Now What?

2014-03-18 10.05.50The image before me was just like what I expected.  Setting: A young man, the baby of the family, going off to the army. He bids a fond farewell to his family before heading out to the ‘wild blue yonder’. Well, he’s not really heading that far away. Israel is, after all, a small country. But it felt that way today. It felt as if I was saying goodbye for a long time. I know I’ll see him soon, but still, I wonder, I worry, how will he manage? Will his commanders like him? Will they respect him? Will he remain safe?

We can only do so much to prepare our children for this next chapter in their lives. We do, after all, live in a challenging neighborhood and nothing, no level of quiet, no level of tranquility, (not that this neighborhood can ever be accused of being tranquil for very long), can ever be taken for granted. But, we’ve prepared him as best we can. Eitan has studied many courses on what to expect in the army, he’s had religious guidance on how to maintain his convictions and practices while a soldier. He has learned to be strong, to be proud. He has learned from his brother who has taught him so much from his own experiences. He has consistently had the love and support from his parents and he is a very happy person.

So now what? Now we are left to trust the system. We are left to stand back, watch, pray and be proud. I wanted to bring Eitan home and give him the Carvel ice cream he so craves and enjoys and I wanted to baby him again. But he is not mine now so I just observed the scene before me.

When a sea of hundreds of boys are singing and dancing together for hours with immense pride and joy and without trepidation as they embark on fulfilling their obligations to their country, we, the families, assembled on the sidelines, watch in awe at the scene unfolding before our eyes. Really, can you imagine for a moment the spectacle of boys dancing with their friends, with others they haven’t even met yet, together, brothers, one and all? Amazing. Incredible!  Imagine the scene of a father placing his hands on his son’s head, offering his son a blessing to go in peace and safety and return in peace and safety, who then goes over to his son’s friend, whom he has never before met, and places his hands on his head and offers him the very same blessing.  This image seems almost hard to envision. But it is what I expected.  This is Israel after all. These are the ‘only in Israel moments’ we cherish.

So we cry tears of joy, tears of fear, tears of pride and we go back to our routines, waiting for the first glimpse of our sons in uniform when they come home from their bases for the first time, when we will again shed some tears and revel in the joy of holding our babies in our embrace.2014-03-18 10.34.202014-03-18 10.05.50
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My Baby Enlists

It’s the night before and our preparations have concluded. The days leading up to today have been filled with heart to heart talks, reminiscences, and general preparations. We’ve planned, purchased and packed. Tonight I am left to think back to the days when Eitan was just a small boy peeking out of his crib with that devilish look in his eyes beseeching  me with his irresistible expression and pleading as if to say…’c’mon Imma, I really want to play! No more nap.’  You’d think he had napped for hours when it was only a paltry forty-five minutes!

I’m thinking back to the cute mischievous and playful little boy with those sad puppy eyes, running back and forth under my kitchen counter. He was so cute, the way he ran back and forth, never hitting his head, always giggling, evading us as we tried to catch him! What an energetic character he was. He was my sweet, funny, little Eitan.

That Eitan, that cute, funny little boy is now all grown up. He is still cute (adorable to me), still has those sad puppy eyes, but he is all grown up; All 5 ft 10 in of him. And now he’s off to the army. My baby is going to the army. I hold the image of him in my mind’s eye, as a funny little kid doing his very best to climb out of his crib, juxtaposed with the image I’ll have of him tomorrow standing with his friends saying goodbye to him; and of the next time I’ll see him, all decked out in uniform. It’s a strange thing this army life. Boys become men, mothers become mothers anew. I am again the mother of an Israeli soldier.

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Welcome Home

Like most Israeli citizens my family and I learned that Gilad would be released from captivity about one week ago. We believed yet didn’t believe because so much can happen in the course of one week; so much can change. Over the last few days it appeared that Gilad’s release might be delayed for one reason or another ranging from demands by hamas for even more prisoners to be released to demands by families of victims of terror to stop altogether the release of so many murderers.

