Monday, February 28, 2011

Another K. Story

I keep forgetting whether I told this story yet, so just in case, I'll put it down here.

K. was Elie's commanding officer - the Mem-Pay (Company Commander - thanks George). During the Gaza War, for the first few days, the soldiers were awake and fighting almost around the clock. Artillery's role is well documented and was seen as one of the most crucial elements in the success of the war. Casualties on our side, and on the Palestinian side, were decreased because of the important work done by the artillery.

They covered troops going in; they covered troops on the ground; and they covered them as they came in. This is no secret - the Arabs are well aware of how well Israel used its artillery and, by extension, how much more damage could have been done had the army not put a priority on minimizing human casualties.

Elie's unit worked with almost no break for the first few days. They were exhausted, but they did what they had to do. There was no choice. Life had become unbearable for those living in Israel's southern region, for our people in Sderot, Beersheva, Ashkelon, Netivot, and so many other places. Cast Lead was a military action that was initiated after Israel was hit by over 120 rockets in a single month.

To stay awake, the soldiers drank coffee. K. drank coffee. And each time, as he was finished sipping and his men were about to fire, he and the others would bend low near the cannon.

The problem was, K. kept putting his coffee cup on a flat surface above his head. The warning would come that the cannons were about to fire; the men would kneel down. The blast is huge. I've heard it. I've seen it. I've felt it. It shakes the ground; shatters the silence and the entire cannon shutters. And K.'s coffee cup would invariable tilt and spill.

And then in the sudden silence that followed the launch, Elie and his men would hear K. curse. His coffee had spilled, yet again, on him. K. would go change his clothes, again; Elie and his soldiers would laugh.

I don't know if I have described this well enough; I don't know if you can imagine that in a war, people still need to smile and laugh. There was no joy in the shooting of the cannons, though there was determination.

There was the incredible noise made by the cannons and then there was the voice of K. who once again had put his coffee cup on the side as he performed his job watching where the cannons were aimed and fired. Elie has told me this story so many times, and each time, he laughs at the memory. I hope K. does too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A New Day in Our Israel

It's Friday morning in Israel. I need to get moving to finish cleaning the house and preparing for the Sabbath, which begins tonight. My oldest daughter is sleeping a short distance away in the home she makes with her husband. My youngest daughter got up this morning, I made her lunch, and she caught the bus to school a few minutes ago. My daughters amaze me. I look at them and understand that it is through the strength of the Jewish woman that our nation survived. They are grace and beauty and sensitivity...and since I'm completely impartial, it must be true, right?

That leaves my sons.

My oldest is upstairs, asleep. Elie. I couldn't even begin to find the words for what I feel for him. He's at a hard point in his life; harder even than the army. The army was a part of the road he had to take. I knew, growing up, that I would go to university in America. It was inevitable. Elementary school, junior high school, high school, university. Here in Israel, it is a bit different, in that last place, they have army. So going to the army is as inevitable as university was for me.

There is no choice, no wondering if there is a different path. It is accepted, expected, inevitable. Elie flew through the army in so many ways. It wasn't easy for him, but he simply took each challenge and truly made the best of it. He let the army shape him because he liked what was being formed. Now, as they warned him would happen, he doesn't have the structure, the routine, and so he is struggling to find the path, to know that he has taken the correct road. I keep wondering if he will go back into the army, if that would be best for him. He keeps saying no and yet the army remains a vibrant part of him.

Shmulik is upstairs, asleep. The army was harder for him initially, but he has found his place and is enjoying the ride, the service. He didn't let the army shape him and I'm not sure it changed him that much but he has always been the quieter, more internal of the two. He is the gentler one who lifted weights to make himself stronger. He is the one who clowns around a bit, makes us all laugh. He is such a blessing to our family. He is getting married in just six weeks. I can't believe it. I'm beginning to get nervous. We need to do so much to get ready and I have to get moving. We've just about finished phase one of the apartment below our house where he and his bride will live. We still need to paint it and put in a kitchen. I have to get clothes for everyone. The costs are overwhelming, but it has to get done. The clock is ticking away.

