Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Are you ready for war?

Is that a question you ask yourself? I lived in America for the first 33 years of my life (well, less the three I lived in Israel as an infant/child) - so let's say 30 years. For thirty years, I grew, married, and birthed three children and I have to say, I never asked myself that question or even considered war coming to me.

War was a distant reality. If it happened, it was on distant shores. Perhaps the TV brought it to my living room; perhaps the radio reminded me. But there was never fear, never action I needed to take, never concern that I would hear an explosion or see a rocket's landing site. From the age of 13, I wanted to live here in Israel and so at some point as I contemplated my future here, I must have considered what it would mean for my children.

Certainly, by the time we were finalizing our plans, I knew that Elie and Shmulik would be soldiers one day; that other children we might have would serve as well. When the US went into Iraq during the second Gulf War in 2003, we were told to prepare for war. We were given gas masks and as I do here, I wrote during that time. (http://www.paulasays.com/articles/on_israel/diary_of_an_almost_war.html)
March 20, 2003:  This morning, it seems Israelis are being told to "act normally." Now, this wouldn’t be so funny if we weren’t also told to carry gas masks with us everywhere we go...including kids going to school. Anyone know how to carry a gas mask and act normal; So...my first grader is going to school with his backpack, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a gas mask. On the bright side, I doubt the teacher will care that he’ll be late.
And another entry strikes me because this blog has shifted to be more about Shmulik than Elie. And this next part is about Shmulik.

March 20, 2003: Well - almost all the kids at school.

My 13 year old...okay - confession - I do not understand the psyche of a 13 year old boy! So, last night he was dancing and laughing and telling the US to attack...why? Not because he’s pro-war - but because we all assumed that school would be canceled today. This morning, he refused to take his gas mask, and I told him that even though there was less than 1% chance that he’d need it, he had to take it. At that point, he started to cry. Yup, 13 years old...and scared out of his mind. So...we made a deal - I get my morning dishes done, and he stays home from school. All in all, he’s calm because he’s home. His next fear was how long it would take him to put the gas mask on, how much time would he have. I told him (not entirely truthfully), that we’d have a good 5 minutes warning. He just asked me if I wanted to time him (no, actually, I don’t)...sure, I said - well - he got his gas mask on within 1 minute. Isn’t it amazing this world we live in....At some point, after this is over, I’ll worry about the psychological scars inflicted on children who have to deal with the concept of chemical warfare (yes, he knows that the rain we are experiencing is a good thing because it would clean the air...).
And, as my daughter just walked off for her driving lesson...do you have enough money? yes...Do you have your bus card? yes...cellular phone? yes....gas mask? yes....
What a world....and all this without a missile ever being fired at us. For what it’s worth, I believe tonight is the defining moment for Israel. If we get through tonight without any missiles...
In the end, all the preparation, all the fright - luckily came to nothing and Israel was not hit by SCUD missiles as in the first Gulf War. The next war was the Second Lebanon War - fought up north. The next war was the Gaza War, fought to the south west. Both wars touched us, but other than one wayward alarm, there was little real concern for personal safety (though much for national safety).

So why this thought - today, Jerusalem is being tested to see if we are ready for war. According to Israel National News:

Israel’s National Emergency Authority will be holding a special drill in Jerusalem from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, simulating different scenarios that could occur during a time of war, including missiles falling or a need to absorb mass numbers of residents from other parts of the country. Taking part will be the municipal emergency headquarters, schools, the Jerusalem police, Magen David Adom, Home Front Command, as well as government offices in the Jerusalem district. During the hours of the drill, people can expect brisk movement of emergency vehicles. As part of the drill, a siren will sound throughout the city at 10:00am, at which time all city employees and students in schools will practice safe evacuation into shelters or other protected spaces. Jerusalem’s residents will be asked to fill out a form on the city’s website on which they will indicate whether the siren was heard loud and clear in their homes.
A siren will sound today; emergency vehicles will rush here and there. Hospitals and medical personnel will act as if it were real so that if (or perhaps when) it will be real, we will be better prepared. Children, thousands of children in all grades will be asked to stand up and leave their classes and move quietly, quickly, in an orderly fashion to the nearest bomb shelter.

And while this is all happening, in just 30 minutes from now, deep in my heart I want to ask the simplest of questions - is anyone really ever ready for war? Doesn't the simple fact that we have to ask ourselves this question mean something?

No, I want to answer, I am not ready for war. I wasn't ready the last time when you took my son; I won't be ready this time either. I will never be ready for war. I may know where to go, I may close off a room in my house and store extra food, flashlights, water, batteries. But no, no matter how many times you ask me to consider it, no, I will never be ready for war.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tomorrow's Soldier

It seems that our children grow so fast. Yesterday's child is today's bridegroom, or so it seems. My parents have eleven grandchildren in total - eight of them boys. Three are in the US, five here in Israel.

Three are my sons; two belong to my sister. Elie was the oldest grandson, the first to enter the army. Yair was next. Shmulik went in a while later, the months blend together and it's hard to remember. My parents have three grandsons who serve this land...and two more who have yet to serve.

I spoke to my sister earlier tonight. Her youngest son has been going through the various entrance steps to the army. He's trying out to be a pilot. Hundreds try each year, a few dozen succeed.

It's a scary road he takes. I can't honestly in my heart hope he succeeds. I know he wants it but I can't get myself to hope he gets what he wants. I've accepted Artillery (both Elie and Yair were in Artillery). I could handle the ground forces - Shmulik and Chaim and Yaakov served in the ground forces. But Air Force...planes...I don't know.

I was thinking about the baby I knew all grown and starting the last steps into the army. He was just a baby when we moved here and now he's so tall, so beautiful. And another thought crossed my mind. If the fourth grandchild is getting ready to enter the army; the fifth can't be that far behind. Too soon. My youngest son is next.

He's not even 15 years old (okay, he's just over a month away, but that's still 14). But in two years, they'll invite him to the first call-up and the process will begin. He and Yoav are tomorrow's soldiers. They say there are no certainties in life, but the truth is that there sometimes are. One almost certainty, if there is such a thing, is that yesterday's child becomes tomorrow's soldier too fast.

We're racing to the future again when all I want to say is slow down. Today is so beautiful, so precious. Slow down.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Mother's Pride

I like to think that I show tremendous pride for the actions of my sons. This blog is called A Soldier's Mother and so post after post, I write of my sons  - the two...no three...no four...who are soldiers. I cannot begin to explain how much I am in awe of these young men.

Of Yaakov, who flew across the world to serve this land; who loves it as his own, who is married with a beautiful wife and daughter and who, I pray, will come home again as soon as he can.

Of Elie, who gave three years of his life, showing his motivation again and again. Of how he focused on his training, allowed them to mold him into a commander, and how he took that responsibility so seriously. Of his going to war in the hope that he and his men could help stop the violence against our land and of how even now, he lives with the knowledge that months alone separate him from yet another service he will give to this nation.

Of Chaim, who like Yaakov, left his family and the comforts of home (and his own car) to come here and serve and make this land his. Of his dedication, his conquering a language and a society and making it his own, of the joy he brings to our home each time he comes home to us.

Of Shmulik, who gave combat his best, and was smart enough to know when he couldn't continue. Of his being strong enough to tell the army what he wanted and how he now dedicates himself to his job. Of his bringing a bride home to his family, and of all he is doing now to build his own home.

So, I could stop here and say I have shown my pride - except today's post isn't about my boys, but about my youngest daughter. With her, I am not a soldier's mother, but still, I am so proud. Her school took her on a class trip. They went to Ir David (the City of David) in Jerusalem.

Ir David is an amazing place; it is where we discover today, the greatness of what was. It is the Jerusalem we have lost and now reclaim. The Jerusalem that was always and will always be, the center of our world. Ir David offers the simplest answer to those absurd academics (like Nadia Abu El Haj of Columbia University) who claim that Jews have no historic roots here in Israel. They can rewrite history, but the stones speak and we listen; the land opens itself and proves them to be fools. After the visit today, my daughter's school took them a few short minutes walk to the Western Wall, a most amazing place, and allowed the girls to say the afternoon prayers there.

My daughter is a most amazing child - though I know most mothers will (should) say the same thing. She called me a short time ago to tell me about her trip. She explained that she took her wallet along with her for some reason and then, when she was there, she was approached by many people asking for money. It isn't allowed, and yet it happens.

People come and ask for money for their children, for food, for clothes, for brides. There are as many reasons as there are people and it is sadly almost impossible to go there without someone asking for money. Most are legitimate, some are not. All accept a polite refusal. They are merely asking. An adult can decide; a child rarely can say no. When we go as a family, I often give Aliza a few coins and let her distribute them. I never realized that she would remember; that she would think to do it on her own, with her own money.

