Thursday, December 31, 2009

The War that Took Forever...was just 18 days?

Note: For those who have followed this blog for more than a year, I apologize for these posts that look back...I can't tell you what it is inside of me that makes me need to read back to last year at this time and experience again all the emotions of having a son at war. All I know is that each day, I go back...I read, I remember and then I pull myself back to today, to where Elie is now, to where I am.

I learned something today. It isn't just children that need to cope with trauma; not just kids who remember things differently as time blurs and consoles. For months now, whenever discussions turned to the war, I've told people that Elie was down there forever...at one point, I think I said more than a month...maybe even 6 weeks.

I've been following my blog back in time, reading each day how it was a year ago. The war ended on January 18th...that I remember. Elie came home a few days later...that too I remember...just in time to join us for his brother's bar mitzvah.

Today, I read the entry for December 31...It was called "Drat, I lost it" and while reading it, I realized that even on December 31, he hadn't get been called down. I knew the time was close...very close...

Rockets have landed today in Beersheva again, Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, Eshkol 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, 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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I Want...Still...

Of all the posts I have made over the last two years and almost 10 months, one of the ones that elicited the most comments was one that I wrote to myself more than anyone else. Elie was within hours of being called down to Gaza. I knew it. He knew it. As much as we talked in those hours...there was so much left unsaid.

After what turned out to be our last conversation before he was moved south to Gaza, I closed the phone and knew that my life was changing; that something was about to happen and I was, I believe, more terrified than I had ever been before.

We finished our brief conversation and I started to type a post for the blog. I was amazed at the response and yet each time I read the post during the war and in the months that followed, I understood that it truly reflected what many mothers were feeling. It is hard to believe a year has passed since I wrote these words:

(The full post can be read here:
What I Want...And What I'll Do
)


What I want...is to go collect my little boy and bring him home. I want to lock him in a room and tell Israel that no, you can't have him. I've changed my mind. No, I'm sorry. He's not allowed to play with guns and big things that go boom. No, I'm his mother. I gave birth to him and no, you simply can't take him.

What I want...is to call him and make sure he is where I put him, where he told me he was yesterday. Not in the north, where Hizbollah is promising to burn the ground and open a second front and not in the south, where dozens of rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel, where a man was killed and dozens were wounded.

That's what I want...

And what I'll do, is sit here at my desk and keep editing this document for my client. I'll update the copyright statements and change the installation information to reflect the new platforms the product now supports. I'll answer the phone and I'll talk to my accountant.

And what I'll do, is tell my heart to settle. I'll tell my eyes to take a moment and look at the next beautiful wave of clouds rolling in over Jerusalem. I'll sign the papers I need to sign; type the words I need to type. I'll tell my younger daughter to clean her room and my younger son that he has to study for his test NOW. I'll tell my middle son he can borrow the car like we agreed, but he has to drive carefully. I won't talk to my daughter because she's old enough to see the cracks in my smile and know that outside, it's all a front.

What I'll do is answer the phone if Elie calls and I'll talk to him calmly. I'll listen if he tells me he's staying where he is. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him up north. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him down south near Gaza. I'll listen, I'll tell him to be careful, and call me when he can. I won't for a single moment, tell him that I'm scared, that I have no real experience with this war thing and that I don't really want him to have any experience with it either.

What I'll do is continue to listen to the news and pray for our civilians who are under attack, and our soldiers who are risking their lives to defend them.

...

The world may forget that it was Hamas and Islamic Jihad who chose rockets and mortars and missiles with which to attack us; they may fail to recognize that we use our air force, our tanks, our ground forces and our artillery to protect. For once, Israelis are united in one simple reality. We cannot afford to bend to the world's will, if that means our children live under rocket fire, if that means people are forced to run for shelter with mere seconds to alert them.

We are, above all things, a nation that chooses life. Today, we choose to protect the lives of our citizens. Maybe deep down, what I want is to hide inside myself, but what I will do is what every Israeli is doing today - having faith that we are bringing a better reality to our country by taking its safety into our hands. Our soldiers have our faith, they have our prayer, and they have our love.

May God protect the soldiers of Israel and watch over them as they do what they must. They cannot be defeated because where they go, they will not be alone. They have with them the Defender of Israel.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Year Ago...A War Ago

It's been a year since the Gaza War. A year since I knew the taste of fear to a depth and reality beyond any I had experienced. There was no comfort, no sleep until I drove down and saw Elie for myself, when the war had ended. To mark this day in my own quiet way, I turned back...back a year and read the words I'd written then. Last year, on December 27th, as Israel knew it would go to war, I wrote (Going to War):
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 and Ashkelon and 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 said 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."
There is a time for calm, and there is a time for fighting, said our Defense Minister. 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.
It's a year later. The fight came and went...and still we are a nation at war, a nation that buried a father of 7 last week after yet another brutal terrorist attack.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ima, Catch...

...and with those words, Elie tossed the car keeps up into the air. They flew from his hands, standing down in the street below our house, up to me...standing on the balcony overlooking the sidewalk. I'd gone out to see him leave, to tell him to be careful.

Amazingly enough, I caught them, one flight up, as I watched Elie close the emergency medic vest, already running behind the ambulance that had just pulled up in front of our house, and jump into the front seat.

He's off on a call to go...I don't know where...to help...I don't know who.

Elie told me earlier that a neighbor, who is the ambulance driver tonight, needs backup and so Elie had agreed to be on call.

"But you are going back to the army tomorrow?" I had said. I didn't really expect him to cancel, but felt I had to remind him, "What if there are a lot of calls and you don't get much rest?"

"Then I'll go back to the army tired," he answered.

As it turns out, that won't happen. Elie hadn't been home in 21 days and so, when he and his unit were finally released this weekend, they asked if it was possible to return to base on Monday, rather than the usual Sunday.

It took a while for the permission to make its way up through the ranks to get approval, but finally, about 30 minutes ago, he got the word. He doesn't have to go back tomorrow...so, if he is out late or often tonight...he'll be able to rest tomorrow.

