My brother is visiting from the States. He very much wanted to see Elie and Elie very much wanted to see him. But the army has other plans. This weekend, when my brother is available, Elie is required to stay on base in order to take part in the last, most difficult night navigation testing. He’s so close to finishing the course; he can’t miss this experience and training.
Next weekend, when it looks like Elie will be home, my brother will be with his tour group. We talked about possible alternatives. I could drive Elie back right after the Sabbath ends Saturday night, I suggested. Elie spoke to his commanding officer and called me back.
It won’t work, Elie explained. The army is one of Israel’s greatest “equalizers.” Not all families in Israel have cars; not all mothers can drive their sons back to base on a whim (or even for an important reason). So, Elie’s commanding officer told him, if you can’t get back here by bus in time, you can’t go. There are no buses at that time, and even if there were, there is no way Elie could reach the base in time.
What about our driving down early Friday morning and seeing you then, I asked Elie. He was holding out for something more and finally, the commanding officer told him – there’s a bus leaving in 20 minutes – go on it and come back tomorrow afternoon. This was even better for Elie and so he called me as he ran back to his room, dumped clothes in his backpack and prepared to leave.
“What should I do with my gun?” he quickly asked the commanding officer. It went back to the commanding officer, to be locked away until Elie’s return. As he raced for the bus, I drove to pick up my brother – and from there, through one of the worst winter storms we have had this year, we drove south. (A note here – Israel doesn’t get a lot of winter storms, so saying this is the worst isn’t nearly as dramatic as it sounds).
The problem with Israel’s storms, is that Israeli drivers don’t respect them enough and so we saw many many accidents along the way and ended up getting stuck for over an hour waiting while the police cleared another.
Finally, we made it to the large mall in Beersheva and met up with Elie. We sat and talked a bit and then drove my brother back to my parent’s home – 3 hours to reach Beersheva, another 2 back.
As I drove, my brother and my son spoke. My brother is in the US Navy Reserves and understands all too well that there are things Elie can’t tell him, just as there are things he can’t tell Elie. It was interesting to hear them speak of guns and weapons, training and exercise, and then they began to speak of the most basic difference between American soldiers and Israeli soldiers.
Officers in the US armed forces aren’t given M16s, my brother explained, but rather pistols. They are not expected to lead the charge into battle, but rather to orchestrate it from the rear.
“That’s the difference,” Elie said, echoing the very words I would have spoken. In Israel, the officer says to his men, “follow me.” And they do. Israeli officers and commanders are taught that you must lead…by leading, by doing what you would have others do. By showing your men that you are with them, they fight harder and are more confident.
All that Elie has learned in the last few months can be summed up simply by those words. The day may well come when Elie will turn to his men and say, “follow me” and deep in my heart, in the place where pride and fear live, I know that they will.