Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chaim, That is NOT Funny

Okay, yes it was.

Chaim called a few minutes ago. I updated him on the chocolate war; he updated me on how he's feeling. He sounds good...and then I heard gunfire.

"Was that gunfire?" I stupidly asked. It's almost 11:00 p.m. here in Israel.

"Yes," Chaim answered.

"Where are you?" I asked him a bit sharply.

"In Jenin," he said. I honestly felt my heart trip for a second. I should confess - I was up early, early this morning, drove four hours to and from a client; worked onsite 9 hours, drove home to deal with stuff here and had yet another teleconference meeting when that was done.

Why would he be in Jenin? Why would he be on the phone with me in the middle of a gun battle? I don't want him to be in the middle of Jenin in the middle of the gun battle. He's in the advanced training stage of his service. They would only take him into such an area after he is fully trained. Jenin is now one of the quietest of the Arab cities, though there was a time it was among the most vicious.

Jenin is where, once again, the world believed the lies...to the point of absurdity. There's the old joke about the stupid (insert whatever ethnic, religious group you want) who was so stupid, that when the single-passenger plane crashed into the cemetery, the townspeople dug up over 100 bodies. This is the story of Jenin. Something like 52 people were killed during a military operation meant to clean out terrorist cells in the city. Soldiers went door to door, street to street. Any other army would simply have flattened the entire terrorist base, despite it being the the middle of a city. Israel sent in troops and the final casualty toll on our forces was catastrophic...and 52 Arabs died. Most were armed combatants.

The news was flooded with reports - a massacre, a tragedy, a horrific operation, even a holocaust. Dozens, no hundreds,  over one thousand screamed the media, over 5,000 dead yelled the Palestinians. In the end, the UN confirmed 52 deaths. Jenin is a city that brings back the memories that the world is stupid enough to believe anything. And though Jenin has been quiet for many years, it doesn't take much to bring back the memory of when it wasn't quiet.


I'm tired and clearly not thinking quickly. Still, it didn't take THAT long for reality to filter in.

"You are not," I said after the absurdity got through to me.


And he laughed - and made it all worthwhile. Yes, one point for Chaim - he got me for a second, but I'm not upset because, as I posted earlier, I redeemed the chocolate hostages, so life is good.

Just one thing - Chaim warns me that there might be a response and I should be prepared. It just might be, Chaim thinks, that the Hershey battle is not yet done.

As for Chaim, he's safe on base - shooting practice. He's safe. He's with his unit. It's very pleasant outside. Shmulik is home for the weekend. My older daughter and son-in-law are coming for Shabbat. Life is good. Thank you, God, for all the blessings You have given to me. Shabbat shalom.

A Hershey Story

I'm a choco-aholic. I admit it. I love chocolate, always have and sadly probably always will. And no, not the kind they say might contain healthy ingredients. I love milk chocolate - plain, with something in it...makes no difference.

My kids laugh at me. My older kids remember when I was pregnant with one of the younger siblings and I simply had a craving for chocolate. I drove to the market, meeting them on the way. They had thought I came to pick them up from the school bus, but I didn't turn the car around, "I need chocolate," I explained.

Did I write about Chaim needing a medical procedure? I don't remember. I hope I did. In the end, the hospital told him he needed to bring someone with him. I had told him I would take him but was a bit worried if I was enough - in the end, Elie was able to come along.

When we got home, Chaim came to stay overnight. Even though he was actually fine, I just felt better having him close. And...when we got back - we stopped by my daughter's house to give her something and somehow I missed the transfer of objects but at the house, Chaim presented me with a surprise from him and from his mother. An entire, full, complete box of individually wrapped, Hershey's Milk Chocolate. Thirty six amazing chocolate bars.

In case the wonder of this gift escapes you, it's like...it's like...well, if you don't get it, you clearly do not understand chocolate! Chaim said it was a gift for me and I did something unusual...I took it - all of it...and squirreled it away on top of my closet behind a winter sweater.

