Do you read the last page of a book before you finish the rest? Does it spoil the surprise? Take away the suspense? The end of the story is that Elie came home safely from a war forced upon Israel by a terrorist organization duly elected by the people of Gaza. In the months and weeks before Israel went into Gaza in December, 2008, hundreds of rockets were being fired at Israel. Sometimes, they hit homes, schools, malls – people…babies, young children, mothers. When an Arab argues with you, he will ask you how many people have been killed by these rockets. It is their standard line – that and calling them “home-made” as if they are cookies or pretty little drawings by children.
If I steal your car for a day, but return it at night – is that okay…because, after all, I returned it? If I throw rocks at your home in the middle of the night and you wake in terror and your baby starts to cry…but I missed the window – is that okay…because, after all, I didn’t actually damage the building? These are easy questions, aren’t they? I have no right to take your car; no right to throw rocks at your home. Why then do the Palestinians have the right to shoot artillery at our cities – because that is what these missiles are – artillery.
So, after a month were 60 rockets were fired in a single day, hundreds over a period of a few weeks…Israel did what any normal nation would do. We went to war. My son went to war. It was a strange time. Living near Jerusalem – our lives were “normal.” The sun was shining in the morning; the traffic was a bit heavier than “normal.” Stop, I wanted to scream at people…just stop walking in the streets, eating in the restaurants, talking to that person on the bus. Stop! Elie is there, don’t you understand? A million people are under fire. Stop!
But the world didn’t stop, the bus kept driving, the next person stepped forward to order food. And all the time, I watched the calender. My youngest son’s bar mitzvah was coming and I wanted Elie home. Almost to the last minute, we didn’t know if he would make it.
Two days before the bar mitzvah at the Western Wall, I began to believe Elie would make it home for at least part of the celebration. One day….I wrote, and today is good. Here’s the post from that day – three years ago. I’ve used the same title – because it is, I believe, a way of life – take today, just today, and make it a good one.
One Day…and Today is Good – January 19, 2009
I spoke to Elie on Sunday and asked him if he would be able to come to his brother’s “aliyah to the Torah” on Thursday at the Western Wall. We will gather, our friends and family, and watch David recite the blessing over the Torah, and read its wise words. When Davidi finishes, we will throw candies, wishing him only sweet things in life.
His friends will be there; it will be the first of many special moments that we will celebrate over the next few days. We celebrate the moment in his life when all things change; when he stands on his own. We, his parents, will now stand beside him and behind him; no longer in front of him, in the heavenly courts.
What he does, is his responsibility. It is the first step he takes on the road to becoming the man he will be. Till now, what he failed to do was my fault, as his mother; our fault, as his parents. Soon, it will be his choices that matter; his decisions and actions that determine his future.
We will gather no matter what, though the question that has hung over us as a family for the last few weeks is who is “we”? Will Elie be there? Elie was the first of my sons to experience this moment; to teach me what it means to have a son cross the threshold to manhood. Friends have told me that I have to be prepared, in case he can’t be there. I have to practice laughing and smiling on the outside, while I cry inside. I want to scream that I can’t; even as I know that I will.
David deserves his celebration, no matter what it costs us all emotionally. It is part of what we do as Israelis and Jews. We choose life and the celebration of this important moment in my son’s life demands that there be no tears, at least none like the ones I have shed in the last month.
Last week, when we talked about it, Elie said he didn’t know if he could get out of the army. Yesterday, Elie told me he would only know in a few days. He didn’t want to ask, as there was no way there would be an answer.
I took David shopping yesterday, wondering if Elie would be there. Should I buy Elie a new shirt or would that jinx the chances of his coming. Silly to think that way. It’s the situation in the country and the war zone that will determine whether Elie will be there. I didn’t buy him a new shirt. I couldn’t.
So many times I have imagined our family meeting at the Western Wall. So many of my friends are coming, already telling me that they are giving us their love and support. I want Elie there. Could I stand it if he wasn’t? How could I smile and be happy if my heart is breaking inside at the thought of his missing this moment with his family?
When they started giving some of the boys in his unit short leaves to go home and see their families, it was Elie’s idea to offer to stay, with the hope that he could claim his “leave” to coincide with his brother’s bar mitzvah. My older daughter suggested I tell Elie to do this. “How can I tell him to stay in a war zone?” I asked her. I can’t.
If he can come home safely now, even at the cost of missing the bar mitzvah, I’ll take what I can. Saturday night they declared a ceasefire – at least a unilateral one. We would cease firing. Hamas fired a dozen more rockets into Israel. Then, yesterday afternoon, Hamas and other groups declared they would agree to withhold firing for 7 days. What does this mean for our people living down there? For children who have missed so much school, for businesses who have lost so much money…and for Elie, who hasn’t been home in so many weeks.
The clock is ticking down. I have so many things to do for this celebration and at any moment, I am overwhelmed with the simple task of just realizing that, for now, this war is over. Hamas has already announced that they are rearming. This is a temporary lull, as there have been so many others. But for children starved for sunshine in Sderot andAshkelon, for mothers who want to hang their laundry outside and watch the children play, it is enough. They will worry about tomorrow or the next day later.
For now, they are very much like children first testing the vast ocean water at a beach. Slowly, they’ll put a foot out the door and they’ll listen for the sirens. So far today, it is holding. No rockets have fallen; no one has entered a bomb shelter in fear. Schools and universities are opening and Israel is, once again, sending humanitarian and medical aide to Gaza.
Today is Monday. Elie called to tell me that they have given him permission to take any 24 hours he wants. He’ll come home Wednesday and join us on Thursday morning before heading back to the “war zone”. We do not yet know if he can come for the weekend celebration. But today I know that he will probably be there on Thursday; that I’ll probably see him in just two days.
I want to sit and talk with him for hours, but I don’t know if we will have the chance. I have to share him with the others; his aunt who has arrived from America to visit with him and his extended family here in Israel. His little sister, who needs to talk to him and see that he is fine. She’ll probably tell him all about the frightening siren she heard; so innocently unaware of all that he has experienced. What is a false siren compared to huge explosions and repeated rocket attacks? Nothing…and everything, for a child. That’s the way it is with children. She will never think to ask him what it was like to experience war, if he was afraid. She won’t ask him about where he slept or showered or what food he had to eat.
She will not think of Gazan resident Ali Hassan, who was quoted today as saying, “Once we have a missile that can reach the heart of Tel Aviv and blow up a building, maybe they [Hamas] can resume fire.” She will not know, at least not now, that Hamas is re-arming itself and another round will come again.
All she will know is that Elie is home to join us, as she believes it is our right, for our family celebration. She will take it as a given.
A few days ago, when my son asked if his brother would be home and I answered that there was a possibility that he would not, my youngest daughter told me that I should “tell them” about the bar mitzvah. He is her brother and at her age, she still knows best to focus on her needs. There are moments when she’ll see I’m upset and come give me a hug. She too is going through a transition, a stage where the “me” slowly begins turning into the “we,” but she isn’t really there yet.
Tonight, when I go home from work, I will tell her that Elie will be coming home in just two days. She won’t think of the soldiers who won’t ever return home, and I am selfish enough to want her to stay young and unaware as long as she can.
So far, we know that Elie will join us for at least part of our family celebration. It is not enough, just enough, and more than enough.