Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Look Back...Drat, I Lost It

There are three posts that I remember well from the war period. More really, but three that stand out because most of the time I had convinced myself I was handling it, except for when I knew I wasn't (if that makes sense).
In this post from December 31, 2007 - a simple thing like calling the bank brought me to tears.

Drat...I lost it...
 Rockets have landed today in Beersheva again, SderotAshkelonNetivotEshkol region, several kibbutzim in the area and, for the first time, Gedera. Today, in light of the missiles that hit Beersheva last night, the city decided to close schools for the day. And a great miracle happened - no one was hurt when a missile slammed into a school. There was great damage to the building, but buildings are nothing. It is the people that cannot be replaced, the children that we revere.
I've watched as the news detailed each missile attack. I went into class today, giving someone my phone and one simple request, "if Elie calls, interrupt the class." 
I didn't call Elie in the morning because I don't know if he was on late and might still be sleeping. I didn't call him during my breaks, nor into the hours of the afternoon. Mostly, it was because I feel like we're all waiting. It's like when you know a woman is nearing the end of her pregnancy. The last thing she needs is for people to call her each day to ask her if anything is happening. And yet, that's what it feels like. I don't know when, if, or where the army will take my son. I haven't talked to him every day in a week since he was in training. 
Then, I felt he needed it and now, now I know it is me. I need to hear that he's still waiting to move, and not already in danger and he just needs to do what he's doing. All in all, though people are asking me how things are, I think I'm handling it quite well, writing all the time, calming others far and near. First, because there's nothing to handle - he's not even there. Second because to a much larger degree, all things are in Greater Hands than mine and thirdly, as strange as this sounds, human nature is to try to get accustomed to new situations, to make them normal. 
While there is nothing "normal" about your country being at war or people living under the constant threat of violence, you find a way, somehow, to accept and lessen the tension. Of course, it all might come back in seconds when you hear a siren or get beeped on your telephone, but you find that 10 minutes can pass, and then 15, and then 30, when you don't feel that sense of panic. So, I was cruising along today, feeling pretty good. I wrote to one mother trying to make sure she was calm; passing on all the things others were saying to me. Other than that one comment about bringing me the phone if Elie called, I was doing just fine. 
During the breaks, I didn't stay and talk to those taking our course, but rather went right to the computer. More rockets throughout the south, damage and some injuries but in all cases, it could have been so much worse. There could have been fatalities; there could have been children in the school that was hit. Azoun wasn't in the news. I can handle this, I thought to myself proudly as I finished the class and wished everyone a good weekend until we meet again next week. 
And then, I lost it. 
It's the last day of the financial year; the last chance to deposit money into various employee accounts and still get the tax credit. I faxed the papers to the bank and to the insurance agent and then had to deal with calling each to confirm. I live in a wonderful city of about 35,000 people and yet for all that it is a city, it's also got a small town closeness to it. I know everyone at the local bank, and most know that Elie is a soldier. 
"How's your son?" asked the woman over the phone. 
"He's OK," I answered slowly. 
"Is he there?" she continued. 
"No, at least I don't think so. I spoke to him yesterday. They might send his unit down, but I don't know when." 
"He should go in peace and come back in peace and be safe," and then a minute later, "I sent you the fax confirming the transfer." 
I thanked her, got off the phone and just lost it. My eyes filled with tears. God, I want to see him and I want him to call me and tell me he's fine and I don't want to listen to how many rockets have fallen and how many people are living with this constant fear that the next missile will hit them. 
I don't want to hear another country telling us that WE should stop, when it is them.
They should stop. They shouldn't shoot missiles at 700,000 people. Fine - our weapons are accurate and almost always hit what they are aimed at, while their weapons are incredibly inaccurate and rarely hit anything,and  never mind what they hope it would hit. They may hit open fields most of the time, but when they don't, they are aimed at people. They hit a school today. They hit a kindergarten last night. They've hit malls and cars and homes and people. Tell THEM to stop and we won't have to stop them. 
Tell THEM to talk and not fire. Hold THEM accountable. Force THEM to recognize the sanctity of life and stop glorifying death. 
So, I sat there in my office for a few minutes, letting all these thoughts fill my head. I turned from my computer, my connection to all that is exploding, and looked out the windows at the black clouds hovering overhead and there, to the side, where the two walls of windows that grace my beautiful office meet. It's my photo gallery, two pictures of each of my children and between each pair of pictures, a note that my youngest daughter wrote to each, promising them that she loves them more than anyone else. She's still too young to understand the illogical nature of that concept; each note remains true. She loves all of us more than anyone else. 
What an amazing country we live in. The transfer is made, the employee papers filed, rockets are exploding, and the woman at the bank offers a blessing that my son should be safe.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another Rocket

Another rocket was fired this afternoon at Israel - around 2:45 p.m. in the afternoon. It exploded in the Shaar HaNegev area, in an open field, injuring no one. The Arabs often excuse the firing of rockets based on where they land, ignoring the terror it causes, the shock of those in the area, the fear of those who were or might soon be near where the rocket hit.

Four rockets last night; two more during the day. What would your government do? What would you call on your army to do? It's 5:15 in Israel now - night is just falling. The Arabs fire rockets more often at night, believing they can hide in the darkness (I'm hoping no one explains the concept of night vision to them).

But it also seems appropriate somehow - that they fight in darkness, as they live their lives. In the darkness of hatred, of violence, of death. Tonight, although I hope I am wrong, I believe they will fire at Israel again...and soon, soon the army will decide it is time once again to go in with ground forces. No nation should have to accept daily rocket fire. No nation would. Israel must not.

Update on Rockets

Another rocket landed a short time ago. It exploded in the Eshkol region - in an open field and there were no reported injuries. It is now 8:00 a.m. in Israel - the children back in school after a long Hanuka vacation. The rocket hit a bit after 7:15 - while children were on their way to school.

Who Slept in Israel Last Night?

I push myself too hard, too often. That's the bottom line...and I pretty much always have. This week was no different - two nights I worked until after 3:00 a.m - only to be up and about around 6:30 a.m. Last night, after driving to pick up Elie and Lauren, I knew I was running on empty. I didn't even have time to really enjoy the chocolate (CHOCOLATE!!!!) and the new Nook they bought me (yeah!).

I went to bed around 7:30 p.m. hoping to get up and do some work around 9:00 p.m. It didn't happen. It's now 6:45 a.m. and I feel...rested.

While I slept...
8:40 p.m.: 2 rockets landed in southern Israel, open areas; no injuries

11:04 p.m.: Color Red sirens in many places in the south
11:05 p.m.: Explosion or explosions heard in or near one of the smaller villages
11:09 p.m.: Two rocket attacks confirmed - open damage except for the fear inflicted on small children as their parents wake them from sleep and carry them to protected areas. Hopefully to fall asleep again...and dream only good things.

11:12 p.m. Color Red warnings again
11:13 p.m  Missile firings confirmed (at least 3) - Nahal Oz and Eshkol regions
11:15 p.m. One impact site found - open areas; no info on the second location.
11:15 p.m. Two more landings: Shaar HaNegeg and Shderot HaNegev - no injuries
1:35 a.m. Warning of incoming missile to Be'er Tuvia
2:59 a.m. Reports of the air force attacking two sites in Gaza - probably teams about to launch more rockets, but this is my thought and not confirmed.
5:20 a.m The air force confirms it has hit another target - again, likely the rocket launchers in another attempt to hit Israel.

So, while I slept, Israel was hit with at least four rockets and there were, it seems, at least two more attempts to fire against our citizens. What happened while you slept? That, my friends, is the difference - and that is why another Gaza War may well be around the corner. I slept...but hundreds of thousands of people in the south had a long night. At some point, they probably decided just to try to sleep in safe rooms - rooms that are protected by thickened walls and smaller windows with a metal door that shields the glass from impact. They are lucky - it is winter and so closing the window blocks out the cold rather than causing them to sleep in hot, unbearable conditions.

Last night, Lauren slept in Aliza's room. I had thought to take Aliza out because she has to get up early and got to school and this way Lauren could sleep longer. They went straight from the plane to a friend's party celebrating the wedding that Lauren and Elie missed because they were in the States. They got home late and will likely have been exhausted.

I asked Aliza if she would sleep in her old room - the secured room next to my bedroom that has become more of an office than a bedroom. "No," she answered and I could hear in her voice that this was not an option, "no way. It's too scary."

She slept in her room. That room was the room she slept in when the Fogel family was attacked and murdered, leaving two little boys and Tamar Fogel, who was 12 years old. These are the fears our children live with long after the "explosions."