Davidi is upstairs, asleep. It is hard to believe what he looks like. The body is that of a man, or close to it. He towers over me. Like his two older brothers, the baby fat is gone. He's more solid than either of his brothers and is slowly inching his way up to reach Elie's height. At only 15, I'd say he has a good chance of passing him. He's changed since he started school this year. He's more mature, more aware. He's more active, more considerate.

My sons...

And me...I'm sitting here happy that this is my life, here in this amazing land. There are threats on the horizon, coming from all directions - from the north, from the south, from the northeast and even further to the east and perhaps even from the west. Scary things - we have identified several nuclear sites in Syria - again. Yesterday, Iranian warships docked in Syria, probably carrying weapons for Hizbollah on our northern border. A war with Lebanon is almost inevitable now that Hizbollah has raised its interest and participation in the Lebanese government.

War with Gaza is likely as well. This week, they shot rockets into Beersheva, again. By the grace of God, no one was injured, though a home was destroyed. Iran continues its drive towards nuclear weapons and the world fiddles. If I let myself think of the tomorrows to come, I would quickly become disheartened. A friend on Facebook asked if it wasn't time for me to consider bringing my family back to America.

I can't blame her. She has never been here and understands little of our life here, our commitment to this land and country and more, the firm belief that I have that this is our only stand. Not just our last stand, but our only one. This is the only land that has truly been our home and we will not be taken from it ever again.

For this reason, we send our sons to our borders and pray each day that they will return safely. Israel wants peace more than anyone can imagine. We have done more, time and time again. In the book of Exodus in the Bible, it says that God hardened Pharoah's heart so that he would not release the Jews from Egypt. The rabbis explain that this does not mean God set Pharoah's heart against the people of Israel, but that He increased the feelings that were already there.

The truth of the history of this land is so obvious and so clear. There never was a Palestinian state. The population of pre-1948 Palestine consisted of Jews and Arabs. The Arabs chose not to establish a state on the land they would have been given and chose the path of war. They lost. Again and again, they lost.

I can't help but wonder if God is not again hardening the hearts of others, making them blind to the simplest of truths - the Palestinians, the Arabs, do not want peace. They do not want to settle for a Jewish state in their midst and it isn't about these borders or those. They do not want us here and will never settle for anything less, in the long term, but our complete obliteration.

And this we will not give them. By right, by might, by history, by love of this land, we are where we belong. So my sons sleep peacefully upstairs, while our other sons defend this land. Two of my sons have served (Yaakov and Elie), three are serving now (Shmulik, Chaim and Haim), and one will serve (Davidi).

Chaim finishes his service in the next few weeks; Shmulik in the summer. Elie finished the army the same week that Shmulik and Chaim entered it. It may well be that Elie will do his first reserve duty service the same time Shmulik finishes his service. It is a circle that seems to never end, a new day for all.

These are the children I brought to this land, that were born here, or came here on their own and joined our family. There are no words to explain the depth of my love for them just as there are no words than can explain the depths of the roots we have here.

The one great reality that comes to me on this day that soon brings the Sabbath, is that with the blessings of God, we will do always be here, in the land of our forefathers, the blessed land of Israel. Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Punishing Our Soldiers

As parents, we know that discipline is necessary to build a child's sense of responsibility, of independence, of maturity. Sometimes, to make sure a child behaves correctly, punishment is needed. I won't get into the debate of what constitutes punishment and what goes beyond - but rather, I'll tell you a story I heard for the first time today.

As we were driving home from the doctor (confirming that Davidi has managed to break his big toe while playing basketball), Elie and I were discussing his younger sister. He feels she needs to be punished more, that I am spoiling her and letting her take advantage too much. This week, I did punish her for coming home late and not listening. She wasn't allowed to go to friends; though I did let her have friends come over. Elie feels this is too common a punishment and she isn't going to learn from it.

Soon, I began hearing Elie's understanding of what punishment is, what it is meant to accomplish, when it is effective, and when it is not. It is interesting as a parent, to listen to your child speak of punishing others. In a normal world, your children only reach the age where they punish others long after they have become parents themselves and here, at the age of 21 and 22, was my son, holding this responsibility in his hands.

