Both Yaakov and Chaim have served in the Israeli army. They did so as volunteers, though both served in combat units and did all that their fellow soldiers did. They both came to learn in Israel before deciding to enlist in the army.
They were what we call in Israel – lone soldiers. They come from far, leaving their families behind. They learn a new language, push themselves as hard or harder than the native-born Israeli kids and on weekends, when the Israelis go home to loving families, too many of them go back to apartments where they live alone, or in groups. Yaakov and Chaim are both incredibly outgoing guys who have tons of friends…and yet somehow became part of our family as well.
At one point during Chaim’s service, his commanding officer called me and asked if I was Chaim’s mother. Filled with absolute terror, I lied without shame, “yes,” I answered, desperate to hear that he was not hurt…and spent hours feeling guilty – as if I had insulted his mother by daring to claim that role. While everyone else laughed at me, I couldn’t shake this horrible feeling that I had done something wrong and my only justification was a desperate need to know that he was okay and not waste time explaining that no, I’m not really his mother.
Going back to the beginning, Elie met Yaakov during his per-army learning days. They have a common interest in many things and took to each other immediately. One day, Elie brought Yaakov home and we fell in love. Yaakov’s a kick. I don’t know how to explain him any other way. He’s just so special – very bright, very handsome, very charismatic. He fit right into the family, teased and defended Elie’s younger brother, was so gentle with Elie’s baby sister. Without hesitation, he claimed his place solidly in the line according to age…constantly battling with Elie for the slot of “elder” brother.
After finishing his service, Yaakov returned to Shoshana in the US. They married but we couldn’t get there to celebrate with them. When they came to visit, they showed me their wedding video. There was this special moment in there that went straight to my heart. I’m not sure if Yaakov knows how touching, how special it was when he spoke of his future wife before the ceremony. It seemed like he didn’t understand the question, “Shoshana has always been my wife,” he said. They have two beautiful daughters. Yaakov is, to a large extent, counting the days until he can come “home” to Israel. He would probably even wonder why I put those quotes around the word home. Israel will be his home and in many ways, already is.
Last year, Yaakov was trying to find a way to visit for Shmulik’s wedding, but it didn’t work out. At one point, I wondered if Aliza remembered him. It had been a few years since she’d seen him for any period of time; she was only 7 or 8 when Yaakov was here. “Of course I remember him,” she said to me in the wonderful tone of a child who thinks the adult is insane, “he’s my brother.”
Five years ago, Yaakov brought his brother, Chaim, to us and again, it was almost love at first sight. If Yaakov is our son, we told Chaim, and you are his brother – you are ours too! Chaim went back to visit his family in the States last Spring and came back to Israel to begin his studies in October. Today he called me – he has just been told that his Israeli identification card is ready. He is officially a citizen of Israel. He’s home.
“Tell me mazel tov,” he said on the phone.
“Why…you got it?” I asked as my brain cleared and I realized what he was talking about. He hasn’t picked it up yet, but it’s done and waiting for him. I hope his real parents are smiling and happy. I hope they know how much we love Chaim – and Yaakov – and how much we value their allowing us to love their sons.
Chaim is as much a brother to my children as Yaakov. When Shmulik was getting married, he told his rabbi that he wanted Chaim to stand in as one of two witnesses. The rabbi asked, “Who is this Chaim?” and Shmulik explained.
A witness is a very special and serious role in the wedding. Witnesses cannot be related to the bride or the groom, or even to each other. “No,” said the rabbi to Shmulik, “he is too close to your family.” Elie is already planning to ask his rabbi (different from Shmulik’s) to see if he will allow Chaim to be a witness at their ceremony – either way, his place in and at the wedding is a definite!
So today, on a brisk, sunny winter morning in Israel, one of our soldiers has come home. It’s silly to think this way – he’s been in the country for months. Elie and I drove to the airport in the early morning hours to get him, to see him, to hug him, to welcome him back to Israel after months in the US. He’s been “home” for months and yet today, his journey really begins. Today, Chaim is home.
His older sister is planning to move to Israel this coming summer; his younger sister will be learning here next year. Deep in my heart, I hope the rest of their family will come here too – and I wait for Yaakov and Shoshana and their baby girls to come home as well.
Mazel tov, Chaim – with all the love and thanks from our family and all Israel. You make us so proud!