The 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.