...as was the entire Old City. Where for thousands of years Jews have prayed...suddenly, we were denied access to our holiest of sites, the last remaining wall of the Holy Temple, last destroyed in 70 CE (the Western Wall is actually a retaining wall and not part of the Holy Temple structure itself).

There were no cries of religious intolerance from 1948 to 1967, no international demands that Jews have access to the Temple Mount. US presidents and Popes didn't decry our inability to worship...nor did they care that hundreds of graves, centuries old...were destroyed, their tombstones broken, scattered, and used to build latrines by the Jordanian army.

The Hurva synagogue lay in ruins...when Israel recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, our leading general, Moshe Dayan, did a very stupid thing...stupid because the world took our generosity for granted, our sacrifice was for nothing. The Temple Mount is the site where our two Temples were built, the site where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. Christian belief says it is the site of the ascension and Muslim tradition credits Mohammed with ascending to heaven from there as well. On that fateful day in 1967, Moshe Dayan gave the Temple Mount to the Arabs because on the ruins of our Temple, they had built a mosque (a common practice that they repeat on top of many synagogues and churches to stake their claim).

In any case, after Jerusalem was again in our hands...we opened the city to all religions. For 19 years, we could not pray or touch the Western Wall and yet not even 19 days have passed where we have blocked Arabs from tending to the place. Sometimes, like today, when the Arabs are pulling their latest Intifada card and promising violence, there are restrictions -but still, thousands of Arabs are allowed where Jews are not.

So for the last 60+ years, the Hurva synagogue ruins have filled the place...but slowly a few years ago, Israel began rebuilding it - as fine and beautiful as it ever was. It is located in the middle of the Jewish quarter - a good 5 minute walk from the Western Wall and the Temple Mount...that is fact - I have walked the path many times.

From the site of the Hurva synagogue, you walk between numerous stores, down about 100 steps...perhaps even more. You walk across a large, open plaza...and only then do you approach the Temple Mount...and yet, the Arabs are threatening another Intifada because we dared to rebuild the synagogue.

They say we are trying to "Juda-ize" Jerusalem and I am torn between anger and amusement. There is no reason to make something that is inherently Jewish...Jewish again. Jerusalem - was founded...by the Jews, sustained and nurtured...by the Jews. It is our city, our capital, our promise, our destiny.

We have been prepared to share it and live in peace but where we were driven from it once, we never will be again. Tonight in Jerusalem, we celebrate the rebuilt and reopened Hurva synagogue.

For this, the Arabs threaten. Hamas even says it is grounds for war. End of peace process...Intifada...war - I wish someone would tell the Arabs that their ongoing threats are useless and prove their lack of credibility.

But more, I wish the world would tell the Arabs that it is violence that got them where they are today - trying desperately through hatred and terrorism to get what they could have gotten 60 years ago with a simple positive answer to the United Nations.

That boat sailed long ago - or rather, that boat was torpedoed by the Arab nations and lies in ruin below the sea. If there is a peace process, it will not be served by threats and if they do not learn to live with the Hurva synagogue rebuilt on the very spot where it stood 60 years ago...there is no hope.

There will be another war, another Intifada, another wave of terrorism. I am as convinced of that as I am that the US administration will continue to grovel whenever and wherever it can. I have seen one son go to war. It is more than any mother should have to see and yet I come to realize that it is very likely war will come to my family again.

I don't know when or why, but judging from the past, it is likely the reason will be as senseless as today's threats. We rebuilt a synagogue the Arabs destroyed 60 years ago...on land that is ours, always has been and always will be. The Arabs can learn to deal with it, or they can threaten us.

Just as there are always two responses from the Arabs to pretty much any occurrence in the Middle East, there are two realities they must learn. The first is simply that we will rebuild and, if we have to, we will fight. the second is that time runs in only one direction - forward. You cannot rewind the clock - not a day, not a month, and certainly not 60 years.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Passing the Elastic Band...

