“Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.”…Golda Meir
Having a son in the army presents you with the choice of living with fear and, by extension, tears and worry, or learning to cope and to enjoy the experience as best you can. Somewhere along the line in the last few weeks, I’ve decided that I want to be a mother who welcomes my son home with happiness, but more importantly, one who keeps the fears and worries from overwhelming him. This is a new experience for him – a growing one and so I will grow with him, share with him what he will share with me and allow him to do and go where he must.
It’s hard. I have always been one of those semi-neurotic mothers who knows where each child is, when they will be home, more or less what they are doing. Where is Elie at this moment? Does he know that I am thinking of him? He doesn’t know, and he shouldn’t know because he has his job now – and that is to be a soldier, to learn, to experience, to serve.
During Elie’s months in basic training, he will learn a tremendous amount about what it means to be a soldier, the responsibilities that carries, the dangers, and the things he can do to defend himself and get about the job of helping to defend the country. Some of the things he is learning and doing are, in their own way, humorous for those of us who have never experienced “an army.”
Hitchhiking is a national pass-time in Israel. As much as we warn our kids not to, it is often the only way to get to and from some areas within a decent period of time. It’s generally safe here and most people stop and give others a lift along the way. It’s just done. We have a friend who can get anywhere, any time – in less time (or at least the same time) as if he was actually driving there. It’s a talent he has. He gets the ride and gives the driver a pleasant, conversation-filled trip.
During last summer’s war, much of the army moved from place to place – by hitchhiking to get there. Not the army exactly, but certainly soldiers getting to and from the front. The fastest way to get there was to jump in someone’s car rather than wait for a bus. So already, less than two weeks into the army, the soldiers of Elie’s unit have been instructed not to hitchhike – and when they do, how to go about determining what is safe.
Much of it is common sense, once you put the argument together, but it might not occur to you, if someone hadn’t actually said so. For example – be careful about getting into a car where the front seat is empty, but someone is sitting in the back. There are exceptions – like a mother sitting with a baby, but if there’s no little child in the back – why is the person sitting there and not in the front? Common sense – don’t automatically get in the car.
The hidden message, of course, is that you as a soldier of Israel are a target. Be smart. Be aware. What seems ordinary may not be. Be careful.
Then there are the funny things about the army. Soldiers are required to wear uniforms, and the uniforms must be…well…uniform. Part of the uniform is the beret. The beret is a story in and of itself and I’ll post about that when I finally understand all the colors and options, but for now, as a new soldier, Elie’s beret is green. With much pomp and circumstance, Elie will be awarded a blue beret after he finishes his training. For now, he’s got this green beret that hangs between a strip of material and the uniform on his shoulder. The beret slips forward and back and so I asked him, logically, if you don’t have to whip it out and put it on your head, why not pin it down. You can pin it on the underside and no one will see it.
So Elie answered, “Combat forces don’t do that. Jobniks do.”
Jobniks are those soldiers who are not part of combat units; they do…jobs. There are many reasons why soldiers are classified as jobniks. By personal preference or because their family has lost a relative in the army in the past, they are an only son/child, or have mild health issues (requiring glasses, or a history of asthma, or whatever), many young men and women are funneled into non-combat units where they serve and serve well, providing important backup to the combat units, serving in intelligence, computer, engineering, and administrative positions.
It is one army, but there is always some friendly “competition.” Are you in the Golani or Givati brigades, are you a pilot or in the navy or in artillery. Are you a combat soldier or a jobnik. And, apparently, only “jobniks” pin their berets down. I say – good for the jobniks!
Another funny story we’ve heard – so, the uniform that is worn off-base must be perfect, the beret in place, the socks and shoes specific colors depending on the division of the army. Each color is significant and must be properly worn according to the division you are assigned. And, to ensure that this is done, along the way, at any point, are the soldiers with the responsibility to check. They stand at significant locations where many soldiers pass each day on their way to and from the bases, and check. These locations, or at least some of them, are “known” to the soldiers, as they have been warned by others. But, the inspecting soldiers have a limitation – they are not allowed to run. Before crossing the street, they must STOP and look BOTH ways and then, having checked, they must walk across the street.
And so, soldiers who fear they have been caught because their beret is not in the right place, or they are wearing the wrong uniform (for example the non-off-base one), need only run to avoid being caught. When the soldier responsible for checking yells, “hey you,” all these soldiers have to do is run across the street and while they are doing that, the other one must stop, look both ways, and then walk across the street.
I also find it funny that Elie is now required to check in…and does. Often when my children go away to sleep at a friend’s house far from home, I ask them to give me a call when they get there. It’s something I did when I lived in America – call home and tell them you arrived safely and it’s something I’ve tried to impart to my children.
Well, Elie now has to call me or send me a note when he gets safely to his base. And (here’s the funny part), he has to send a message to his commanding officer telling him that he arrived home safely as well. And best of all, the army tells the boys to call their parents! I’m not proud – I’ll take any call, any time!
Finally, as the Jewish sabbath approaches again and Elie won’t be here, I’ll wish him and all of Israel a safe and quiet Shabbat.