Yesterday, Elie came into my room and remembered the chocolate bars and began searching. One thing the army taught him was how to search a room...it was interesting watching him and soon enough, despite my protestations, he'd found the box. I tried to wrestle it from him; my younger daughter jumped into the fray. We were all laughing so hard - he grabbed a handful - he has big hands. Ten chocolate bars.

This is the Elie I love so much - the one who laughs and smiles with all his being. He ran to his room...I went to my computer and posted the first notification on Facebook:
Another fight, another battle...cost me 10 hershey bars! Chaim, my adopted son, and his mother gave me a case of Hershey's Milk Chocolate bars - 36 of them!!!! And I've been eating them REALLY REALLY slowly so it doesn't blow somewhat normal diet all over the place...well....Elie....confiscated 10 of them - locked them in his room. This is WAR! Any chance I'll win????
I posted the second note a short time later:
I would like it to be known that Elie stole TEN Hershey's chocolate bars!!!! Yes he did!
His cousin in America liked that and wrote, "good job Elie." Ari...we'll talk!

When brute strength can't sway the argument, it's time to negotiate. 
Negotiations continue over the kidnapped Hershey's bars. Elie is now willing to compromise - he's offering me the wrappers! Um....
In the battle, Elie's kippah (yarmulka, skull cap, small circular head covering...the thing on his head) fell and as he ran from the room, it was left behind. A hostage!
I won't surrender to terrorism - even if he is stronger than me...I'll...I'll...I'll..think of something. I tried bribing him with his kippah, which fell captive to me during the battle. His response...can you imagine...was that he had another. How cold blooded can you get? I'm thinking maybe he'll ransom one bar for the kippah,but then again, I"m working at a client today and for all I know, he's gone in and freed the captive kippah. Ah, being a working mother is tough!
It was suggested I break his lock, that I find him a girlfriend and get her to make him return the chocolate. It was even suggested I bake him cookies. But then I realized something. It was time to get devious!
oh...this is priceless - Elie is out helping his father and the air conditioner repair man...back in a minute - Hershey's here I come? Stay tuned....
I went up to his room to begin searching. I never realized how difficult it was to search a room...and there was always the danger of him coming upstairs. I got Shmulik to help and sure enough...
I am happy to announce that the Hershey's chocolate bars have been redeemed. They are no longer prisoners. They have been given refuge...now if I could just remember all the places where I squirreled them away!!! It cost me two chocolate bars to Shmulik...but the commission was well earned!
The hardest part now is not telling Elie that I stole them back. It's been hours and he hasn't said anything. My last comment is that I'm glad Elie doesn't read the blog - otherwise he might find out sooner that I'd taken them. To be safe, I won't mention where they are...I just hope I remember to find them all!

A Mother's Dose of Truth

One afternoon when Elie was in the army in a dangerous place, I was nervous. There was nothing I could do and yet I was waiting for him to call me and tell me he was safe. It wan't an operation, rather a period where he was on patrol. Shmulik asked me something and I explained that Elie had told me where he'd be. Shmulik responded that he was never going to tell me anything. I was horrified.

"That's worse," I told him. "Then I'll be worried all the time." I was convinced that Elie's honesty was better because, as I explained to Shmulik, at least I knew when to worry. It made perfect sense at the time but now, well, now all you mothers of soldiers who thought it was a bit, well, weird, can have a good laugh. I'm laughing at myself. I was so sure I knew and in knowing, there was the peace of times to worry and times to be...well, at peace.

Turns out, Elie played me for all it was worth.

The day I asked him to call me when he was back on base, he told me that he wasn't sure he'd make it back to base before the Sabbath came in. I told him that he should let me know, if he could, that he was back on base before, and if not, he should call me Saturday night. He was smart enough to know that I'd be sick with worry all Shabbat and so he called me moments before the Sabbath began to let me know he was safe on base.