"We haven't had a war in a long time," Aliza said to me a few days ago as I was driving with her. A long time? We were at war three years ago, I thought to myself. What a concept that a child thinks not having a war in three years is a long time. She has heard the rocket attack reporting on the news as we drive to school or to other places. She is smart enough to know that a nation cannot withstand these rocket attacks and do nothing. I can only wonder why the Palestinians themselves are not nearly as smart.

Why, I want to ask them. How can you possibly think you can launch four rockets at Israeli cities and not expect us to respond. How could you be so stupid to think that we won't? Today our children return to school after a week's vacation. Many of the schools are not protected from incoming rocket fire - why should they be? Are your schools protected from missiles?

Last night I slept...and woke to the knowledge that it would have been so much smarter for the Palestinians if their sons had slept as well.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

3 Years Ago at War: The Significance of a Table

Still in the looking-back mode, I remember this post. It seemed so important to me...until I realized how silly it was. This past week, we were supposed to be six. Shmulik and Naama were at her parents' house. Elie and Lauren in the States. Amira came home with her husband and beautiful baby - still too young to sit at the table. We would be six. Minutes before Shabbat began, a neighboring friend of Aliza's called. Her parents were going away and had asked her to find a place to stay. We were it.

Within moments, we opened the table to seat 8. After Shabbat ended, we closed the table again to 6, where it will remain during the week...unless it doesn't. I've gotten more philosophical about the table, but I remember staring at it wondering what would happen next week. I knew, even in those moments, that it was a week that would change our lives. I was trying to organize my youngest son's bar mitzvah, making plans (and helping Haim, my son-in-law, organize a family video for the event). It was too much to consider Elie going to war...and yet, it was happening.

The Table (December 28, 2007)
I know this is silly and yet, since I've decided that I'll try to post in this blog real things that I experience, here's one. I have a dining room table. OK, a lot of us do, so I'll continue. We bought our dining room table less than a year after we were married. As a young couple, we were quite amazed to have this beautiful table with six chairs. Each week, my husband sat at the head of the table and I sat next to him. It seemed too far away and silly for me to sit at the other end of the table. When we had company, sometimes I sat at the other end and sometimes I stayed by my husband and sat others around. It stayed that nice compact size for many years. We had guests here and there, but each time the guests left, the table went right back to its six-seater size.
With the birth of each child, or more specifically when they got big enough to sit at the table, I slowly moved towards the end. It was easier because that way my husband could help feed and watch some children while I dealt with the younger ones.
We moved to Israel with three children and still the table stayed small. We had a fourth child, our third son and finally after a little over a decade of marriage, we had filled the table to capacity. By this time, my husband was firmly at the head of the table; the two older children sat near him and the two younger ones sat near me. Or, if we had company, sometimes the younger ones would sit near him so that he could feed them and entertain guests. Either way, I had firmly established myself at one end of the table.
After our fifth child grew large enough to actually sit at the table, we entered a new reality - one leaf was almost a constant in the house and we now had a table that seats eight comfortably. So, for the next few years, the table would grow to 10 and shrink to 8. There was never a reason to go back to its 6-seater days - our family alone was 7 and I was most definitely at one end with my husband far away on the other side.
Then less than two years ago, my daughter got married - that put us up to 8, but with her marriage, she moved out and so we were sometimes 6 and sometimes 8. Two weeks later, Elie went into the army and so we were sometimes five, sometimes six and sometimes 7 and sometimes 8 and the weekly dance of the table begins. When we are only 5, the 8-seater table is too big and the 10-seater is simply huge.
Sometimes, most of the time, we leave the table at 8 and all sit at one end or spread out, as the mood comes. I'm often sitting next to my husband again in this smaller configuration. And each Saturday night, as we put away the Shabbat dishes and special plates and things we use, I look at the table and decide what will be the following week. If we will be four or five and sometimes even six, I might decide to fold the table to its smallest size and enjoy the intimate feel (and the extra room the rest of the week). And sometimes, if I don't know, or I believe we will be six or seven or eight, I'll leave the table ready for eight. It's a silly thing - it takes only moments to change in any direction and yet, it's almost like a preparation for the Sabbath to come, a bit of anticipation that even though the peace and quiet of the Sabbath is leaving us, already, we are thinking about the one that will come soon.
This past Shabbat, Elie was in the army, but my daughter was here. One meal we were 5; one meal we were 7. We left the table at eight and after Shabbat went to my son-in-law's parents to have a Hanukkah party. Between the news and the time, I just left the table as it was.
This morning, as I put the final things away, I looked at the table and realized I don't know what to do. Such a silly thing, I thought to myself. They are bombing Gaza. Schools in the area are closed. The Home Front has issued warnings. Depending on how close you live, you should be ready to enter safe areas in 15 seconds, 30 seconds or 45 seconds, and I'm looking at my table! Maybe it's a mental breakdown, but I can't think what next Shabbat will bring!
If Elie goes north, he was supposed to be home next weekend - so I'd probably leave the table because he likes extra space and that puts us at 6, just one guest and I'll have to open the table again anyway. My daughter and her husband were here this weekend and probably won't come next time - maybe fold the table. Elie said if they stay on base where they are now, even though he isn't coming home today as planned, he probably won't be home. We could be down to 5. If my second son is in Yeshiva, we'll be four - a table that seats 8 would be cold and huge when we want our Sabbath meals to be intimate and warm. Whatever my reasoning, what I feel is that it's too big a decision, too much to concentrate on. Folding it means I really think Elie won't be home and I don't want to deal with this now.
I'm smart enough to know that deep inside of me, the table symbolizes so much more. It's my family - will we be together? Where will the pieces of my family be? Two rockets have hitAshkelon and two more have now landed in the Ashdod area. That's the farthest north they've hit so far and brings tens of thousands more into danger.
Last week we made plans - Elie would be home. His grandparents would come visit. My son-in-law and daughter would come as well. Today I should have been opening my table to ten. I'd even thought about cooking a whole turkey. We'd all be home for lighting on the last night of Hanukkah and my son-in-law would film a clip of Elie talking about what a good kid his brother is. It's the final clip we need to finish off the video for my youngest son's bar mitzvah next month. At first, when we realized Elie couldn't come home, my daughter said that it was just getting too late and maybe we'd have to close the film without Elie.
That was more than I could handle; I'm way too superstitious to deal with a family video without Elie in it. Just no way, I told my daughter, just I can't. She understand but was concerned about the upcoming event and the video being ready on time, and so I told them I would drive to his base and film him there for a few minutes. They talked and my daughter and son-in-law said it was OK and asked if I could give my son-in-law a key to our offices so he could work late hours. I felt so bad asking him to do this, but he was wonderful and agreed.
They'd hold the film until Elie came home this coming weekend. It's cutting it close because Haim needs time to work with the clippings, but they understood. Now Elie probably won't be home; I'll probably go and film him just in case he is sent up north or down south. I don't want to risk his not being in the film so I'll call him soon and coordinate when he's off the checkpoint and ask if I can come down and film those few minutes.
And then I'll try to figure out what to do with the table.

One Menorah's Message

I got up early to drive Shmulik to the bus station; later I'm driving to the airport to pick up Lauren and Elie (and Aliza who had an overnight with her grandparents). My older daughter is at home with her baby; her husband enjoying this last day of Hanuka with his family before he returns to the army.

Elie is likely sleeping on the plane - or at least I hope he is. Shmulik is on a bus heading towards the base. Davidi is already at the course he is taking to become a volunteer on the ambulance, as his brothers and his older sister did before him. He has spent days and evenings of his entire vacation taking this course.

And I have 10 minutes before I'm going to force myself away from social media and blogs and get to work. I love writing for so many reasons and never have enough time to write for me, on what I want. I'm formatting one client's document (or at least checking over the work of one of my employees) and I'm finishing up writing and editing an amazing book for another client and I don't have a minute free next week...and it's only Wednesday.

Last week, I wrote about why I love Israel and got some great comments. I could write more about that...tons more and never be done. I know that people prefer the personal stories to the politics. I get that and I try. Okay, I don't succeed often enough, but I try. But this is my post...and I want to write.

I'm torn between writing of the missile that slammed into Israel this morning, and a neighbor's menorah. I want to express my anger that Palestinians report the news in nefarious ways. A man was killed and others injured in a strike by the Israeli air force. This is truth and both sides admit it. The man was part of a terrorist cell about to launch an attack on Israel's border; the others were the rest of his team. One Gazan reports that a 13-year-old boy was injured; another says a boy the same age was killed. If true, one wonders what idiot took a boy that age on a terrorist mission and why not one of the Gazans reported what this terrorist cell was doing when they were thankfully stopped.

