Sunday morning in Israel. It started, again, with my dropping Elie off at the Central Bus Station in Israel. Once again, I was one of a line of cars, each pulling to the side. Parents get out as their sons open the trunks of the cars and load their backpacks and guns on their shoulders. A hug, a precious hug and they walk off into the large building.
For me, it’s back to the busy work week with appointments juggled with children out of school, bills to be paid, meetings, classes, two weddings and a bar mitzvah. The children may be free from school, but I am anything but free from work and this coming week promises to be one of my busiest in a long while. For me, that makes this past weekend even more special.
It started with my planning to drive up into the Golan Heights on Friday morning to get Elie. A last minute delay in training meant that he would only be released late Thursday or early Friday. I woke at 4:25 a.m., even before my alarm went off. I had put a bottle of Elie’s favorite drink (ice tea) in the freezer. I grabbed that and some brownies and headed out. I left the city (Maale Adumim) and drove towards the Dead Sea. Dawn was just breaking; all was quiet. Does it get better than this, I thought to myself.
I took the turn-off to the Jordan Valley, leaving the mountains of Jerusalem and the plains of the Dead Sea behind me. I saw a fox cross the road (I think it was a fox) and fog to my right hovering over the land. No, this is one of those moments you cherish.
The sun was just breaking through the clouds over the Golan Heights a little over an hour later, as I approached. We had agreed that Elie would call me when he woke up and there was such wonder in knowing he was safe and asleep. He called a few minutes after 6:00.
“Hi Ima, where are you?”
“Right next to the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee].” (Which means I was already 2/3 of the way there.)
“Wow, what time did you leave?”
“4:30,” I told him. I can see sort of where your base is. The base was not, of course, on the map, but Elie had told me what major intersections and roads to take and I agreed to call him when I got to the closest point that was identifiable on the map. From there, he would guide me.
I was about to pass a gas station, when I decided to pull in and make a pit stop. I bought Elie a bottle of chocolate milk, a national institution here and was back on the road in minutes.
Thirty minutes later, I called Elie and he guided me towards his base, promising to make his way to the front. The land was so beautiful, stretched out before me. Syria participated in the attack against Israel in 1956 and again increased their belligerence in 1967. In a preemptive attack, Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967; Israel knew that to surrender the heights for anything less than full peace would be insane.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked with little warning, on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Only when Israel proved that it could shell Damascus, was a ceasefire quickly arranged. Many lives were lost, but the Golan remained in Israeli hands. To travel up to the Golan is to understand the geography and topology of war. As I drove to Elie’s base, most of northern Israel lay before my eyes. In friendly hands, the Golan is a wonderland of beauty – fertile, filled with water, and standing proud over the plains of the Galilee below.
In enemy hands, the northern part of Israel would be most vulnerable. I waited for Elie to come to the front of the base and when he did come, it was with two friends who would join us for the right. One helped Elie carry his backpacks and it was clear that Elie would have had a very difficult time making it home alone.
We drove back the way I had come, down the mountains, around the sea and through the valley. The boys had long since fallen asleep, even Elie, by the time I got to the last checkpoint before entering the Jordan Valley.
A guard waved to me and I lowered the window, “Where are you going?” he asked. It’s a standard question and really, the answer doesn’t matter. What matters is the few seconds it takes you to answer. In those seconds, the guard will determine – friend or foe; safe or dangerous. Before I’d said a word, his eyes moved to the three sleeping soldiers in the car.
I could read his mind. Our soldiers wouldn’t go to sleep, if you couldn’t be trusted. “Have a safe trip. Shabbat shalom,” he said as he waved me through.
When I got home, I cooked quickly. Elie helped some. We threw in his clothes to be washed. His father and brother did the shopping. His younger brother watered plants; his sister set the table.
For the first time in…I can’t remember how long, I closed my cellular phone. I typically leave it on in some discreet location. Most people know that I don’t answer the phone on the Sabbath and so it is very rare that it will ring. At most, it will beep a message or ring once until the caller realizes it’s probably a wrong number. In an emergency, everyone knows, you call and call again. Were the phone to ring repeatedly, if someone were hurt, I would know.
Closing my phone, to me, meant that I was at peace with where everyone was. My married daughter was safe in her Jerusalem home with her husband; the rest of us were safe at home.
The sabbath passed in peace and quiet; sleep and talk. I’ll write at some point about the things Elie told me and the places he is going in the weeks to come but the most important part of the weekend was that once again, with Elie home, I was able to rest to a level that I can’t do when he isn’t home.
It was one of those wonderful moments, as when I drove through the Jordan Valley with the dawn just breaking. The truest blessings of life are not only to have and collect such moments, but to recognize them as they are happening. With that, comes true peace.