Elie then began telling me a story I had never heard. He explained that at one point during his serving as a commander (of other commanders), there was a soldier who kept doing what he wanted and his commanding officers kept punishing him. K., Elie's battalion commander (Mem-Pay) was aware of the situation and told the commanding officers, "Stop punishing him. It isn't working." He then came up with his own punishment, which was effective because it was geared to the soldier and the situation. All the other punishments given by the commanding officers were standard, expected, and didn't really bother this soldier.

The next story, though, was the most amazing of all. One soldier from Tel Aviv, who comes from a wealthy family and always had the latest gadgets, got fed up with the army in front of his unit and all the commanders and spat out his frustration. Without really intending it, he spat at the Israeli flag. There was utter astonishment and shock among the commanders as they looked at this young man. The Mem-Pay was too angry to respond and so he simply walked away, calling his commanding officers into a meeting.

How do you punish a soldier who spits at a flag and, in effect, all it stands for? All that soldiers do, every day of their army service, is represented by the flag. K. thought for a while and then called the soldier in and gave him his punishment. It would take him days to accomplish - hours and hours of his personal time as well as additional time the army would give him.

His punishment - he had to create a 2 hour lecture to be delivered to all the soldiers on the meaning of Israel and the flag. To accomplish this, K. explained, the soldier had to travel all over Israel - to the north, to the south, to many of our cities. He had to interview people, Israelis, other soldiers, teachers and Holocaust survivors.

In the end, he stood before the soldiers and delivered a beautiful lecture on all that he had learned. Then, he went over to K. and thanked him for the chance to learn so much about Israel.

Understanding the purpose of a punishment and how to give that punishment with wisdom is something that not all people learn in a lifetime. When K. gave this brilliant assignment to this young soldier, he was a young man himself, in his early to mid-twenties.

What flash of inspiration brought him to this idea, I do now know, but I have no doubt that Elie's soldiers and the "punished" young man, will never forget the punishment, but more, the justice of it. K. took something that could have been so ugly - spitting at our nation's flag, and turned it into the most wonderful learning experience.

If you live in an amazing country, that grants its people freedom and democracy and protection, and you ever doubt it for a second, I can only hope someone will "punish" you into learning and exploring more about what it stands for.

May God bless K., who still serves in our army and continues to inspire others, as he inspired Elie and his unit.

It's the Juxtapositions, Stupid

I've always loved the word "juxtapositions." It sounds so fancy, when it means something so simple. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, juxtaposition means "the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side." In simpler terms, it means looking at two things and noting the relationship. And often, it means wondering how it is possible that no one else does. The irony, I have said often, is killing us.

So here is another example of perfect juxtapositioning (though it isn't really used as a verb, but here I use poetic license). Yesterday, three things happened in my world. The first was a personal one and important to our family. A little while ago, our son-in-law went into the army and yesterday was his Swearing-in Ceremony marking the completion of his basic training. As I saw with Yaakov, Shmulik, and Chaim, our son-in-law received a rifle and a Bible - symbolic of the service he is about to perform, and the reason why he will do it.

On a side note, I missed Elie's ceremony because parents weren't invited. It was one of those tension-filled times so they took the boys up to a mountain in the Negev Desert, walked them to the top at sunrise, and had them form a circle. There, for them, for each other, they formally welcomed them into the brotherhood and responsibilities of the army. I wish I could have been there, but had I been, it would not have been the experience it was. It must have been amazing, dawn breaking, a view of our land from the top of the mountain, all the soldiers, only the soldiers.

Well, back to yesterday - yesterday it was Haim's turn and my daughter and I drove up to Haifa to be there. It was long, it was tiring, it was wonderful. Many in Haim's group have young children already. The young mothers watched as their husbands joined in the ceremony; the children waved to their fathers. There aren't boys who entered the armies, but grown men with wives and children. And yet the ceremony and the dedication are the same.