"Ima, catch," he called out as he threw me the keys to the car. He'd gone out earlier to buy himself all the kinds of food that prove he's still young. He came back, obviously leaving the keys in his pants, and packed his uniforms, socks, and undershirts. He packed food to take to the new base.

And now he's off somewhere...and I'm going to bed, a little unsettled for having him out. I like to know when everyone is home - at least those I expect to sleep in the house here. My daughter is back in her apartment; Shmulik is sleeping in his dorm tonight...and Elie and the two younger ones will sleep here.

And now I know that tomorrow and tomorrow night too, Elie will be home...one more day, one more night...and still - it is one day at a time, so this day, I'll cherish his being home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Nation of Soldiers?

I was at the market today buying all sorts of odds and ends. My husband's parents passed away 15 years ago, both after long illnesses, both from the same disease, one within 12 days of the other. It's a sad time for us and yet we commemorate the days each left us with a night of learning in their honor. Friends come over and after the studying, my husband rises and says the mourner's prayer in their memory.

Elie has arranged to come out a day early to join us; our other children will be there as well. My job is to fill the table with cakes and desserts that honor our home and my parents-on-law's memory. This week, we remember my mother-in-law, an amazing woman that I've written about in the past and will likely write about in the future.

For now, though, I want to write about what happened a few moments ago, that happens so often and yet I forget to write it.

I went into the market and filled my cart with different types of nuts and nosh. I went to the drink section and
added the sodas I am trying not to buy for my home, just on these days, for our guests. I bought the ice tea that Elie likes and then when I was buying the potato chips, I added all the stuff he likes too.

I went to the cashier, loaded it all on the table and packed it in bags as each item was passed through the scanner. And then I looked near the end, where the next woman had already loaded her stuff and saw the same things I had just purchased.

"Are those mine?" I asked her, thinking maybe I had gotten distracted and not finished.

"No," she said with a smile, "I have a soldier too."

I don't know how she knew and yet she smiled. And thus began a three way discussion of who had what in the army.

"I have one almost finished," she said.

"I have one finishing soon, but the same month, another begins," I said.

"We finished off three already. This one's a girl," she answered.

"Ah, we had two in at the same time. A boy and a girl. A girl is easier," the cashier added.

"I don't know how you survived three or even two at the same time," I told them, "I've barely survived one. I thought Gaza would kill me."

"That's the way it is here," she said.

I took my bags, said my goodbyes and came to my car where I sit typing this. "That's the way it is here," she said. Yes, I guess she is correct. I've heard our enemies say that Israel is a nation of soldiers. It isn't really true, I've always thought. And yet, if, perhaps there is some truth in what they say, they are missing one key fact. As much as we are a nation of soldiers, we are a nation of soldier's mothers.

Something as simple as buying potato chips, Doritos and ice tea becomes a moment of bonding. She has sent four children to the army...I begin my second one soon. That's the way it is here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I lied...

I wrote that I was on the fence between two sides of a debate about Gilad Shalit. I explained that one side is ready to do all that is necessary to finally bring Gilad home; and one side refuses to trade 1,000 terrorists and murderers for one Israeli soldier. Between the two are many who want so desperately to see Gilad home and yet understand so completely what will happen if this trade is confirmed. I wrote that I sat there on the fence because...because it is the easiest place to be.

To stand on the side willing to trade 1000 for Gilad means to accept responsibility not if, but when, these terrorists kill again. It means knowing that Gilad's parents will celebrate and Gilad will come home...and in the future, even the near future, other parents will know the sorrow of Gilad's parents...but the price will be 2,000. To sit there means to know that in the future, other parents will mourn, and there will be nothing left to trade, just endless sorrow.

To sit on the side against the trade means to accept responsibility that Hamas may kill Gilad and worse, they may say they did...and then that they didn't...and then that they did...and then that they didn't. And each time will be agony; each will be unbearable sorrow. It means knowing Gilad may never come home. It means turning our back, even just a little, on our own sons, knowing that what we now say we cannot do for Gilad, we can never agree to do in the future.

To sit in the middle is to say I understand both sides, agree with both sides and can't make up my mind because it is too painful. It means saying my heart and love go with Gilad...and with the parents who will yet bury their children if this deal goes through. It means looking at my son and not having to answer ... what if...

But, the truth is...I lied.

I'm not on the fence. It's easier to admit to being on the fence than think of looking at Gilad's parents and telling them no. Not for Gilad, not for any soldier. I can't bring myself to write the words that come into my mind. It's a game I'm playing with myself. If I don't write my son, Elie's name, I don't have to imagine the scenario.

If I were Gilad's parents, I would have done all that they have done; gone to every door, every capital in the world. I would have done all that they have done, as they have done it...if I could find the amazing strength and courage. All they have done is what loving parents should do. I find no fault with a word or action they have done. All that they have demanded...is what every parent can and should demand.

If it were me, I might just as easily have crawled into a corner and sat there for all these three long years and beyond. I'm not sure, in their situation, if I would have shown the wisdom, the character, the strength, the courage to put one foot in front of the other, to laugh, to talk, to live. Even breathing seems more than can be expected.

If I were the Prime Minister of Israel, I might quit over this decision alone. I would not want to be there, to tell Gilad's parents that the answer is no. Oh God, the answer has to be no. What agonies of the heart they must feel, what pain our Prime Minister must inflict. But no, we cannot release 1,000 prisoners, not for any single Israeli. Not the Prime Minister himself, not the President, the Chief Rabbi, not even for a child, not even for Gilad.

We can release one, even two - no matter what horrible crimes they have committed, no matter how much blood is on their hands. We could do this for Gilad. We could release Marwan Barghouti, with his disgusting smug look. He is what the Palestinians believe will lead them into the future. He is a killer who has organized without thought or regret, even gleefully, the deaths of dozens of Israelis. Our courts examined the evidence...and sentenced him to five consecutive life terms. This is not a leader, this is a murderer, the worst, the lowest. Take him, I would say to the Palestinians - take him for Gilad. Him, but not more.