The thing is, I find out now, he wasn't. He was still in the midst of a violent Arab riot with a gun aimed at the demonstrators and as they threw rocks at the soldiers, Elie was there. But he didn't want me to worry and so he simply called me and told me what I wanted to hear. And I fell for it completely.

There were other times, he laughs now at the memory, when he told me what I wanted, what I needed to hear. "Didn't you wonder?" he says with a smile.

"No," I answer honestly and then give back the truest of answers. "I guess I needed to believe."

What amazes me, beyond my own naivete at the time, was his understanding this before me, his maturity in making the decision to lie and give me peace. Certainly, there were times he couldn't tell me for operational reasons, and yet, he could have told me less. Conversely, less information, as I explained to Shmulik, would have led to much greater worrying. Elie gave me enough to worry...and enough to relieve that worry.

The longer he is out of the army, the easier it is for him to talk about things he did in general terms. There are no dates, no exact places. Military experts and our enemies need this information, not mothers. It is interesting to watch Elie share this information. It isn't about bragging. He's not doing that. It isn't in his tone of voice or his mannerism. It's about giving a mother a dose of truth, knowing that now that he is out of the army and safe, I can handle what I couldn't handle then and, in doing this...and knowing he's home safe, he is "toughening" me for the future.

My heart still jumps a bit. I'll give one example in the next post - and then I settle. He's safe, after all, home with us and sharing that part of his life he couldn't share before.

A mother's dose of truth - another of the lessons I learn as a soldier's mother, long after the time I'd thought I'd learned it all. And I can see all you mothers (and fathers and wives and husbands) of soldiers smiling and wondering how I didn't sense it all as it was happening. I guess my mind knew what Elie had already guessed...my heart couldn't take it at the time.

I can't retroactively worry now, can I? He's home, he's safe. He was in danger...but that's what he was required to do, that was his job, his service. And in these two elements it all comes together - he was a soldier; I was his mother. He is, for all that he's out of the army, still a soldier; I am still his mother.

A Message from the Moderators...well, Me Anyway

I have several long posts to make about Shmulik. I'm mulling them over before posting because he's in a period of change. I was afraid at first to post and make Shmulik look bad. I was afraid to post because I thought the army wouldn't handle the situation a certain way...or more, I was certain they would. I was wrong...or so it seems at this tender moment in the process. If what I hope will happen does happen (how's that for a mystery), I will have been happily proven wrong. So, even though I thought to post things as they happen here - allowing you all to experience this aspect of being a mother of a soldier - the uncertainty in a transition, the hope, disappointment and hope, etc...I haven't done that.

I had this once before with Elie when the army offered to have him be a commander for a unit with girls in it. It was not something that Elie, as a religious soldier, felt comfortable doing. He'd made his preferences known at the beginning, as was his right in the army, and then the army put him in a position that they had specifically asked him about. I was worried then what they would do with Elie - the army treated him with respect, allowed him to honor his beliefs, and still found a solution for all. Then too, I didn't feel I could post until the situation was resolved and wondered how I could post without making either Elie or the army look bad.

So, I'm sort of in that period now - thus the break in posts. I've written one long post explaining, but hope today to have the conclusion of this long period and then I'll post it. In the meantime, I have another one I'd like to make now...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A New World of Communication

When Elie was in the army, our major forms of communication were phone conversations and SMS text messages. If I wanted to talk to him, I called or sent him a message. If he needed something or had the time, he'd do the same. Shmulik calls less often, mostly before Shabbat or when he's getting ready to come home. But I can still hear from him in a new and unexpected way. It feels almost like eavesdropping.

Facebook.

I am friends with my sons on Facebook and can see their posts, their pictures, their comments. I watch Shmulik's comments with his friends and see his interactions. I am constantly amazed by the number of friends there commenting about all manner of things. It's very hot where Shmulik is - one of the hottest places in Israel. He hates the heat and he loves to come home. He writes when they are going out to the field. More, he simply communicates with his friends and it is fun to watch.

