Tomorrow begins the Fast of the 9th Day of Av. It is a day of tragedy and sadness for the Jewish people. A day in which we mourn the loss of so much and so many over hundreds of years, even thousands. It is a day that we mourn a change that took place in our status almost two thousand years ago, a change that was only rectified 60 years ago.
In the year 70, the Holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish people were sent into exile. Only in 1948, almost 60 years ago, was the Jewish state finally re-established and Jews able to return. And in the last 59 years, through many wars and waves of immigration, great technological inventions and discoveries, Israel has developed, matured, changed. And still we remember each year, the destruction that helped shape, even today, the path on which we walk.
We will begin the fast with a family meal together. We are lucky to have Elie home with us. At this moment, he is out shopping for the food we will cook. Elie loves to drive – one of the reasons he was so happy he was picked to learn to drive the armored vehicle of his unit. He proudly showed me his new license and explained how the vehicle was driven, how fast it could go during the day and at night. Elie is a better shopper than I am, more like his father in his ability to quickly figure out the best deals.
Today, he went and got his phone fixed. When the service agent returned the repaired phone, Elie gave her a hard time because they had switched the panel for the wrong type, obscuring part of the phone’s screen. What annoyed Elie right away was the agent’s insisting that Elie was wrong; that the panel was an original one. When Elie took apart his brother’s phone to prove his point, the agent then explained that they had no others in stock and that he could come next week to pick up a new one.
Elie explained that next week he would be back in the army. The agent’s attempts to find ways for Elie to solve the phone company’s lack of inventory left him with little patience. Trying to diffuse the situation and explain why the agent was wrong, I asked, “Do you want him to get up at 4:00 a.m. on his way back to base, instead of 5:00 a.m.? Is that reasonable?” The agent was unmoved and Elie explained again that he was entitled to the proper panel.
In the end, the company agreed to mail us a new panel within the next few days. It was not really a big deal, except that I got to watch Elie and realize that he no longer needs his mother to fight his battles for him. It was a humbling moment for me…and a good one. This is the moment we wait for, the time we realize that the tables have turned somewhat. He was calm and rational and strong in his position. No, he is not responsible for their putting the wrong panel on the phone…and they would find a solution.
On the way home, the car overheated, as it is wont to do (no, I don’t recommend buying a Citroen Xsara). Once again, Elie took charge. He put on the yellow vest required for all emergency stops, and checked the engine.
It’s time for the parent to step back and let the boy be a man, I thought to myself…and anyway, what do I really know about engines? Elie and his father have worked to change the brakes, the oil and filters, and all manner of other parts on our cars for years. So I sat behind the wheel and watched. I started the engine when he told me to, opened the hood, turned on and off the air-conditioner.
This is how Elie has changed in four months – not so much changed, as developed. He has unleashed the man that was evolving inside and I find that I like the man very much. I’m not sure if I knew that I would or not, but I’m still quite amazed by how fast it all came about.
And there are other changes in the family. Elie’s little sister has changed just a little. She clings more to Elie when he is home. She enjoys more being the “baby” sister. She also has a hard time adjusting to things – she’s gone through many changes and doesn’t seem to like all of them. Her sister got married. While she loves her new brother-in-law, she doesn’t like the fact that her sister lives there with him and not here with us. Her oldest brother went off to the army and now she sees him only twice a month, at most. These are two of the people that gave her the most attention in the world.
Our middle son has changed. Suddenly, he is the oldest child. He helps more when no one is around and struggles to have all the rights and rules we apply to Elie. Never mind that he is 2 years younger, that he is still in high school. His world, too, has changed. He talks to Elie about cars and guns in rapid-fire Hebrew that I can’t always understand. Elie answers all his questions and tells him about army life, rules, and customs. This is what Elie didn’t have when he went in, someone to prepare him; someone to tell him what it was really like on the inside.
Our youngest son is struggling not to change. He was very comfortable being the youngest son, but at 11, he knows he is on the brink of so much more. Life is rushing at him. Soon enough, he will begin preparing for his bar mitzvah. He too wants to have more freedom to be seen as one of the bigger kids in the family. But he wants to accomplish this from the safety of being one of the little ones.
And I have changed too in these past four months. I have always been a news-freak, needing to know what is happening at every given moment. I have always said that with knowledge came a sense of calm, but that is no longer true. I worry less about today and more about tomorrow. I see Elie in every soldier I pass, every soldier I give a ride to…and worse, every soldier I leave behind because my car is full.
In America, I lived in fear. Fear of walking at night; fear of someone taking my children; fear that I or someone I love would become a victim of crime. I moved to Israel and found peace. That sounds so strange to most people living outside Israel, but it is the truth. The crime rate is extremely low here and where there is fear to walk at night, there is fear in the daylight as well. My children are free here to play outside, to live in a world where adults watch over them, even if the children aren’t their own. I have lived this way for close to 15 years now, since we moved here when Elie had just turned 6 years old.
And now, I live again with fear. It is not a rational fear, just a slow burning terror deep inside that something might happen to Elie. That war will come and he’ll be sent to fight. That there will be some careless accident. That he’ll go too close to a border and be kidnapped. Each fear builds to another and settles deep inside of me. I have always believed in fate and destiny. There are ways that we can shape our fate, and perhaps even change our destiny. This might involve hard work or prayer. It might involve compromising or taking an even harder line. All things are possible, I have taught my children, and therein lies the wonders of life. But I don’t like all possibilities; they haunt me at night and so I rationalize and tell myself things that are obvious to all.
Relatively, as an artillery soldier, Elie is safer than many. This is something I know because many Israelis, hearing that Elie is in artillery, have offered me this comfort. He would be miles from the action, lobbing artillery shells where the other units need them sent. Safe, back in our territory or close enough to it to keep a buffer of security. That is what the head of the mother says, but the mother’s heart doesn’t hear. Last summer there were katyusha rockets sent raining down on Haifa and all points north. In another war, Elie would be even closer. Elie has a special job that keeps him in an armored vehicle behind the cannons that fire many kilometers away from the front lines. Again the heart is not convinced. No, Elie explains patiently, his vehicle would not survive a direct hit by a katyusha rocket, but he would be protected from one that exploded in the vicinity because the shrapnel would be like bullets, and the vehicle is bullet-proof. This too is another sign of Elie’s maturity.
My fears are not always rational and yet Elie deals with them patiently. He doesn’t tell me that I am stupid; he tells me what would happen if my fears came true…and in so doing, assures me that the army does all in its power to protect him. War has no assurances, no promises of safety. Never has the word or thought been more terrifying and yet Elie is being prepared; taught the rules and requirements to go in and get the job done correctly because all that we have built as a nation depends on it. Israel was founded 59 years ago on a dream and a promise, and though Elie has changed, though our family continues to change, that dream has not.
Perhaps change, then, is the wrong word. We as a nation have developed and our family continues to develop as well. Before Elie went to the army, we could just glimpse the man inside the boy and now…now we can just glimpse the boy inside the man.
The boy in Elie grinned at me on Friday when he grabbed a forkful of spaghetti straight from the pot instead of putting it first on a plate. The boy was there waiting for my reaction when Elie took a big bottle of water out of the refrigerator and drank directly from it, knowing he should take a glass.
With God’s help and blessing, may we have a long, long, healthy and safe journey ahead of us, this boy and man that is my son, Elie and may this be the last year we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and may this summer be the last we fear war.