One thousand - one thousand who have killed how many? One thousand...who will return and kill how many more?

I lied and I have to tell the truth. If the decision were mine...and I thank God every day it is not...I would refuse the deal. I would tell the Palestinians no, not for Gilad, not for anyone. Take me and let Gilad go; pick one Palestinian prisoner - anyone you want and I'll trade him, but no.

And then, I would reach inside myself and tell Gilad's parents. I would listen to the sound of their hearts breaking and know that I had caused it. I would feel guilt beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life and know that it was a feeling that would haunt me for the rest of my life.

And I would know that I have lied to myself for the last time. No, God, no. Not even for my son, who I love more than words can express. Not for him...would I let other parents bury their children in the future. Not even for my own...and Gilad is one of mine too. That's what it means to be a soldier's mother...we become, in so many ways, mother to them all.

And with that, with a heart breaking and tears that may never end, I admit the truth. We cannot release 1000 prisoners, not even for Gilad.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Milestones of Service

The first milestones as your son enters the army are obvious - the first day when he leaves, the first call, the first time he comes home in a uniform, the first time he comes home with a gun. The first sleepless night you have, the first time you wake in fear and panic, the first horrible call when he tells you something has happened, the first time he is sick and far from home. The first time you don't know where he is; the first time you know he's out there, at night, in the desert, wandering, navigating, almost alone. The first time you learn he has raised his gun, the first time he shoots and the first time you know he is at war.

We've passed them all, survived them all and come out stronger for the experience. Today, I realized there are other milestones yet to experience. Just as there is a start, there is a finish. Just as there are first times, there are last times.

I spoke to Elie on the phone. He'd gotten the cake and chocolate I sent and said they were delicious. He told me about where he would be in the coming days, what he would be doing. Right now, he explained, he was waiting for the other unit to take over "konenut" - that's a term that means "on alert" or "on call."

Essentially, for the last few weeks while Elie's unit has been in training maneuvers on the Golan Heights, they have also been on alert, on call. What this means, essentially, is ready for war. If Syria or Lebanon had launched an attack, Elie was in the first line of defense; Elie and his unit would be the first to fire back.

When Hezbollah fired missiles into northern Israel a few months ago, artillery units responded immediately. That's their job, to be ready within minutes. For the last few months, this has been Elie's unit...until today.

So Elie was waiting to hand over the responsibility. "What does that mean?" I asked him.

"I'm waiting to close down the computer," he explained. The other unit was supposed to come online hours before, "but they're late." And so Elie's unit remained on alert, waiting.

When the word came, that the other unit was ready, Elie powered down his computer. He closed the computer...likely (hopefully) for the last time as a soldier in the standing army.

From here, he goes back to a checkpoint to finish the last few months in the army. In effect, he has stood down from Israel's borders for the last time as a soldier in the standing army of Israel. It's a milestone of sorts. A beginning, a passage to the future.

Of course, there's that roller coaster we've been on, the one with the sudden climbs and sudden falls. From where I'm standing, I'm praying that it's flat from here till when Elie hands back his gun, hands in his uniforms and comes home.

Yes, I know - Elie will be in the army for the next 18 years, serving one month per year in our national reserves. He is as obligated to serve in the reserves as he was to serve in the standing army. Each year, for the next 18 years, he will receive orders to show up on a certain day, he'll be assigned a certain unit and a task and each year, as they grow older, they will come together. Year by year, they will meet and catch up on the lives they have lead since the last time they met.

But first there are many todays to experience. For now, today was the last time Elie was with the computers of the nagmashim (the armored personnel vehicles), last week was likely the last time that he would hear these powerful machines fire massive explosives at a target and spew forth fire. The last time...until the next time he returns as a reservist.

Today, as he stood down and prepared to separate from the equipment, there is a sense of relief, a sense of success, a sense that we've made it so much farther than I ever could have imagined. And, there is the sudden realization that in the next few months, there will likely be as many milestones of parting as there were in the start. For each beginning, there is an end; for each journey, there is a starting point and an arrival.

We are nearing the light at the end of the tunnel; it's there, so much brighter than it was before, so much closer. Tomorrow someone else's son will guard the northern borders and begin their training as Elie rotates yet again in the timeless dance the army leads every few months.

It is his last rotation, his last shift. Next one brings him home...and sees his brother begin.

Wanna Laugh?

They (whoever they are) say that there is a British sense of humor that is very different than the American sense of humor and, to some extent, "they" are correct. I have sometimes had conversations with people from the United Kingdom...and they will say something and laugh and I will wonder because to me, it just wasn't funny.


"It's my British sense of humour," they will say...and laugh again.

Each culture likely has its own sense of what is funny and what is not. Israelis must have one too...I guess they do, but after so many years here, I am guessing that I no longer think it strange and am likely to laugh.

I hope you'll find this funny - I find it hysterical. I find it glorious. I find it just.

For as long as I can remember, we have been plagued by an organization of terrorists - the Palestine Liberation Organization. Though they changed the name (later calling themselves Palestinian Authority), sometimes Fatah or whatever, their goal and methods have long since been the same.

They are responsible for some of the most horrible terrorist attacks our people have suffered - they have murdered our soldiers...our babies, our sons and daughters. They have murdered our children, our grandparents, our wives and husbands and fathers and mothers. Nothing and no one was beyond their scope.

There is no revenge that we can inflict to bring back what we have lost. Their ways have been the path of death, destruction, martyrdom. I don't know if the Palestine Liberation Organization, busy with murder and mayhem ever had time to set up a website, as Hamas and other terrorist organizations have...but someone sent me a link - try it out...


Enter this website address:  http://www.palestineliberation.org/

Wait a few minutes...wait for it...trust me, it is worth the few seconds it takes to load.

Here it is - the direct way!