And I want to write about my neighbor's menorah. It is huge. He placed it on his rooftop for all to see and left a ladder - which he uses to climb up to "light" each candle every night. The menorah is an electric one and stands at least three meters in height (without counting the height of his roof). It does not fulfill the requirements for lighting according to Jewish law, but it certainly covers the issue of publicizing the miracle of Hanuka.

Two or three days ago, a wonderful winter storm brought winds and rain to the Jerusalem area. The menorah blew down. It was more sticks than substance, never meant to withstand more than a gentle breeze and it blew to the ground, taking the ladder with it. This morning as I drove past the neighbor's house, the menorah was again standing tall on the roof with all arms of the candelabra brightly lit against the early morning sky to mark this final day of the holiday.

That's Israel, I thought to myself. You can knock us down (or you can try) and we'll shake ourselves off and stand tall again. We were given the task of being a light unto the nations, and we are. Our technical innovations have changed the world, again and again - computers, medicine, electronic devices. Our soldiers and doctors and nurses fly around the world, quietly and modestly and save lives. A massive earthquake hit Russia in the middle of last night. We don't even know if there are injuries, but a team was ordered to be prepared.

Israel - on my neighbor's roof and before my eyes. Across the street, four Israelis are standing smoking and chatting before the work day, people are rushing down the street, parking their cars and perhaps wondering if they can take off a bit early on this last day of Hanuka. A man hurries past while talking on his cellphone; a horn honks in the distance and three of the people have now gone inside.

Elie and Lauren are on a plane flying home - to a land like no other. As they return, as we all have returned, I know the neighbor will soon put the menorah away. But it will be here next year to shine and send out  its message. The menorah, Israelis, and Israel.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Three Years...a Video of Cast Lead

I recognize so many of the weapons, so much of the equipment...from stories Elie told me...three years...and one of my greatest wishes is that I never, ever, ever have to live through another's a wish that won't come true...and yet I make it anyway.

Eight candles of Hanuka are burning in our window - in a few short hours, Elie will be on a plane back from the US with Lauren...please God, never again.

Elie Has Clothes!

I know, I know - she's going to kill me, but it was so cute.

Lauren called me a short while ago - they'll be flying home soon. It went so fast and yet it was so long. I missed them both, missed the party that Lauren's parents gave them, missed seeing Elie see the United States...and New York City.

Before Elie went into the army - he had clothes in many colors. He had what we called Shabbat clothes and regular clothes...and that was it. He had warmer clothes in the winter, cooler clothes for the summer. When he went into the army - two things happened. His wardrobe became...well, green; and his body changed. He tightened up, became both thinner and stronger, more toned, healthier.

While he was in the army, he barely bought clothes because he barely needed them. For three years, he wore green clothes and Shabbat clothes and what he had from before worked fine. He bought clothes for family events, but few if any jeans and what he had from before were too big by the time he left the army.

When he got out - he bought some shirts, but not many; some pants - all in the style that was comfortable and easy. The month before Davidi's bar mitzvah, Elie was stuck first on base and then in a war zone - and had no time to buy clothes for the event. He came home on Wednesday, the bar mitzvah was the following weekend.

On Friday, Shmulik went shopping with him and they bought beautiful shirts and sweaters for Elie, but in truth, I was so happy to have him home, I didn't care what he was wearing. Before they left, Lauren said they'd buy him clothes in America and I somewhat jokingly told her that she should go with him and make sure he picked out nice clothes...and apparently they did!

"Elie has clothes!" Lauren told me over the phone. And not the typical black clothes he has chosen to wear but colors! Maybe I can get him to agree to me posting a picture...maybe...

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Shades of Justice

By now you have probably realized that I firmly believe that Israel and the army have enough detractors around the world to make me decide not to be one. For the most part, we've been very blessed in our "relationship" with the army (and if you are hearing a "but" in there, you are correct). Elie went in and from the beginning, they recognized in him the many facets I knew were buried inside. They found his love of order, his need and ability to command. They encouraged him to think - in the box, over the box, out of the box. They watched his ability to analyze situations and encouraged him; they found his love of fixing things and knowing how they work, and fed that too. All that he was ready and able to give, they took...and gave back so much more

And then came Shmulik - who is so different. He's more social than Elie; he needs that connection. He's quieter and yet more outgoing as well. So similar and yet so different than his older brother. And in this difference, the army too found peace. Shmulik wanted to be in combat. He pushed himself to succeed. What came so easy for Elie, was harder for Shmulik. In some ways, he is physically stronger than Elie, but the discipline was harder, the routine, the "do it because I said so" was tougher for him. It wasn't his desire to lead and when he realized that training for combat was causing him migraines that were more than he could stand, they gave him what he loved doing most. He asked to drive some commander - and they gave him the very commander of the base he was on - still with his friends, and even better...the commander lives in our city so he was home more. Shmulik gained incredible role model as an officer and a person. S. is a man who was severely injured by terrorists - and doctors wondered if he would walk again - today he runs - faster than Shmulik, farther, stronger. Shmulik learned that where the mind wills something, the body listens. They spent hours together driving around and seeing Israel and S. helped Shmulik discovered corners of himself and of the land he had never seen.

There were a few times over the past almost five years that I've been writing that the army faltered. There was the time they wanted to assign Elie to a unit to command female soldiers; and still they handled it well. There was the lone soldier from California who came here to give his all, was injured, and ultimately, the army did not handle it well.

That and other failures prove the Israeli army is, like all institutions of man, subject to the whims and weaknesses of human beings. 

Today, I guess, is another failure to an extent. Shmulik serves in a program called Hesder. It is meant to combine learning Torah and Jewish studies with serving in the army. Before and after the active service, he is still considered within the army and, as such, the army calls these boys for a day or more a few times a year. As religious soldiers, they are often called upon to be in the army for Jewish holidays. In Shmulik's case, he was called for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the calendar, and a fast day.

He and two friends really wanted to be home; they with their parents, Shmulik with his wife. One of the boys, named Chaim (not our Chaim), had a friend who was an officer in the office that handles these boys and assigns them to bases.  The officer told his friend when to come, what to do. The idea was that if Shmulik, this Chaim, and another friend waited while others went in, the army would run out of places to send the boys - they regularly get more than they need; and the boys would get the credit for having shown up and been willing to serve, while still spending the holiday at home.

And this is what happened. At around 3:00 p.m. - after hours of waiting, the officer sent Chaim an SMS text message on his phone telling him he could go - all the places were full. That was more than 2 months ago. Suddenly, about 2 weeks later, Shmulik and his other friend (not Chaim), got a message from the army that they were in trouble for not coming when they were called.

They thought it was all a mistake. They went down to explain - the officer denied everything and they were called to a judgement (mishpat). What Shmulik should have done at that point was call his commanding officer, for whom he drove for so many months. But he thought it was not serious, he was truly innocent, after all. So he went back for the judgement, only to find that the "judge" was the officer who was Chaim's friend. Only he was home sick, so Shmulik and his other friend decided it was better to wait and speak to him the following Tuesday and remind him, rather than go with someone new.

On Tuesday, he went...and the officer denied everything and sentenced Shmulik and his friend to 21 days on base. This is a harsh sentence for a soldier who didn't come for one day of service - so said Shmulik, Elie, and every officer who was told. Shmulik's commanding officer asked him why he waited but still tried to help. 

Shmulik immediately appealed on the grounds that he was not offered an opportunity to tell his side, was not given an opportunity to call witnesses, etc. The officer (a different one), called up the sentencing officer - and he lied again - saying that he had offered Shmulik every opportunity to speak - had even checked off these options in his report.

In short - a set up.

Shmulik reported to base yesterday - wondering if he would not be home with his wife for three weeks. He was sent to a base near Hebron where he found a wonderful commanding officer. His sentence was immediately reduced to 14 days and he was allowed home last night. He went back today, and was told they would try to send him home each day, if possible. He will come home again tonight.

As to the officer that lied, there are still shades of this story. There were three boys in that car - only two were accused, tried and sentenced to any sort of punishment. Perhaps the boys will yet be able to retrieve the SMS message that was sent to Chaim. Even if this happens, if Shmulik decides to pursue this rather than just accept the 14 days and move on, justice will come too late to undo the harsh sentence.

This is where I explain that I believe with complete faith in justice. There is always justice, always a reckoning. Sometimes, it is immediate. I have seen this many times. Sometimes, it is later and one wonders if the years in between are part of the punishment. And sometimes, justice comes in the world I believe lives on beyond this one.

So, for the next two weeks or so, Shmulik is back in uniform and I am again the mother of a soldier on duty. I don't even know yet what he is doing - I guess I'll find out tonight. But it is a sign of maturity in Shmulik that he accepts this punishment - if not as justice, than as something he must do. 