In the eyes of a child, a needy person is always taken seriously and so she gave to several people. What impressed me was her ability to describe each person, what they were wearing. Their clothes looked shabby (my word, not hers) and this was enough proof. They needed her money, and she gave. There is such innocence there. She gave each a shekel (worth about 27 cents) but to a young child in Israel, it is the same as a dollar to a child in America. It is a unit of currency and so she gave to each who asked her; even gave two to someone she felt was especially needy.

She also told me that she approached the Western Wall (the Kotel) and prayed there and then "I kissed the Wall." The Wall is precious to the Jewish people. It is all we have left of the Holy Temple. It is, in fact, only the outer retaining wall, not even really part of the amazing structure that was once there.

A few days ago, Palestinians released a statement saying that the Western Wall belongs to Muslims, was an integral part of their mosque and they refute any Jewish claims to the Wall. It is a stupid and baseless statement, easily proven false. History shows them to be liars and fools.

I have never seen a 10 year old Palestinian child walk up to the Wall and kiss it (and yes, Arabs can approach the Wall, just as they have free access to the Temple Mount above. It is I who am limited. I can touch the Western Wall and say my prayers there, but I face immediate arrest if I were to dare to ascent to the Temple Mount and pray. I cannot even move my lips in silent prayer lest I offend the Arabs. The Israeli police will watch me, follow me, stop me.

I have never seen an Arab walk up to the Wall and kiss it - I have only seen references to their claim that this is where Mohammed tied his donkey. I have seen Arabs pray to Mecca, and in so doing, turn their backsides to this holy site; in contrast to millions of Jews who turn and face it three times a day; who come 24-hours a day to see, to touch, to pray, to kiss the last remnant we have of what was ours and what will be ours again.

Oh, that isn't politically correct and in the Arab mind, it amounts to a declaration of war, a threat to their mosque. I do not know how it will happen or when.I do not know if it will be in my life time or in the distant future. I do not know if it will come about in violence or in peace, in destruction or reconstruction. I only know that I believe, with full and complete faith, that our Holy Temple will be rebuilt and simple physics suggests that two objects cannot occupy the same physical space and so the mosque will not be there.

But that is for the future, though we hope the future is less than a day away. For now, I concentrate on a child. A young girl, really, innocent in so many ways. Spiritual in her heart and so loving. She gave of her hard earned money today believing in her own way, she was making the world a better place, helping lives.

I hope that each of those who took the money today know how special that gift was, how important a kind deed she did. And beyond the charity she gave, she showed her love of this land and the holy places we have. She kissed a wall...have you ever kissed a wall?

So let me explain - she didn't kiss A wall, she kissed The Wall, our Kotel, our Western Wall - a symbol, in the simplest of terms, for why her brothers wear the uniform they do and why they serve, as she did today, with love of God, of land, of country.

So yes, today my heart sings with the special pride of a mother - for my sons, but also for my daughters. May they be blessed with health and special, wonderful things to come!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Baby...

You know how sometimes your mind wanders and thoughts become a pathway to a much deeper idea? That's what has been cooking in my head for the last few days. I was on Facebook and found a connection back to my junior high school days and a special friend I'd had then, the first real male friend of my memory at a time when there was still an innocence to the concept.

I looked at the photos of his young family - they seem to be the perfect American family. And that was what struck me. He has two children. His wife is blonde. A boy and a girl, and if the picture was taken at his home, a big car in the suburbs. I know nothing of his life save the pictures; a glimpse through a window into a stranger's life. I have not spoken to him in 20 years.

Few subtitles in Facebook tell me what holds importance in his life. I know through the grapevine that his mother passed away; I know nothing of his father. There are notes from his brother to suggest they are still close; little more.

But the scenes strike me. So far removed from my life here, I thought to myself, such different paths. I have five children - a huge number by the standards of my friend who was shocked to hear I was expecting my third so long ago. He probably doesn't even know I have two more.

He married much later in life than I did - I saw on Facebok that he's just celebrated his 11th wedding anniversary recently; I just celebrated my 27th. I have a married daughter and a son who is engaged - a period in his life he likely can't even contemplate. My youngest is probably the same age or older than his oldest.

But what really got to me was seeing that he wrote something about his babies growing up...and then my mind took a right turn. His reference to his babies made me think about mine...

My baby just started babysitting. She's only 10...well, almost 11, but she's begun helping out with the family next door. She's enthralled by their two small boys. She simply adores them...and they adore her. And their kind mother has been paying my daughter to babysit. Aliza takes it all very responsibly. My baby.

Another of my babies, like his brothers, has grown taller and stronger than me, and he isn't even 15. He is the first of my boys to choose to go away to school and so sleeps 4-5 nights a week in Jerusalem. It is the first time in his life that hours, even days, can go by when I don't know exactly where he is and what he is doing. He takes buses, goes to malls - but he was much younger the last time a bus exploded or a mall was targeted. He sees the guards and without question, submits to being quickly checked and asked if he has a gun with him. He is three years away from the army, but already he hears and knows this is in his future.

And more thoughts. Another of my babies just bought an engagement ring this week, and two wedding bands. The wedding is in another four months or so. Our talks are filled with apartment issues, wedding details and for the first time, I imagine my table with another sitting here. Only this time, she has a name, a face. My baby is a soldier, wearing a uniform and spending his days on army bases amid talk of defense and plans and exercises. Most of his days involve assisting his commanding officer or driving, but there is the knowledge that if there is a terrorist attack in our area, he will be racing towards it.

This is what happened when a pregnant woman was shot recently and when Arabs are throwing stones at cars passing on roads. This will likely happen again. Shmulik has trained to use an M16, and he's a good shot. He's thrown a hand grenade - these are things my friend's son will likely never do because he lives in a world so different from my world.

Another of my babies is married for almost four years. She lives close by with her husband and comes often. This is the normal side of life and a part of the normal flow of how things go. It's a strange reminder that our lives are so much the same as all others, with that twist that never stops.

And the thought that nearly broke me was that another of my babies has been to war, has fired artillery into Gaza, has raised a gun to defend his land. He's been stationed on check points and gone on operations, into villages to arrest terrorists. My son, who wore a uniform for three years and who will wear one again...in the not so distant future. The clock keeps ticking. In just over four months, Shmulik will marry; even before that day, Elie's reserve status changes. They will call him, and he will go. Sometimes it will be for training exercises; sometimes it may be for real. He lives in a world that my friend's son will never know; seen things that few Americans have seen.

It amazes me what paths our lives take, how two can grow up in one place and yet end up with a life so different. As a young teenager, I told my friends that Israel would be my future. I don't know if they believed me; I don't know if I believed myself. Despite being here a long time, my eyes still see the Hebrew signs on the roads and feel such happiness. I work in Jerusalem. Jerusalem - a name of a city so beautiful, so far from those early years when it was always "next year in Jerusalem" and now it is "tomorrow" or even today. If you have never lived here, you cannot imagine the simple joy of placing one foot in front of the other - in Jerusalem.

I can decide this very moment to go there and be in the center of Jerusalem in just 15 minutes. I can drive an hour and sit on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, or drive just 20 minutes from here and soak in the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is two hours away. I can walk this land for all the days of my life and still feel such incredible gratitude that my life is here.

And that's when I realize again that the cost of this gift I have been given is that my babies must serve this land. They must wear a uniform, learn to carry a gun and yes, go to war if called. I'm not sorry about the path I have taken because who my children are, is a reflection of the land in which we live. The values they have are tied to serving our people and land.

I live by the word and yet words fail me now. I look at my friend's family and I feel a tightness in my heart. It is not jealousy; I would not trade my life with anyone's. It is....perhaps the nearest word is anger. I am angry. Not at my friend. Not at the images he posts on Facebook, and perhaps anger is too strong a word. There must be another and yet it slips away.

It bothers me that to live in this land, my children must know the uniform and the gun. My daughters may not serve in the army, but their husband or brother or nephew will at some point in the future. My sons will serve, as will their sons. To serve, if life remains as it has been for more than 60 years, means war.

I have lived through two wars in this land, not to mention the ongoing warfare of rockets being fired almost daily and the terror attacks that still scar us. I hear an ambulance and listen to see if it is one helping a sick person, or three racing to the latest attack.

My youngest child remembers the terror of a siren and the fear of not seeing her brother. My son wondered if his brother would be there for his bar mitzvah and will forever remember that a day, a single day separated Elie's return from war and the celebration of his bar mitzvah.

There is anger because I want my children to be as innocent and carefree as the pictures of my friends children and I know, already, that my children never will be. They have learned that pregnant women can be murdered, children made orphans. One had a teacher shot and helped babysit his son in the hospital - the son who's skull was broken by another of the bullets shot into the car. Two have friends who have lost brothers in war.

My sons have been the blood of victims of terrorist attacks and know, wherever they are, if there is an attack, they must call me to tell me they are safe, that I will panic until I know where they are. My children know to look around them on the bus; that an abandoned backpack is a threat, not to be touched.