All hail...the IDF!

No, you didn't blink or do anything wrong.

Enter the above URL...and get the IDF English website.

There is, my friends, great justice and irony in the world and someone with an incredible snse of humor!





Friday, December 18, 2009

Northern Order: Laundry and Cake

Elie called a few hours ago. For a moment, with the sound in the background, I thought he was calling to tell me he was on the way home. Wishful thinking. No, the sound was the wind as he walked to check one of the outpost positions. It seems, he explained, that the previous unit kept leaving the place dirty and he wanted to make sure they cleaned it before his team came on.

"If they didn't," he said, "I'm going to tell them they can't go home until they clean it up."

He's been up north for two weeks. This Shabbat would have been his to be home, but they are once again shifting locations and the current base is larger and needs more men on base. Elie stays. This is the first Chanukah in his life that I won't have seen him light any candles, won't hear him make the blessing, won't watch his candles burn in our window and tell the world of the miracle of Chanukah.

His calling was the final confirmation. He won't be home.

Even as he was, in a way, taking this from me, he was giving me back something. He'll be home next week and the base, the checkpoint, where he will be assigned next is relatively close to our home. He'll be within easy driving distance for the next few months - enough to drop by and bring some cookies, a blanket, whatever.

Oh, and he has a cold. Nothing serious, but to a mother, a cold in the distance is somehow more of a blow to the heart than having him sick upstairs in his room.

My youngest son asked for Elie a few days ago, "Is Elie coming home this weekend?" he asked.

"I don't think so, probably not."

"Oh," was the answer, but the disappointment was there. It's been two weeks, going on the third now. It seems, apparently to all of us, like a long time.

So he'll be home next weekend...and one other soldier is coming back to our area and is bringing his dirty laundry.

"Do you need anything? I'll wash it tomorrow," I told him.

"I'll call you. Maybe socks," he said, "and could you send cake?"

And with that, those simple four words "could you send cake?" my world was made right. Isn't that absurd? Isn't that ridiculous?

The cake is in the oven, white chocolate chips sprinkled all over the top as he likes it. Tonight, as Israel welcomes the Sabbath, we will light the last and final candle of Chanukah. We, here in our home...and Elie, far up north in the Golan Heights.

Next year, Elie will likely light again here in our home, no longer a soldier and yet still a soldier; and our next son will light...somewhere, some place. This is Israel, this is our homeland, this is my life, as a soldier's mother...but he wants me to send cake.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rockets to Roses - Israel's Answer

Sometimes, Israel astounds me.

Here's an amazing site and an even more amazing concept.
"An Israeli artist, living in the shadow of terror, has found his way of transforming objects of destruction into expressions of peace and hope for the future. A magnificent rose with a mission. Each rose is a unique hand-sculpted piece of art, fashioned from actual rockets that landed in Israel. The stem is mounted on a base in the shape of Israel, with each rose "growing" from the region where most of the have rockets landed.
A portion of the profits from the sale of the roses...will go towards building shelters in the areas most effected by the rocket attacks.

From rockets...to roses...to shelters. What an amazing concept. I'm going to start saving up my money to buy one...so special. You can see them for yourself at: Rockets to Roses.

The Purpose of the Army

WARNING: Politics ahead

Anyone who knows me, knows my political stand. I have tried, over the last almost three years, to focus not on my politics, but on the journey I and thousands of other mothers (and fathers) take when their son (and daughter) begins serving in the Israeli (or other) army. I have tried, throughout all this time, to show Elie in real and human terms - for the good and the bad.

When he is good, I show what he has accomplished, what he has become. And when he (or the situation) is bad, I try to look at things realistically and balance the sides so none are embarrassed or hurt. I have written of politics sometimes, because it is impossible to live in Israel and in the Middle East without acknowledging that we are at war for political gains...no, not Israel's, but the Palestinians.

That already is a statement, a political one. But I have read the history of this land; lived it. I know it and am not blind to the faults of my government and my land. I know what we are guilty of...and what we are not. I know what we do and why we do it and still believe in the morality of Israel and its people.

You cannot stop history and re-start it at a convenient time. All that comes before, impacts on all there is now. This is something the Arabs refuse to accept and the world caters to this misconception. The Arabs do not want to speak of 1929, when they massacred the Jews in Hebron and ran them out of their homes. If a Jew dares to want to enter Hebron today, dares to want to live there, it is, in the Arabs mind, an act of incitement, a call to war. They are not interested in 1929, and they fail to understand that what happens in 2009 is related, not just to 2008 and 1968 and 1948, but yes, even back to 1929 and even further back.

And the fact is, despite the massacres of 1929 and other years and places, the Arabs were offered a land, a state, long ago (in 1947) to be carved out of space that we (and they) occupied. They chose war. Within hours of the establishment of the State of Israel - they called for in the United Nations vote that would have given them half the land - they chose war. Five neighboring Arab nations invaded our land, seeking, in their own words, to push the Jews into the sea.

They lost that war...and have spent the last 61 plus years bellyaching and whining about it, always a step behind in their ability to grasp an opportunity. They are now, in 2009, up to accepting Israel's pre-1967 borders.

Those borders were suicidal then, completely impossible now. If we have 15 seconds to run to safety in Sderot when a rocket is launched, how much time would Jerusalem have from a rocket launched mere meters away? The answer is none...and the Arabs are counting on that. They have never talked of a real peace. At best, they talk of a hudna...a term used to mean a ceasefire of sorts. One of the earliest hudnas took place between Mohammed and some enemies. They negotiated a long hudna, which Mohammed quickly broke; the explanation being that you are entitled to lie and break a hudna if made with infidels (by the way, according to the Muslims...everyone but a Muslim is an infidel).

Accepting borders that stood for all of 19 years (from 1948 to 1967), compared to new borders that have been in place for the last 40+ makes no sense and yet much of the world, including Barack Hussein Obama, has fallen into this absurdity. You can't erase time or put the clock back...no matter how often we all wish it were true. We can't...and they can't.