He knows now that he made mistakes - in not calling S. as soon as he got the accusation, in not going in to register as he was supposed to, in not taking a witness with him to the Mishpat, as is his right. These are lessons he learns and really, at 21 years of age, it is a good time to learn them.

Justice has many shades and comes in many forms...but it does come. Perhaps somewhere, there is an officer who will read this and investigate an officer that lied. Perhaps somewhere, there is a young man who will be wiser for having read this. As for Shmulik - it is a very small mountain over which he must climb and with all things, he will be stronger for the climb.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

When the Gaza War Started

I don't know the official day that Israel considered the Gaza War to be over. For me, it ended on January 21, 2009 - when I drove down and brought Elie home. I remember it started in late December with uncertainty and waiting. First the air force went in with greater force to stop the rocket fire. On a single day sixty rockets were fired at Israel, daily in the days before and after, dozens were fired. Schools were hit, houses, a mall. People were killed, injured, terrified. All of Israel knew that the violence coming from Gaza was at a level that even we could not sustain.

I knew or feared war was coming on two fronts - as an Israeli and as a mother. As an Israeli, I knew we were headed to war - where else can a nation go when rockets are being fired daily at cities and you know it won't stop until we go in? Hamas was asking for it...begging for it. Normal people would tell you that the leadership of a country would not want its people to come under fire - but normal governments don't hide themselves in bunkers and taunt other nations to kill their people. We would, I was sure, enter any day, First by air, then by ground. Where artillery would come into it, I did not yet know.

As a mother, at the beginning I was so sure that Elie would not be involved. With the perfect hindsight only living through something can give you, I can almost laugh at myself...almost. Elie was very close to the end of his shift in the center of the country at a check point. They were going to be moving his unit north for training and patrolling. Once north, he would face whatever came at us from Lebanon. From Lebanon, not Gaza. I knew...I knew...I knew nothing, not even that I didn't know.

In those early days, I watched Gaza as an Israeli; I watched Hezbollah as a mother. Elie was going north and rockets were found in Lebanon aimed at Israel. A few days later, doubt began to enter my mind. Elie was still in the center of the country and he started hinting that they may be moving him south. North...south...where was he going? Even on the day they moved him and his unit, I had to ask, "Are you south of where you were...or north?"

Today, I am active on Twitter. Already Gazans are posting about the start of the war. It's true - the war had started by December 25th - our air force was already bombing key targets from which we expected trouble or from which they were firing rockets. Already, Gaza propaganda was at work claiming victims that never existed, claiming attacks that never happened. Like today, the world believed them and ignored the rocket fire - the ones that happened three years ago in December, 2008; and the ones that happened yesterday.

But on December 25th, 2008, Elie was still in the center - the war had started for the air force, but ground forces and artillery were not yet in position. A few days later, On Defense Minister Ehud Barak was unusually eloquent as he spoke for all Israelis:
"There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting. The operation will expand as necessary. I don't want to mislead anyone. This won't be easy and it won't be short, but we must be determined. The time has come to act. We do not go to this clash gladly, but neither are we afraid of it. We will not let terrorists hurt our citizens or soldiers. We will do what is necessary. For weeks Hamas and its affiliates lobbed Qassams and Grads and mortar shells on the towns and communities of the South. We have no intention of allowing this situation to continue."
After hearing his words, this was my post for December 27, 2008:
Going to War
My phone beeped no less than 10 times over the Sabbath. As observant Jews, we do not answer the phone; do not read the messages coming through. It was agony hearing the beeps, knowing something was happening, knowing somewhere...probably Gaza...something was starting. At one point, there were several beeps in one hour. A man in uniform was seen driving quickly out of our neighborhood this morning. This is not a regular occurrence in this area, where cars rarely travel on the Sabbath. All in all, it meant something was happening.
"Why didn't you shut your phone?" my daughter asked after another beep. I couldn't possibly when Elie was on base and I knew that Israel would, at some point, react to the constant rocket fire. 
"Maybe it's Elie," said my middle son, making my heart skip a beat. 
I lost it - control slipped. "Why do you say things like that?" I asked him with more anger than I should have shown. He didn't mean anything and I didn't either. He apologized; I wanted to cry. The phone quieted down later in the afternoon and I began to think that maybe what I'd heard was a clock alarm that kept sounding, though that didn't make much sense. Finally, after the Sabbath ended, I checked my messages. 
The first talked of more incoming missiles; then the announcement that Israeli planes were hitting targets in Gaza; then more announcements of rockets hitting Ashkelon, Sderot, and Netivot. A man was killed when his house was hit, others were injured. Claims by the Palestinians of over 195 killed and 300 wounded. Claims, never substantiated, but enough to bring condemnations from many sources - the Italians, the United Nations, the Iranians.

Egypt and the United States have released statements saying that; Hamas' endless rocket attacks brought on this reaction from Israel. Egypt wants it to stop, as do others. The Syrians, the people who butchered 30,000 of their own people, have called Israel's retaliatory operation, "barbaric." 
Most of this is just static for us now, outside noises that we can't let distract us. I called Elie as soon as I could. "Have you heard?" Well, that was a dumb question and I knew it before I had even finished asking. 
"Where are you?" I asked him. He laughed a bit and told me he's "around." For now, Elie remains where he has been stationed, still in the center. The Defense Minister says this operation will not be short or easy. So far, it is limited to an air offense; ground troops have not entered (yet). I feel so many emotions now. There is no panic, but there is a dull sensation in the pit of my stomach that I can't quite name. There are so many possibilities for the days ahead, that I couldn't begin to name them 
For now, I can only question those governments that call on Israel to show restraint, and yet failed to call on Hamas in the past weeks and months and years. If London were being bombed, would Tony Blair call for restraint? What utter nonsense that he calls on Israel to show restraint now - where was he last week and the week before? 
Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, did condemn the rocket fire, but called on Israel to beware of civilian casualties in Gaza - and again, where was Frattini last week and the week before that when Hamas AIMED at our civilians. We will do what we can to minimize casualties - we always do. 
Egypt has said they will open the Sinai border to allow wounded Palestinians to cross into Egypt for medical aid. How about opening the border for Palestinian civilians to get out of the way? During the Second Lebanon War, Israel warned the civilians to move out of certain areas where Hizbollah is active and there too, Palestinians have to know that we mean to do what we must to stop the rocket fire. 
For now, the best way for a civilian in Gaza to avoid being injured is very simple. We are using targeted weaponry, unlike the Palestinians' use of the katyusha and kassem rockets. Their weapons of choice cannot be aimed and therefore have no real targets at all. 
Their goal has always been first and foremost to terrorize. Last year, Abu Ahmed, Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesperson said "The rockets have become accurate, they hardly miss, and most important - they manage to disrupt the Israelis' lives...We definitely planned to increase the rocket fire when the school year opened."
Of course, he was completely lying when he said the rockets are accurate and yet he was completely honest when he admitted that their goal is to disrupt lives. The reality is that these rockets cause terror and harm, mostly because they are so inaccurate. Anything, anyone, can become a target. 
By contrast, Israel has already released numerous announcements and pictures showing that we are hitting pre -selected targets. These are military installations, areas used to launch attacks against Israel. If you are in Gaza and don't want to become a casualty, you are lucky. All you have to do is make sure you aren't near a rocket launcher. In fact, you are safer than tens of thousands of Israelis who are sleeping tonight in or near bomb shelters. 
No nation can allow its citizens to be bombed regularly. No nation can withstand what we have taken on a daily basis. Whether Israel's leaders can withstand the storm of international protests is yet to be seen; whether it will finally act to defend its own citizens is unknown. 
What is known is that Israel's soldiers are ready and want to see this done correctly. They are not celebrating this offensive, as Palestinians have celebrated successful terror attacks in the past. Rather, they are glad that finally, the government has given them the right to do what they have been trained to do. Tonight, Elie sleeps at the base where he has been for the last few months. I do not know where he will be tomorrow or the next day. It could be south to Gaza; it could be north in anticipation of Hizbollah causing trouble on the northern border; or it could be staying where he is while other troops are moved around. 
I'm not sure how I'll know, if I'll know, and that is one aspect of what scares me. It's so interesting how quickly the sense of calm can fly away. Tonight, being the mother of an Israeli combat soldier is a very scary thing, but then again, being an Israeli living in Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, and so many other places has also been unbearably frightening lately and maybe this action will help.
The news just said Israel is moving tanks into the area. Perhaps the ground forces will move in sooner than I'd thought. This was a huge mistake Israel had made in Lebanon, waiting too long to send them in. In the meantime, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has correctly said there is a time for calm, and there is a time for fighting. As much as I could wish he was wrong, I know that in this, he is right. It is long past the time to have stopped these rockets and missiles and mortar shells, long past the time that diplomacy has failed.
May God bless our air force and our tank division, our navy and our artillery and our ground forces. May each unit be protected, as it seeks to protect. May it accomplish its task and return home safe and whole. May God bless our sons and daughters and keep them safe. The time has come to fight.
The words of Ehud Barak were true three years ago; they are true today:

"There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting. The operation will expand as necessary. I don't want to mislead anyone. This won't be easy and it won't be short, but we must be determined. The time has come to act. We do not go to this clash gladly, but neither are we afraid of it. We will not let terrorists hurt our citizens or soldiers. We will do what is necessary. For weeks Hamas and its affiliates lobbed Qassams and Grads and mortar shells on the towns and communities of the South. We have no intention of allowing this situation to continue."