The second "thing" that happened yesterday was that a young Palestinian child named Wallah Omar came to Israel. She is a little girl, only two years old. She entered Israel to go to Rambam Hospital, also in Haifa, for a life-saving operation. Yesterday, doctors removed a brain tumor from Wallah's head and the family hopes to take her home soon. In Gaza, a place that spends millions of dollars on rockets and mortars to fire at Israel, Wallah would have died. So quietly, she was brought to Israel, where Israeli doctors operated on her and saved her life.

And the third "thing" that happened yesterday, far from Haim's ceremony in Haifa and Wallah's operation, was that two massive rockets slammed into the city of Beersheva in southern Israel. Beersheva is a modern city. It isn't reminiscent of the ancient Biblical spot where it is referenced in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Isn't it ironic that it was in the area of Beersheva that Hagar found refuge with Ishmael, and today, the Arabs bomb it?

As for the modern city, it lies a bit to the south and west of where the ancient referenced site was. Modern Beersheva is home to almost 200,000 people. That's how many people were attacked yesterday; that is how many knew, in seconds, that a rocket was going to come crashing down.

It is these juxtapositions that amaze me. On the same day a Palestinian child's life was saved by Israeli doctors, thousands of Israeli children were endangered by the Palestinian concept that it is acceptable to fire a rocket into a civilian city.

It is the juxtapositioning of these moments that amazes me, that shocks me, that angers me. We keep our hospitals open and treat their sick. It is our way and I accept that. But sometimes, sometimes it just makes you feel overwhelmingly stupid.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Cookie Monster(s)

I am certifiably insane.

I coordinate a national conference (with a lot of help and never enough) and so the night before each conference, I also bake hundreds of chocolate chip cookies that we put out at our table. Other tables have candies and other give-aways, but there is something so nice about having these home-baked cookies. The problem is that as the cookies get more "famous" and as the conference grows, we need more of them. Seven or eight batches later - and many hundreds of cookies, it's a job.

I roped Davidi into making some of the mix. I did the baking in groups of three racks at a time - in the oven, out to the table to cool, into large plastic containers for tomorrow. For no logical reason other than wanting to, I was counting the cookies. 53 in one container, 57 in another, yet another and I'd passed 160. 114 in another container and I was in the 270 range with more to pack. And on it went. At one point, Elie grabbed a cookie, called out, "Cookie Monster," and devoured it in one bite, soon to be followed by another.

Davidi took one, my husband asked sweetly before understanding that anything still on the table was free game, just don't take from a counted containiner. Shmulik came in and took one and then said, "oh, I forgot. S. said to tell you that he really likes your cookies." (S. being his commanding officer, for anyone who has joined this blog more recently.)

And then, before I could say anything, Shmulik added, "I told him that I shouldn't tell you or you'd send him more so he said don't tell you. He's really into healthy foods and he said he ate one and then he liked them so much, he ate the rest of them."

"So take him a few," I said, "and tell him if it helps, I use brown sugar and whole wheat."

"Oh, I'll tell him," Shmulik said, though I assured him that still doesn't categorize them as "healthy."

"Well, I'm going to be on base tomorrow night," he reminded me.

"So, take more," I said with a smile. When the last batch was done and cooled, Elie went into the kitchen and found a last large container, bigger than all the others. I was bringing the last tray in and I explained that I wanted to count them. He picked up one cooled batch and dumped it in, "about 25" he said and then added another batch, "now more."

He took the final batch, put them in the box and said, "a lot more" and laughed.

"I was counting them," I said with more humor than protest.

"Why?" he asked. "People don't care how many you bring. They only care how many they eat. So, before you had that much, now you have this much, which is that much plus more."

God, I do love that kid.

So tomorrow, please tell me the cookies are good - just don't ask me how many I brought.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Jordanian Hero?

Fourteen years ago, a school in Beit Shemesh took their students to the Island of Peace - Naharayim, on a school trip. Fourteen years ago, a Jordanian soldier saw the students, and opened fire, killing 7 young girls. I remember that day so well, and the days that followed. I watched the news and kept asking my husband to explain something that could not be explained.