I am angry that Israel had to go this route to obtain Gilad’s release. There were, perhaps, mistakes made early on in this saga and I hope our leaders have learned from those mistakes so that next time, and let’s pray that there is no next time, the price for freedom won’t be so high.

I am angry that we as a nation, as a people, as a country have to suffer like this. I am saddened for the families whose loved ones were killed or maimed as a result of terror and whose wounds are now ripped open again, raw and painful, for them to endure. I am angry at the world leaders and various human rights organizations for failing Gilad, for not demanding clearly enough or raise their voices loudly enough, or intervene boldly enough for his release. I am angry at our government for giving in to hamas and terrorism, but maybe there was no choice. Maybe there are other plans. I don’t know, but what should be done? Gilad is alive, it was time to bring him home.

So, we sat glued to the television and watched the coverage of his release. When I saw Gilad emerge from darkness to light, I cried. It was shocking. I cried tears of pain and anguish for him, for what he has endured. Tears shed for his loss of youth, his lost innocence. He is so frail. I cried tears of joy for his family, especially his mother. I cried the tears only a mother sheds. I myself wanted to embrace his frail, gaunt, pale, almost limp and lifeless looking body to hug him, hold him and welcome him home from his journey of misery.

I’ve ended many of my blog entries with prayers for Gilad’s safe and speedy return home, back to the loving arms of his mother. I’ve left an empty seat at my Pesach seder table to remember Gilad still in captivity.  So with a very heavy heart and a nod to all the families who have suffered so much and endured so much pain, yet despite their pain have gone on valiantly to live their lives; to all of us, the mothers of Israeli soldiers who will continue to worry for the safety and well-being of our young men and women, I can say finally, finally, welcome home, Gilad. ‘Ve shavu banim ligvulam.’ We’ve returned our son to his land. May you have an easy reentry to life and I wish for you happiness, health and peace always.

We are one nation. We value even one life.

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Sweetness Personified

Pure bliss.

These two words are all that are needed to describe the feeling of becoming a grandparent. Pure bliss. I didn’t think I would feel this way, but as I stare at the beautiful face of my sleeping, new grandson, I feel total joy, pure delight.

Wow! I am a grandmother!! Many of you have welcomed me in to what you call, ‘the greatest club in the world.’ It is rather remarkable, quite amazing, in fact, to be a member of this club. But wasn’t I just adjusting to motherhood? Wasn’t it just yesterday when I celebrated becoming a parent and then celebrated that wonder, again and then again? Wait a minute: Wasn’t I just a kid myself? Where does the time go?

I love being a parent. I’ve loved watching my children grow, learn, play and become the wonderful human beings each one is today. I cherish the time I have with each one. I’ve worked hard at parenting and I know my job isn’t complete: it never will be. As one sage person advised me not so long ago, our job as parents is never complete since our children will always need us in some capacity or another. But as I look back on those busy, hectic, important parenting years, I can honestly say I am ready for grand parenthood, ready for the simple pleasures of spending time with Daniel, playing with him, singing to him, spoiling him, sharing ice cream cones and watching his smiley, giggly face as it melts all over him. I look forward to sharing with him stories that only a grandmother can tell. I am quite certain I will love being a grandparent. I already do. I love when Daniel sleeps on my shoulder, when he smiles and laughs with me, and I love the way he babbles when I change his diaper.

When Daniel was just one month old, the precious baby slept on my shoulder and in my arms for four hours! We dozed together while his mommy napped on the couch alongside us. There’s no comparable feeling to that of holding a sleeping baby on your shoulder. It is quite simply, heavenly.

Sleeping on Savta. Heavenly baby!!

Daniel is now four months old and I am back visiting with him and his mommy and daddy. He gets cuter and sweeter by the day and he brings out the very best in me. He smiles, I smile. He laughs, I laugh. We play together, we take walks together and I love his reaction when a breeze gently caresses his beautiful soft sweet face. He giggles, looks around, perhaps thinking ‘who is that tickling me?’ and smiles. And when he sleeps, I could stare at him for hours. He has this enchanting, captivating quality about him. He is angelic. This child brings complete and utter joy into my life. Being a grandmother is a reminder of everything that is good in this world.