But I digress....

The purpose of the army is the subject of this post and one that I have avoided, for the sake of politics, writing about. Today, I will.

"The army was meant to protect the country," so says Lt. Col. Res. Erez Eshel, head of the Ein Prat Leadership School. This is such an obvious statement and yet needs to be said. For years now, the State of Israel, or I should say the government of Israel, has been using and abusing the army for its own political agenda.

Once it was the job of the army to protect the country from those who seek to destroy her. Now, the army is too often being used to "protect the country" from those who don't agree with the government's political actions. The army allowed itself to be used to expel Jews from their homes in Gaza. Almost 10,000 people were physically taken, the homes and communities, synagogues and schools they had built, were destroyed in exchange for....ah, that is the question. In exchange for what?

There was no peace agreement, no real peace negotiations going on. The concept, as a friend explained to me, was to gain the "moral advantage." That was an incredibly expensive and painful exercise, I always thought, for something we already had. It was termed a unilateral agreement - that means, we do what we think they might want in the hope of pacifying them but with absolutely no obligation on their part.

We already had the moral high ground, my friend and others said we needed. We do not target civilians. Our young are not sent into Gaza and Palestinian cities to blow themselves seeking a glorious death to the infidels. We don't even believe in infidels!

What we got...as a result of the Gaza withdrawal that broke the heart of the nation...was rockets on Ashdod and Ashkelon, and 15 second warnings of impending doom. What we got was the Second Lebanon War...and the Gaza War which, in all likelihood, will soon be followed by the Second Gaza War.

And still we haven't learned. Still the government seeks to use the army against its own people. But this time, the army is fighting back. Not the Defense Minister who is part of the government, and not really part of the army he once served as a general. Ehud Barak has long since lost his sense of army, replaced by his sense of serving himself and his future political ambitions.

He knows how to fight...and how to fight right. He did it in Gaza and he would do it again...but he is also playing politics with the army. Putting our soldiers in a position that forces them to chose between defending the government's politics and defending the people; between serving the country they love and the doing what is best for that country. He has put the Hesder movement and tens of thousands of young men in an impossible situation. Follow orders...do as I command, Barak attempts to ordain, or be cut off, go to jail, lose the rank you have worked so hard to attain.

What Barak has forgotten is that we are a nation partially born out of the Holocaust. No, it is not what the Arabs claim - that Israel is Europe's payback or some-such nonsense. But in a very real sense, a portion of our founders were Jews who had come from Europe, survived the Holocaust, and were determined never to be at the mercy of others again. Here, in our land, we would (and do) determine our own destiny.

We are a people who learn from time, experience, mistakes. That is why we won the Gaza War after losing the Second Lebanon War. Hamas was emboldened, thinking that if Hezbollah won in the north, they could use the same tactics in Gaza and achieve victory as well. But unlike those nations of history who fell because they failed to adapt, to learn...we do, we have, we will.

We saw what we had done wrong, and fixed it - decisively, completely, quickly. We did not fight in Gaza as we fought in Lebanon, and should there be another Lebanon War, we will fight with the lessons we have learned. It is all there, in the training that Elie's group and others have been undergoing - all the lessons, already put to practical use to better the army.

We as an army learn, but we as a people learn too. So we learned from Germany that a soldier cannot just follow orders. He must, at all times, know that those orders are just and moral because for these things, he will be held accountable. If a commanding officer orders a soldier to shoot an innocent man, the soldier will be put on trial...with the commanding officer. It has happened; it will happen. You cannot stand in an Israeli court and say, "I was just following orders."

This is the strength of the Israeli army. This is what Ehud Barak has forgotten. We who suffered at the hands of those who followed orders, will never "just" follow orders when the orders are wrong, when the orders are for political reasons against the security and safety of our people and land.

And so, soldiers in Israel are standing up and saying they will not follow orders that involve their destroying the homes and lives and belongings of the people they are charged with defending. My sons won't do it. My neighbors' sons and daughters won't do it. Don't ask them. They will go to jail if they must.

Friday night, last week, one soldier came back to our neighborhood, home to his family, after spending weeks in jail because he and his fellow soldiers held up a sign that said they would not expel Jews from their home.

And our defense minister has now announced that a hesder yeshiva, similar to the one where my second son learns, will no longer be honored as a place in which young men can serve and learn. Choose the yeshiva, says the defense minister, and you will not be fulfilling your obligation to the nation.

This is politics and doesn't belong in our army and so a Lt. Colonel in our army has chosen, correctly, to remind the defense minister and the government that "the army was meant to protect the country," and not serve the political needs of the government currently in office.

I can only pray that the government will listen so that our sons and daughters can continue to serve in pride a nation they love and want to defend.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Rainy Weekend and a Lightning Strike

This past week, I strained my arm...I don't really know when or how...only the resulting pain whenever I moved it, up, down, sideways...agony. I felt it Tuesday; suffered with it Wednesday and finally surrendered Thursday. My husband and kids were amazing. I told them I couldn't drive home; I'd sleep in the office. The thought of driving a car was more than I could face.

My middle son refused to let me curl up alone in an office; he drove our second car into the city and the next day my daughter and husband retrieved the first car I'd left there. My daughter came to my house on Friday and spent the day with the others cooking, cleaning and preparing the house for the Sabbath. She took me to the doctor, brought me drinks, helped rearrange the pillows on my bed, ordered the younger children to do things. It was...for a mother...a humbling experience. Not the caregiver, but the receiver; not the homemaker, but the served; not the doctor who mothered, but the mother who was doctored.

My husband and middle son moved furniture around to clear space before the window in the dining room. Part of the holiday of Chanukah involves lighting the menorah, a nine-candle candelabra, each night of the eight day holiday adding another candle. But we don't just light it for ourselves, we light it for all to see, to publicize the miracle of the holiday (which I'll write about next).