How, I kept asking does a parent send a child to school in the morning and bury her that night? That thought, that image, haunted me for years. What helped, a bit, was the amazing action of the Jordanian king. King Hussein did the unthinkable - he came to Israel. He insisted. He was deeply ashamed and angered by what his soldier had done and so he came to Israel, to Beit Shemesh, to the homes of the parents of these young girls and made a condolence call.

There he was, in Israel - and all our hearts thanked him. He eased so much of the pain. Not of the loss, but of the hatred that must have been in that horrible man. He promised Israel justice and he delivered. Ahmad Moussa Dakamsa would be brought to justice, King Hussein promised us, and he would serve for his crime. "Your loss is my loss," he told the families. Two years after the terrorist attack, one of the mothers gave birth to a baby girl and named her Jordan, as a testament to how touched she was by King Hussein's visit.

For fourteen years, Dakamsa sat in jail. It is nothing, 14 years, compared to the lives he stole, the families he left devastated. But it is all that man can deliver. The Ultimate Judge still awaits Dakamsa, but in this world too, he was to have served a punishment.

And now, now the Justice Minister of Jordan (and isn't that an absurd title to give such a man?) has said that Dakamsa is a hero and should be released. The Israeli government has expressed shock and outrage. The Israeli government has demanded an explanation.

I am trying to convince myself that it doesn't matter. That sitting in jail wasn't sufficient a punishment anyway and that Dakamsa's true punishment will be so much more eternal, so much worse. And I am left with one thought - all that King Hussein did will be undone - if his son, King Abdullah does not handle this correctly.

If he is half the man his father was, he will condemn the Justice Minister, dismiss him, fire him, shame him. He will announce that Dakamsa will not serve one day less than his full term and will be remembered for the shame he brought Jordan.

If Dakamsa is a hero to the Jordanian people, the Jordanian people should be deeply ashamed. More, King Hussein of Jordan came to Israel to say that he was ashamed. This shame has been multiplied beyond all measure by the absurd and shocking words of a man who is clearly as filled with hatred as the original killer.

No, Justice Minister Hussein Mjali, Dakamsa should not be freed and no, he is not a hero. He is a murderer, worse, a terrorist who killed innocent little girls. If this is a hero of today's Jordan, King Hussein must be turning in his grave.

Every Boss Has A Boss

My daughter's husband has entered the army - another soldier in the family. It's a bit different because he's older than most, having delayed the army for a number of years to learn. Another big difference is that he, like most of the unit with which he will serve, goes in with a wife waiting for him at home. I'm enjoying sitting back this time and watching the army come alive for her as it did for me four years ago. Last time, I was the one who knew nothing. She experienced much of her brother's time in the army, but she had just gotten married two weeks before Elie went in, so there was a measure of distance.

Now it is all up close with her, closer even, perhaps, than it is with a mother. She's already experienced the army's changing its mind. Her husband went into the army as part of a special program for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The basic training was scheduled, changed, changed again, and probably a time or two more than that.

Today as we drove into Jerusalem, she and Elie were talking about initials - army terms that indicate a rank or a responsibility. A Mem-Mem is a commander of a unit. Above that is a Mem-Pay - a commander of a pluga...a bigger unit. I don't know the English terms.

There is no Mem-Mem-Mem - but my daughter has decided that there always has to be one Mem (for Mifaked, or commander) above another and so she has decided that if things go wrong, her husband should apply to the Mem-Mem-Mem.

So far, he is doing wonderfully. He is motivated, interested, committed. It is also interesting to watch Elie. Elie wants to give advice to his brother-in-law, even when it isn't really needed yet. I sit back and listen to all this army talk - of Shmulik and Chaim and Elie and now my son-in-law too.

And I can understand my daughter as well - it isn't easy those first few weeks, adjusting to the fact that she can now only speak to her husband for a few minutes a day. The good news is that as a married man, he is home every Shabbat, even during basic training. He came home this past weekend and it was hard for him to talk. He'd spent most of the week running and shouting, "Yes, Commander!"