This is a new world of communication; a new way to see your children and hear what they are doing.

A Bullet Between Brothers

Shmulik came home today with a friend in his unit that is staying nearby for the weekend. I don't mind when my kids bring people unexpectedly...it's an open door that we have in our house. I greeted his friend and offered him something to drink - Shmulik said he would be right back and disappeared upstairs.

He returned a moment later with a magazine filled with bullets - handed it to his friend, and they said goodbye. Okay...um...huh?

It turns out, his friend left his magazine clip on the bus (luckily an army bus filled with soldiers). He got off the bus, which dropped Shmulik, his friend, and several others not far from our home. As they waited to be picked up, his friend realized that he'd forgotten the bullets/magazine. After a moment's panic, they called someone on the bus and took care of the missing magazine. That solved one problem, but presented him with another. Without bullets, the gun is virtually useless. Worse, in some ways, it makes them a target. Certainly, it makes them more vulnerable and he would get into trouble were he to be caught without bullets. And so, they came to our house, where Shmulik gave him a spare that he'll return later.

Every once in a while, life does its own reality check for me. I have loaned my neighbors sugar and milk, eggs and oil. I've loaned a vacuum cleaner, a computer, even a car. I have never, in my wildest imaginings, thought I'd see the day when someone came to borrow bullets from our home.

Shabbat shalom - may the Sabbath bring you peace and may those bullets...and all bullets, stay safely in the magazines, unneeded, unused.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Selling Surplus Military Equipment

The Israeli army has opened up an internal eBay-like store which will allow its various divisions to sell off excess equipment and purchase what they need from other units that may have extras. It's the ultimate redistribution of wealth without all the bureaucracy. When I read about this on a local news site, it reminded me of Elie telling me a story about the Second Lebanon War.

It seems that when the paratroopers made a hasty retreat from Lebanon, the Artillery division "confiscated" an armored personnel carrier that had been part of the paratrooper unit. It could be that I have the unit wrong and it was Givati or Golani, but either way, the vehicle ended up with Artillery. Apparently knowing the vehicle was lost and belonged elsewhere didn't bother Artillery - they simply repainted it and accepted the "gift."

At some point, years later, the original unit discovered their error and traced the APC to Artillery. Unabashed as only Israelis can be...the APC was returned (incorrectly painted and bearing the markings of Artillery). Elie laughed years ago when he told me this story...and I laugh again now as I remember his finding this so amusing. I almost wish I had access to this army e-Bay imitation to see what they are selling and buying.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Soldier's Eyes

Elie took a day with Chaim, our adopted son/lone soldier, and went up north for a fun day. It was supposed to be Shmulik and Elie and Chaim, but the army pulled an army, and Chaim's days off were delayed until this week, while Shmulik got his vacation and a day at the beach two weeks ago. Elie and Chaim had a great day - kayaking, tractoronim (ATV - All Terrain Vehicles), a barbecue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and a quick visit to Elie's unit, which is currently in the north.

When Elie came back, he described his day, what they had done, where they had gone, and finally the visit to his unit. It was then that I realized something about Elie and the changes he has gone through over the last few years as he entered the army and has now been discharged.  He is physically stronger than he was before he went in; he's got a better sense of what he can do and a greater sense of the consequences. He's also got a fantastic sense of time. He controls his time, rather than time controlling him. He figures out where he has to go and how long it will take to get there; he understands what he has to do, and how long it will take him to do it.

Most of this I had already figured out long before he left the army, but it is still nice to see that these things seem to have become a part of him and now, a bit over four months out of the army, they seem to be remaining. But the one thing I hadn't realized, is one change I had not considered, hadn't recognized, didn't understand. It hit me this morning as I was driving to a client in the north. It's a wonderful, long drive - time to think. I remembered what Elie had told me - about the base where this friends are, about what they are doing there, what they are guarding.