As parents, we nurture our children’s’ every need. We provide for them physically, emotionally, financially. We nurture their dreams, encourage their ambitions, guiding and disciplining them along their paths of live. As a grandparent, I know I must relinquish those roles and dutifully, faithfully, allow my daughter and son-in-law to provide for Daniel. It’s tough, but I suppose I will reap the benefits. I can spoil Daniel with boundless love, endless hugs and butterfly kisses. And I have every intention of doing so!!

Daniel IS Sweetness Personified.

Mr. Sweetness

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Soldier Boy, Round Two

I sent my boy off to the army today, again. It doesn’t get any easier second time around. One would think it would, but it doesn’t. I’ve been here before, exactly one year ago, at the central conscription center in Tel Hoshomer, dropping my older son off for his 16 month-long army service. It was hard then, despite knowing that he was not in a ‘kravi’ or combat unit, but rather in a support unit of ‘tovalah’, transport, supply and delivery. He learned to drive military vehicles and is now licensed to drive any type of car and most trucks here. His responsibilities included travelling all over Israel to bring food and military supplies to bases from north to south, east to west.

While he enjoyed driving, enjoyed the freedom on the road, the scenery and the vital role he played in the military, his heart was elsewhere. He yearned to serve in a combat unit and did whatever it took to achieve that goal. He raised his profile in November, went back to yeshiva for four months, and today, a day after Purim, we relived this scene all over again.

I sent my son off to the army today, again. But this time, to a combat unit, to tanks. He went with a smile on his face and determination in his heart. His principles and values are firm and his eyes wide open for the challenges that lay ahead. He did have some anxiety and a little uneasiness about starting anew, though. He is proud, Yechezkel, and determined to be the best soldier he can be, to bring honor to his country while defending her. And that is his goal: To defend and support the land of Israel.

I sent my son off to the army today, this time to a base in southern Israel, near Eilat. I kissed him and hugged him, shed some tears, and told him repeatedly how much I love him and how proud of him I am. I was hesitant to let him out of my embrace, reminiscent of the day of his bris, when I was reluctant then to relinquish him from my arms to the hands of the Mohel. It is so hard letting go.

I sent my boy off to the army today, again, to learn, to grow, to develop the necessary skills he will need to perform his job well. I know he will be a proud strong, confident soldier. This is a worrisome time again for us here yet it doesn’t help to worry. What good will it do? I pray that when he completes his now extended service, on July 19th, 2012, he will return once again to the waiting embrace of his mother, safe and sound, he a better human being for it, I relieved, and we, as a country, a better people, a safer nation, because of his and all the other chayalim and chayalot who dedicate and sacrifice for us.

I sent my boy off to the army today, again. As Yogi Berra once said, “it’s deja vu all over again.”

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My Shaky Foundation

I recently returned home from a quick eight day trip back to the States, my first time back since we moved here. I first flew to Florida to celebrate with my mom for her birthday, and then to New York, to celebrate and visit with my daughter. It was a wonderful, fun, hectic and exciting trip and it was great to be back if even for a short while.

It was strange though. When I landed in Atlanta en route to Florida, I wandered through the airport feeling like a stranger. I felt a little uncomfortable. Where is the Hebrew on all the signs? I went to Starbucks to order a coffee and had to think twice before placing my order in Hebrew lest the sales girl give me a bewildered look in response.  I ordered my coffee in English of course and drank it while awaiting my connecting flight to West Palm Beach. I’ve grown accustomed to Israeli coffee somewhat, but it was good to once again have a cup of real, (though quite strong) American coffee. My connecting flight was uneventful and upon landing I was greeted by my mom and David with long wonderful embraces. The weekend and ensuing few days were wonderful, relaxing and celebratory. I then flew to New York and oh my, was it cold. I am just not used to that kind of cold weather anymore. Brrrrrrrr. But, I was greeted with the most heartwarming embrace and smile a mother could ask for. Michal and I had a wonderful few days together made up of shopping, cooking, eating, talking and laughing. It was great.

