Perhaps the best part of Elie being home so much in the last few days was that we had some time to talk about where he’s going, what he’ll be doing. He explained where he’ll be stationed in the coming months through the next few rotations.
He recognized that this was his last Passover in the army – by next Passover he will, God willing, have been discharged to begin whatever he plans and dreams for his future. Barring a war, Elie will face about six months of patrolling and guarding in an area that separates two large population masses – one Jewish/Israeli, and one Palestinian. Last week, explosives were found there and an Israeli car was stoned, its occupants lightly wounded.
On Thursday, a huge weapons cache was found – so large, the Palestinian police couldn’t destroy it themselves and turned to Israel’s army to assist them.
Israeli Defense Forces sappers have arrived at the West Bank city of Qalqilya in order to perform a control detonation of the ammunition dump found in the city earlier Thursday. All of the city’s entrances and exits have been closed off pending further notice. — Ynetnews.
What was most interesting in our discussions was that Elie has risen, over the last two years, to be among the most senior of the soldiers in his unit. Two new officers have joined the unit, but Elie has more experience in the field and in the locations where they are to be stationed. He knows the base where they will be better than these new officers do and so last week, Elie and another senior officer took the new officers on a tour to explain the strategic considerations of the area they will soon guard.
The new officers recognize and respect Elie’s seniority – and this too is something special about the Israeli army. What makes you a good soldier is the experience you have gained, even more than the rank. So Elie is now respected and treated well in his unit, recognized as someone who has experience at the checkpoints, experience with the equipment and the order required to see the unit runs efficiently.
He’s been promoted to First Sergeant, though the ceremony has not yet taken place. Apparently, this is an internal ceremony celebrating the discharge of some soldiers and the promotion of others. Elie has promised me a picture of their pinning on the new rank.
What all this means to me as a mother, is that we are in the home stretch and, boy, does that sound like a scary thing to write. I almost want to delete it, but it wouldn’t be honest. We have come such a long way, changed so much, my son and I.
We survived the first few months, the sudden reality of basic training that teaches a boy to value time and listen to the commands of others. We have overcome the advanced training, when the young man is taught the theory of war. This is when the power of the weapons they are taught to fire becomes real and this is when the army brought us, the families, to feel the earth shake with the power of the explosives our sons have now mastered. This is when reality set in. Our sons are soldiers, part of an army. This is no game, not some cute parade.
We watched as Elie flew through the Commanders Course. This taught him something we’d suspected all along – inside the man that grew from the boy we raised, there is a leader of men. The army taught him not only to take charge of a situation, but how to do it in a way that inspires others to follow.
We survived months with Elie on the checkpoints and borders of our land and finally, we watched and worried as the unimaginable became reality and Elie was sent to war. We listened when he came home and watched and worried more until we accepted, really accepted that Elie is at peace with what he and his soldiers had to do, what they did, and what they would do again.
Elie feels at peace with the Gaza War, because he accepts that there was no option, to other way the war could have been fought and that it did accomplish something. Not all we hoped for – as proven by the rocket that fell two days ago as people prepared to go out and enjoy the holiday atmosphere, but still so much better than it had been before.
And finally, now, with this latest visit home, I see that Elie feels something else, or at least he is beginning, just beginning to feel the end of this phase of his service. The months are count-able. Two months doing this, another four doing that. Four months of training, another two on the front and then out.
After he finishes, there will be years when Israel will call him to serve in the Reserves, and he will go, as he went now – with dedication, with love, with determination, and with faith in the army itself.
Elie will finish…just as Shmulik goes in. I don’t know where, I don’t know exactly when. I’ll buy my second son the required socks and undershirts; I’ll count the days until he calls and comes home. I’ll take the pictures, attend the ceremonies. I’ll do all I’ve done for Elie, all over again, and yet again when my youngest son is called.
Elie feels the end of these three years coming closer; I feel my stomach tightening a bit as I think of it all beginning again, all the things I’ll have to learn, again. It will be easier the second and third time around, I tell myself, because this time there is a known, there is more trust that they will see to my second son’s needs as they saw to my first.
Somewhere during the first year Elie served, the sudden realization that I would be a soldier’s mother for far longer than Elie’s time in the army settled in. Elie feels the close coming, I am not sure what I feel, other than the hope that perhaps, perhaps, what my first and second son will likely never see during their army service, perhaps, perhaps, my third son will.
I find that I am wise enough to believe, to know deep down, that the war we just fought won’t be our last. As Elie fought, so too, I believe, will Shmulik be called to fight. The Arabs haven’t finished yet, haven’t accepted that we exist and that we will exist. And yet, my heart can’t give up the foolish hope that maybe, just maybe, by the time my third son reaches the age of 18, perhaps he won’t have to fight.
Elie doesn’t feel that way – Elie is prepared for years to come to rejoin the army each year and serve in the Reserves and so, as we begin Elie’s final year as a soldier in the standing army of Israel, I find myself prepared to remain what Elie made me two year’s ago, what Israel wills me to be, and what I made myself years ago when we decided to move here – a soldier’s mother.