Life is Still Not Boring...

Every year around this time, I look back at the posts I made just before and during the Gaza War. It is like scratching a scab. You know you shouldn't; you know you'll make it bleed again if you do; but the itch is there and you scratch.

The candles are burning in the window - we lit the fifth candle. Elie isn't home. He is visiting the United States for the first time since he was a little boy attending his uncle's wedding. He wasn't home the Hanuka before the Gaza War. It is strange reading back, knowing how wrong I was. In this post dated December 25, 2008 called "Life is Never Boring" - I was sure that Elie was heading up north. Sixty rockets had been fired at Israel in a single day and we were sure war was coming. We were right. I was sure Elie would not be involved. I was wrong.

For those of you who have been me through the long haul, I apologize for reposting. It's just interesting to me to see how life has a way of surprising you. We were days away from the war...days away...
Life is Never Boring (December 25, 2007)
So, it seems that the southern area of Israel is "heating up." Yesterday, more than 60 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel. Fifty-seven people were taken to the hospital suffering from shock - half of these were children. The High Court is preventing Israel from using artillery into Gaza. Artillery is, for the most part, if done correctly, accurate. But the definition of accurate in the field is different than in the city. A little bit off may still be considered a direct hit, but in a crowded city, this could even mean the house next door.
One could argue and say that if you know your neighbor is firing missiles at a civilian city and you know that city is in a country that has one of the strongest armies in the region, if not the strongest, you probably should consider leaving your home for a while. Possessions are all well and good, but at the end of the day, it is your family that matters. Stop your neighbor, or leave. 
But the High Court doesn't think this way, the way of human nature. They bow before the greater force of international pressure, as does our government and many of our political leaders and so artillery may not be used in the military operation the army is no doubt planning. As I explained to Elie, for years Hamas and other terrorist groups have freely shot rockets and mortars at our cities, but soon the government will be forced to respond. Not because it is the right think to do - if that was the reason, they would have done it years ago. No, the government will finally respond because we are in the midst of an election and they don't want further evidence of their inability to stop the rockets.
For Elie, this probably means little. His unit is shortly shifting back to training and will likely not be involved in Gaza, even if an artillery unit is chosen to backup ground forces going into Gaza. But life is never boring in Israel. Each time I've thought Elie is going into a "worry-free" zone, something happens to change the zone, change the worry, or up the "free." 
I thought Elie would shortly be going into training. I was worried about the cold more than anything, but even there, was relatively calm. Yesterday, the Lebanese army came across eight Katyusha rockets aimed at Israel. The timers were set to go off automatically late Thursday night. Whether by divine intervention, luck, or an intelligence leak, the Lebanese found and de-activated the rockets. This could be an isolated incident, or it could be the beginning of Hizbollah's attempt to once again open up a second front and force the Israeli army to divert or at least divide its attention from Gaza alone. 
If something happens in the north in the next few weeks, this is solidly where Elie will be and so the worry-free is gone. Not yet replaced by worry, certainly nothing beyond it. All it means, as it has really meant from the first day I drove Elie to Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to catch to the induction center in Tel Aviv, is that nothing is for certain, everything and anything can happen when you have a son in the army. So, today is Friday, tonight we will light the sixth Hanukkah candle. Elie will not be home. We'll celebrate the holiday as we always have, minus a part of my heart and my eldest son. 
Shabbat shalom, Elie and chag samayah - happy holiday. May it come in peace and pass in peace, this day, this week, this month, this year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Zchut Achim - In the Merit of the Brothers

There is a concept in Judaism - Zchut Avot - in the merits of the fathers. When we pray for something we need or want but worry that God may not find us worthy, we call upon the merits of the fathers. If not for me, than please - for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob...for Sarah, Rivkah, Leah and Rachel.

Personally, I prefer to stand on my own merit - or what there is of it, but there have been times that I have begged to God and asked Him - if not for me...

I've been wondering about the blog now that I don't really have any soldiers in active duty. My son-in-law is in the army, stationed at a base on the top of a mountain. His position is one that will help him with his future direction in video editing. He's very talented. But it isn't a combat position and doesn't involve "action" as such. I don't want this to be a purely political blog.

I have an army-thing with Shmulik, which I'll post soon, but this one is more about Davidi. He turns 16 soon. I started this blog six weeks before Elie went into the army. I guess I've sort of made the decision to continue this blog and in doing so, I want to begin introducing Davidi because already decisions he is making shape his future interests and at some point in the next year or so, the army will reach out to him and begin the process. He won't formally receive a draft request for some time, but the talks will begin in school and among his friends.

It is the Hanuka vacation and Davidi is doing something that his older sister, Elie and Shmulik all did - he is taking a first aid course that trains him to volunteer with the local ambulance squad. Eighty kids from our city asked to be included in the course; only 25 were accepted. Of the ones who were rejected, Davidi knows two.

"Why were they rejected?" I asked him.

Well, one goes to school far away and so will likely not be available to volunteer on a regular basis. "And the second?"

Well, during the interview, they asked him why he wanted to join and his answer was, "because I like blood." Yes, I can see why they turned him down, I answered with a laugh. Then I asked Davidi what he had answered. "I told him that my brothers had all taken the course and I wanted to volunteer as well."

They asked him who his brothers were; one remembers my oldest daughter taking the courses and volunteering. Davidi was accepted. He comes home telling me all sorts of medical things - how to help a baby breathe; how to hold a baby when giving it medical care, etc. "Just don't try that on the baby," I told him as we waited for his sister to come visit with her infant for the weekend.

In the merit of his brothers and likely on his own account, Davidi has chosen to spend his winter vacation taking this course - every day, for the entire vacation (and even tonight, Saturday night), he'll spend his time learning how to save lives, how to help others.

The ambulance squad trains them to think of safety first; they are taught that an injured volunteer just means more people to treat. They do not run into buildings that are on fire, nor are they supposed to enter areas that might be dangerous unless they have an army escort.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gilad Shalit - It's all in the Picture

This is a picture of Gilad Shalit. It is being spread around Facebook - presumably taken in his parents' kitchen. It is from last night - as he lights the second candle of Hanuka - the first time he has been home to do so in six years...

There is much we can learn from this picture - here's some:

1. Gilad is home - and this picture was released by his family. It was taken by someone in the room with him - not by press lurking about trying to steal his privacy. As such, it is a gift from Gilad and his family to all of Israel. Thank you, it is saying - thank you for leaving me, leaving us, to this time. We know you care - so here's a glimpse of our son...isn't he so beautiful. Thank you, Israel.

2. He looks good. Doesn't he? Thin, but so much more alert. Look at his eyes - they don't seem haunted. 

3. He still has a long way to go - look at his left hand. He's got a brace on his hand. This is likely the arm that has undergone surgery, the one in which he had shrapnel for five years while Hamas refused him medical treatment.

4. He's lighting the Hanukah candles. Hanukah is about a small group defeating a much larger army. There is an irony here. Gilad was one; the large group here might well be Hamas and the 1,000+ murderers, terrorists and thugs they demanded as payment for Gilad. There is victory in this simple picture.

This week we released the last 550 prisoners. One attempted to kill a famous rabbi in old man. Upon his release, the prisoner called for the rabbi's death and said he was not sorry. Of the 550, more than 370 were like this prisoner, convicted of attempted murder. They are different from the first batch only in that they failed to accomplish their mission.

As with the first group, I can only say again that I would rather live in a land that would smile in joy over a simple picture of Gilad in his mother's kitchen lighting the Hanukah menorah, than live in a land that celebrates the return of 370 attempted murderers. 

Tonight, after a day with my youngest daughter, I sit in my living room as the candles burn. Three candles - as we start the third day of this holiday. Hanukah is the season of our triumph - it is as simple as that.

