I am a soldier

There is, after a meal that includes bread, a longer version of a “grace after meals” in which we show our gratitude for the food we have been given. There are additional sections added for the Sabbath, for the new month, for major holidays, for weddings and more.

Over time and with the influence of others, I have added two more blessings – one for the State of Israel, and one for its soldiers. For obvious reasons, that one touches my heart each time I say it and this past weekend was no different. But this time, at my table, I had Elie, just finishing the army, Chaim, who began last Thursday, and Shmulik, who begins tomorrow.

May the Merciful One bless the soldiers of the Defense Forces of Israel.

As we finished the prayers, Chaim said loudly, “I am a soldier.” It was the tone that made us all laugh – as if, he too was surprised to realize that he was a soldier of Israel, that this prayer I say each time now includes him.

Yes, Chaim is a soldier – I have the picture to prove it. On Tuesday, Shmulik begins and next Sunday, Elie’s service officially ends as a member of the standing army…the same day another of Shmulik’s friends begins. Irony abounds yet again – Elie leaves artillery…the same day Oz apparently goes into it.

It is a strange time. My oldest daughter is very emotional. “I’m scared,” she told me a few days ago. She can’t read the blog, she has told me numerous times, or the book, A Soldier’s Mother, I have just published. It’s too much for her, too real, too scary.

And my youngest daughter saw a copy and said she did want to read it. I hesitated. She’s only 10 years old. There are many stories about her. It is strange to lose that sense of anonymity I have carried with me all along, safe in the knowledge that those most involved in the story, the journey, aren’t even reading it.

“Why can’t I read it?” my younger daughter asked with a child’s logic. “I won’t be scared. I know Elie’s okay now.”

Yes, she does…now the worry, the fear, the journey begins for Chaim and Shmulik. I told my oldest daughter that now is not the time to worry. We have time, I told her, while they go through basic training.

“I’ll tell you when to worry,” I joked with her. As these hours tick away till tomorrow morning when I drive Shmulik to the induction center…the same tears threaten to fall as they did in the hours before I took Elie.

Stupid, I tell myself. Tomorrow he simply gets a uniform…not even a gun. There is nothing to fear for tomorrow…and likely not the day or even the week after that.

And so – it ends and begins…a new soldier of Israel and a mother so proud. Day by day, I’ll take this next journey as I took the last one. I’ll hope that if Shmulik falls asleep on his phone and calls me in the middle of the night…I’ll hope that I’m smarter this time, calmer.

Today, Shmulik gets his hair cut. He’s let it grow too long – today he will cut it too short. He’s asked his brother what he needs to pack, as Chaim asked last week. “Stuff,” I answered – and received the laugh I so dearly wanted to hear.

“I am a soldier,” Chaim said at our Shabbat table. Yes, he is and soon Shmulik and Oz will be too…and Yisrael so very tall…and the others who have accompanied Shmulik through childhood. Today, they are boys…still, though as Elie would have…they’ll argue that.

I stand on the edge of tomorrow wishing in some ways that it won’t come…too fast these years flew by, too fast.

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