Brothers in Arms

In the early months after finding out that I was pregnant with Shmulik, the doctors suspected that because of his rapid growth, I might be carrying twins. As it turns out, there was only one, born, grown, and now entering the army. But, in some ways, it appears there was a twin after all. I’ve mentioned here that over the last few years, our family has “adopted” two boys (well, men, but never mind). The first was Yaakov, who joined our family after meeting Elie. Yaakov gave me my first introduction to the army, limited though it was.

I didn’t experience what a real parent would go through with Yaakov. First, his real mother was there, though on distant shores, and Yaakov is an independent sort. I saw how they come home hungry and exhausted; I learned about the ceremonies…I took pictures and videos, cheered when he was given his rifle and Bible, his colored beret, and finally released from training. But what he did while in the army was a blurry picture and so long as he didn’t call to say he needed something, I just went along assuming everything was okay. Occasionally, if I knew where he was I might listen to the news more or wonder and yes, perhaps even worry, but for the most part, he was in training and I was blessedly oblivious.

I knew what he was training to do…but just let myself believe he’d never have to use his training. I didn’t think about war and there were no terrifying calls in the middle of the night (thanks, Yaakov), even by accident (um…thanks Elie?).

All I had to do for Yaakov, all I could do…or all I did do…was be at home waiting when he called and said he wanted to come for a Shabbat or a holiday, invited us to a ceremony, or needed some help with some bureaucratic issue. A meal, a bed, a home because his mother’s home was far away. He came to us for Passover and we welcomed him and watched as he almost fell asleep in the soup. I listened as Elie tried to awaken him to eat something and realized how hard they are trained, how exhausted they must be. Beyond that, there was talk of guns and things among the boys, but perhaps I was in denial. Elie was Elie, so obviously, Yaakov was still Yaakov. One wore green, one didn’t. Both part of our family. 

One day, Yaakov brought his brother Chaim to us – and he became ours too. Chaim learned here in yeshiva for a while, returned back to the States to tidy his affairs, and returned a few months ago. Like Yaakov, he was a part of our lives…is a part of our lives. We took Yaakov on vacation with us; Chaim to family outings and friends. Without replacing their family, we’ve become family in some ways…or perhaps in the ways that count most.

In less than a few weeks, Shmulik will enter the Kfir division of the ground forces…and around the same time, Chaim will enter the army as well. My youngest daughter believes that Yaakov and Chaim are really her brothers, no different than her real brothers. When family plans are made, she will ask, “Will Chaim come too?” or “When is Yaakov coming home?”

Her memory of Yaakov is a bit dimmer, her feelings for Chaim after spending most of the last two years with him visiting often, much sharper. She’s had one brother go into the army…now two more enter at the same time. She is digesting this…so am I.

Within days, these two go in…and my stomach doesn’t quite know which one to dance for…which one to worry about first. I took them both shopping this Saturday night for undershirts and socks. Green…it’s coming soon. Chaim has a wonderful mother…but call me, I told him, if you need anything, and I’ll come running. I’ll call his mother – he isn’t really mine, after all, but in the meantime, I’ll bake him cookies, give him a home to come to when he can. During basic training, he has to call his parents in the evenings (try to give me a call once in a while too, I asked). I don’t want to take anything away from his family…and yet I want him to know that he is loved here too. He and Shmulik. Elie and Yaakov. They are brothers in a very real sense of the word, I believe. United by their past, their commitment to this land and our people…and yes, by parents that love them (in America and here too).

It’s strange, this concept of adoption. You never quite know how deep they will enter your heart when you open your home. I have a problem too – Chaim actually reads this blog sometimes, where Shmulik and Elie never do. I didn’t really make that connection until I’d written once before but now I know (hi, Chaim!!) and so I hesitate. Perhaps I could convince Chaim to stop reading here? I can already hear him laughing. No, he won’t stop, but I’ll confess it anyway. There’s another aspect that concerns me. Elie and Yaakov are the tough ones – though Chaim and Shmulik would argue.

I see Elie and Yaakov as the fighters, the strong and independent ones…for some reason, I worry more about Shmulik and Chaim. Oh they won’t like this, but I’m not sure Yaakov or Elie have a sensitive bone in their bodies…well, they do, of course….and I’ve seen both of them be sweet (though I might have just insulted them). But Chaim and Shmulik…they’re…just…I’m lost for words. You can still be a man and be sweet; you can still be strong and yet….

Part of it is knowing that the army is hard on them…and I’m grateful for that…but worried. The army shaped Yaakov and Elie, what will it do for Chaim and Shmulik? Physically and even emotionally, I have no doubt they will thrive, as Elie and Yaakov did…and yet…and yet…and yet.

I was so grateful that Elie finished as Shmulik starts. I know so many who have two or more in the army and I marvel. I can’t. I couldn’t. No – it’s enough to walk around each day with half a brain and half a heart, how could I possibly divide it even further? And the answer, of course, is that love is infinite. Each time you think you couldn’t possibly have more inside yourself, you find that you do. With the birth of each child, my capacity to love more deeply than I had previously imagined…grew yet more.

So, apparently, it is with worry. I thought I could not worry more than having Elie in the army and yet it is already starting. Chaim will be in Nahal Haredi – a sub-unit of the same division, Kfir, that Shmulik will be in. Artillery seems to tame by comparison and Yaakov was Givati…also ground forces, but I didn’t know, didn’t understand, didn’t think. Both will be stationed roughly in the same area for basic training. We had this past Shabbat all together and there was much talk of army. Elie was the wise one…the two about to go in listened.

It is strange to have another and another enter a door I can never pass through. I stand on the outside and watch them go and I pray for their safety. It seems Shmulik had a bit of a twin after all and it seems I’ll now experience having two in the army and wondering where they go and what they do.

This time, at least, I’ll have another with me – on distant shores, I’ll try to talk to Chaim’s mother now and then to see how she’s doing. She was a soldier’s mother before I was…and now she will be again. Maybe together we can get through this second time with less worry…and then I get two years off before the next son goes in.

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