Then it was time to leave and as strange as it felt first arriving back in America, it felt equally strange leaving. I guess one acclimates to one’s familiar surroundings fairly easily. It was slightly strange arriving back in Israel, though it did feel good to be back.

The past week we were all busy with work and school and life resumed fairly uneventfully. We had a houseful of terrific company for Shabbat, a group of guys and an Israeli couple for dinner Friday night. Our house was filled with good food, great conversation, song and laughter. Shabbat concluded and we all resumed our weekly routines, the boys returning to yeshiva, I to work, and everyone else to typical Saturday night routines. But that all changed soon enough.

I have a fairly firm set of beliefs and convictions by which I lead my life and teach my children to live theirs. I have a firm belief in God and religion and the overall goodness of mankind. I believe in kindness and decency and love. I believe in family. I believe in commitment to hard work that was taught to me by my parents. I believe in individuality, in the freedom to design our own path. I believe in distinguishing right from wrong, even if the line between those is ill defined. I believe in respecting others’ beliefs and convictions. I believe in my country, my homeland, so much so that I picked up left everything and everyone familiar, and moved here to the relative unknown to start over and fulfill a lifelong dream. I believe in the pursuit of happiness and in the right for all of us to live happy and productive and fulfilling lives. I believe in good food, fine wine, and chocolate!! And, I believe we are all entitled to live our lives according to our own set of beliefs and principles. These are the core that make up the foundation of my life.

I do not believe that any person, group, religion has the right to take any of that away. And, I used to not believe in vengeance. I am not sure about that one anymore.

My foundation was shaken on Saturday night past upon hearing of the horror that was perpetrated on Friday night. The events of the last few days have left me at a loss. I am angry. I really am. Quite angry.  I don’t know at whom, or at what, but I am angry. Mad. The earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami are terrible natural disasters and the pictures and news coming from Japan are abysmal. The loss of life and the devastation, the missing people, the nuclear scare, all are just awful. But the news from Israel Saturday night of the sheer beastliness of an attack on a family as they slept is incomprehensible to me. It is beyond incomprehensible. It is unfathomable but at the same time, very real, too real. It has left me aching and I had no connection to the family other than sharing the belief that Israel is our home and it is our inalienable right and duty to settle here.  How barbaric are these subhuman creatures that they can invade a home and rob three children of their parents and three other siblings forever? How cruel are these supposedly Arab ‘human beings’ being taught to be? Is there a test they must pass for each level of cruelty and indecency? Is this their education? Is this what is being taught in their schools?

All of Israel has been shaken by this tragedy. All of its people, right and left politically and religiously, for the most part, are sickened by the events of this weekend. Twenty thousand plus people from across the country, including my son and many others from Ma’ale Adumim packed Har Hamenuchot, the cemetery where the family was being laid to rest, for the funeral on Sunday to say farewell, to offer comfort to the grieving family, to hear eulogies from rabbinic leaders, political leaders and family members. I imagine the throngs of people craved words of comfort and consolation. Rabbi Lau lamented how the cycle of violence continues, despite our sovereign state, despite our army. He told twelve year old Tamar that she is now the little mother of the family to her two younger siblings. No, she is not. She is a 12 year old child, now an orphan. Blame was cast of course on the palestinian authority for inciting violence against Jews. But international media outlets are also laying blame on ‘the settlers’, as if living in a ‘settlement’ dehumanizes them and thereby nearly legitimizing the act of terror. And it was a TERROR ATTACK that night carried out by TERRORISTS, not militants or extremists but terrorists.  Rabbi Metzger told the gathering that in response to this tragedy, Israel must build. Build more homes, neighborhoods, communities. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this attack is a reminder of the price we must pay in the struggle for sovereignty. And on and on.