They will hike and play and laugh; but there is that green uniform that goes in my laundry every week and talk of army and guns more often than can be imagined.

A few hours ago Shmulik and Davidi went into our backyard and played basketball - there is the innocence I crave for them. Their laughter as they ran brought us to the window to watch. Tomorrow, it is back to that other life, the one where innocence has been taken away as the cost of living in this land.

It is a price I pay gladly but it is a bitter price, nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bone Marrow - A Simple Test that Saves

A few months before we moved to Israel, I heard the story of a boy named Jay who was sick with Leukemia. The only thing that would save him was a bone marrow transplant. Jay was one of "ours." A Jewish boy with descendants from Eastern Europe...Poland/Russia, whatever. I gave my blood sample and put it on the back burner of my mind. I was finally moving to Israel.

My husband left just over two months before I was scheduled to fly with Elie and Shmulik. My daughter was to come to Israel with my mother a month before. It was a very complicated plan but it worked. My husband started his job here in Israel; I stayed back in America and packed up 10 years worth of memories and purchases. My daughter's leaving was agony for me. What mother lets a 7-year-old go away for a month, I asked myself again and again. It was a good decision for her. Her father was already here - this way he wouldn't be alone, and Amira would begin to learn Hebrew.

A week before my flight, I got a call. "We think you're a match," they told me.

I was in a panic. "I...my husband isn't here," I told the woman. "I'm alone with my two sons. I'm leaving the country in a week."

"No problem," she said calmly. "We can arrange for you to donate the bone marrow in Jerusalem, at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital."

I agreed; finished my move to Israel. I came here exhausted, excited, exhilarated.

About six weeks after I landed, having donated two pints of blood to myself, I underwent the procedure. As I was being taken into the operating room, I had my only moment of doubt. "Are you an idiot?" I asked myself. "How could you agree to do this? You have three small children."

It was too late to stop it. I knew that. They had already neutralized the man's sick bone marrow, ready to put my healthy bone marrow in place with the hope that it would multiply and thrive.

The bone marrow was taken and flown overnight back to New York. The operation was painful, very different than what is done today. The anesthesiologist actually left the room during the operation (something that isn't even legal) and so wasn't there when the doctor began drilling into my hip bone, only to find that the anesthesiologist had not successfully numbed it. The doctor felt bad. The nurses felt bad. There was nothing they could do - they were running against time constraints. The plane wouldn't wait.

When it was all over, the doctor said, "If I asked you to do it again, would you?"

I started to cry; he was horrified.

The next day, I was calm enough to explain that yes, I would do it again, but please, please don't ask me for a while. I went back to my new home to recuperate. It was an experience that I have never forgotten...

Ricki's Mom posted a note on my blog:
You have a lot more readers than I do. Maybe you could mention the opportunity of soldiers to be checked for bone marrow compatibility (and not too opt out because it's one stick too many.....) (see my blog)
I'm not sure I have a lot more readers - it's a great blog, but she's right about one thing...to be checked is nothing more than one more needle. To donate bone marrow is an incredible opportunity. I wish I could do it again. I am forever scarred by the thought that rather than helping, I was a part of a man dying sooner than he would have. The operation, as they say, was a success; but the patient died a few weeks later.

I live with his death and try to balance it with the word's that my husband and others have offered me - that I gave him hope. Perhaps. But for the chance to give more than hope...for the chance to give life - I would do it again.

So soldiers - please, please take that one extra needle. If you stand on our borders with the hope of defending our land, than let yourself be checked with the hope that you'll match someone and save a life.

And everyone else - please, please - take that needle. Get yourself checked. I can't say if I would agree to donate a kidney; but donating bone marrow causes no long-term harm (and even little short-term pain).

It says in the Talmud to save a life is as if you have saved the world. One needle, one small blood sample and you could save someone's world.

Thanks, Ricki's Mom for a very important message to all.

Eat Your Vegetables!

The army supplies soldiers with food - round the clock. The food is, for the most part, as balanced as the army can manage. They have tons of fruits and vegetables available, meat in huge quantities.

But there's a problem - there's a strike! That's right - starting tomorrow, the vegetable suppliers are going on strike. They will not bring fresh fruits and vegetables to market. Israel is a country that eats healthier than many. Our bread is delivered daily, fresh to the markets (though you can buy packaged bread). Because the country is so small, fruits and vegetables find their way to our stores and tables...perhaps in hours of being picked - certainly within a few short days.

Already tomorrow, we will begin to feel the pressure of not having these fresh fruits and vegetables. But the army has soldiers to feed and they must eat. So it has arranged, quietly and efficiently, to bypass the suppliers and get the produce directly from the farmers. And the farmers have agreed because they love our soldiers.

Tomorrow or the next day, there may not be cucumbers and tomatoes, oranges and apples - all staples of our diet - in the stores, but our soldiers will not feel this. The farmers love our soldiers!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Cow (Part 2)

So, the cow.

Chaim told us a story. It touches me. I can't explain why. I can see it in my mind. I can feel the soldier's fear, perhaps his embarrassment. I can imagine it all, step by step.

On the base where Chaim was stationed a while back; the soldiers are trained to do patrols, to guard the perimeter. At some point back, there'd been an attack on the base. Nothing is left to chance. Lights flood the perimeters, guard posts every so often.

A soldier on his first night patrol is stationed at one outpost. That afternoon, the large search lights went out. No one has changed it. He's got to stay there in the dark and watch. No matter what, he must not leave it. In the distance, he sees an object approaching. Too big to be a cat, a dog. This is real, he thinks.

He radios to base. They can hear him, but for some technical reason, he can't hear them. He's out there, alone, with no lights, no backup. This could be considered a nightmare. His first night patrol and already something happens. Something is approaching the base. Someone? A terrorist? Who would be out there in the dark slowly approaching a military base? It looks, perhaps, like a man, bending low as he slowly approaches the base. Not rushing forward, but steadily moving closer and closer.

The soldier has been trained. He knows what to do. He has a gun. Even if he doesn't have backup. Even if he can't reach base to speak to a commander and report what is happening, he knows what he has to do. He shouts out a warning. It keeps coming forward. He calls out in Arabic and in Hebrew as he has been taught. Still, it keeps coming.

He loads his gun, making a lot of noise. This is a warning. Stop. Still no answer from base. He is armed, and still it comes. He shoots in the air. Nothing.

And with no other option, the soldier shoots at the approaching object. A direct hit, as he has been taught. Only, as it makes a sound and falls dead, the soldier realizes he has shot and killed a cow. The cow was walking straight at him and so he couldn't see its profile in the darkness - just some large, looming object that refused to stop on command.

It isn't funny, is it? But I can see that soldier in my mind. I can feel the emotions - not terror, but realization that he has finally come to the test. Can he use the skills he has learned from training? There is a moment I think each soldier has...when he crosses that line from training to reality. It's there when they are tested. Can they shoot when they need to...and can they live with the results?

That's what got to me, about the story. It was a testing. We know it was a cow now, but he didn't know. He followed protocol; he called out a warning - in two languages. He shot in the air. He did all he could do to avoid casualties...and then, in what he believed to be defense of his position, he shot. That is Israel; that is an Israeli soldier.

And yes, it was a cow. I'm sure others laughed at him. I can imagine the other soldiers laughing. We laughed at the table but the story lingers in my mind. I think, I hope, the soldier could probably laugh at himself. He shot a cow. But more, I hope he can realize, deep in his heart, that he did what was expected, what was right. It doesn't matter. I hope the soldier knows this; I hope someone told him.

It was a passage from untrained soldier to fighter of Israel. It doesn't matter that it was a cow. It matters that a threat was identified; procedure was followed. Had it been real, he met his challenge. It wasn't real, and yet, he still met the challenge. Isn't that what training is all about?

That's my "cow" story.

A Cow (Part 1)

I don't know if I can write this post the way it should be written, if I can paint a picture with words as I so clearly see it in my head. I'm going to try, but I apologize from the outset if I don't succeed. But first, the background of the story and why I post it now.

Chaim called me on Thursday. When I see his number, I always caution myself. I want him to come to our home freely and without pressure. I want to be here if he needs us without putting emotional or physical demands. He has many friends - he's incredibly well liked and very popular. He has relatives here - he has limited time out of the army and he has to spread himself around.

He explained that he needed to get a fax; I gave him our fax number. If something comes in, I can scan it and email it to him, fax it, whatever. I asked where he would be for Shabbat - so much for my trying to go easy on the poor guy. He explained that he might be with friends; if not, maybe he would try to come to us.

He called Friday morning and explained he was coming back by bus from Netanya and wasn't sure he'd make it back to Jerusalem before the last bus here. "We'll pick you up if you want," I offered. Sheesh, I thought to myself, lighten up!

