Good. Really, really good. I spoke to him twice. The first time for only a few minutes before he was called away, telling me he’d call me back. If I had no other conversation with him today, it would have been enough. He sounded strong, alert, just fine. So different than yesterday – amazing what sleep can do. My heart settled after that first call. I hoped he would call me back, but I knew that even if he didn’t, I’d gotten enough contact to handle another day, maybe even two.
A while later, he called back. I told him he sounded better, that I’d been worried. They have worked out a schedule that allows them more rest – ready for a longer battle, if need be. The first days were the hardest because they had so much to learn, so much to do.
As I often do, I had just tried his number on a whim, hoping against hope that he’d answer. After the second ring, I thought – wait, it’s not supposed to ring. It should have gone straight to his voice mail as it usually does. He answered after the third ring.
He told me about taking showers outdoors (quickly), and sleeping with his coat on. He’s a lucky one, he said – he still has clean socks left. Most of the other boys don’t. “Worst comes to worse,” he told me, “I’ll just wash some.”
“Are you warm? Do you need anything?” I asked him.
“Some of the guys really need socks. Bank HaPoalim came and donated a pair of socks and scarves for everyone.” But there was more, “four guys came down with a car full of mamtakim“ [sweets – potato chips and peanut snacks and wafers and everything imaginable].
“We need socks…and maybe thermal pants. The army arranged for us to get mail. I’ll SMS you with the information.”
“Will I be able to send you brownies?” I asked. Yes, I can send him whatever I want (though it sounds like they have tons of snacks).
I told him that I was saving pictures people had sent me or that I’d found on the Internet for him to see. And then he told me, “one of the guys got an amazing picture. He’s going to give it to all of us.”
We didn’t talk about the soldiers who were killed today. We didn’t talk about the mortar that landed in Israel and wounded several soldiers. We did talk about the humanitarian ceasefire that Israel again called today for three hours so that Palestinians could again go out and purchase food and supplies. And while we ceased firing, the Palestinians did not. Several rockets landed in Israel, injuring and damaging.
“We’re doing it to show the world,” Elie explained, “so they see that we aren’t fighting the people.”
We talked about the rising number of civilian casualties in Gaza, and about the UN school that was hit, “what did they want us to do? They were firing mortars from there? Why didn’t the UN stop them?”
Well, I can’t explain that to my son because I don’t have any answers myself.
Tomorrow is Friday. I didn’t ask Elie if he will be coming home for the Sabbath. His younger sister suddenly cried out yesterday, “I want to talk to Elie.” I didn’t know what to tell her. I tried explaining that he probably couldn’t answer, that we could try. This is the third week that Elie isn’t home, longer than almost any other time he’s been away but by far, the worst part is not knowing when he will be home. And so we ignore that issue and focus on the smaller goals – a conversation is a gift, enough contact to hold me for another day.
“Try to call me before Shabbat,” I said, knowing that it probably wouldn’t be in his control and it probably wasn’t fair to put this on him. So, I’ll focus on today, on now. He sounded so good, strong, morale is high despite the field conditions.
“Breakfast is a bag of chocolate milk and a roll,” he told me. That’s breakfast?
“For lunch, we get catering.” Note that I wrote “catering” in italics? That’s because it isn’t an English word; it’s Hebrew. Sure, it seems to be English…but trust me, it’s Hebrew. It means…a hot meal brought to the field that’s a world above field rations.
“Dinner is those sandwiches wrapped in plastic bags, you know which ones I mean?” Elie said. Yeah, I know…that’s dinner?
But what comes out of today’s conversation is so much more than I expected. I finally remembered to ask him questions. He’s showering outside – trying to do it during the day so that they can get dressed fast and not be too cold; they are eating food, and even not bad food; he’s warm.
We talked about the pressure coming to bear on Israel to agree to a ceasefire. Today, apparently a new draft was offered to Israel – this one actually required the Palestinians to stop firing too. The first one, saying we had to agree to stop firing but the Palestinians didn’t have to stop, apparently wasn’t well received by our government (and for that great move, I wish to withdraw one of the few thousand times I called the government stupid).
There were so many more things I wanted to tell him, so much more we could have discussed but time was short and so I left him with the most important message of all – that we love him and that he should be safe.
After I closed the phone, I sat in the car for a few minutes. Beyond all the details he told me, the two simplest ones, the two most important ones were that he’s getting rest and that he sounded…he sounded good.