I smile when I think of him in the army. It is good for him, good for them, good for their future. The army takes care of its married soldiers and even my daughter laughs when she thinks of her Mem-Mem-Mem creation.

We don't yet know what he will be doing in the army after basic training, but whatever it is, it serves this land.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nothing Prepares You (Gabi Ashkenazi's Words)

After that little fiasco with the phone call from the hospital last week, I'm more sensitive. I started to type the title and thought you all might think I was delivering bad news, but I thought those words were so interesting.

"Nothing prepares you for this great responsibility," Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel's just-retired Chief of Staff told Israel's incoming Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Interesting words and so incredibly true of much that we experience here in Israel.

I am sorry to see Gabi Ashkenazi leave his position. It is like taking a first step alone. It's a scary world  without him. Israel fought the Second Lebanon War and made many mistakes. It was a travesty, a tremendous lack of planning, failed intelligence, and more. We may or may not have lost the war, but no one can claim we won it.

Gabi Ashkenazi came in and understood the mistakes. And he made them right. Israel faced another war in December, 2008. More than 120 rockets were fired in November of that year. Life had become a game of Russian roulette, where you never knew when or where the rocket would strike. Fifteen seconds was all the time you had to run to safety.

Gabi Ashkenazi accepted the challenge and lead Israel's army competently and steadily to an unquestionable victory. Nothing prepares you for this responsibility and yet Gabi Ashkenazi met the challenge and led our sons into, through, and out of war.

I'm finding it hard to let him go, that's the truth. The other truth is that I know only one thing about the incoming Chief of Staff and it bothers me. I know that I don't know all the details; I know that there is more to the story. I know that what I wanted him to do is likely physically impossible.

Years ago, after Arab mobs surrounded Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, a unit of soldiers was pinned down. One soldier was wounded. Had he gotten medical aid, he likely would have survived. But the Tomb was surrounded; Israel waited to act. The soldier bled to death.

The commanding officer in charge of the decision to wait, was Benny Gantz. Was there another option? I don't know. What I wanted him to do was put a tank in drive and smash through everything and everyone to save our soldier. Impossible, a friend tells me. The roads are too narrow.

I do not want the facts; I know only the emotions.

Gabi Ashkenazi did what needed to be done. He smashed through all barriers. No, that isn't a confession because the war was fought with as much humanitarian care as was possible; the barriers I speak of more mental than physical.

I want to know that Benny Gantz will do the same. I want to know that he will understand that a true, working army must coordinate - as the army did not in Lebanon. I want him to know that the Army of Israel must be ready, as it was for Gaza. And I want him to know that sometimes you cannot hesitate, as he did with Joseph's Tomb.

Nothing prepares you for the heavy responsibility. I can only hope that having handed Benny Gantz our security, our sons, our army - that he will not hesitate, that he will prepare himself for the days to come as he and his army protect our borders, our skies, our land.

May God bless Benny Gantz and grant him courage and strength, wisdom and fortitude and may God bless our beautiful land with peace.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Devil and the Brownie

So we went to the lawyer today (see Cellular Agony for details of why). My husband can't deal with this. It is too much pressure and angers him no end. Elie has been involved with this for some time, so he and I went. Because it is Friday morning, it's a crazy day to go, but it worked out with other things.

We did the shopping before, some preparations. We threw the soup on the stove. Shmulik and Davidi made the chicken; the rest waited until I got home. On the way back, we decided to stop at a store that has ready made foods and salads. We bought two salads and then I saw a package, "American brownies." Israelis tend to put the word "American" on anything they want to sell as a quality package.

There are American shnitzels - breaded chicken cutlets fried in oil. I never had it in America, but apparently, it's American. But the brownies looked good, so I took a small box. We drove home and stopped to get gas. As we were waiting in line to get gas, I offered him one half a brownie and took the other half for myself. They were amazingly chocolate, amazingly frosted, amazingly good. The line moved forward slowly. This is a weekly thing, as people line up to get the free newspaper (a savings of several dollars) given free if you get over 150 NIS of gas. With gas prices at roughly $7.00 a gallon, you take what you can get, and a free newspaper in Israel on Friday is much thicker than the rest of the week - sort of like the Sunday paper in the United States.