The details, the restrictions, the security requirements and related international laws - all this was discussed in greater detail than I want to write here. But there was something in the way he spoke, a deeper analysis that went beyond what a "normal" person would see were they to pass his unit's base. I might see some of the things he saw, the weapons, the vehicles, the positions and actions, but I would not have drawn the same conclusions or understood the deeper significances of what I was seeing.

As I drove this morning and thought over what Elie told me, I realized with some regret, that this was because something fundamental had changed in Elie...something that was...and is...very precious to me - Elie's eyes. They are the most amazing color...somewhere between blue and gray. They radiate intelligence and humor and now I understand, they are the eyes of a soldier.

It does something to my heart, those words, that concept. I don't know if he always will, though at this moment, I suspect so. At least for now, my son has soldier's eyes.

Why I don't have a yellow ribbon on my car...

For the last several days, the Shalit family has been walking from their home in the north, through many towns and cities. They passed the school where Gilad went; they were joined by the midwife who helped his mother give birth. It is an emotional journey, one the Shalit's say they won't end until Gilad is home. They have asked Israelis to join them and thousands have. Each leg of the way, people join in, cars honk in support, and a few days ago, pilots flew overhead as a symbol of their love and support.

Yesterday, the group took a side tour to Keren Shalom, the place where Gilad was kidnapped four years ago. There they stood, so close and yet so far, from the son who has been held against international law, without any verification of his conditions, without even a visit from the Red Cross or an international organization such as the UN. There, in darkness, deep underground, Gilad waits.

The family has asked Israelis to send their love, their prayers and their support. We send all of this. The organizers have asked Israelis to fly yellow ribbons as a visual and emotional confirmation. Many are doing this, and I am not.

I have an orange ribbon on my car - a memory to more than 20 communities and 9,000 people who were pulled from their homes in Gaza as part of Ariel Sharon's unilateral Disengagement Plan. The plan failed because while we disengaged from Gaza and destroyed the lives, livelihood, and homes of so many, Gaza didn't disengage from the rockets, the attacks, the kidnapping attempts.

I have a gold ribbon on my car - a sign of love and support for Jerusalem. There are those who foolishly believe that another unilateral agreement might work even though all the others have failed. They say dividing Jerusalem again might solve the problems that the last division didn't. From 1948 - 1967, Jews were unable to pray at their holiest of sites because the Arabs controlled the area and the world didn't care about our religious rights. When we captured the Old City of Jerusalem, we immediately opened the mosques, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aska Mosques on the Temple Mount to the Arabs...more, we gave them almost complete control over the area. Christians pray in the Holy Sepulchre, Arabs pray in their mosques, Jews pray at the Kotel (not on the Temple Mount where we are forbidden to even move our lips as if we are praying) and the world says things aren't fair and pressures Israel to return to a time when we could not pray.

And so I fly a gold ribbon to say to the world - no, we won't surrender Jerusalem and give up our holy places even as we continue to respect all other religions and their love of this city. And now, the Shalit's want me to fly a yellow ribbon. I was so ready to add it to my car - it belongs there as Gilad belongs home.

But then I started listening and reading and realized, with great agony, that I can't fly the yellow ribbon because it does not stand for loving and praying and missing Gilad. It stands for yet another disastrous government policy of capitulation. Just as withdrawing from Gaza brought Ashkelon and Ashdod within firing range of Gaza's rockets, trading more than 1,000 prisoners blind to what they have done and more what they will do in the future, is wrong and misguided.

We abandoned not only the Gaza communities, but the safety of Ashkelon and Ashdod and hundreds of thousands of Israelis by pulling out of Gaza. By trading this huge and uncontrolled number of prisoners for Gilad, we are abandoning the safety of all our soldiers and most of our population. If you want more prisoners, we are announcing, kidnap and kill our sons; attack our cities and launch terrorist attacks - our courts and jails won't hold you because ultimately, we value a single son as more worthy than all you can throw at us.