"I wasn't going to ask," Chaim said with a laugh. We agreed that he would call Elie an hour before he was ready to be picked up; Elie would leave and meet him at his apartment, giving him time to throw a bag together. I asked Chaim to call a young woman that we "adopted" for a short time. I'm good friends with her parents, who lived in the States, and she was here alone. I told her from the start, she would be mine too, that I'd be her Israeli "mother." She's met Chaim and as they are all around the same age, she blends in well with the others.

Her parents moved to Israel last summer and I had to officially "un-adopt" her but she remains in my heart and has a special place in our home. Chaim agreed to call her and encourage her to come for dinner - my table was filling up! Time to add another leaf!

I took stock. It was going to be a quiet, small Shabbat - no guests, nothing fancy. I had soup made, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes. Rice. Chicken.

"Do we have any meat in the freezer?" I asked Shmulik and Elie - they went searching. Not a bone to be had.

"I can go buy something," Shmulik offered.

"Go," I told him.

By the time Chaim arrived, there was steak! I made my special sauce, dumped in onions, let it sit for 30 minutes - not enough, but no time, and into the oven it went! And it came out good! I just realized - I didn't even taste it!

Well, it's Saturday night; Shmulik has just driven Chaim to the front of the city to catch a bus back to his apartment. I made blueberry cake that Chaim loved, so I sent him back with half of what was left. And the story will be part II of the "A Cow" post.

For this one, I'll end with the simplest of points - we had an amazing weekend with Chaim, Shmulik, Elie, Davidi, our youngest daughter and our formerly adopted daughter. We ate out on the balcony Friday night. We live in a religious neighborhood so Friday nights are very quiet here - no cars, just voices of people talking, walking and singing. Our neighbors must have had something special because they had many girls over and there was much singing drifting our way.

Chaim has a great voice and loves to sing. At one point, he joined in their song - only louder, and we all laughed. It was a weekend of laughter, blessed, peaceful, quiet. His mother trained him so well - he arrived with beautiful flowers that graced our Shabbat table, a beautiful voice - another gift from his parents, I guess, and the ability to make each of us smile and laugh.

I hope his parents won't mind...but another confession. On Friday nights, my husband blesses each of our children, each in the order in which they were born. My oldest daughter wasn't here this weekend; but Elie stepped up to receive his blessing, then Chaim, Shmulik, Davidi, and little Aliza.

It was a most amazing weekend. Stay tuned for the cow....

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Quiet Post

It's a few minutes after midnight. Long ago, my youngest daughter went to sleep. It was another of those nights where she needed a drink, she needed me to sign a test, she needed to put her pencil case in her backpack, she needed a kiss, she needed...

Shmulik went walking with his bride-to-be, then came home and walked the dog. He got today off and helped run errands and then began the long job of reforming our downstairs into a home. It's a lovely apartment which has been used as an office and storage...and turning it back into an apartment means sorting through a ton of stuff. I spent about 2 hours with him and found 2 shirts, a skirt, tons of pictures, a note from my best friend from 3rd grade, and so much more. He wanted to take another day, but he's needed back on base tomorrow. Hopefully later in the week or next week, he'll take another day and continue.

Davidi is asleep in his yeshiva. One of the things I found was an ultrasound image of him. There's a funny story there. When I returned home from the doctor, I showed Amira, Elie and Shmulik their future sibling. "Who does it look like?" Shmulik asked.

I thought about my kids. Shmulik is dark, as Amira is; Elie was alone with his blue eyes and lighter hair. He deserved someone, I thought and so I said, "Like Elie. The baby will look like Elie." When Elie was little, I agonized over his looks. My husband and I have both dark hair and dark eyes - all our siblings and parents and grandparents did as well. How was it possible this blue-eyed baby with the blond highlights was ours?

We spoke once, my husband and I, of having Elie tested. Until I realized that in testing him, we were opening up the door to someone taking him away. If he wasn't ours biologically, they might give us our "true" son, but take Elie. I couldn't live with that and so I decided I'd rather not know.

Apparently, deep within me, there was a fear and so with this picture, I told them that this one would look like Elie. When Davidi was born...he had those blond highlights and to this day, his eyes are the same grayish blue as Elie's. There was no way I could have known from the ultrasound and yet...I believe it was God's way of telling me I was an idiot. Davidi was born a bit over a year after we moved to Israel; Elie was born in America. Clearly, Elie is as much ours biologically as Davidi is. No mistake, silly fears.

So Davidi is asleep; Elie just sneezed upstairs. He's got studying to do tomorrow but he'll also run some errands, go to the bank and the mail.

My daughter is with her husband, likely asleep in their home. Me, I'm shutting down in a few minutes but what came to mind is the quiet sense that life is good and blessed. Too many don't realize it; too many realize it too late. To have a moment such as this is one of the greatest blessings of all.

There's a new puzzle on the living room table and while we were cleaning downstairs, we found six more puzzles to go. I love having these puzzles - though I have to find a cheaper place to buy them. The table can handle 1,500 pieces and 2,000 pieces. I found the 3,000 one I bought a few years ago. We started to put it together and realized that as big as the table is, the puzzle is bigger so we never did get to put that one together. Maybe I'll try to find a bigger board this time and we'll tackle that one. Our standard is 1,500 pieces. The one we just finished was really hard - a pretty country seen...with too much blue and too much green. This one's easy. It's Jerusalem, but the stones and patterns are more distinctive. But that's for tomorrow.

For now, three of my children sleep under my roof tonight; another sleeps nearby, another in Jerusalem...not too far.

For now, a simple message as I join my children in slumber. May God watch over us as we sleep and bring us the blessing of a new day, new challenges, new opportunities and new things to share.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

For Brooke...Welcome Always

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while knows that I started this blog for myself and somewhere along the way realized it was often as much for others as it was for myself. Some people start blogs to let family know about what's happening - one blog post saves a hundred emails, type thing - that wasn't me. Some start it to preach to the world about their thoughts and opinions - that wasn't me either. Nope. I started it to keep from driving Elie crazy. He had so much to learn as he became a soldier, who was I to try to explain I had things I had to learn too? He was going to go; I was going to stay. How could I explain to him that staying was almost as hard as going; that not knowing was even worse than knowing?

So he went, he learned, and I stayed, I wrote. Somewhere along the way during that first year, I realized others were reading. Mothers who were a few months or years behind me were reading and appreciating a light ahead of them on the path. Soldiers who were no longer soldiers, or even those still in the army, were suddenly writing to say they understood their mothers before. Anti-Israel people were writing too, and I accepted their comments and either answered back or ignored the nastiness. And people who loved Israel or the Jewish people were writing to offer their own blessings.

I've always known that on average, Israel has about 10% of the world that loves us; 10% that hate us; and another 80% that probably fall in the middle. Those people, I welcome here because they are open to listening. This calculation wasn't part of why I started the blog, but somewhere along the way, as I became more settled with where Elie was, I became aware of the other benefits - that family could learn what was happening and save me many emails; that friends could be updated. But more, that those who were once unknown to me, suddenly became friends; that others would learn and perhaps see a side of Israel they never imagined.

So many have written to say that their media never told them of the endless rocket attacks that I write about here; that they have seen a side of Israel they never knew existed. I have shared a land I love, and made others realize it's incredible beauty. And I've shared my sons so that the image of an Israeli soldier is now, perhaps, an Elie or a Shmulik, and not some harsh green uniform. A face, a name, a story, a son and yes, a soldier.

For a while, when things were calm, I wrote more for these things, than for myself or my friends and family. Then Elie would be in a particularly dangerous place, or something would happen, or he was sent to war...and the blog became my sanity on sleepless nights. The roller coaster would take a sudden dip and I would find myself terrified, flying through the air and not knowing when or how it would end. For those minutes, hours, or days, I would hang on, write, pray...anything till the roller coaster stopped; till Elie called and I knew he was safe. I could write my fears here while thinking I was hiding them from the "real world." Okay, so I didn't fool anyone except myself with that last thought, but still the blog served my sanity well.

I'm back now on that flat of the roller coaster - the part of the ride I love the most. No real fears, no terrors. Little bumps remind me I'm still on the ride, but it's calmer and I'm fooled into thinking I have miles ahead to travel flat and safe. I do a quick tally - where is Shmulik...where is Chaim...but it's okay. I'm okay because they are okay. Shmulik is with his future wife, making plans for the wedding; Chaim is on base this week...in a boring place. A boring place. A boring place, I remind myself. Near Jenin, but Jenin is quiet. Chaim is safe and bored!