There are changes in Elie since he went and came back from the army. One of the most amazing ones is how he treats me. There is a new awareness that he is stronger and so he carries things for me, will even take things I am carrying. And he will fill the car with gas when we go to the gas station. I offered and, as I expected, he said he would do it.

He popped the gas tank cover, circled the car and then asked for the credit card. I knew he would need it and so had it ready. He reached in...and took my remaining little piece of brownie that was in my hand, popped it into his mouth, and took the credit card.

He was all smiles. I harrumpphed! I took another small piece from another brownie and before he could reach in, I locked my door and took a bite in full view of a still grinning Elie. He smiled, the devil, and held up the key to the car. He used the control to unlock the door I had just locked and still laughing, grabbed another piece.

These are the moments I cherish in the relationship we have built. It is interesting as a parent to grow a bit older and watch as your son grows a bit stronger. When they are young, you carry the burden and whatever they do is a bonus. So when shopping, you find a light bag and give it to them so they can feel they are helping. It is an amazing moment in your life when it is you taking the light bag.

As for the brownies, they never made them to the Shabbat table - they were very good, very fudgy, and well worth the grin and the laugh when Elie successfully stole that little piece.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Dumb, Dumb Way to Call

So, let me start by saying everyone is fine. Nothing happened. Nothing. Remember this.

A woman called my office today. She said her name, but I honestly don't have a clue what it was. Her next words sent terror through my whole body. "I'm calling from Hadassah Hospital. We have a young man here..." That was all I heard the first time around.

I can't honestly say which son I thought of first - Elie...Shmulik...Davidi...Chaim...God, what happened? Through the roaring in my head as I asked her to repeat herself, I heard her say something about registration and a course and I'm not sure what other words. And then it clicked. She was calling to register one of their employees for an upcoming course.

I had already spoken to the person and knew all about him and the course details. It was someone calling to handle the payment and registration. All so ordinary, so plain - except for my reaction and the absolute terror I felt.

She must have heard some sound I made because she asked if everything was okay. I tried to explain what I had thought, the first things that come to mind. "I have a son in the army," I explained. "Well, even more than one because..."

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "That was so dumb of me. What did I say? I should have said I'm from the Computer Department. That would have been better. I'm sorry."

I told her it was fine. I finished the conversation and heard yet another apology, but my heart was still racing; my eyes still tearing. I honestly don't think this was an Israeli thing...not even a soldier thing.

The woman was so nice afterwards, so sorry for what she had done. It took me so long to calm down afterwards, to find that sense of peace. All I kept saying to myself for minutes after was "dumb, dumb, dumb." And I can't honestly say if it was a dumb way to make a phone call, or a dumb way to react to it.

All the same - if you work in a hospital - be careful when you call people. The combination of "hospital" and "young man" was just so terrifying.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Lonely Son and Home

When Elie was in basic training, there were nights that I could hear something in his voice, something that said he was lonely and just needed to reach home. When Shmulik went into the army, I was prepared to hear the same. But there were two critical differences I had not taken into account. The first was that Shmulik went in as part of a Hesder group. A unit that spends 15 months learning together, then 18 months in the army, then another 2 years learning.

There is no being lonely when you go in with friends, serve with them, eat, sleep, pray, learn and talk with them. The second difference was that Shmulik had a girlfriend, now a fiancĂ©e. If he is lonely, he will more likely call her, as it should be. And so, I have had very few of those calls where I felt Shmulik NEEDED to talk, needed that connection.

Until today. There are rotation bases where the people on the base are not enough to staff the base for various needs. When Elie was in the army, part of his unit was rotated out to a base that was staffed by non-combat soldiers and in various rotations, combat units came and guarded the base perimeter. There are also other needs - non-combat needs such as cleaning, kitchen duty, etc.