With more pain than you can imagine, I can't fly a yellow ribbon on my car because it means not support for Gilad, but a call to the government to trade for Gilad "at all costs." At all costs can translate, will translate, to another son, another terrorist attack. A huge portion of previously released terrorists have returned to the ways of terror. Dozens of Israelis are dead today because we traded for others in the hopes that this would end.

It never ends.

Gilad Shalit may come home - we pray that he will; but the cost, if the yellow ribbon has its way, will be in the lives of many others. Had the Shalits marched to Keren Shalom to demand Hamas release their son, I would have been with them; had they gone the headquarters of the Red Cross or the United Nations to demand they act for Gilad and stop all aid to Gaza until they follow international law, I would have been with them.

Instead, they march to Jerusalem, and in so doing, allow the world to believe that Jerusalem and not Gaza is responsible; that Jerusalem and not Gaza holds Gilad's future. As parents, it is easier and more comforting to believe this way. As Israelis, it is left to the rest of us to send our love and prayers for Gilad, but to hold our government accountable. A yellow ribbon that means "at all costs" simply costs more than any of us can afford to pay...even for Gilad.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rocks...Refrigerators....Ovens....

Another long drive today with Elie resulted in more discussions about his time in the army. We were driving on two roads too often stoned by Arabs. I needlessly warned Elie that should anything happen, he has to make sure to keep driving. "Don't stop," I told him, "remember, you don't have a gun anymore."

Silly, silly mother! He spent three years in the army. I've been graced by God. I have never had something thrown at my car. That was when Elie explained that during his time in the army - rocks were a regular occurrence - "paint, a refrigerator, an oven. Now that makes a loud boom," Elie said.

"Someone threw a refrigerator and an oven at your jeep?" I asked in horror.

"At the humvee," he explained - as if that would make it seem better.

What must it feel like to be in a vehicle and have it hit by a refrigerator? An oven? Even a rock? And despite all the media claims, Elie explained, "you just keep driving. You don't stop."

We passed a checkpoint. It took us longer to get through than normal. Our lane was diverted to the side and as we looked we saw that the lane itself was blocked by a truck. "He tried to run the barrier," Elie explained. The evidence was in the flat tires that resulted from the soldiers' quick actions. There on the side, a bit ahead and in another lane was another car - it had two flat tires. When the soldiers threw the control, the truck was stopped as planned...but so was the car.

"Will the soldiers get in trouble for the car?" I asked Elie.

"Not in this case," he said. He told me of a time that one of his soldiers was playing around and not paying attention - and by accident, threw the controls and blew out the tires of a truck. The army paid for new tires, as they will for the car we saw today.

This is all part of what it was to be a soldier - the checkpoint and the spikes; the stoning attacks. It wasn't necessary for me to warn Elie. Almost daily, the man shares the path he took that formed him. I sometimes wish I could record all his words so that I could write them here. There are so many stories - all told as he watches life from the other side of the uniform. For three years, he watched and acted from within the army. Now, he is on the outside, watching and understanding the soldiers.

He comments about how alert they are at a checkpoint; how and where they stand. He comments about their clothes, their weapons, their vehicles. It is all known to him. He described the Tavor gun today because he saw one at a checkpoint. He told me what bullets it holds, the various forms it can take. Why it is better than the M16, how it compares to the Uzi.


Just a month after his 23rd birthday, I am reminded how much he has been through, how much more experience he has. It is these experiences that have formed him into the man he has become from the boy that left my home one day in March, 2007. In the simplest of terms, I gave the army a boy...they gave me back a man.

I knew the boy, at least I like to think I did. Only now, am I beginning to see so many facets of the man. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Abbas and the Kotel

Several Israeli Internet sites are reporting that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has stated that in a final agreement, Israel can keep the Western Wall, the Kotel, located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Suddenly, it seems, Abbas believes he can determine what remains in our hands and in his mind, he has generously offered Israel...what we already own, unquestionably, without doubt, through history, through right, through might.