This past week someone from Canada commented that they had learned a new side of Israel because of me...and I welcomed that comment with happiness and pride. And today, Brooke left a comment that I cherish as well. But, you know me by now - I write...and I keep hitting those number limits on the comment field. Never did learn to write short on this blog, so here I want to answer Brooke, and can't except in a new post. So here I go - this is from Brooke, with my comments inserted between her's. Brooke wrote:
I've been trying to find a way to comment here. I'm not sure what you would think about someone like me commenting on your blog. I'm someone who supports the Palestinians, who supports a one state solution, who has been to the West Bank and been very intimidated by the IDF soldiers at protests against the wall being built (I'm an American who travelled with the Christian Peacemaker Teams and hopes to find a way to partner with Palestinians at some point with the work that I do (grade school and secondary school technology integration)).
Thanks, Brooke. I'm glad you took the time to comment. What do I think of someone like you? I wish there were more people willing to have a dialog. I'm not sure what you mean by a one-state solution. I'm betting you mean a two-state solution, though I personally don't think such a two-state solution is viable. I'm not sure what intimidated you about the IDF soldiers - I guess it would depend on what the group was doing when you felt intimidated.

Perhaps, they are supposed to look a bit intimidating to prevent violence...but as you say you have been to the West Bank...I guess they didn't stop you from traveling. Did they do something? Other than asking to see identification? Was it the language barrier? I go through check points every day - I smile, and they smile back. I wave, and they wave back. Of course, in the few seconds they have to confirm that I'm not a terrorist, they quickly identify that I mean no harm. I've seen "peace activists" come to check points and harass soldiers, yell at them and curse them.

What did the soldier do to deserve the way they were treated? Usually, nothing - these activists are blaming 19 and 20-year-old boys for governmental and security policies that they are not able to change. They are tasked with watching each car, each person. They have seconds to determine whether this person poses a threat. Seconds. Perhaps they don't smile; though often they do.

As for the wall, I hope you know that it is 90% fence, not wall. It is only a wall in places that require this added security because a fence would not protect the Israelis on the other side from gunfire. For example, along Route 6, there's a wall in places where the Arab homes come very close to the wall. It was built after a 7-year old Israeli child was murdered as her father drove the family home one day.

For the most part, the fence/wall has numerous passage points that allow Palestinians to cross into Israel for jobs and medical treatment. Yes, this is an inconvenience but it was built in a manner that is not permanent (section by section was lifted in place and can easily be moved) and the entire wall/fence could be removed when terror attacks and violence stop (or the attempts stop). In the meantime, it has lowered successful terrorist attacks by 90% or more. You may not like it and it may be (and is) a hard thing to see, but you can't argue with the numbers and the success. Hundreds are alive today because there is a wall. Almost weekly, Palestinians are caught with knives and explosives. Elie stopped people with knives, guns, and explosives at check points. The wall will come down with a successful peace agreement and sadly, that is a process that requires two partners.

I commend you for your efforts to work with Palestinian schools and I hope that if and when such a program takes off, that you will help examine and fix the text books that are being used, the anti-Israel references and worse, the lack of references to Israel at all in some books. I hope you will see the video I posted the other day, of the two-year old from Lebanon who could tell you the capital of every country in the Middle East (um...and Canada and Venezuela), and then scream out that Israel does not exist. Two years old, and already, his mind is being poisoned.
But, I'm also a pacifist who believes that I have to come to respect those who hold different opinions than I do, because it's my belief that's the true way to peace (along with finding peace in my own heart). Because of this I started reading your blog. I needed to see the humanness in folks like you - folks I call settlers, folks who's actions I disagree with, folks who's actions I sometimes absolutely hate at my core. I needed to see our similarities, I needed to come to respect you, and even honor you. Sometimes I skip posts about the Palestinians, it's because I'm weak, because I don't want to get angry.
I have a secret to tell you - I'm a pacifist too. I want peace here in this land...even more than you do. My sons' lives depend on it. I take no joy in seeing my sons with guns and believe the worst part of my entire life was the time Elie was at war in Gaza. Golda Meir once said "When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

I'm not sure either is a possibility, but I now understand the second part of her sentence so much more. I worried for Elie's personal safety as rockets rained down on the area where he was stationed, where he slept for weeks, out in an open field not far from Gaza. But more, I worried about how he was coping with being asked to do. My son is not a murderer, and yet I have little doubt that he has killed. That is something I find intolerable and yet there was never a choice, so long as the world allowed Palestinians to believe they could continue firing rockets into our cities.

It's interesting that you see me as a "settler" and then judge my actions, even hate them to your core. It is as wrong for you to label me as it is for me to say all Palestinians are terrorists - which I do not. I do not like the culture of terrorism that is very prevalent in Palestinian society, the culture of hate and the worship of martyrdom and death. But where I might judge Palestinian society by the actions taken by many on its behalf, by the words and actions of its leaders and even by the parents who praise the actions of their children, you seek to label me by the location where I choose to make my home. I know that there are Palestinians who want peace, who pray for the safety of their sons, as I pray for the safety of mine. I know that there are Palestinians who want only a place to work, schools for their children, health care and security. I live with these people every day, not just on an occasional visit. I give them more respect than you could imagine.

When the city workers (who are mostly Arabs), come past my home, I give them cold water in the summer and hot tea or coffee in the winter. I greet some by name; many with a nod and a smile. I ask one who was in a car accident, now he is feeling; another I ask about his children and his brother. These are the personal relationships that can be built among people...when they aren't dedicating themselves to destroying all that you love and hold dear.

That without having met me, you could judge me, label me, seems sad to me. I don't want to make you angry and I'm glad that you are touched by the human side of my relationship with my sons and my country. What bothers me, though, is that you would question the human side of people "like me." It reminds me too much of Shakepeare's Shylock
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. 
Like Shylock, I am a Jew. I don't know much about the revenge part of his speech, but I think it interesting that you would expect of us more than what you expect from the Palestinians; that you judge us more harshly. We bleed when you prick up, die when you shoot rockets at us. We bury our dead when they are murdered in cold blood, and we mourn. And yet, we do not go out the next day and shoot an innocent pregnant woman to make up for the one who was just murdered. Yes, we'll put up a roadblock and yes, we will hunt down her killer, as much for justice as to ensure he doesn't do it again. But before I anger you, perhaps in the future we can speak about this aspect. For now, let me continue from your kind note.
What I do love seeing in my RSS feeder is an entry about your family and your sons and the love you have for your children by birth and Yakov and Chaim (did I get their names correct?) and how you've truly adopted them into your family with all your heart and mind (how lucky are those young men to have 2 families?). So, that's my point about posting today. I was truly touched by this post and how your son was stressed about being late for class because he was saving a life, and yet he didn't seem to understand that if he'd missed class because of that it would have been okay.
I'm so glad you enjoy reading about my sons - those from birth and those from choice. I do indeed love them all (and yes, Yaakov and Chaim are their names) and we have most definitely adopted them into our homes and hearts. I'm glad you were touched by Elie's latest antics. But I'd like to add one more note. Maale Adumim, what you think of as a settlement, is a large city a few short kilometers outside Jerusalem. It is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful city - and Arabs work here. No, they don't live here and yes, they are checked before they enter and can only come into the city with a permit or for emergency care. But it is also a center of its own as an ambulance squad and both Elie and Shmulik have regularly treated Arabs as part of their service on the ambulances. We cover the area from the edge of Jerusalem, all the way down to the Dead Sea. More than once, my sons have gone with ambulances into Arab neighborhoods.

While learning in the Old City of Jerusalem, I would guess that Elie even treated more Arabs than Jews. They do not differentiate, even when it was an Arab car that ran a red light and crashed into a car with three Israelis, including a baby. They are trained to help, not discriminate. And they did - injured in both cars. My sons have both been taught to defend themselves...and to be humane - in an ambulance, and on a check point. More than once during the war, targets were aborted because there were civilians nearby; more than once they fired into Gaza, knowing that they had to hit a specific target and if they missed, tragedy could occur. It is not an easy or enviable position to be in. They could not say they were pacifists and walk away because their country had been hit with 124 rockets in the month before they were called to Gaza and daily, they and a million Israelis were seeking shelter in the midst of the war.

Israel is a nation that has done much to make peace with those who are ready to sit with us. When next you are in the West Bank, I hope among your teachings, you will teach this. In Israel, we want peace. We will work for peace; we will sacrifice for peace - more importantly, though, we will live. That's what my sons work for, life.

Please teach the Palestinian children that this is what we want for them too - life. Yes, dignity and education and schooling, jobs and homes and families - but first, life. Please keep commenting and writing to me. Please don't be annoyed or get angry by what you read here. What I have learned, above perhaps all else in the last three years as a soldier's mother, is that we are all on a journey, made more pleasant by those we share with along the way.

Peace and blessings from a holy and beautiful land.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Backwards Story

You can tell a lot about a person and how they tell a story (or maybe not). Some people start at the beginning...and go to the end. Some start at the end...add the drama and interest, and then pull you back in by ending with the beginning. And some sort of swirl around until it all becomes clear. Elie started a story the other day...only later did I realize it was the end of the story and not the beginning.

