3 Years Ago at War: The Significance of a Table

Still in the looking-back mode, I remember this post. It seemed so important to me…until I realized how silly it was. This past week, we were supposed to be six. Shmulik and Naama were at her parents’ house. Elie and Lauren in the States. Amira came home with her husband and beautiful baby – still too young to sit at the table. We would be six. Minutes before Shabbat began, a neighboring friend of Aliza’s called. Her parents were going away and had asked her to find a place to stay. We were it.

Within moments, we opened the table to seat 8. After Shabbat ended, we closed the table again to 6, where it will remain during the week…unless it doesn’t. I’ve gotten more philosophical about the table, but I remember staring at it wondering what would happen next week. I knew, even in those moments, that it was a week that would change our lives. I was trying to organize my youngest son’s bar mitzvah, making plans (and helping Haim, my son-in-law, organize a family video for the event). It was too much to consider Elie going to war…and yet, it was happening.

The Table (December 28, 2007)

I know this is silly and yet, since I’ve decided that I’ll try to post in this blog real things that I experience, here’s one. I have a dining room table. OK, a lot of us do, so I’ll continue. We bought our dining room table less than a year after we were married. As a young couple, we were quite amazed to have this beautiful table with six chairs. Each week, my husband sat at the head of the table and I sat next to him. It seemed too far away and silly for me to sit at the other end of the table. When we had company, sometimes I sat at the other end and sometimes I stayed by my husband and sat others around. It stayed that nice compact size for many years. We had guests here and there, but each time the guests left, the table went right back to its six-seater size.

With the birth of each child, or more specifically when they got big enough to sit at the table, I slowly moved towards the end. It was easier because that way my husband could help feed and watch some children while I dealt with the younger ones.

We moved to Israel with three children and still the table stayed small. We had a fourth child, our third son and finally after a little over a decade of marriage, we had filled the table to capacity. By this time, my husband was firmly at the head of the table; the two older children sat near him and the two younger ones sat near me. Or, if we had company, sometimes the younger ones would sit near him so that he could feed them and entertain guests. Either way, I had firmly established myself at one end of the table.

After our fifth child grew large enough to actually sit at the table, we entered a new reality – one leaf was almost a constant in the house and we now had a table that seats eight comfortably. So, for the next few years, the table would grow to 10 and shrink to 8. There was never a reason to go back to its 6-seater days – our family alone was 7 and I was most definitely at one end with my husband far away on the other side.

Then less than two years ago, my daughter got married – that put us up to 8, but with her marriage, she moved out and so we were sometimes 6 and sometimes 8. Two weeks later, Elie went into the army and so we were sometimes five, sometimes six and sometimes 7 and sometimes 8 and the weekly dance of the table begins. When we are only 5, the 8-seater table is too big and the 10-seater is simply huge.

Sometimes, most of the time, we leave the table at 8 and all sit at one end or spread out, as the mood comes. I’m often sitting next to my husband again in this smaller configuration. And each Saturday night, as we put away the Shabbat dishes and special plates and things we use, I look at the table and decide what will be the following week. If we will be four or five and sometimes even six, I might decide to fold the table to its smallest size and enjoy the intimate feel (and the extra room the rest of the week). And sometimes, if I don’t know, or I believe we will be six or seven or eight, I’ll leave the table ready for eight. It’s a silly thing – it takes only moments to change in any direction and yet, it’s almost like a preparation for the Sabbath to come, a bit of anticipation that even though the peace and quiet of the Sabbath is leaving us, already, we are thinking about the one that will come soon.

This past Shabbat, Elie was in the army, but my daughter was here. One meal we were 5; one meal we were 7. We left the table at eight and after Shabbat went to my son-in-law’s parents to have a Hanukkah party. Between the news and the time, I just left the table as it was.
This morning, as I put the final things away, I looked at the table and realized I don’t know what to do. Such a silly thing, I thought to myself. They are bombing Gaza. Schools in the area are closed. The Home Front has issued warnings. Depending on how close you live, you should be ready to enter safe areas in 15 seconds, 30 seconds or 45 seconds, and I’m looking at my table! Maybe it’s a mental breakdown, but I can’t think what next Shabbat will bring!

If Elie goes north, he was supposed to be home next weekend – so I’d probably leave the table because he likes extra space and that puts us at 6, just one guest and I’ll have to open the table again anyway. My daughter and her husband were here this weekend and probably won’t come next time – maybe fold the table. Elie said if they stay on base where they are now, even though he isn’t coming home today as planned, he probably won’t be home. We could be down to 5. If my second son is in Yeshiva, we’ll be four – a table that seats 8 would be cold and huge when we want our Sabbath meals to be intimate and warm. Whatever my reasoning, what I feel is that it’s too big a decision, too much to concentrate on. Folding it means I really think Elie won’t be home and I don’t want to deal with this now.

I’m smart enough to know that deep inside of me, the table symbolizes so much more. It’s my family – will we be together? Where will the pieces of my family be? Two rockets have hitAshkelon and two more have now landed in the Ashdod area. That’s the farthest north they’ve hit so far and brings tens of thousands more into danger.

Last week we made plans – Elie would be home. His grandparents would come visit. My son-in-law and daughter would come as well. Today I should have been opening my table to ten. I’d even thought about cooking a whole turkey. We’d all be home for lighting on the last night of Hanukkah and my son-in-law would film a clip of Elie talking about what a good kid his brother is. It’s the final clip we need to finish off the video for my youngest son’s bar mitzvah next month. At first, when we realized Elie couldn’t come home, my daughter said that it was just getting too late and maybe we’d have to close the film without Elie.

That was more than I could handle; I’m way too superstitious to deal with a family video without Elie in it. Just no way, I told my daughter, just I can’t. She understand but was concerned about the upcoming event and the video being ready on time, and so I told them I would drive to his base and film him there for a few minutes. They talked and my daughter and son-in-law said it was OK and asked if I could give my son-in-law a key to our offices so he could work late hours. I felt so bad asking him to do this, but he was wonderful and agreed.

They’d hold the film until Elie came home this coming weekend. It’s cutting it close because Haim needs time to work with the clippings, but they understood. Now Elie probably won’t be home; I’ll probably go and film him just in case he is sent up north or down south. I don’t want to risk his not being in the film so I’ll call him soon and coordinate when he’s off the checkpoint and ask if I can come down and film those few minutes.

And then I’ll try to figure out what to do with the table.

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