But I must object. We already ARE a sovereign nation. We achieved sovereignty and fought valiantly in 1948 for sovereignty. We don’t fight for that anymore. Now we fight for survival, for our very existence, because those around us simply don’t want us to exist. Prime Minister Netanyahu said to the family while paying a shiva call that “they murder and we build”. My question and I am not alone, is this: Why is he only now talking about building the land? We only have a right to build if we sacrifice? This is an unbalanced equation. Murder plus sacrifice does NOT equal the right to build! Murder is reprehensible, evil, ugly, immoral. Building our land of Israel is beautiful, right, praiseworthy and moral. A shiva home, especially one so filled with such horrible sadness, is not the forum for a political agenda. Agree or disagree on settlement expansion, but don’t espouse or draw comparisons between a civilized nation and barbaric acts. A shiva home should not be a forum for politicization of ideas or events. Sweet, once innocent, now forever traumatized 12 year old Tamar called Netanyahu out on this one. She shouted and cried “if you do something will America do something to you”?

My feelings echoe those of Udi Fogel’s brother when he said that “all the symbols about settlement, the land of Israel and the people of Israel are attempts to forget the simple fact that is riddled with pain: you are dead and no symbol will bring you back. More than anything this funeral must be a private event.” He said to his brother that “you are not a national symbol or national event. Your life was a purpose …and it can’t be allowed for your terrible death to turn your life into some sort of tool, no matter for whom. You are my brother and you will stay my brother”.

So why do I feel my foundation shaking? Because I am angry. Because the world has yet to recognize with whom we are dealing. Because a family, another one is shattered. We’ve suffered, we’ve been through this before, and as history has shown us, we’ll be there again. This event has shocked the whole country and I believe, all decent people. I don’t know that I will remain as naive as I once was, or that I will believe in the overall goodness of mankind anymore. I just don’t know. We as a nation will heal. We will go on. We go from tragedy and sadness to joy and happiness in almost a heartbeat. I did that the other night when I attended a friend’s daughter’s wedding (a former West Hempsteader). We cried at the ceremony when the Rabbi recalled the events of two days earlier because the bride and groom were so upset about it. We danced and sang at the happiness of a new union of a great couple. It was cathartic for me. I really needed to reconnect with friends from past and present and to feel joy.

This is what we do. We go on living. We survive.

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Friends (Not the TV show)

Friends. According to the Oxford Dictionary Online, a friend is “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.” “Somebody emotionally close: Somebody who trusts and is fond of another,” is the definition given by Encarta dictionary. And in Hebrew, a friend is a ‘chaver’ or ‘yedid.’ In my lexicon, a friend is all of these and more.

I’ve often expressed how I sometimes really miss the friends I’ve made over the course of many years and of the difficulties I occasionally encounter in adjusting to life here and making friends here. I’ve experienced many special moments in my life when my friends were truly there for me and no time was this more evident than when I fell ill eight years ago. During the course of those days, weeks and months following surgery, you, my friends did what friends do, quietly, genuinely and lovingly, providing care and love to me, Meyer and the kids making sure no stone went unturned to ensure that life continued so that I could focus on me and my recovery. Those were days when, I believe, my friends transcended the not so simple “bond of mutual affection” or emotional closeness, and became so much more. You became a part of my family and you hold a truly special place in my heart.

Recently, a week or so after Sukkot, one of you did it again. You transcended what I knew to be friendship and took our friendship to a whole other level. Shelley lovingly and creatively compiled my blog into a book, a hard cover book, with anecdotes, pictures and quotes and, amazingly, she had the book published. She presented this book to me on a Friday morning when she and her family came to visit us for a nice breakfast with friends who haven’t seen each other in a year. This book was a precious gift which I treasure. I treasure the thought and time that went into it. It has taken me this long to write about it because I’ve been in absolute shock over it. It was planned perfectly…my shock was genuine, my disbelief real. I will remember that Friday morning for a long time to come.

I'm in shock!

I guess my goal in writing this is to thank Shelley and to thank, really thank, all of you, my dear friends, for being there for me and for being the caring, fun, wonderful people you are. We may not always speak with one another, we may not see each other often, but you are held in high regard. I treasure my friendships and I hope I’ve been a good friend to all of you.

Like the lyrics from the theme song of ‘Friends‘, the TV show, (one of my favorites by the way) say, “I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour.  I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before. I’ll be there for you, cause you’re there for me too.”

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