Happy Hanukah, Gilad - and thanks for giving us another glimpse of your recovery and return.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Chanukah Message

Some of our holidays are steeped in tradition and law; some are more about joy and fun. They are less serious, less heavy on the soul. Chanukah is a great holiday. On the fun side, it's about greasy foods you try to limit the rest of the year: we eat fried potato pancakes, jelly donuts and chocolate. It's about light and sound: we light an additional candle each night, filling the room with candlelight and song. We gather in the corner of the room. My husband and children each light a menorah and we sing both the blessings and other songs.

On the serious side, Chanukah is about so much more.

The first year, Elie was in the army, I took my three younger children to the shore on the last day of the holiday. I wrote about it here - A Candle and a Wave (amazing pictures).

His second year, I wrote about his lighting the menorah at a checkpoint in Where you light a candle. This was the Chanukah right before the Gaza War...and he didn't make it home the entire time because tensions were escalating; war was coming.

His last year in the army, I was calm enough to write more about the holiday than about him. I wrote about Chanukah and the IDF.

So - this year, relatively calm still, I'll write a bit more on the holiday, perhaps, and only a little on the army. Chanukah is the story of weak triumphant; of good over bad; of freedom; of principle; of light. An evil king of the Greeks began oppressing the Jews. His name was Antiochus and he used his power to persecute the Jews in their land. He forbade many of our religious practices; demanded that pigs be sacrificed in the Holy Temple.

In an uprising against the ancient Greeks and this persecution of our religion and our lives, the Maccabees, led by Mattathias and his son Judah, triumphed and the Temple was rededicated. There were then, as there are today, miracles that happened - unexplained things that worked one way when they couldn't possibly. A small army defeats a much larger one in battles that contradict all laws of war. A simplified version, but essentially, a small jug of oil - enough for only one day's service was found in the Holy Temple - it would take 7 more days before more oil would be ready...with faith, the Jews lit the oil for the one day and it lasted for all the full 8 days until more was ready. And so today, tonight, we light the menorah.

Chanukah is about triumph, about dedication. It is about our reclaiming our land and living here when evil tried to remove us. It really is, always has been, and likely always will be, as very simple as that.

We are here in our land - we will not be removed. Not by the Ancient Greeks, not by the Ancient Romans. Not by the Ottomans, the British or the Palestinians. Not even by the Iranians, the UN, or Obama. The light of Chanukah was kindled thousands of years ago and continues to burn bright. It was lit again tonight in my living room, in the windows of my neighbors, in the streets of my city and of Jerusalem. Everywhere, from house to house, the message is there. We live here, in the land of miracles and each day, there are miracles.

Four missiles were found in Lebanon today, before they were able to be fired at Israel. A car was targeted by Arab gunmen near Rechalim; no one was injured. Three firebombs were thrown at a Jewish village and a car north of Jerusalem - no injuries.

We live in a land of miracles, under the Great Protector, who watches over Israel.

Gilad is Home

I haven't written much about Gilad Shalit in a long time - mostly because there is very little to tell. Amazingly enough, the Israeli media is honoring its promise to leave Gilad alone and let him heal. That alone is an amazing story. The family slowly releases bits and pieces. Last week a recording of Gilad thanking those who fought to bring him home, telling them that he would always be a prisoner - a prisoner of gratitude.

Before that, we heard that he underwent an operation to remove shrapnel not treated from the time of his kidnapping. He isn't ready to come out among people in large crowds, but he's doing well. A few weeks ago, I saw this sign on a bus - there were many of them, all over the country.

It's message is simple: "Gilad, we are with you for the length of the journey." Simple but true. I disagree with releasing 1,026 for one. But above all, I am so grateful that the choice was never mine. I did not have to look into Aviva and Noam's faces and say no. I didn't have to tell them that the cost was too high, for a son that was priceless to them...and to us.

I fear what will come from the 1,026; and what will come from the dangerous precedent it set. I know that today we released another 550 prisoners - the last of this agreement. I know that among these 550, more than 370 were convicted of attempted murder. It isn't that they didn't want to kill Israelis - only that they failed.

But I can't argue about the wonderful part of this - Gilad is home and yes, we are blessed that we can be with him, and he with us, all the length of the journey we all take into the future.

Favorite Memories

I was talking to Shmulik yesterday about life after the army, marriage, and a bit about his memories. He was driving and somehow we got into talking about the scariest moment ever driving. I know clearly what was mine...I was driving up north to the Golan Heights just after dawn to pick Elie up and bring him home for Shabbat.

He had accumulated too much stuff and had planned to start bringing some of it home after about 6 months up there...I don't really remember how long it was, but it was a while...and suddenly, the army shifted gears and told him he was moving to a training base in the south. He made a comment about how he had no idea how he was going to manage getting all his stuff home and to the new base and I decided to take some time for myself. I woke up around 4:30 a.m. and started the 2+ hour drive, aiming to be at his base before 7:00 a.m.

I was cruising along fast on the deserted road, enjoying the growing light peaking out over the Jordanian hills. I saw a swirl of wind and dust kick up a cloud off the road to my right and then saw a much larger cloud ahead of me blurring the road.

There was that split second before the panic hit - when I thought about how cool it was that this cloud swirl was actually touching the road...when I realized the cloud had hundreds of little feet...the Arabs were moving their sheep across the road and I was expected to stop and yield.

I did - fast and no damage to sheep, car, me.

Shmulik laughed at the memory - and told me some of his scary moments. Of fog so thick, he could barely see and the fear that a driver would come along and hit them from the rear and some other memories of places he had been to while in the army.

"What do you think of your time in the army?" I asked him.

The one word he thought of was "fun" - he was a driver for a combat commander. He saw so much of Israel, drove the roads in good weather and bad, night and day. Fun. No, for those who would write to say there is something wrong - for most of the army Shmulik didn't carry a gun (though his commander did and Shmulik often had "custody" of it and was trained to use it. Fun - because he loves driving and got to see many places.

There are many natural springs in Israel - less than in many places, but still some beautiful places. His commanding officer sometimes took him to places like this. "Did you go swimming?" I asked him - some are indeed deep enough to swim in.

"No, but I could wash my face, or step into it." Fun. Nice memories.

That's what life is - a collection of good memories. Tonight begins the holiday of Hanuka. It is the essence of who we are - outnumbered, but determined. Victorious against evil. Triumphant in our land. One tradition is to eat jelly donuts - they've been on the store shelves for weeks and I've resisted buying them. Today, the Israeli army will distribute 385,000 donuts to our soldiers. Fun.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Quick follow up - last week, I told you about my youngest son leaving his backpack on the train (Blowing things up). Well, with a little bit of pressing, he's added to the list of things that were inside:

Keys to his dorm room
Sunglasses - red and black, not cheap ones...

"A book...", he said.

"A book?" I counter, thinking of the hundreds of shekels I spent on his school books this year and how much time it took and how many stores we visited.

"Oh"...he said as he lowers his head.

"What book?" I ask, trying to brace myself.

He looks a bit green. It was his sister's book. She lent it to him, telling him it was one of her favorite books.

"What book?" I ask again.

"Holes," he answers.

Louis Sachar's Holes.

There has to be an irony there in the police blowing up a book called Holes.

My daughter didn't really see the humor in it, but she did take it quite well. Me...I have to go find her another copy to replace the old one...

Why I Love Israel

I write too often about the sad and the bad and not enough about the amazing and wonderful. After each Shabbat of down time, one of the first things I do is check the news. I've been a news-aholic for more years than I can remember. The first news I saw was of a terrorist attacking a soldier at the entrance to my city. Two rockets fired over Shabbat.

Only later did I go back and look again. The headlines speak of an Egyptian protester who was beaten to death by the police; of 30 bodies of dead Syrian protesters that were dumped and found; and finally, of a protest in Tel Aviv (peaceful, of course) for women's rights. Someone left a comment (thank you for being honest) saying that attacks such as this one (Ambulance Sirens) are why they are afraid to bring their family to live here.

So, it is time, once again, to explain that despite it all, there is no place I would rather be, no place greater where my children should be raised. The third of my five children is about to get married here. My soon-to-be future daughter-in-law is the first to choose, as we did, to come live here. The other two were born here.

So lest you think, even for a moment, that we sacrifice anything (including our personal safety) by living here, let me tell you the opposite is true. There is no safer place for the Jews than here in Israel. There is no better place to raise our children as fine human beings, as strong Jews, as Israelis - than here.

