My First Away From Home

No, those weren’t Elie’s words but the words of a guest who came to our home. A young man who is studying here in Israel for a year and came to our home last night to share in the second Seder. Attending two Seders is standard outside of Israel while here in Israel, we only have one Seder per year.

For those who don’t know, the Seder is a meal and a ritual combined into one. It is a communal sharing, in the sense that all are encouraged to invite guests and open their homes and none should share the evening alone, if at all possible. It essentially begins with four questions and then the telling of the story of the exodus from Egypt, and all that it means to us as a people. The number four is a significant element in the Passover Seder. There are four questions, four cups of wine, four sons that symbolize all of us in some way, some facet of our observance. Four of my children for the first Seder; one was far from home.

As soon as the holiday ended in Israel, I called Elie and spoke to him. I was about to start a second Seder for my guests, one I attended by choice, not obligation. Before our guests arrived, I stole a few minutes to myself, took my phone outside, and called Elie. I was lonely; I was missing him and I was mature enough to recognize that this call was for me, not for him. I needed to hear his voice. Over the Sabbath and the first day of Passover, Orthodox Jews do not use the telephone (or any electricity, for that matter) and so we were quite out of touch with those far away, as we are very much in touch with those that are close.

I had spent 48 hours with my other children, listening to them, talking, sharing. Reading to my youngest daughter, hearing my youngest son tell us what he had learned about the holiday. My middle son, my oldest daughter, my son-in-law and his family, and my husband’s brother and sister who were visiting from the States. It was a period in which I was surrounded by family…and yet a part of me remained separate and aware of those that were not there.

As always, my mind would occasionally wonder – what is Elie doing now, what is he eating, is he safe. Have we been attacked from the north and even now are we under fire. Silly, back up, Elie’s fine – probably long asleep while I’m still busy with dishes. My phone beeped twice – something had happened. The north? The south? Later I would find out that terrorists had attacked from the south, attempting to kidnap or murder in the south. Nothing I could do during the holiday; you have to believe and have faith. In my heart, Elie was fine. Minutes after the holiday ended, I quickly checked the Internet.

Thirteen soldiers were wounded in the attempted attack/kidnap plot that included two explosive-laden jeeps. The attack was foiled by alert guards. Not in the north, but in the south. Something happened in the north, but details aren’t clear and all in all, it’s quiet up there. Elie sounded happy, rested, calm. I needed to hear his voice more than he can imagine, and without knowing, he complied. It was a few stolen moments for me…just what I needed.

He told me about how the current Commanders Course for his specialty had been training in the north and so spent the Seder at his base. A visiting rabbi came and conducted the Seder – all in all, it was very nice and Elie enjoyed it. He mentioned possible “bad” news and then went on to explain that the “powers that be” are kicking around names to lead the Commanders Course in a few months time and his name was being mentioned. If the training base wants someone, explained Elie, they have tremendous power and would likely get the soldier they want.

Elie doesn’t want that – though he would go if commanded. Like his first commanding officer, Or, Elie wants to command a unit, as he is now, rather than training. Why, I asked him and he explained that it means he wouldn’t have a “team” and that would be lonelier, I think. A “team” is a bond; you go with them and they go with you. You don’t really bond with the others in your course because you are there to train and move on. If he is taken to the Commanders Course, he will once again be pulled out of his unit. He was pulled out to take the Commanders Course and then he was thrilled to be re-assigned back to his same unit as a Commander. Pulled out again, he would again be uncertain about where he would end up.

We spoke of how things were in the north, and once again, aware that ears of the enemies are listening, Elie couldn’t say much. It felt better, having heard his voice, and we said goodbye – Elie to finish his responsibilities and me to go host the second Seder for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and two guests of a friend here in the neighborhood. For now, I was once again “in control” – knowing Elie would soon finish and go to sleep, safe, happy, safe, there.

Aware that we were holding a second Seder anyway (something rare in Israel and only done for guests who do not live here), our friends asked if we could host these two young men as well. They are spending this year studying, far from their families. Experiencing life in Israel is a special and significant rite of passage for many young Jews from outside Israel. Many later choose to live here, but all are changed and enriched by the experience.

It was a nice evening, more relaxed for me than the first Seder in many ways and when it was done, as the two young men graciously offered their thanks, one said that it was the first time he’d been away from home for the Passover Seder and thanked us for welcoming him to our home. It made me think of Elie – and his first time away from home too.

I don’t know where Elie will be next year for the Seder; I’m not even sure that my next son will be home either. It’s a strange feeling, to be on the edge of change knowing that your life is shifting in so many ways, so quickly, in such a short period of time. Our family has grown – we have added a son-in-law but also changed. They, by themselves, are their own little family now.

A little over a year ago, life seemed so simple…perhaps not at the time, but the last year has seen so many changes and knowing that the next year will see even more, makes life…interesting at least.

But there is a difference in feeling when a child isn’t home because they are married or off learning somewhere. Over meal preparations and kitchen duty, my oldest daughter and I discussed it.

“It’s a ‘worried’ thing,” she offered, and I agreed. It’s a hole in your heart when you have a son in the army and he isn’t home for major holidays. And that’s the difference. When your children are with you, you have a sense that they are safe, tucked into their beds, all evil kept away. During the week, I worry less. I would hear almost immediately, if something happened. And, of course, I’m busier at work and home. Holidays and Shabbat are about slowing down, relaxing, taking time with family and not working…and that’s when the hole seems bigger, the missing that much more acute.

Then too, there is the innate sense I have always had deep down that people often say they were never prepared for really bad news, and so, in the twisted logic of a mother’s heart, I can admit to believing that if I can just worry and “be prepared,” bad things won’t happen. It’s hard to explain – I really don’t live in fear all the time and don’t worry more than half the time (smile, here).

It will come in a wave, and leave almost as quickly. The nice part about Elie being in the army for more than a year now, is that overall, I’m calmer and more confident. Calmer because I’ve learned more about all the army does to watch our sons and keep them safe and more confident because I see that the army doesn’t trust recklessly.

Responsibilities are given after training is received. Elie knows, actually knows what he is doing – they reached into the boy and found the leadership qualities I knew were there. They found much more as well. Some aspects of his personality I knew about; others I suspected and others I had no idea were buried deep inside the complex personality of this young man.

I didn’t know Elie could be patient, though I knew he could analyze situations and come to quick decisions. I suspected that Elie could review and weigh options and hand out just punishments, but I didn’t know if he could command not just with authority, but with respect. There is a depth to the man he is becoming that simply amazes me.

It was Elie’s first Passover away from home – and perhaps the hard part is that this is just the beginning. There will be others, perhaps more away than at “home” – and at some point, just as my daughter’s “home” has switched, Elie’s will too. When our guest told me it was his first Passover away from home, it struck deep inside. His mother is somewhere far away, wondering where he is, what he is doing. She too must know that he is safe in Israel and that others are caring for him as if he was their own.

For now, Elie has two homes, as my daughter does and the call last night that I made, was, I think now, my way of reminding myself that in a much larger sense, though Elie may be far from this house, he will never be far from this home.

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