To put this in terms better understood by others - this is the same as offering the French a deed to the Eiffel Tower, telling President Obama he may keep the White House. Abbas may as well tell the Russians that Red Square can remain in Moscow and telling the British that through his generosity, Queen Elizabeth may continue to reside in Buckingham Palace.

If I have not yet shown the absurdity of Abbas' words, I can come up with hundreds more...just look at any country and promise them...what they already own.

The Western Wall was the western retaining wall of the Holy Temples. It has stood more than 2,000 years and will stand longer than Mahmoud Abbas. It was built by the Jewish leaders of their day, to serve the needs of the Jewish people as they worshiped God in their land. If Abbas were to offer to return the Temple Mount - the land upon which our Temples once stood, where today there sits two mosques - that would be a real offer. Not because he has a legitimate claim to that land, but because we were stupid enough to hand it back over to their control in 1967 and since that time, our access to that holiest of places has been restricted, limited, and often denied by successive Israeli governments who fear upsetting the Arabs.

From 1948 - 1967, to the deafening silence of most of the world, Jews were denied complete access, while since 1967, Arabs have had almost free access while it has been under the security control of Israel. They have enjoyed complete religious freedom up there on our Temple Mount, even to the point that Jews are not allowed today to pray - even silently to themselves, if they dare move their lips in silent concentration.

As for Abbas' less than generous offer - it should be treated with the ridicule and absurdity it deserves. He has no legal, moral, physical, or logical right to offer President Obama sovereignty of the White House...and that has stood less than 200 years. How much less is his right to offer the Jewish people what has stood on our land and in our hearts for 2,000 years.

A Son's Request

I've been feeling...

I've been feeling guilty that I write about Elie more than Shmulik. There is so much to tell about Shmulik...

I've been feeling that I need to explain where he is more than where Elie is and yet, in the early days of this blog, days went by where there was little to write and so I didn't. Now, as Shmulik transitions between basic training to advanced training, there is still little to write about and even less because he has more of a network of friends with which to share.

Perhaps I projected Elie's loneliness as a way to cope myself with missing him. Perhaps he really was lonely. I can't explain now what I was so sure I heard in his voice then. I only know that I don't hear the same thing when I talk to Shmulik. He doesn't sound lonely when he calls; he sounds happy. I can hear the voices in the background. A few weeks ago, I met others from his unit - they were smiling and telling me what a great person Shmulik is...he has friends and brothers there with him.

He went into the army as part of a Hesder unit. Four of the soldiers with him come from the same yeshiva as him; in total, nine boys with whom he has spent the last 18 months went in at the same time and provide their own support network.

I'm here when he calls...I'll talk and send him messages, but it's so different. I'm calmer this time around, more trusting, less frightened by the global situation. That last point is kind of funny because I can't remember a time that Israel was politically so isolated. With Barack Hussein Obama in office, Israel has little support or understanding in the White House. I should be more nervous about these flotillas, about Iran, about so much and yet, knowing that the time will come soon enough when I will again be worried about where he is and what he is doing, somehow now, my heart and mind knows to rest and let the worry come when it will.

In the meantime, he called tonight and asked if we could meet him tomorrow morning to bring him some treats. Each Sunday morning, tens of thousands of soldiers return to base. In many cities, gathering points are organized. Vast parking lots filled with buses that load and take the soldiers back to bases all over the country. I have dropped both Elie and Shmulik at these places and each time, I scan the surrounding areas to confirm what I know I will see....heavy security. Soldiers strategically positioned and guarding as the others gather, organize and board the buses.

Until now, I have only watched the security and never thought where the come from, when they arrived, how long they serve there. Tomorrow, Shmulik's unit has been assigned this task for the Jerusalem gathering location. In a few hours, long before dawn, Shmulik's unit will board buses and travel the distance to guard the perimeter of this area.