I have never, in all my life, felt safer than I do here in Israel - as a Jew, as an Israeli, but as a woman too. I can walk outside at night, at 3:00 a.m. without hesitation, without fear. I can send my 11-year-old daughter out - even in the middle of the night, without hesitation, without fear. I know that everywhere my children go, they have eyes on them. Not eyes of evil waiting to attack them, but eyes of protection (and I'm actually not even talking about God's eyes).

If my child is not sure where she is - without hesitation, she can go over to anyone and ask. Very few children in Israel are hurt or abducted by strangers here. There are no children's faces on milk containers here - not because the companies won't agree, but because there is no need.

My country rarely experiences extreme cold and even the heat is almost always bearable. Even in the winter, there are days like today where there isn't a cloud in the sky, the sun is bright, and the air so comfortable. Every day, we do acts of kindness, often without even thinking twice. Today, I drove through my neighborhood and saw a man who indicated he wanted a ride.

In America is it as stupid to hitchhike as it is to give a hitchhiker a ride. Thankfully, in Israel, this is not true. The fact is, I am very upset with the man who stood there waiting for a ride. In the recent past, he hurt my husband and my family with his insensitivity on two separate occasions, without shame, without guilt, without apologies. I have to admit, I hesitated for a fraction of second before I pulled to the side.

Without the shame I think he should have had, he asked if I was going past the mall. I answered that I was, and gave him a ride. I didn't start a conversation, nor did he. The air was uncomfortable in the car and I felt no reason to ease the short time until we got close and I asked whether he wanted the mall or the front of the city.

He said he was surprised by the traffic - a brief conversation. I let him off at the stop he wanted and he thanked me and wished me a good day. If there is anything that I did wrong, it was in that fraction of a second in which I hesitated. Giving him the ride is typical of Israel and Israelis - little acts of kindness that we do. This is my country.

Last night, the Chief of Staff of Israel's army went out to a restaurant for dinner. While he was there, a woman  experienced a health emergency. Benny Gantz approached and helped her while his body guards stood close by. The Chief of Staff, the highest position in the army, stayed there until the ambulance arrived. An act of kindness - my country.

Last night, Elie volunteered his time, as he does very often, to be on call for the ambulance squad in Maale Adumim. This morning, my youngest daughter took her turn as a crossing guard again to safely help younger children cross the street.

Last night, Gilad Shalit slept in his bed, in his parents' house. What nation in the world, other than Israel, would release 1,026 people - among them hundreds of murderers, for one young man? Today, Israel will release the last 550 of the list - among them more than 370 who were convicted of attempted murder. What country, other than Israel?

Would you trust Hamas to keep their word on anything? I wouldn't and yet Hamas trusted and the world knew that Israel would keep its promise to release the second group. And we are doing it. Should we? Is it in our national interest? Highly doubtful, and yet we do. We'll get nothing for this release. The rockets won't stop and some, probably many, of these 550 will return to terror. It is their way.

I love Israel because we hold ourselves to the highest standards of behavior and though I am continually disappointed that the world does not see this, I know that we do it for ourselves, not for them. This morning, I gave a man a ride to the mall. Ultimately, I did it because I'd rather act as I did, than act as he did.

He will have to live with his actions; but at least I know I can live with mine. A friend recently said to me that thinking back, she is amazed at how many family events we have had in the last few years. It is true and I recognize and thank my blessings every day.

My daughter met and married a wonderful young man - and now they have an amazing baby that just melts my heart every time I hold him. My son married a wonderful girl, the girl he has loved since before the army, before it was really acceptable for them to have made this connection. It was always her and that means so much.

Elie has met and will soon marry a most amazing young woman who took the time to remind me, "I was yours before I was his" because I have loved her almost from the moment I met her last year (and I just realized recently she has blue eyes!).

And my two younger children are blessed with their own celebrations and joys. Davidi has grown so tall - he fulfilled the promise I wanted for him - he's taller than Elie. He's so beautiful...and he has blue eyes too! For someone who never thought having blue eyes was genetically possible - I have two blue-eyed children! And Aliza grows secure and happy and free.

Weeks after we'd come to Israel, a 6-year-old Elie was talking to my mother-in-law about living in Israel, "Savta [grandma], I'm so free. I'm free." He said. That freedom is the greatest gift I have given my children by moving here when they were young and by living here all of their lives. There are national freedoms - that allow peaceful protests as happened last night in Tel Aviv and in the last few months in many places in Israel. There is no "Arab Spring" here in Israel because we don't need it.

And if police cross the line into violence as they did yesterday in Cairo and beat a protester to death, the Israeli courts and justice system will deal harshly with them; the government will not protect or excuse their behavior.

These are instances of national freedom - and in this sense, Israel is the only free country in the Middle East.

But more than national freedom, we are free as individuals. We live free of fear in a way that is unimaginable to most Americans. I have stood in the center of Jerusalem with a friend from the States and listened to her speak on the cellphone to her husband and tell him how peaceful it was. Cars honk, people yell at each other for how they drive, a store owner is nasty because the kids are blocking customers from coming in.

And then, a small child approaches the counter and carefully counts out his change to buy some candy. He is half a shekel short (less than 15 cents). The next person in line is just as likely to take out a half a shekel as the store owner is to wave away the money, smile at the child and wish him a good day. That is the Israel I love and the one that will bring me to tears a hundred times a week.

Yes, a security guard was injured at the entrance to my city yesterday. But I live a life time of days in which stories like the little boy come true. For those alone, I would choose again to live here in this beautiful land that cherishes life, its children, its soldiers, the sun and the land.

I love you, Israel - more and more each day, each month, each year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ambulance Sirens...

The Shabbat came, as it often does, in a mixture of cooking, cleaning, showering and preparing. It was a nice quiet "family" affair. Lauren and Elie were here, but Shmulik and Amira were not. For the first time in ages, the table was left small - only six places. It was quiet, it was nice.

A bit after 1:30 we finished lunch and cleaned up; a short time later, we all went for our afternoon naps. Many in Israel still consider the 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. "siesta" a quiet time. It is a custom my family never really adopted when we moved to Israel, but one that someday, somehow, I hope to keep. I love the idea of a nap. Maybe I'm getting old. Or, maybe I just work too hard.

The one time a week we get that nap - is on Shabbat. My afternoon horizontal is almost a critical element in my ability to sleep 3-4 hours a night most other days. Yes, I should sleep more...that too in on the "someday" plan.

I don't know what time I finally finished and went off to rest; I do remember hearing a siren. An ambulance siren. Only one, not prolonged, it faded from my memory.

Until after the Sabbath ended and I saw the news. At 1:50, an Arab approached the entrance to Maale Adumim, mumbled some words in Arabic, took out a knife, and attacked the security guard at the entrance to the city. He wounded the guard lightly in the neck before running off to Azaria, the Arab neighborhood less than a kilometer away.

I have been to Azaria - to buy a kitchen cabinet for Shmulik's apartment; to look at some other things. My husband sometimes goes there, though I ask him not to. This time, Azaria came to us.

The guard was taken to the hospital and should be fine. He works for a security company - not the one that Elie and Shmulik do. They guard one of three sites inside Maale Adumim, not the city entrances. There was a time I was traumatized by the should of sirens. I would listen or try to see how many there were. One was a car accident, I would tell myself, or hopefully a woman giving birth. Two was a bad accident. Three was always a terror attack.

I have learned to relax with the sirens - it has taken me years. I am so much calmer than I used to be - mostly because buses aren't really exploding every day here as they were a few years back. Last year there was an attack near a bus and a tourist was killed; but mostly today's terrorist attacks are less organized - more a momentary thought by an Arab who decides to follow through.

The tractor driver who decided to smash his tractor into a bus...actually, I think there were three or four of these attacks; the driver who smashed his BMW into Elie's unit, numerous rock attacks and more. These are all symptoms of an Arab deciding today was a good day to attack, a good day to kill, and often, a good day to die.

The Arab that attacked Elie's unit was angry because his family refused to allow him to marry his cousin. I don't know what the motive for today's attack was. I know only that I don't want to return to the days where I listen to sirens and wonder what has exploded and where. I like this small slice of normal. I like drifting off to sleep thinking, hoping that the siren I hear is only a woman in labor.

Tonight, Elie is on call for the ambulance squad. If they need him, he will go. He has never been to the site of a terrorist attack...I can only continue to pray that he never will be. Shmulik has been to the site, but only hours later, after the bodies of the innocent were removed, and I believe he was kept far enough back, as the driver of the senior army official onsite, so as not to have seen too much. I might be wrong; I hope I am. I can only pray that he too, and all my children, will never know of such agonies.

Today was a small taste of the ironies. You think it is the peaceful Shabbat - and not so far away, a man is attacked. For what reason? Other than hatred, if the Arab is caught, we will likely hear of some twisted family logic that led him to this spot to prove God only knows what.