So, with the pain in the arm and the preparations, I didn't have time to call Elie and I guess he didn't have time to call me. After Shabbat ended, I called him to find out how he was, what was new, when he thought he'd be home.

He's fine. He doesn't yet know when he will be home next and it has been raining non-stop in the Golan for more than 24 hours. His base is strategically placed higher on the side of a mountain...there are rivers of rain flowing down the sides.

It was noisy in the background. "What's happening there? Are you having a party?" I asked.

"Yeah, sort of," he told me. It sounded like a really nice sort-of party to me. There was music and voices - it was nice, warm, lively.

"How was Shabbat?" I asked him.

"Very nice," he told me. And then he added...around 9:30 last night, lightning struck the communication antenna on their base.

"What happened?" I asked quickly...already thinking of it falling on someone or exploding, or I don't know what.

"It set off the alarm," he said.

What that means, he explained, is the entire base began to move. Those that were already dressed, ran to the weapons - getting soaked in the process. The first wave had already grabbed clothes and were already running in the rain as well. Those who were supposed to call and find out what was happening, made their calls. Elie and others were getting dressed in the few seconds it took to realize it was a false alarm.

It had happened before, he told me, when someone tried to cut the fence on the border and they all mobilized. "It doesn't mean a war has started," Elie explained, "just that something happened." Ah, I see...okay.

So, within minutes or less, they had realized it was lightning. Those who had started to dress, went back to bed...those that had run to the nagmashim (APVs and cannons) came back in - all laughing at themselves for the sudden and unexpected drenching they took.

It was such a pleasure to all of them that it was nothing more serious than a burst of lightning and a bit of rain and excitement. Two years ago, this group sat in a field in the Golan, expecting that Syria might attack after Israel had taken out a building being prepared for a nuclear facility (or so the newspapers claim); almost a year ago, this group sat beside Gaza in the midst of a war...

With great pleasure, the dry and the wet among them went back to sleep last night after a much preferred lightning strike drove them from their beds for a short while.

And tonight, up there, high on the Golan, my son and his unit lit the Chanukah menorah to publicize and remember a miracle, a victory of our people over another enemy, long gone. It is what makes our people what we are, here in our land...then, two years ago, last year, last night, tonight, and for all the tomorrows that will come, with God's help.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When The People Will Hike

One of the interesting things about Israelis and Israel is that we love to hike. We climb mountains, descend into riverbeds. We seek water, the highs and lows of the land. We explore the caves, the hills, the valleys. Everything, everywhere...whenever we can. It's a national obsession - perhaps born out of too many years in which we could not freely hike our land.

On extended days off from the army, rather than avoid his army friends, Elie will arrange to get together and hike with them. Our family has gone on many hikes - few really challenging ones, as I am a bit nervous having children walk near the edges of cliffs and things. It is probably another one of the seldom recognized miracles that happen daily here that so few people actually get injured.

Some of Israel's recognized tourist sites are carefully marked. Follow the green or blue arrows. Stick on the path and climb and descend...that's what I do. I am a path-follower. Boring it is, but what can you do. As soon as I leave the path, I am sure scorpions and snakes and lions and tigers will attack. No, it's the path for me (at least as far as my kids know, so let's leave it at that. Kids, stay ON the path).

What do most Israelis do...especially the young ones? (Read here my three sons and most army-age people.) Well, if there are arrows, it is too much evidence that man has been here before. Why walk the path, my sons often feel, if they can scale the sides. Elie is often the first to break off to the side...his brothers follow as I slowly wind my way safely and slowly along the path. They sprawl on the ground, relaxed and amused, as I catch up to them.

As I said, it is a national obsession that we can't do often enough because despite living in this beautiful country, we live in the real world. We work...hard...and if you keep the Sabbath, you really have no day in which you can simply escape to the far reaches of our land.

So, when can we hike? The answer is the holidays - as many of them as possible. We go in the summer, on Passover, on Sukkot...and on Hanukah, which starts at the end of this week.

And...where do we go? The answer is everywhere - from the very north, to the very southern tip of Israel. To the north, we have the beautiful Galilee. For those of us who live near the desert, we are always and constantly amazed by the green, lush forests. Water runs freely there and the urge to step into the water, even in the winter, is overwhelming. Further to the east, lies the Golan Heights. It is magnificient, majestic...on a scale that is all Israel. There are waterfalls and nature hikes aplenty up on the Golan; cows roaming in the fields. It borders the Sea of Galilee, so there are beaches, free and clean, along the edges of the water and cliffs to your back as you stare across the sea.

Stick with me, you'll see where I'm going in a minute. We love to hike in the south, in the west, in the east...and yes, in the north.

Elie is with his unit on the Golan Heights. They serve a dual purpose up there - it allows our artillery to be on the border where one of our enemies lies just a few kilometers to our east...and it's open space where they can train. Each loud explosion echos across the land. You can hear it for miles away...likely in parts of Syria too. Good. Let them hear our might and strength...if it pushes war off for this day and the next. Let them hear and know we are ready not only for war...but for the true peace you can only negotiate when your enemy realizes that peace is his only option.

So, they are up there, Elie's unit, to train. It's been almost a year since the Gaza War. In the next few weeks, Elie's unit will conduct several training exercises. To keep them combat-ready, some of the exercises will be with live ammunition. They need to feel the power of these machines; they need to feel the ground shake, the fire explode as the cannon fires.

So, to summarize, in the next few weeks...
  • You have a nation that loves to hike...and people who feel their greatest challenge is to explore every crevice of our country and a holiday that will pull the people in huge numbers.
  • You have an artillery unit, located atop the Golan Heights - a relatively small chunk of land. Because it is so small, the open fields, except for the areas marked as mine fields, are often marked as shooting ranges which are also used as grazing areas for cows in a carefully coordinated dance between civilian and army. The army is required to open and shut gates in the fields to keep the cows contained (another "only in Israel" phenomena).
This is not a good combination and so, despite the army needing to practice, there will be no live ammunition exercises during the week of Hanukah lest the "Israeli" in us all encourages someone to walk in the middle of a training exercise.