This week, Shmulik got "rotated" to one of these bases for a few days and for the first time in months, is spending three nights on base in the south. He called during the day and I quickly realized he didn't have much to say, and yet, he kept the conversation going.

There was that something in his voice that told me he was lonely. I told him about things happening at home, a few things about work. I talked and can't really tell you what I said because mostly I was concentrating on just putting out words.

It was different than it was with Elie. Shmulik will be home tomorrow night and he'll be home the whole weekend. Likely, he'll sleep at home at least four or five days next week, as he has for the last few months. With Elie, those lonely calls often came when he was gone for a week or two and had still more to go until he would be home again.

But Shmulik is used to being home and one of the reasons he loves being S.'s driver is because he can be home so often. It is another difference that time has brought to me. When I spoke to Elie and heard that tone, my heart hurt for him and I wished there was something I could say or do to make it all better. With Shmulik, my heart felt content. Yes, that's the word. I didn't feel sad. He'll be home tomorrow.

I didn't feel anxious and worried. Mostly, I felt that I was happy that he missed home enough to call. I may not be explaining this right. I'm not happy he was lonely...but there is a wonderful sense of fulfillment when you realize you have raised children who love the home you have created for them and who want to come home.

Elie told me once that the worst punishment you can give a soldier is to deny him home. I didn't say anything about doubting him but I'm sure he is wrong. I'm sure there are many worse punishments, but the fact that he said it and believed it gave me a similar feeling to the one I had today.

As a parent, you spend your life building a home for your children - what an amazing sense of accomplishment it is to realize that the home you built, is the home they need, yearn for, return to, and love.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ice Trays

I have a confession to make. I'm an ice cube fanatic. Well, more precisely, I'm an ice cube tray fanatic. One of my favorite rooms in a house where we lived for 8 years, was a strange shaped room with curved walls and strange angles. It was what was left after the entire house was designed. The house was attached to another - a huge square shape - cut diagonally across so that each side was in fact a modified triangle.

I believe firmly that what is important in life is training your children for the unexpected, the different, the challenge. I know people who insisted their children stick to a schedule - this time to nap, this time to shower, this time to eat. A schedule is good - but if enforced too strongly, the child loses the ability to cope with life because life has a way of throwing curves at us.

That's what my life has been like as a soldier's mother, I realize now. The curves come at you when you don't expect them; the straight lines a comfort but a passing one. So, back to the ice trays. We have dozens. Too many, really. My children groan when I come home with another one; my husband gives me this wonderful, tolerant smile. Another?

We have ice trays in the shapes of seahorses, ABC, pluses, stars, circles with holes in them, long rectangular ones, mini-bottles. We have triangles and hearts and flowers. I'm sure I'm forgetting some but it doesn't matter. The point is - ice trays.

One of my great sources was IKEA in Netanya. I was there a few months ago and as I passed the ice tray piles, I searched and found only those that I had already. Not surprising, considering our collection. I was about to buy another when I realized this might border on obsessive compulsive behavior and resisted the urge.

I was so proud of myself, I called my husband to tell him of my success but his phone was busy. Shmulik was in the army, so I called Elie, "What, they didn't have any new ones?" he laughed.

"Well, no, they didn't," I admitted - happy to hear him laugh again.

I called my husband later and he made the same comment - it is a running joke in our family and one I do my best to promote. Yesterday in what seems to be an electrical short, IKEA in Netanya burned down. Thankfully, no one was injured - it's only money and that is not something we mourn over.

I have little doubt they will rebuild and restock and when they do, I'll go and check out the ice trays because really, life is about those little differences, being unconventional. Life is about the twists in the road, the bumps in the roller coaster, the strange and interesting ice cube you put in your glass.

My children are adaptable to any situation, and changes in scheduling without warning. They adjust, and then they adjust again. To survive in the army, you need this quality; to survive in life, you need this flexibility. It is something that I have given them, a gift they do not even recognize as a gift.

In the meantime, Shmulik's wedding is coming steadily closer - I have just decided that among the gifts I will give them - is a set of ice cube trays. No idea what shape...but it won't be regular or ordinary!

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