Isn't that a silly title? I thought of sword...too violent...and I thought of this weekend, of Shmulik home in his uniform for the first time, of how he spoke, of what he said, of so many images...and an elastic band.

My older daughter's reaction when she saw Shmulik, "they look so much alike" she said of her two brothers. Others have said they resemble each other...I really don't think they do. Elie went into the army and got into shape. Shmulik has been running and walking and exercising for years. He lifts weights - he boasts that he may not be taller than Elie, but he believes he is stronger.

They spoke that language over the weekend...rapid fire Hebrew of life in the army and Shmulik deferred to Elie in so many ways. He asked about what to bring, what to leave. Elie checked his boots and told him to switch where the shoe laces began. And when Shmulik indulged my wishes for a few pictures, Elie stopped him as he was putting on his boots...and handed him two black elastic bands to replace the ones Shmulik had.

They were brand new and Elie had saved them for his brother. So far, Shmulik hasn't done much on base. They haven't been given weapons...I don't know when they will. For now, it is more about teaching them - how to dress, when to get up in the morning, how to behave.

Saturday night, the two boys...boys...my two young men...went to buy clothes for Elie. They came home with about 8 shirts but no pants yet. Elie is still finding his way in post-army life...just as Shmulik is finding his way in the army. Each takes tentative steps, not quite sure how to adjust to this new world.

Shmulik and I talked a few times about what he will be doing in the army and each time his answer is the same - "terrorists." Kfir is tasked with anti-terror operations. Elie tells me it is the same as what he did...Shmulik makes is sound so much worse.

Yes, I know Elie was responsible for finding explosives, weapons, etc. and I know he went into Arab villages when there was a need. And yet, I focused on Elie being artillery. There is no other focus for Shmulik, no other path. In war and in "peace" - okay, not peace...let's say, when we aren't actively in war, Shmulik's tasks are the same - to go in, to stop hatred and murder from getting out.

But these fears are months away - for now, it's about learning - about elastic bands and tying shoes. Shmulik sent me his first picture from the bus as he was driven to base. Elie took one look and said he was wearing the wrong color undershirt.

When Shmulik showed me his uniform, it was so new, so stiff. There was a discussion about belts and finally what gets returned to the army at the end of the process. Everything Shmulik got was brand new.

If you return your old stuff...but everything Shmulik got was new...who gets the old stuff...and with a smile and a tease, Elie answered "jobniks."

Shmulik called tonight - these first calls are so precious. They didn't do much - they only returned to base around 5:00 p.m. Tomorrow, they will "clean the base," he said - make it nice, clear away weeds. Perhaps tonight or early tomorrow morning, they will patrol the base.

"They gave you a gun?" I asked.

"No, but they said they might. No bullets - just to get the feel of what it is like to patrol."

Tomorrow, he thinks, they will start training, running. He was assigned a group. Here too there is a huge difference between Elie's service and Shmulik's. Shmulik goes in with the Hesder unit - together, as a group, they serve. So he is with all of his friends, the ones with whom he went to pre-military school for the past year and a half and even a few others.

He sounds fine; strong; calm. There are so many fewer unknowns this time around, so much less fear. There are still dangers ahead - danger in training and later in operation, but this time around, I don't seem to want to be scared right now. I'm not rushing to that state of panic. I know where he is, how he is and to some extent, even what he is doing.

He's coming home again this weekend and apparently will be home for the Seder. My daughter and her husband will join us; my husband's sister and brother come from afar. For now, I hear Shmulik's voice, love the sound of his calls. He is with friends...but more importantly, I have learned from Elie that even if he weren't with his friends, he'd be among friends.

And a bit more...though they can't find each other yet, Chaim and Shmulik are on the same base - separated by a fence and different units, but still there together in some way. There is such calm in that too. The army would never let two brothers serve in the same unit, probably not even the same base...and yet, they have, haven't they?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Technology's Child

For the last 60 years, tens of thousands of mothers in Israel (and around the world), did what I did today. They sent their sons off to join the army of their nation. Twenty-something years ago, my sister-in-law was rocking my infant daughter who slept sweetly on her shoulder. She was only a few weeks old and my sister-in-law asked if she was doing it correctly.