"I was late to class today," Elie began. Since the army, Elie is very aware of time and its requirements. Elie is not late to get somewhere because he calculates how long it takes to get there and buffers the time. Elie is not late, and if he is, he is quite annoyed with himself or the situation. He wasn't annoyed and yet he was late.

"Why were you late?" I asked, "that's not good." Stupid comment on my part, since obviously he has learned that being late is not a good thing. In the army, it is punished; in life, it means you miss important things, annoy people, etc.

"I got stuck in the mall, but it's okay. I'm never late," Elie told me. Obviously, he's never late. I just told you that (where's the button to put in a smile here?).  Something wasn't right. The fact that he wasn't annoyed about being late was beginning to register.

"Why were you late? What were you doing in the mall?"

He was trying to get his sister's phone fixed. "You should have just said 'forget it' and gone to class on time," I told him, already realizing there was more to this.

"I know. I was watching and I told them they had 10 minutes and when they didn't finish, I took the phone back." Well, that doesn't really answer the question.

"So, why were you late?" I asked again.

And finally the true story comes out. A woman collapsed/fainted in the parking lot of the mall; Elie went rushing to help. He had medical gloves in his pocket because he's regularly on the ambulance crew. He felt for her pulse on her wrist. No pulse. He felt her neck and found a very weak one. He lifted her legs and began taking care of her. Her family filled in some of the medical background. People had already called the ambulance but by the time it got there, she had a pulse already.

Elie gave them the details, explained he had to rush to class, and asked if he could leave. With their thanks, he left, arriving a few minutes late to class.

"You saved her life," I said to him, a bit astounded at the turns this story had taken without warning.

"Maybe," he answered back. The ambulance told him he did a good job, he explained with that smile of his.

So Elie was late to class. "Did you tell the teacher why you were late?" Yes, he explained. Afterwards, he spoke to him and explained what had happened, "But there were still others that got there later, and I'm never late," Elie said again. Some people start at the end of the story; some don't.

A few years ago, Elie was driving by when he saw an elderly woman collapse. He pulled to the side and began giving her CPR. He continued until the ambulance got there, but she died anyway. The crew said there was nothing more that could have been done. I was far from home when my husband told me what had happened over the phone. I was driving, frantic to get home to know that Elie was okay, had accepted but not blamed himself.

My husband was brilliant. He told Elie that all their lives, this woman's family might have wondered if help had gotten there sooner, would their loved one have lived. Because Elie was right there, they could live in peace, knowing this was her time.

Elie accepted that; or perhaps he's been trained enough to understand that we are humans, not God. Life and death don't always rest in our hands, or perhaps, more accurately, they never really do. Elie moved on from that incident, as he moved on from the one that happened this week. He hasn't mentioned it, but for that one time when he told me he was late to class.

I look at my son, both my sons, all three of my sons and I wonder what great love God has for me that He gave me these boys, these girls. That woman was blessed this week that my son was there to help. But the one who has the greatest blessing of all is me. I pray that I never take for granted these gifts God has given to me. I pray that God knows how grateful I am for them, every day and every minute and every second of my life.

Maybe I've just done what Elie does - because the story in this post is my gratitude and not what happened in the mall. I started at one point, far from the real point. Such a blessing, so much gratitude.

Thank you, God, for trusting me with these amazing human beings you have created. Please, please watch over them and keep them safe. Bless the work of their hands, their hearts, their minds, their souls with health, with love, with life, with pride in what they do.

Shabbat shalom - may it be a Shabbat of peace here and around the world.

And finally, America "celebrated" Veterans Day this week - May God bless the soldiers of America and Israel, who fight for light and life, for freedom and for truth and may God send comfort to the families of the two pilots killed in this week's training accident in Israel, and to the families of other soldiers this week who might have been hurt or killed defending our lands.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm Calm, I Just Look Dangerous

A few months ago, Elie went with my husband to try to work out our ongoing, agonizing story with the cellular phone company, Orange, in Israel. It's been an agonizing 10 months dealing with incompetence, lies, even fraud (and before they come after us, we have proof they forged my signature, at least). My husband has handled the brunt of this; Elie a close second.

As I do when I'm upset, I write...and so I created a blog called "Cellular Agony" as I thought it appropriate to what they have put us through (http://www.cellularagony.wordpress.com). During one incident with Orange, my husband and Elie went to the service center to try, yet again, to have them explain the bills. This is what the Jerusalem Business manager had told them to do. When they did it, the service center took a look at the situation and told them they wouldn't be able to explain anything. When my husband tried to explain that they had taken time off work, as instructed, the person got nasty and threatened to call the police if they didn't leave.

The person then said he was going to go into our personal file - which is illegal, and use that information. Elie and my husband agreed that they might as well call the police because they were certainly not doing anything wrong by asking for service. The police came, heard what Elie and his father had to say...and recommended that we file criminal fraud charges against Orange. This is likely in the process but in the meantime, today my daughter's phone was broken and our local Orange desk suggested that Elie take the phone into another Orange service center to get it fixed.

Elie told them what happened and then called me. I wasn't happy. Elie was insisting that he would not let them harass him; that he had learned how to take care of himself. The last time, the man stood up and approached Elie in a threatening manner. Elie stared him down (the man was significantly shorter, older, weaker).

"I know how to defend myself," Elie told me. I was very nervous. I didn't want anything to happen. I begged him to stay calm and to that he responded, "Ima, I'm calm; I just look dangerous."

He went and dropped off the phone; we'll probably have to pay something to get it fixed because Orange's idea of insurance is rather absurd, but at least nothing happened and all went well.

I just loved that phrase, "I'm calm, I just look dangerous."

Of course, there's always a picture like this that blows that concept away...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Army Box

I started this post a few weeks ago and called it "The Army Box" - now, weeks later, I guess it should have been named, "And Sometimes the Army Doesn't"

The army is a box. It thinks like a box when it comes to its soldiers. Not, thankfully, in warfare - there, it uses its creativity, its brilliance, its unconventional way of looking at a situation. It refuses to accept that there might not be a solution and so instead it comes up with new and amazing, often daring solutions. And this is what they teach their soldiers. There is no option. And that's why war after war, battle after battle, we find a way to overcome, to outsmart, to neutralize the threat, to save the day. It happens so often here that sometimes we take it for granted.

The army will find the van carrying the terrorist with the suicide belt - there'll be traffic for us, hours of waiting in line, but we believe that something won't explode, and we'll be safe. Years ago, intelligence reports suggested that a major truck bomb was heading into Tel Aviv to blow up one of the largest buildings. When they couldn't find it...Israel called the US and told them - call Gaza. Tell them if that building explodes, not even God can help you. It was done with enough conviction that the US didn't doubt our sincerity. The bomber was called off. We have flown across seas to save people, set up field hospitals in hours where others took weeks. The army does not ask how...only what needs to be done...and then, for the most part, it simply does it.

So, the army thinks outside the box when it comes to battling our enemies. But, when it comes to our soldiers and how they are treated - that's where sometimes, the box looks like it is going to win (and undoubtedly, sometimes it does). Sometimes, the army overcomes it, sometimes, they don't.

Elie was an example of their overcoming the box - he told them that he didn't feel, as a religious soldier, that it was comfortable or proper for him to be commanding a unit with female soldiers (see Two Rights Don't Make a Wrong). It was, according to the rules of the army, his right. And yet, they forgot and assigned him this type of unit. It looked, for a while, like there would be a problem, but the army found a solution. Elie went to be the commander of a unit on a checkpoint; that commander was brought down to the base to take over the incoming unit.

Where the army really fails, too often, is when it comes to health issues. They simply don't have the capacity to deal with long-term medical problems that can't be fixed with a bandage, an aspirin, some anti-biotics. So here comes a sad story about an amazing young man...and the army box.

I can't tell you too much about J. before I met him and his mother. My first introduction, though, says more about the man he is, than anything about his background or what came before. I met J. at an army ceremony - his army swearing-in. His parents flew from the States to be there, to watch him be recognized as an "Excellent" Soldier - something usually given to one (at most) from each unit. He came from far...to join our army, to make aliyah, to be in the illustrious Paratroopers unit.

It was a beautiful ceremony (see A Missed Ceremony Recaptured). A few weeks after the ceremony, J. was running uphill, carrying another soldier in a training exercise. It was a rainy night; it was muddy. J. fell and was hurt. I don't know all the medical terms; I just know that it was bad enough that now, almost a year later, he is still in pain.

It took the army too long to finally authorize an MRI; too long to figure out that they probably should have operated on him. For the first few months, J. remained in his unit; after a while, as the unit's training moved on, J. was forced out of his Paratroopers unit. It was painful for him, horrible for his parents and it wasn't, by most accounts, handled correctly.

J. was moved into a jobnik position, not even one that attempted to give him the thanks and dignity he deserved. This week, he was released, months ahead of time, and still in pain. The army will continue, through the Ministry of Defense, to care for him and try to help him heal.