Elie drove to a local store and picked up Coca Cola in cans, Doritos, and more. I baked brownies and put them in a large container. I wanted to drive it to Shmulik and give it to him, but Elie pointed out that with his military identification, he would be allowed inside to meet Shmulik. Although Shmulik checked with his commanding officer who said it would probably be fine for him to meet me, we can't be sure.

So, Shmulik asked for brownies and chocolate (he is my son) and other treats to get him through the week. At least this I can do for him.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Do you know how close I was to Lebanon?

I'm not sure if that was at the top of my "Questions I don't want to know the answers to" list...but having had this discussion the other day with Elie, I'm thinking about revamping the list. We were talking about Gilad Shalit, past deals Israel has made to free terrorists, Hezbollah, and several other related topics. Elie remains interested in the news and is often more aware of local events than I am.

It's been a difficult week for me - a lot of work, a lot of juggling. In the midst of it was the realization that Gilad Shalit has been held for four years and his family is slowly walking to Jerusalem, asking for solidarity and all Israel can do to get him released from Hamas. I spoke to Shmulik all of twice...another thing that bothered me. I don't want to call him too much...but it is hard not knowing how he is doing. They've finished basic training and spent much of the last week cleaning and moving bases. He's finally in the advanced training, though I have little knowledge of what that means as of yet. It has been, in the Jordan valley, unbearably hot. He's been lucky that much or all of his guard duty has been at night.

I don't remember being so out of touch with Elie, but then, Elie didn't have as wide a network of friends outside his unit as Shmulik does, and then there is Facebook! So, much of what Shmulik is experiencing comes through Elie, as a reflection of a comparison between Shmulik and his own experiences.

This week, we had another long drive together - something we have less often than while he was in the army. We talked of Palestinian prisoners and how they are held in conditions far better than Gilad could even imagine. We talked of the kidnapping.

"It's the worst thing for a soldier," Elie said, "it would be better if he had died."

What a horrible thing to say, I said to Elie. I was speaking, of course, as a parent. But from a soldier's point of view, he may not be wrong. It weakens the nation, the parents and family. The end of this matter is not known. If Gilad comes home alive and well, Elie will have been wrong. If, God forbid he doesn't...

We talked about the Tannenbaum fiasco - when Israel released hundreds of terrorists for 3 dead bodies...and Tannenbaum - a drug-dealer and traitor. He betrayed Israel and told Hezbollah so many military secrets, and we rescued him because we had little choice. That was when Elie told me of a recent spy case Israeli intelligence had uncovered, and the information they had likely given to our enemies. He talked of conditions on the border with Lebanon, and that is when he asked, "do you know how close I was to Lebanon?"

Closer than I like to have thought of; more than I wanted to know. He explained about the border, of how they react if there is an alarm and how the system is so sensitive, it will pick up anything...even innocent movement. These and more continue to come out as Elie adjusts to civilian life. Again and again, I find myself asking if he misses the army and wishes he had stayed on.

He says he doesn't. He is looking into going to study next year; he keeps contact with some of his friends. He has gotten back involved with the ambulance squad, is called for emergencies and volunteers at least once a week, if not more, for the overnight shifts. In short, he is adjusting well.

Do I know how close he was to Lebanon? I have joined the rank of mother's of soldiers in Israel who only after the army begin to learn what they did not know, what they did not tell us. They think that now that we know they are safe, it no longer matters. How do I explain that even months and perhaps years later, our hearts can still cry, still feel that moment of fear? It is not logical, they would argue and, of course, we would answer that a mother's love has little to do with logic.

It's been four months since Elie left the army. He knows where his unit is now, where they are stationed, where they will soon go. There is a connection there that will remain and some day in the future, the border of Lebanon...or Syria...or Gaza...will call to him and he will go. I may know; I may not.

There are so many facets to being a soldier's mother and chief among them, I think, is that it is as permanent a change in your life as the one your son experiences. He will, forever, be a soldier. I will, forever, be a soldier's mother.

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