"Does it hurt right here?" I said as I pointed to a location in the middle of my back.

"Yes," she answered.

"Then you are doing it right," I responded.

If you can think of what it feels like to send a son to the army, if you can just imagine the feeling...your stomach hurts just a bit, the lump in your throat seems greater today and your sense of time that much stronger...then you are doing it right and understanding. Your brain just doesn't quite function as it should...you are a bit distracted and you keep looking at the clock. Where is he now? What is he doing? Where will he go?

Shmulik called me about two hours ago - he's on his way to his base "somewhere" in Israel. I asked him as many questions as my mind could process. Did they give you all your supplies? Yes, he said - two towels, the socks, undershirts, the bag...and more.

How are the boots? "Not as comfortable as I thought they would be," he answered...and I remembered Elie answering that it was more comfortable than he expected. I doubt the boots have changed, but I guess the expectations of the person are different. I mentioned this to Elie and he explained - before he went into the army, he favored hi-top heavy hiking boots and so the combat boots were in some ways lighter and softer...more comfortable. Shmulik is a sneakers and sandals kid and so the boots are more restrictive.

He told me that he was dressed in uniform, with two of his friends...and then I thought of all the mothers who for generations couldn't ask what I was about to ask.

"Can you take a picture and send it to me by phone?"

He did - of him sitting there on the bus, staring at the camera. You can tell he is thinking...wondering if he knows how to attach the picture he just took. It isn't his phone - we sent his younger brother's phone because it is more durable and so Shmulik has to learn the menu options all over again.

A few minutes after I asked, my phone beeped with an incoming message...I have seen my second son in the uniform of Israel. It is real. The uniform is brand new, almost shiny. He doesn't wear it naturally yet; it's just too starched and formal. He was so busy concentrating on taking the picture and wondering if he'd figure out how to send it...he forgot to smile. When I got it, I sent him back a note, "Great. Now take another and smile this time," I wrote.

A generation and two and three ago, mothers sent their sons off and didn't know when they'd be back, didn't hear about that first day until the first time they came home. Today, mere hours after he left, I was able to talk to him, know where he is and where he is going...and even see a picture of him.

By now, he is on base...his life as a soldier has begun.

Where a Parent Cannot Go

Dozens...probably hundreds...of parents took their sons and daughters to the army today, last week, and in the days to come. It is March in Israel - one of many major induction months on the calendar. This time, Shmulik went to a different meeting point than Elie.

This time, rather than Jerusalem, he was instructed to come to the major army induction center, through which, I believe, all new soldiers pass. There, from station to station, he will receive a large bag...and the things he needs to fill it. Here is a towel, some shirts (uniforms), pants, belts, undershirts, socks...go around the room. Medical checkup - shots if needed, haircut if needed and more.

Outside the induction center, parents kiss their sons, hug them, and part from them. We were spared this by a miserable cold that hit me on Sunday and just won't leave. I don't want Shmulik to get sick...and so I didn't hug or kiss him goodbye.

Elie took him. Elie is still, on paper, a soldier. They walked past all the parents who stood with their sons for these last precious moments. Elie pulled out his military ID - he is still a soldier - and quickly gained access to the base, walking Shmulik further in than any parent could have gone.

I didn't ask Elie what he said to his brother, words of encouragement, advice...I don't know. He won't have said, "I love you" - though they do love each other. They'll have parted with a few pats on the shoulder, perhaps a brotherly hug of a sort that doesn't embarrass either. Elie won't have felt the urge to cry; Shmulik would already have been thinking forward.

Today, once again, Elie went where a parent cannot go and though it was only a matter of a few meters difference...I'm glad he took them with his brother.

It's been just under three hours since Shmulik entered this new world...and yes, it seems that part of me that broke into pieces and went with Elie hasn't quite returned home. It seems now that it has flown from brother to brother - perhaps Elie transferred it to Shmulik with that final hug...given in a place no parent can go.

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