For all the army's great thinkers, this time, the box defeated them. This was a young man that crossed the world to serve Israel and Israel, or at least the army, did not do right by him. J. is angry at the army, but most of all, he just wants to get better.

This is the army's loss but I believe that in the end, what drove J. to excellence and set him apart in his dedication will see him through. He doesn't know it yet because he is young, because he is in pain, but he will come out of this stronger.

May God bless J. - a son of Israel who came home to serve his homeland. We salute you and love you more than you might feel now...but the day will come when you will see and feel our thanks. You may not have served Israel long, but you served her well and true aliyah, true service and dedication to Israel, is living here day in and day out - even more than it is about serving in the army.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When You Start This Young...

When you start this young, what hope can there be for peace?

Watch this to the end...and then answer my question.

History on My Mind...

And one more thing...

My birthday, today, is November 9th. If you don't want history to weigh on your child's mind...don't give birth on November 9th. At some point in my early years, I learned about November 9, 1938. On that day, the future of the Holocaust could have been predicted...or perhaps it was still to early for some.

On that day, with the organized consent and authority of the duly-elected Nazi government, Nazis went through the streets of Germany  and smashed windows, beat Jews, burned synagogues and books. It was called "The Night of the Broken Glass" and for the most part, those in authority helped...or at very least did nothing to stop, those who rampaged through the streets, spreading their hatred and dreams of what was to come.

Ninety-two Jews were murdered on that night, another 25-30,000 arrested. You can search the Internet to learn more about this day, this history, this painful episode that was so much more than a single instance of anti-Semitism.

For me, the significance was in my mother telling me, probably more than once, that I was her answer to Hitler. It was a heavy message for a child and yet one I welcomed. I couldn't undo what was done years decades before my birth but I could be, for the future, an answer. That is how I have tried to live much of my life and one of many reasons why I moved to Israel and brought my children here.

Now, as I watch them wear the uniform of Israel with pride and honor, I realize that I have passed on this mantle of responsibility to them. They answer for Hitler now. They are the answer - not just in their existence to the Hitler that was, but to the Hitlers that are and will be.

Today this weighs on my mind more than most days. Where once Jews ran in terror with no one to defend them, today they know they have a homeland and a place, an army and soldiers to protect them. My sons...my precious sons give the most wonderful of answers. Don't even try it, is their message every day. Don't even think you can do today what you did then.

Both Elie and Shmulik carry the names of uncles my husband never knew because Hitler had a plan; a plan that was shown to the world on November 9, 1938. Their namesakes died long ago - one in Auschwitz and one in a forest somewhere in Europe, last seen by a cousin when he was too weak to go on. They live on, their names live on...here in Israel, with my sons.

The Thing Is...

I have nothing much to write about - nothing that's really new.

Elie is doing his course for entry to university...nothing new soldier-wise there or in the near horizon. He is exempt from Reserve duty for one year (another 5 months) after finishing his service in the standing army, excluding war or emergency situations.

Shmulik is serving most happily as S.'s driver; all-around general assistant, etc. and enjoying the post. He gets to drive a lot, which he loves; is learning evasive driving, which is apparently cool; gets to go to shooting practice regularly and even got to fire S.'s pistol, in addition to the M16 that he knows well.

Chaim took a shot at the Commander's Course but decided not to stay in there so he's been assigned to his first "combat" position on a checkpoint and, to his great disappointment and my great joy, is in a really nice, quiet location which will allow his mother (and me) to sleep well at night for the next few months. Boring, he says and I  smile greatly. Be bored, Chaim - be bored and may you remain bored for all the days and nights of your service! Boredom is a soldier's mother's best friend!

Yaakov's in the States - hopefully to come visit soon and tell me more of what is happening in his life.

My girls are doing fine - my husband working too hard.

My parents are fine and mostly healthy - they give me a glimpse of what life can be like in another few decades, but all in all, they too have a good life and I can hope to be as lucky.

Me...I'm...happy.

The thing is - today is my 50th birthday - and if I stop and look...I am in that most amazing place where I can look and be so grateful.

To be married to the man I love, and have loved since I was 18 years old (could be since I was 17, if you believe in love at first sight...which it might have been).

To be the mother of five children who bring me pride and joy; to have two special "sons" in my life (one that brings me chocolate!).

To have a special son-in-law and soon, a new daughter-in-law...

To live in the place you always dreamed about living, in a land that touches my heart and soul every day.

To have friends - dear friends, who call and write to wish me well, but more, send their love and blessings every day in their friendship.

To have health - a true blessing.

To have love.

To have land.

To have time...

So, the thing is...I guess I'll take a moment on this blog and wish myself a happy birthday because it isn't every day you reach 50, but maybe more important, it isn't every day you stop and think..really think, how much you have to be thankful for.

It's a good day for that, I'm thinking. A very good day indeed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Plans...Changes...the Future

Shmulik is getting married...amazing, isn't it? Mazel tov! The boy who came to Israel at age three...is now a man on the brink of matrimony.

It's been a long time in coming, a long road he and his future bride have had to take. They were very young when they met and have worked towards this day for a long time. Obstacles were put in their path by well-meaning parents - his and hers. Ultimately, as I knew they would, they overcame these obstacles. They are cute together. She is quiet; he is protective. Together, they are sweet.

I've been focusing on the wrong things for the last week - the cost of the wedding; the details. To some extent, it has taken some of the joy out of the event. The other night, as I walked to catch the bus, Yaakov called from America. It was noisy in the street; I didn't recognize the number or his voice. I asked who it was as I looked across the street to see if I was missing my bus.

"Don't you know your own son?" he said. "It's Yaakov."

Yaakov came into our family when he was Elie's roommate in Hesder. Elie left Hesder to go to the pre-military academy in Nokdim; Yaakov stayed. He went into Givati and was the first to introduce me to the army. I learned a lot of things - like not to trust that he'd get out when they said; that he'd be exhausted and starving when he came to our home. He was the first person I ever worried about drowning in his own soup and watched in amazement as Elie gently tried to awaken him when he fell asleep during the seder.

From Yaakov, I learned that parents are supposed to bring food to the ceremonies; and that after walking all night, many of the soldiers would walk like a combination of a woman after labor, and an 80-year-old man (but not Yaakov!).

We went to Yaakov's army ceremonies and proudly watched as he received his gun and rifle, as his beret was changed to purple, as he finished. He returned to America, hopefully only for a few years, while in university. He married his beautiful bride (and showed me the pictures later). He sends me pictures of his daughter.

He called to wish me "Mazel tov" - congratulations on Shmulik's wedding and I joked about his coming to the wedding. He's considering it - maybe, hopefully. I was so excited after getting off the phone with him, I realized a few things.

We love Yaakov and Chaim - and they love us. It sounds so silly to write it down but it is something that I don't take for granted. It isn't easy to open your home and your family to someone else and yet we have done this for both of them (and each of them for who they are). And amazingly enough, they feel this love and return it. It was there in Yaakov's call; in Chaim's visits and updates.

When Elie was born, I learned something amazing - love multiplies. It isn't that you run out of love or that you have to split what you have. As each person comes into your life, you find you have even more love to share!

And finally, on the way home, I called my children - and told them about Yaakov hopefully coming - each was happy, though Chaim warned me it wasn't final and I shouldn't get too excited yet.

But the cutest line came from my youngest daughter. I was about to tell her when I realized that she hasn't seen Yaakov in almost two years...a very long time for a young girl and so I said to her, "You remember Yaakov, right?"
Aliza and Yaakov (2007)

And she answered, "Of course I do. He's my brother, isn't he?"

I smiled and told her that Yaakov might be coming to the wedding.

"YES!" she yelled out.

And when I laughed, she said, "oh no, are you going to put this on the blog? You are, aren't you?"

Yes, my love, I am!

But most important, somehow that simple conversation from Yaakov brought an image to my mind - a photographer taking a picture of my family...and how it has grown over the years since I brought three young children to this land.

My oldest is now married. My second now in the Reserves. Shmulik is a soldier...and a groom. Yaakov is new to our family - married with a beautiful wife and child. Chaim is a soldier. Davidi and Aliza, both born here in Israel, bring life and light to our family. My husband and I have been enriched. For the first time, I thought of that picture we could take, that I hope we will take - of all of us standing in our finery and celebrating.

Each addition to your family brings joy...that is what this wedding is about and it took a simple phone call to remind me of it. Thanks, Yaakov - you have always been the sensible one!
Yaakov, Haim, Shmulik, Davidi, Chaim, Elie - My boys!
(And as always, thanks to Yaakov and Chaim's mother for sharing her beautiful sons with me.)

Stripes and Security

The advantage of knowing when to worry is that you don't needlessly worry when you don't have to; the advantage to understanding the many realities of security is knowing when you have to do something or worry about something...and when you don't.

