Dog Days of August

I’ve never really understood the concept of “dog days” in August. In our home, pretty much every day is a dog day – or at least a day in which our dogs need to be walked and fed. But August, especially in Israel, is a time when you begin to feel the heat of the summer and wonder if it will ever end. Temperature wise, I’m not sure that August is any hotter than July, but it often feels as if it were.

Elie’s job has shifted once again. He’s not the direct assistant of his commanding officer, there to be in charge, in shifts, of all the other commanders. Each commander has his team of soldiers; all commanders report to the main commander or, when he isn’t there, to Elie. He and the pluga (battalion?), have moved to a smaller base just outside a large Arab city. They stand between that city and tens of thousands of Israelis.

There are different “release” schedules for when soldiers are allowed to go home. There are regulations that say the army can’t hold a soldier for more than a specified period of time without a home visit, unless there is a war. During the Gaza War, Elie didn’t come home for more than 6 weeks. They kept talking about sending him home for a day or two, but that didn’t work out and the one day I drove down there to take some supplies to Elie’s unit, I gave a ride to a soldier who was going home for 24 hours.

He was in the Reserves and with wives and children, these men got first priority for getting released for a short period. By driving him most of the way home, he saved hours of that 24 hour break and got home sooner.

The army often changes the routine of its soldiers, changes the schedule of how often they can go home and for what period of time. They’ve done it again for Elie’s soldiers, but now that Elie is going to have to switch off with the commanding officer, he will remain on the same schedule as he had previously. He won’t be home this weekend so it will be quiet.

It’s very hot throughout Israel, during this month of August, even hotter for our soldiers who must wear protective vests at all times when on the checkpoints. I’ve been watching the summer slip away and I suddenly realized that I’ve forgotten something. Between moving houses, work, and revolving much around Elie’s schedule, I’ve forgotten to live this summer, forgotten to enjoy.

I slept an hour later this morning. I brought my two youngest children into the office. This evening, I’m going to take them out to dinner and to a movie to start the weekend off. For years, our family went away for a few days or a week. I haven’t organized that this year and the effort seems to be too much.

Elie thinks he might be able to get off a day early – maybe we’ll go camping in the north for one night. Elie likes the idea, and so do I. Last summer, the rest of us went north for several days. It was a great vacation – our daughter and son-in-law joined us, the rest of the kids were there. It was an experiment in enjoying life even though Elie wasn’t there.

We had a great time – and I learned you can do that even when you are missing someone. This time, I’m hoping we can go camping for a day or two and enjoy each being together, a last vacation before heading into yet another school year.

Elie’s youngest brother will be in 8th grade – it’s so hard to believe. Elie’s baby sister isn’t a baby anymore; she’s going into 4th grade. Already, as the summer is coming to a close, Elie and I have talked about “after the army.” It was something I couldn’t even let myself think about and yet I do.

He may want to travel to the States to visit family and see some of what is to be seen. I wonder if he does that, will I worry more or less than I worry about him now? Am I condemned to worry about my children all the time, in all places, for all the days of my life? I guess the answer is probably yes. To some extent, I do worry.

I give in to that worry once a week, each week, regularly and without fail, before I pull it back inside and keep it manageable. On Friday nights, I light the Shabbat candles. There are many beautiful customs related to lighting the candles.

One such custom is that an unmarried girl lights a single candle, not two. This I have done with my daughters since they were three years old. When they marry, as my older daughter has, they begin to light two candles, as is the custom. Some say this is for the two parts of our obligation “Zachor v’shamor” – to “remember” and to “guard” the holy day. One candle for each; a unit entwined together.

Another custom, which we also follow, is that for each child born, you add another candle and so each week, I light 7 candles; one for each of my five children, one for “zachor” and one for “shamor“.

You light the candles and then cover your eyes to say the blessing. The blessing marks the moment that you begin the Sabbath; that split second between the regular week and the holiest day. Many, myself included, take the time, with my eyes covered, to talk to God. We chat, the Lord and I and I ask for each child, a blessing, each personal, each critical.

I finish by asking God to send comfort to those who have lost a loved one. This week, I will think of IDF Sgt. Uriel Peretz Librant, who died in a training accident yesterday in the north when the tank he was commanding flipped over. His family moved here from America, as we did. Uriel joined the army and chose to become a commander, as Elie did. Uriel’s responsibilities would include his standing and guiding the tank while it is moving, as Elie’s does.

This leaves him in a dangerous position if the tank were to roll over, another common event in the rocky, uneven grounds in the Golan Heights. They practice this maneuver, quickly getting to safety. Suddenly the commander will call out, telling them the tank is flipping, and each soldier is supposed to grab hold of something. Uriel didn’t make it yesterday and was killed. I’ll think of him, of his mother, of his family on Friday night and I’ll let myself worry, let myself imagine.

And then I’ll fight the worry back into the container I keep inside. I’ll ask God to heal those who are sick. And when I open my eyes, the glory and beauty of all those candles will remind me why I love this quiet period of my life.

Tomorrow night – how the week fled by…I still have so many boxes to unpack, so many clothes to fold and put away. But tonight, I’ll take my youngest out to play because they too deserve these memories, they too have to learn to put aside worries and live…even in the dog days of August.

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