Apparently, this is not as unusual as it sounds. Elie said that from late Thursday evening until Sunday (which basically defines our weekend), the army also doesn't shoot live rounds because it knows that people tend to wander into these areas despite the clear markings that warn them otherwise.

Note to Israelis: Please don't take my word on the above. If you go to the Golan and see a sign saying 'Fire Range"...stay out!

Note to Elie and his unit: Enjoy the quiet and happy hanukah!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Dialog in 140 Characters

I love Twitter (www.twitter.com), a social media application that lets you connect, engage, converse, touch, share…all in 140 characters or less. I love blogging, a means of sharing daily happenings that seem so less intrusive and so much more far-reaching than emails.

Today on Twitter, I received a wonderful, sweet message from a lovely young lady in Beijing, China, another from a man in India. I connected with someone from Canada who offered to send me snow in exchange for some of Israel's warmth, even an offer to switch homes for a few months of the year (down comforters included).

This is the beauty of Twitter, the strength. On any given day, I can communicate with thousands of people I will almost assuredly never meet. I will learn from them about their lives, their countries, their families…and they will learn about mine. I have made a special connection with an amazing family, an amazing woman who lost her son, Micheal, in Iraq. Micheal was an American soldier, serving his country, doing what he believed was right, to make the world a better place, a safer one. I never had the chance to meet him and yet I know he was warm and friendly and funny and now he’s gone and his mother lives with that every day. She is one of many I have met through various Internet connections that bring the world to a new and amazing level of interaction.

During the Gaza War, when my son was there, I received many messages. Most were supportive; some were nasty to the point of obscenity. Some blessed my country and told me it was at the forefront of a global war against terrorism, hatred, extremism and death-worship. Others wrote of proportionality, accusations which proved, in almost every case, to be false. No, they were not innocents, but combatants. No, it was their own rocket that landed and killed the children, not ours. No, you cannot ignore 10,000 rockets and you are a fool to believe we would.
As the war raged I fought my own battle to let people know why Elie was where he was, what he was doing. No, I wrote to one commenter, Elie was not killing innocent people. He was targeting specific locations from which rockets were being launched and where terrorists were known to be stockpiling weapons. And, as was often the case, if that location was a mosque or a school or a home, it was not an innocent place but an arsenal, a legitimate, legal, moral target.

The war ended, as wars tend to do and eventually, Elie’s unit was returned to one base, than another. He went north; he went south; then north again. He spoke of the leaflets that blew all the way across the border to where his unit was camped. He even kept one as a souvenir. He gave it to me and though it is in Arabic, I know that it warns the civilians in the area to leave because the Israeli army detected rocket fire from near their homes and would be coming soon to deal with this threat to our country.
Today, for no reason, as Elie is in the north on exercises, about as far from Gaza as it is physically possible to be in our small country, without warning, I got a message from someone. “How does it feel to be the mother of a killer and the unofficial apologist for a terrorist regime?” Well, I thought to myself, now there’s an interesting way to meet people and open a dialog.

We had a conversation of sorts. He sent me a few website addresses filled with nonsense. To him, it was all about numbers, not people. If more Palestinians have died in this conflict than Israelis, Israel must be at fault. The logic, if lacking, is used often by those who do not want to dig deeper to really understand this conflict.

Israel is not a terrorist regime, I wanted to tell this person. We are not the ones who fired rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas without warning (and not even with warning). Our children are not raised to go into pizzerias and blow themselves up; to board buses and place themselves in strategic locations to maximize death and destruction.

And, of course, my son is not a killer. Comfortable in the absurdity of that claim, he would probably give me one of his usual grins and shrug it off while I wanted to fight back. No, you stupid person, MY son…all my sons…did not go to Gaza to kill, but to prevent the killing of our people.
How do you answer one so filled with ignorance and hatred? One friend suggested I answer his question of “How does it feel to be the mother of a killer” with "no clue - do you know how it is?"

I answered his website links with several well respected websites showing that his casualty figures were wrong. These are established studies – real studies, not wild claims. The organizations went name by name, so-called “child” by “child.” I thought to explain. More Palestinians died because while we build bomb shelters to protect our people from missile fire, Palestinians spend their resources on weapons and secure bunkers for their leaders. And a quick examination of the number of children this person quotes to me will find that many of those so-called Palestinian children were actually combatants, armed, firing guns, throwing firebombs.
When does a child stop being a child? I wanted to ask, but didn’t bother. The mother in me could easily answer “Never.” My children will always be my babies, though one is married, one sits on Israel’s borders and another has already been given his dog tags and military identification.

“If you want me, or the world to have any respect for you, have the guts to stand up to your own people when they are wrong,” he continues. He is correct…and when my nation is wrong, I will stand up. Luckily, for my sake and my son’s sake, my nation was entirely correct in its response to thousands of missile attacks from Gaza. My first thought was to tell him that since I have little respect for someone who can’t even check his facts, why would I care whether he had any respect for me?

But I quickly came to the conclusion that a dialog isn’t really a dialog if both sides aren’t willing to listen, “How about we just agree to disagree.” I answered him back. “You sure as heck aren't going to convince me of anything, so pls, just leave me alone.”

The truth is that while I enjoy challenging conversations with people who disagree with me, I can't stand ignorant fools who are filled with preconceived notions and hatred and are too stupid to even know it!
You can’t explain the history of the Middle East in 140 characters, not even the history and reality of the Gaza War.

The only thing you can say in 140 characters is: “When U R ready 2 talk, contact me. I'll B here, in my land, w/ my sons & daughters. I'll listen if U will; I'll make peace when you R ready.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Coming Home...

I'm looking forward to this weekend finally arriving more than I have in many weeks. Elie will be home. He's been gone almost two weeks but somehow these last weeks have seemed longer and harder; work has thankfully been flowing in and requiring long hours. I want a break.