Shmulik's friend gave him some uniforms that he no longer needs. This is a common thing in the army - to share what you have with others. When Elie left the army, he "bequeathed" many things to others and kept only what he felt he would need in the future as part of the Reserves (or things he wanted, like an empty wooden crate he'd used from Gaza). So Shmulik took the army shirts and cut off the bars that show the rank.

Three bars indicate "sergeant" - below those bars, a combat soldier won't sew the bars on his uniform. At that rank and above, he is obligated by army rules and would be punished without them. Because they wear out the regular uniforms so quickly, they pin these bars on the sleeves; only sewing them on to the dress uniforms.

Jobniks - non-combat soldiers, often wear the two bars sewed on their shirt but it seems they don't have to. Shmulik removed the two bars from the shirts he inherited and went to throw it out. He's a jobnik now, but still has an affinity to being a combat soldier. He tossed the bars into the garbage.

"Don't do that," I said. I was thinking of the security risk of having these bars floating around.

Elie laughed; Shmulik laughed...I'd done it again. "Why isn't it a problem?" I asked.
Elie explained - only a non-combat soldier would be wearing these. If an Arab attempted to launch a terror attack, say with a stolen rifle, while wearing a uniform with two bars, it would be obvious right away because a non-combat soldier won't have a gun. So the gun and the two bars would be an automatic giveaway that something was wrong.

Okay...but I still couldn't get myself to throw it away until I'd cut it to pieces. Was it necessary? Who knows? As Elie points out - the bars alone are not going to stop a terrorist - with or without them. Elie notices these things, other soldiers do...and I guess if a soldier is in the area when a terrorist opens fire, the bars won't make a difference.

It's yet another instance in which I see that the way that I think is so different than how my sons have now been trained to think. So much of what I worry about is needless and, by contrast, as I remember my pediatrician saying years ago, "you don't know enough to worry about what you really need to worry about." We were sharing a moment as two young mothers. She'd recently given birth to her first child and as I explained about something that was worrying me, she smiled and explained that the symptom I'd found didn't match the disease I worried about.

She explained that as a doctor, parenting was so much harder because as a mother, she had all the same concerns, as a doctor, she could dismiss some, but add so many others. Perhaps it is the same with soldiers - they can dismiss many of my concerns, but have so many others they can add.

Whatever the reality, the bottom line is that the bars are shredded...and the sun shines in Jerusalem on this beautiful day as I sit here and begin my work week.

And yet....A rocket was fired at Israel yesterday; it landed in an open field and caused no damage and near our home, an ambulance squad went into an Arab neighborhood to treat a Palestinian who had fallen from the 5th floor - only to come under attack as they and their ambulance were pelted with rocks; Arabs broke into a home in Jerusalem dressed as ultra-orthodox Jews on the Sabbath, and more.

Welcome to a new week in the Middle East.

A Soldier's Wedding

Life in Israel is interesting for young people. When I was the age where Israel's young goes to the army, I was in university with little more to worry about than remembering which day of the week it was so that I'd go to the right classes. World conflict lived in the newspapers and the history books; tanks and guns were seen, at most, in parades and movies.

When I moved here and began seeing Israel's youth, I had the mistaken impression that going to the army meant putting their lives on hold for three years. The truth is that they do not put their lives on hold - perhaps their dreams of future studies and career, but not their lives. They live so much in these years, experience and grow so much. For most of the first two years of my university studies, I had no idea what I wanted to learn. I switched my major more than once and only really settled down to something specific when the university deadline for filing my major approached.

Here, Israeli kids decide before they enter university. They enter according to a particular major and changing it may mean starting all over again. That's the study part. The other part - meeting, dating, and marrying is something else. Many young people meet during the time one or more is in the army; often the wedding is timed for right after the soldier is discharged; or perhaps a few months before.

Well, it's official - Shmulik is engaged to be married to a lovely young woman a few weeks before the Passover holidays. It's something they have been planning and discussing for a long time. They'll marry in April and God willing, Shmulik finishes the army part of his service in August; followed by another two years to finish off his Hesder learning and studying obligation.

We went to sign the contract last week for the wedding hall. There's a problem. They want you to commit to a certain number and they will guarantee food, etc. for up to 10% above that amount. There are three groups of people we are inviting - our friends, our family...and Shmulik's friends. And there's the problem. Shmulik's friends...most of them are already soldiers, or will be in March when they enter the army.

How can I know if the army will let them come? How can I pay for so many and not have them show up? Shmulik has already asked his commanding officer to come...Shmulik is replacing S's last driver, who also got married during the time he served as S.'s driver...and S. wasn't able to get to the wedding because something came up at the last minute. We have no way of knowing if this will happen again.

That's fine for one person...but what if the number in question is 50? That's a huge number to leave up in the air. The wedding hall wants to know a month in advance...there's no way I can do this, I explained to the manager at the wedding hall. "He's a soldier," I said, "I can't know a month in advance." A war could break out a week before, a day before. How can I know?

And that's where, once again, I realized I had forgotten the basics of life in Israel. The manager was a soldier once...he knows the army better than I do. This is not his first wedding...not the first where the groom is a soldier, where so many of the guests will be soldiers.

"Can you tell me a few days before?" he asked calmly.

That's reasonable. I can do that. Probably. A few days before, all will have asked their commanding officers and most will have gotten an answer. So long as war doesn't break out a day or two before the wedding, most of the soldiers will know if they can get leave or not. We'll manage.

As for Shmulik - the army gives him 10 days off after the wedding and he has vacation days coming to him that should give him time enough to do what he has to do before. It will be interesting planning a wedding for a  soldier - but there is such joy in this event. My son is a soldier...and will soon be a groom, a husband. For now, we've got the countless details to think about...but even as I do...I'll stop and be grateful for this wonderful time and this great joy as our family continues to grow.

In thinking about this wedding that will take place, it brought back thoughts of a soldier who did get married in the midst of a war. From his wedding ceremony, he and his new bride had one day together before he went off to war. He was severely wounded...months of surgery...a miracle that he survived...a few months ago, they celebrated the birth of their first child.

In all these things - I see a picture of Israel, a reality I couldn't imagine during my own university days. Back then, I spent a lot of time imagining my life in Israel, of having children here, of them growing up here in this land. I imagined them serving in the army, though I now know I had not a clue what that meant. But I know that never did I think that during their service, one would be getting married.

What an incredible blessing - to raise a son to this wonderful moment in his life and ours. May Shmulik and Naama be joined in marriage, and may they be blessed with health, happiness, and many children as they build their home, here in their land, our beautiful Israel.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Movable Mint

Elie loves mint in tea. It's a great Israeli classic. If tea and milk is considered English tea, I guess we can consider tea with mint a great Israeli love. Israelis break off leaves of fresh mint and steep it in tea (actually, so do the Arabs and Bedouins, so maybe it is a Mideastern thing. Whoever it belongs to...Elie's adapted it as his favorite.

Many people have mint - nana - bushes growing near their home. We don't...yet. When we first lived in Israel, we rented. Then we bought our first home here and the gardens were a personal triumph for me. We planted a lemon tree, mango, and others. Flowers, grass, hedges - no design, just slowly made it ours. Then we moved to Maale Adumim and rented a house on the edge of the cliff. The wind was very strong, the house rather neglected, the gardens non-existent. I had thought of actually putting gardens in, but the land wasn't mine and didn't call to me.

Last summer, we bought a house in this neighborhood that I love. The garden is small, but nice and again it calls to me. It has some trees, but needs work. Elie wants to put in a mint bush. It needs a lot of water. We'll hopefully do it soon - and then Elie told me another of his army stories...

Seems that mint and tea is an army tradition and so almost every base has a mint bush. Elie's group had a large crate which held ammunition. After the shells were fired - they had the large empty crate. One of them got the idea to fill it with dirt and plant a nana bush. Elie gave it an IV. That's right - he took an intravenous contraption and hooked it to the bush. Each day or so, they filled the IV tube with a liter and a half bottle, which slowly dripped into the bush. The bush prospered and grew; the soldiers regularly pulled off leaves for their tea.

Each time the unit moved to a new base, they unhooked the IV bag, lowered it into the crate; closed the top of the crate; shipped it to the new base; opened the crate, fixed the IV...and once again had nana growing.

It's a fast growing bush if it gets enough water - apparently between the water and sun, it grew fast enough and large enough to keep Elie and his friends with a constant supply of nana. Elie has asked Shmulik to bring home a cutting from his base...or maybe I'll remember and buy him a plant. But I just loved the idea of this crate of nana, traveling from base to base.

It continues to amaze me how much the army remains a part of Elie's life and experiences. He still talks to his friends, those still in, and those that have left. He still relates to things today as part of what he knows from then.

You can take the mint out of the army...but you can't take the mint out of Elie's life.

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