Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Playing War

August in Israel is the month of no school, no camps, and no day care. It’s a month when grandparents are often called upon to help entertain grandchildren. So I found myself with my young granddaughter on the first day of the newest ceasefire. I spent part of our time sharing stories of family history which she enjoyed and then we decided to play some card games. Eventually we began playing War.

I guess War is a good way to teach children the concept of greater and lesser than. To me, though, it was always a mindless game. As a child I even remember on boring afternoons being driven to play the game by myself, my right hand against my left.  I shared that memory with my granddaughter and she smiled. 

Meanwhile I tried to make our game as exciting as possible. I groaned when I lost a king, I shrugged if it was a two, and I practically clapped my hands when I saved my joker. Suddenly though, a simile came to mind. In the Israeli army the twos are no less valuable than the jokers. Sometimes they are even more precious.

As the game continued there were more allegories. It seemed sure that I was losing and then the tide changed and I was winning. My granddaughter had lost almost all of her cards but was she the loser? That would depend on one’s perspective and public relations campaign. As we continued she and I both got bored. The game ended without a winner.   

That’s true of any war. We all lose.

Please pray for Shachar Ben Naomi Sara, one of the Israeli Army’s twos, and my son-in-law’s friend. He was seriously injured in the beginning of Protective Edge, had both legs amputated, is still unconscious and in critical condition.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Conversation with an Injured Soldier

This was not some random soldier I happened to meet nor did I have objectivity when speaking to him. No, this soldier had been my neighbor across the street for twenty years, up until the time he married my daughter, Avigiayil, and they moved into their own apartment a few blocks away.

Gershon had always wanted to be a combat soldier. In Israel there are various ways of serving in the army. One is to make a five year commitment and be in active service part of those years and learn in yeshiva for the rest. Another is to make a three year commitment and work behind the scenes in intelligence, translations, office work, and the like. A third is to be a full combat soldier. Although Gershon respected learning he knew it would be hard for him to sit in yeshiva for so many years. He felt the best way to give his all to the Jewish people and his country was the third choice.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the Merit of Hospitality: Another Love Story (names and details have been changed to protect privacy)

Suri was barely six months old when the doctors told her parents, Batya and Gil, that she needed surgery if she was going to make it to her first birthday. After consulting with medical experts the difficult decision was made. They would leave Israel and take their baby to The Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. There was so much to do: arrange visas and flight reservations, receive funding from the health system, organize work leaves and accommodations in Milwaukee, and pack for, hopefully, just a month stay. Once the surgery was behind them Batya and Gil were certain they had made the right decision. What a blessing it was to see Suri smiling and healthy. They were even able to take the last week, while waiting for the final check-up, to do some sightseeing and buy souvenirs. 

So a year later when Gil was standing in line at the crowded supermarket one Friday morning he was wearing his Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous T-shirt.

“Excuse me,” a man’s voice behind him asked in English. “Are you from Milwaukee?”

Monday, August 4, 2014

An Early Morning Phone Call

It was 3:35 in the morning when I heard the ringing. As I pulled myself out of the deep sleep I had finally managed to achieve and dashed to the phone my main emotion was aggravation. I didn’t think that it might be my daughter, sleeping in the hospital next to her husband who had been wounded on the Gaza front two days earlier. Nor did I imagine it might be my son who is serving in the south, too. Also another son and his family who live in the line of rocket fire were not on my mind. I was certain I would discover an American relative who was confused about the time difference on the line, but I was wrong.  

“Sorry for bothering you.” I heard a strange man speaking Hebrew. I was disoriented, without my glasses, and found it difficult to focus on what he was saying but one word stuck out. The word for security and insurance are very similar in Hebrew and I was certain he said security.

“Are you, are you calling from the army?” I think my voice quavered as I spoke.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sending My Son Off to War

He was called up on the first day of Protective Edge but at that time he was seriously ill with mono. The doctors told him not to go, the officers told him not to go, and family members told him not to go. I told him he wasn’t a slacker, rather he was sick but he felt guilty not being with his unit. Day after day he felt better and better until there was no holding him back. His wife and children gave him their blessings to don his uniform. So two weeks after the beginning of the war he came to Shilo to say goodbye.   

Signaling to make a right turn onto the highway at the Shilo junction, I saw his car turn left from the highway to the Shilo access road. I was caught unawares since I hadn’t expected him so early. There was too much traffic for me to make a U-turn. I had noticed a police car on the shoulder of the road several hundred meters behind me so decided it wouldn’t be prudent to put my car in reverse. Impatient with my indecision the driver behind me laid on his horn. I waved him around me and he took off. 
Wavering, I saw that my son had parked his car on the opposite side of the road. Hesitating no longer, I punched the emergency light, put on the hand brakes, turned off the motor, and jumped out of the car. I ran to my son. He ran to me. We met in the middle of the road right in front of the policeman. I grabbed him in a bear hug and he grabbed me. He thought I was crying but I was laughing. I wouldn’t send him off to war with tears. Those came later.   

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Battered Wife Syndrome

On the first day of Protective Edge I found myself travelling north past Beit Shean, past the Kinneret, even past Katzrin. Almost to the Syrian border we stopped our car and parked at the side of the road. We were just a drop late for our son-in-law’s army ceremony. In the course of the twenty-eight years I have lived in Israel I have been to a number of army ceremonies. They all seem to have several factors in common. They are boring, usually hot, and the family members attending always bring goodies for their loved ones. Despite all this I know it’s important to attend them. The soldiers need all the moral support they can get. On that Wednesday afternoon, the first day of war, I couldn’t think of anything I would have rather been doing and I was rewarded for my efforts. My son-in-law was presented with an excellent soldier certificate.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Are You Okay?

It’s been a hard question to answer lately. Although I truly appreciate the caring phone calls and emails I find it hard to respond. Normally an optimistic and positive person, I am very uncomfortable admitting that life is not so great right now in Israel. For the last month tension has become the norm.  Yet, along with the anxiety and stress we are turning together more and more to HaShem and that gives me hope. I pray that our unity continues.

Last week, on the second day of the current war, I attended a brit milah in the holy city of Safed. With its ancient synagogues, winding alleys, colorful artist’s colony, and vibrant population Safed is a most special place. The hesder yeshiva where the brit was held is a most unique place inside this special city. Under the leadership of Rav Ayal boys from all over Israel commit themselves to the army for five years. Part of those years they are obligated to learn in the yeshiva and be prepared to be called into service at a moment’s notice. Part of the years is spent in active duty. At the time of the brit a number of the young men had been called up to war and were missing from the yeshiva.