Our second son, Shmulik, is arranging to take off from his yeshiva even though this is an "in-house" weekend. I hope they'll let him come. My daughter and son-in-law will hopefully come for at least one meal...and...

Hospitality is something deeply ingrained in our culture and our land. It is as old as Abraham rising up to welcome visitors to his tent. We love having guests, welcoming them, doing what we can to encourage them to return. We show guests from abroad what an amazing country we have built...come see this land...we are so proud.

Look at the trees we have planted, look at the roads we have paved. Look at the houses we have built, the cities, the industries. I still, more than 16 years here in this country, am amazed to see the street signs in Hebrew.

So - come visit me, I tell people...and mean it. I love to cook...and as luck would have it (lucky for my family, anyway), I actually cook quite well - or at least I am told this. Food is always plentiful in my house - it fills my table as a means of thanking my guests for coming, and God for providing.

This weekend, we will have a special homecoming. When Elie first left home on the path to the army, he tried a Hesder yeshiva. There were things he liked about it and things he didn't and after about 6 months, he moved to a Mechina in Nokdim. To help you non-Israelis catch up...

Hesder is an arrangement with the army. Instead of doing 3 years of army service, the boys dedicate 5 years of their lives to a combination of service and study. They learn for the first 1.5 years, are in the army for the next 1.5 years, and learn again for the last 2.

Mechina is a pre-army preparation school - often combined with religious study, as it was in Elie's case. They do this for 1.5 hours...and then go into the regular army...Nokdim is the place where Elie's mechina was located, just south of Jerusalem. Shmulik is in his second year of Hesder and will enter the army in March to begin his service.

So, when Elie was in Hesder for that short period of time, his roommate was a young man name Yaakov, who came from Florida to learn and then serve in the army. Elie brought Yaakov home several times for Shabbat and then for some of the holidays. We adopted him into our family, taking him on vacations, having him over whenever...as often as we could. Elie and I went to his army ceremonies, as his local family.

We took Yaakov out to celebrate when he was given his army beret - purple for his Givati unit and we welcomed him home, tired and hungry, for Passover. One day, as his army service was coming to an end, Yaakov brought his brother Chaim to us. Chaim was visiting and would soon be coming to learn in Israel. Yaakov was finishing his army service and planned to return to the States, to marry, to go to school and then as soon as possible, return with his wife to live in Israel.

When we first met Chaim, we told him - Yaakov is our son and brother...you are Yaakov's brother...therefore, you are ours too. Yaakov finished the army; moved back to America for college. Married. He's visited once...still hoping soon to move here after college. Over the last year and more, Chaim has been a frequent guest in our home, there for the holidays. Like Yaakov, we took him with us to family dinners, family events, local happenings - he is, as we promised that first time, one of ours.

One of my most moving memories of my youngest son's bar mitzvah took place on Friday night. My youngest daughter became very sick with a fever and my oldest daughter stayed with her for part of the time to enable me to visit a bit with our guests. I missed the evening prayers while I sat with my daughter; but was able to go to part of the dinner.

I heard my husband welcome our guests, say the blessing over the wine (Kiddush) and as Elie went to his father to receive his blessing, I quickly got Yaakov and Chaim to stand in line. Shmulik and then our youngest son lined up behind Chaim and there - in the picture I couldn't take but will never lose...were my five sons standing waiting for my husband to bless them each.
May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe
May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace

A few months ago, as summer was coming to Israel, Chaim returned to his American family. It was hard for him to decide what to do. To go, to stay. To make his life in Israel; to return to his family and leave Israel behind. We talked of this. He was so torn. His family wanted him home...he wanted to make his life in Israel.

We were caught in the middle. We want him here with us, but understood it was a decision he had to make on his own. Chaim left for the States telling us he would return at the end of the summer. The summer came and went; Chaim was still with his family in America.

"Tell him to come home," my middle son told me. His tone was intentionally childish. He already understands the dilemma Chaim is facing.

"When is Chaim coming back?" asked my youngest daughter. She can't really contemplate choosing between home of the body and home of the heart; between family and land; between Israel and America.

Chaim told me he was planning on coming back before the holidays in September - just after the summer ended. The holidays came and went and still I had no date when he would leave his home to come home; leave his real family to come to his adopted one.

Yaakov and Chaim both called me on my birthday a month ago. Yaakov first - he sang me happy birthday and promised to send me pictures of his baby daughter. My first grandchild in many ways - may she be the first of many to come!

Chaim called later in the evening. "Yaakov sang to me," I joked. I asked him when he was coming back...even though I was afraid I was just torturing him.

"Soon," he told me. "Soon."

Early this week, as I was driving home. My youngest daughter called me. "Chaim is trying to call you. He's coming this Thursday."

Chaim called. He's coming home. He's leaving home to come to the home of his people; leaving his family to come to us. I am so happy...for me, and so sorry for his mother. He plans to enter the army, perhaps even with my Shmulik. For his mother and for me, it will be our second sons entering the army; the second time we will think where they are and worry.

We will have survived the first round with the army, she and I. She from distant shores, me here in Israel. Her sons have chosen to dedicate years of their lives to help Israel, to fight for Israel, as have my sons.

I cannot imagine how hard it is to be a soldier's mother when your son is so far away. It takes little bravery to be a soldier's mother when you know, really know that your son is fine and that you are, at the worst of times, less than a tank of gas away from him.

In March, it seems, Chaim's mother will again become a soldier's mother and I will, it seems, remain a soldier's mother...in many ways with two in the army. I can share her worry, her concern. The only thing I can't share at this moment, is the sadness that her son is going so far away. With guilt in my heart...I am so happy Chaim is coming home.

All I can do is tell you, Chaim's mother, that I will bake him cookies and brownies. I'll give him food and a place to sleep; brothers and sisters to keep him company and if you come to Israel...when you come to Israel, I will open my home to you as well. If Yaakov and Chaim are my sons...you will be my sister.

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