A Hope, A Prayer, and Vitamin P

In Israel, people refer to “vitamin P” as “protekzia.” What it means in simple terms is that it is all in who you know. Often this is true. Not always, but often, if you know the right people, you can get somewhere early, get a parking spot, get a special price, etc. There’s protekzia at the bank for people with larger accounts; at schools for the families of staff members. There’s protekzia for families of police officers and more.

One problem is Israeli society is that people often blur the lines between protekzia and outright wrong. That’s one reason why there was so much corruption in the Olmert government – Olmert and his ministers all thought it was coming to them when what they were doing likely crossed all lines of legality. In its ugly form, protekzia can cause harm. In it’s purest form, it can bring about good things for those who need it.As you go through life in Israel, you build connections.

The point of protekzia is actually, I believe a favorable aspect of Israeli life in that it indicates, often, the desire to help. And, of course, it is most natural to help the people you know. So someone needs something and you know someone who knows someone who can help, so why not ask? When you are new in a country, you don’t have much protekzia because you don’t know that many people. That’s one of the benefits of some organizations. For example, people who just came to Israel don’t have protekzia, but if they came with Nefesh B’Nefesh, for example (an amazing organization which helps Jews relocate to Israel when they want to), you have that organization behind you – an instant shot of vitamin P.

Chaim’s been in Israel for almost a year now. He came back last Sukkot and entered the army in March. His youngest sister came to visit, but he hasn’t seen the rest of his family in most of that time. The holiday of Sukkot is 7 days long (this year add on the Sabbath that follows it and you get to 11 days, of which, the army won’t really be functioning for training for about 7 of them. He wants to go visit his family. It’s a good time for him; a good time for them; a good time for the army.

But a new soldier has very little protekzia, a lone soldier often even less. Once before, Chaim asked me to call his commanding officer and as his “adopted” mother, I called and explained that while most soldiers don’t need to carry a phone, if Chaim can’t speak to his family at a convenient time for them, he won’t be able to speak to them at all because the one hour they wanted to give him simply didn’t mesh with his US-based families schedule.

His commanding officer was great – the solution was simple…Chaim could carry his phone and answer it when it was possible. This time, Chaim called to tell me he really needed to go back to visit his family; this was the perfect time and he wanted to go. He’d asked his commanding officer who asked his commanding officer, who would ask….and time was running away.

I tried reaching one officer – no answer. And then I spoke to Shmulik, who spoke to his commanding officer. S. was the head of the base where Shmulik and Chaim did their basic training, and has just been moved (with Shmulik as his new driver) to another position and base…onwards, upwards…and yet S. has a soft spot for lone soldiers. He understands their sacrifices in coming here and their dedication.

We called him last night. I should say Shmulik called – trying to get Chaim released this morning. What it came down to was 7 seconds. They would release Chaim so long as completed the advanced training…the final mark of which is a combined exercise that is timed. You have 10 minutes and 20 seconds. Chaim took 10 minutes and 27 seconds (including a full minute they shouldn’t have added on in the first place). What that means is either he made it in time, or missed by 7 seconds. His commanding officers were counting it as a miss and for those 7 seconds were requiring him to repeat it.

The repeat was to be done Wednesday morning. The holiday begins Wednesday night – no time to get off base, fly half way across the world. For 7 seconds, Chaim would miss this opportunity to be with his family, his sisters and brother, his beautiful little nieces, his grandparents. 7 seconds.

S. asked why we had waited so long. If we’d asked last week, it would have been easy…but we were asking for him to miraculously turn the army around…from 8:00 at night to 6:00 the next morning. Chaim left with his unit on an all-night exercise; I began to wonder if protekzia could win…or not.

At close to 11:00 p.m., S. sent Shmulik a note – Chaim can leave on Tuesday morning. Not good enough, I told Shmulik – he needs to leave tomorrow morning. That delay seemed almost as cruel to me as the 7 seconds. I could feel across the ocean a mother’s desperation…which was silly because Chaim’s mother couldn’t know what was happening at that moment and how close we were. “Write him back,” I told Shmulik, and he did. It was the best they could do.

I started trying to call Chaim – I sent him a message. A while later he called. He was ecstatic. His commanding officer could handle the last 24 hour problem. He told Chaim in the morning when they finished the all night exercise, he could shower, pack his bags, sign some forms and be off. “Hopefully on the morning bus,” Chaim told me.

I was trying to calculate if I could drive him to the airport. “Don’t you dare,” Chaim said and I could hear the smile in his voice. His plane leaves at 4:00 a.m. and I have to be up north at a client the following morning. He’s right…I don’t think I could do it, but I am so happy for him. I’m waiting for the call that tells me he’s off base and on his way to Jerusalem; there to pack and catch a late night cab to the airport; there to fly home…well, not home…I’ve been resisting writing home until now and there it slipped through. I’ll leave it though because Chaim is blessed – more blessed, perhaps than most, in that he has two homes. The home of his family and the home of this country.

Aliza is disappointed that Chaim won’t be with us for the holiday – I am thrilled. I’m so glad Shmulik was able to get to S.; that S. was able to pull this off. I’m so glad Chaim will fly home for a few days and then fly home again.

A hope, a prayer, some vitamin P and a lone soldier gets a week with his family.

For all the times Israelis refer to vitamin P in a negative way, this time it worked.

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