This time, happily, the guard was only lightly injured. That's how we live sometimes - focusing on the "this time" and hoping the next time won't come. Instead, we wish each other a Shavua tov - a good week...

This week, Elie flies with Lauren to the United States - his first time since he was a small boy. Lauren wants to show him so much of a land that will be so foreign to him. The language, he will understand. The rest will be interesting to hear about.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reserve Duty and Rockets

People sometimes write to me to thank me for posting regularly about recent rocket attacks. They tell me that they do not hear about them in the international media. CNN all but ignores the missiles unless there are casualties; BBC will report on the missiles only in a slight and buried reference to why our air force bombed a target in Gaza.

If you follow my Twitter account (@asoldiersmother), you'll see that I regularly post almost all rocket attacks. I miss some - but during waking hours...I try to take a moment and post - like the one a short time ago. I do this so that the next time Israel goes into Gaza in a full scale war, at least there will be people who know the obvious - when you shoot 25 rockets at a country in a single day, you can't expect anything but a military response.

Most rocket attacks fall in open fields. Other than the time during the war when Elie was positioned in an open field, this is a thing of relief, a thing of gratitude. Few people outside Israel realize how often these attacks occur and how disruptive they are. If the Color Red siren sounds, people in Sderot have 15 seconds to find cover. There isn't time to get to a bomb shelter - at most, children can dive for cover under their desks...and pray. People in Beersheva have a bit over 45 seconds, not much more.

Yesterday, Elie did a day of reserve duty. I dropped him off at a base where most of the unit's equipment is stored and picked him up on my way back from a client in the north. This gave me a driver as I am still trying to rest my ankle, and gave me a chance to hear about what he did. Mostly, he was filling in a day because he was minus one and with the day he did, he is pushed into another category of Reserve Duty - one that gives him a "bonus" of about 2,000 NIS that will be paid to him next year.

What's the connection between rockets and reserve duty? They come more often than you realize and interrupt life. At some point, because it happens often enough, you forget that this isn't normal, that people outside of Israel don't really live with this regularly.

Both are realities of our lives. Perhaps when there are less rockets - a euphemism of the ongoing war we have with the Palestinians and the violence they regularly direct our way instead of heading our repeated requests for  negotiation - perhaps then, there will be less reserve duty as well.

RT @AvitalLeibovich: Three rockets launched from #gaza into #Israel a few minutes ago. A total of 45 rockets and mortars since beginning of the month.#terror

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reverse-Engineering the Drone? I don't think so...

Sometimes, something strikes me in the funniest way. Maybe I'm underestimating my enemies, but I got a kick out of reading Iran's threat to reverse-engineer the American drone it apparently captured. It's really easy to take something apart - that doesn't mean you can put it back together.

My husband is a whiz at all things related to ...well, all things. He can rebuild cars, fix refrigerators, jewelry, furniture, computers. You name it, he can fix it. By contrast, well, I'm a good writer. I say that to explain that I am not good at fixing things. Even if I could take something apart - there is no evidence to suggest that I'll manage to put it back together.

I'm the type of person who could dismantle a chair and end up with a table...or dismantle a toaster and end up with...well, a pile of parts.

I do not believe that one nation consists of people who are inherently smarter than another nation; I do not believe that one people is better than another. I do not believe all good people belong to any one religion or that all bad people, for that matter, belong to one either.

I don't believe all Arabs are bad; I don't believe all Palestinians are bad; I don't believe all Iranians are bad, and I don't believe all Jews or Israelis are good.

Having said all that, I do believe that certain nations and populations have invested in education more than others and the results show. There is a reason why Israel is a center for innovation and development, why most of the world's largest corporations have research and development centers here in Israel and why we recently received our 10th Nobel prize. And the same is true of the United States.

Getting back to the drone, I do not believe the Iranians are capable of creating the technology behind the stealth drone that went down recently. Perhaps capable is the wrong word. They may be capable of it from an intellectual point of view - but they don't have the knowledge, the technology. I don't believe that is a racist attitude - but rather a societal judgement. If your society focuses on development, technology, education - the results will show.

In any event, I keep seeing the picture in my mind of a bunch of men hovering around the drone in some bunker in Iran. They circle it, take pictures with it and when it all settles down, they stare at it long and hard, wondering how to approach it. Finally, having no choice, they begin to take the thing apart.

Reverse-engineer it? I really doubt they'll accomplish more than creating a vast pile of pieces. It certainly is what would happen if I tried to dismantle it. And as I think of this picture in my mind, I hear the voices...
  • "Mahmoud, WHERE did this screw come from again?"
  • "Bassem, are you sure this thing came from the drone? I think it fell out of my chair.'
  • " come there's no seat in this thing? No wonder it crashed!"
  • "Mahmoud, what do you think this wire did?" And Mahmoud answers, "I don't know, where did you take it from?" and Bassem looks at Mahmoud, looks at the drone, looks at the wire in his hand..."never mind."
  • "Hey, this computer doesn't have Minesweeper on it!"
  • "They didn't leave any piece of paper with the password to this thing." - "Try admin? 1234?" says Abdul
  • "Maybe they use these things for windshield wipers?" Bassem asks and Mahmoud answers, "Bassem, stop taking things apart until we figure out where the...I think it just barked."
  • "Does this say, 'Made in China'? They made the drone in China?"
  • "Oops...these little plastic parts are so fragile!" ... "BASSEM!!!!!"

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Blowing things up...

    I hope this comes out with as much humor as I am feeling...I really do.

    So, the way I told Elie about this was..."Elie, you were my first child to blow something up..."

    He looked around, "what happened?" he asked. He wasn't concerned. I'm sure he could tell from my voice that this was not a serious matter. His younger brother was turning red and so I continued.

    "And Davidi," I said, "is the first of my children to have something blown up."

    "Huh? What did you do?" Elie asked.

    Well, Davidi took the bus to the train to school today. Jerusalem's light rail is finally finished and running through the city. It provides an interesting backdrop when you see the modern train cruising past the ancient walls of the Old City; it's fun to see it go along the tracks. It's still hard to forgive the train for the horrible traffic jams and the damage it did to businesses for the last few years, but the center of Jerusalem is bustling again and so I try to put aside the bad memories...

    So, Davidi took the train because it goes very close to his school. And, he forgot his backpack on the train. He called them; they told him that they had it. He took the train from one end to the other, to the terminal where the trains start, and the woman handed him a lady's purse.

    No, that's not mine, he told the woman.

    She handed him a red bag. "No," he told her politely, "it was a black bag with red and black sunglasses inside."

    "What time did you leave it on the train?" she asked him.

    "10:00," he answered.

    "That was probably one of the two bags they blew up today."

    I'm not sure what the protocol is from here. We wait, I guess, to see if somehow it wasn't his bag, his sunglasses and worst of all, the keys to his locker.

    Uh oh...and as I asked him one last time what was in there. He suddenly remembered that perhaps a book that he borrowed from someone was in there. He's not sure what else.

    I'm not sure why I find this so funny. The sunglasses were good ones, the book will have to be replaced.

    But as I tried to comfort him, I told him about one of the beliefs I have taken into myself. Each Yom Kippur, as the holy day arrives, Jews perform a short ceremony at home in which they circle something around their heads (most Jews today take a few coins; some still follow the tradition of circling a live chicken around their heads) and say a prayer that whatever bad God has planned for us in the coming year, let it instead find its way somewhere else - to the chicken, to the money.

    The concept is - take my money, God, please, don't take my health. The ceremony is called "kapparah" - and once when a cousin lost her wedding and engagement rings, instead of being upset (I think I was upset enough for both of us), she said, "Kapparah," and then explained, "every year, I ask God to take my possessions, my money and to leave me with my health. Now, God's taken my rings, should I complain? Kapparah."

    It was almost an earth-shaking experience. How can we complain about anything, if we take it in this light? Kapparah - let this little thing atone for what I've done wrong, rather than exacting the full punishment. Kapparah.

    As I spoke to Davidi, I told him - Kapparah. A backpack, sunglasses - Kapparah - you're fine, you're health - better than your bag. They blew it up, you see because we live in a society where people leave bombs in bags and so we have these robot things that slowly approach a suspicious object and with its robotic hand, it pulls the bag away - out of the train and to an open area.

    And then the police call out to everyone to stop - and the robot shoots into the bag to set the "bomb" off. Most times, someone's lunch or weekend bag becomes the casualty. This time, it was Davidi's bag - kapparah.

    He's fine. He's healthy. He's tall and strong...and we need to buy him new sunglasses. Kapparah!

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