On the Mind of an Israeli Mother

It’s 5:30 a.m. – I finally closed my eyes around 2:30 a.m. – got about 2.5 hours sleep. Not enough. I’ll confess…my husband snores. I’ve tried asking him to turn on his side – it works…till he rolls back onto his back. I don’t want to sleep in another room, away from him, and so already years ago, I took to wearing ear plugs. They don’t bother me, I stay close to him, and sleep well.

I’m afraid to wear the ear plugs now – what if I don’t hear the siren? My bedroom is next to the bomb shelter – it would take me 5 seconds to get there. My bedroom is on a lower floor of the house…above my bedroom one son sleeps and next to his room is my youngest daughter’s room. They are more exposed – less protected. They are both young… 16 and 12. Davidi is being so brave though there is this look in his eyes sometimes. Something between shock and wonder at how this is happening, what will happen.

He’s too old to ask me questions as he did the last time his brother was sent to war. Then, I was the mother who had all the answers. But just four years later, he understands that I’m just a person. He’s taller and can reach the higher shelves; he’s stronger and can open the jars and lift the heavier boxes and bags. So he won’t ask; he’ll listen and if I catch the look in his eye when we drive and the radio announces a missile has just been fired at 540,000 people, I will offer comfort if I can.

She’s not yet old enough to hold her questions. She’ll ask where Elie will go, what Elie will do. She asks why they have to take him and not someone else and she wants to know when he will be home. She’s old enough not to hesitate when Elie says he wants to take her cell phone. She’s young enough to smile at the new one and play with the slider.

A week ago…God, less than a week ago, I drove Elie home from college and said I had to stop at the mall. Aliza needed boots for the big storm and Elie told me about a phone to buy. It was simple, relatively cheap, and Aliza would love it. Her phone keeps shutting off – it’s very old – and wasn’t working properly. So we bought her a phone – a white one! And each day she told me how much she loves it. What it can do! Everything…and then, just days after, Elie told her that he couldn’t take his phone to war (an iPhone is not durable in a war zone and will shatter so easily) and so he took her Nokia. She is on one edge of maturity, just starting. Davidi is perhaps in the middle.

We have no bar mitzvah coming up as we did last time. It was on my mind four years ago – if Elie would be home in time to celebrate with us and how I could manage to celebrate if he wasn’t there. We don’t have it this time – no pending dates large enough to come to mind.

On my mind, at almost every moment is worry – some for Elie…okay, a lot for Elie – though as a commander of an artillery unit, if that’s what his function will be, he’ll be on the outside of Gaza. And so I worry about so many other sons (and daughters) from our neighborhood and all of Israel. So many are preparing, waiting, wondering if they will be sent in to do what they have to…

On my mind, almost always, is a low burning anger that the world is stupid enough to believe the Palestinian lies. Two are killed in an Israeli airstrike they say – but don’t bother to admit they were the two firing a rocket at Ashdod, or Ashkelon, or Tel Aviv. And so the Palestinian death count goes up by two…murderers or attempted murderers is what they were when they were eliminated to save the lives of one million Israelis.

On my mind, is that the number “one million Israelis” no longer applies. I don’t know the latest number but it has to be over 3 million when you add in the population centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. No one in their right mind thinks that Israel is targeting all of the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza. With as many military operations as we have launched in the last three days – almost 1,000, trust me, if our goal was to annihilate Gaza, we’d be just about ready to bring in the steam rollers to make it a parking lot.

On my mind, is the knowledge that the world will believe what it wants to believe. The Palestinians have petitioned the United Nations to stop the Israeli operation. And I know that the United Nations does not have the guts to answer with the single word, “Seriously?” the request so deserves. “You shoot 800 rockets at a country, you target their cities. What the heck did you think they were going to do, you morons?” – That should be their response. But it won’t be. It never has been before. That is the response that should be coming from David Cameroon of the United Kingdom, who instead turned to Israel and asked that it do all that is possible to resolve the conflict – and I don’t think he means ordering in the steam rollers.

On my mind is gratitude to my friends and neighbors. If they hear that Elie has been called in, they quickly say a prayer for his safety. All of Israel is praying for its soldiers. A friend stops me in the street and gives me a hug – another sends an email, a Facebook message – that is Israel. We stand behind our soldiers – but also their mothers and fathers, their wives.

On my mind is Lauren – she is so strong and she loves him so much. I couldn’t ask for a better daughter-in-law. My oldest daughter told me that Lauren takes priority now, we have to take care of her. On Friday night, after Elie left, Lauren just wanted to be alone. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t sit there. I was so torn between letting her go (as if I could stop her) and hearing her mother say to me, “you let her be alone?” We’re trying to be around without pushing too hard, trying to help her cope but she’s a war behind us and it was so desperately hard the first time for me. On the other hand, Elie’s gong to a base where they are staging the ground for what will be – and the worry is only beginning. Perhaps I am fooling myself with thinking that I’m coping – and that too, is on my mind.

Lauren met Elie through this blog. We adopted her a bit (she already has one adopted family so we’re sort of second tier in the adoption realm) and I’m so happy that her first impression of him was that he was, perhaps just a little, a bit of a jerk. What he was, was a typical just-post-army kid making his way and I love that she didn’t judge him or see him from the portrait I paint here.

He’s a bit of the blog and so much more of his own person beyond it. It was only after months and months of her coming to visit, being friends with my daughters and sharing “war” stories with Elie about being a medic and ambulance runs, that they recognized that they were perfect for each other – and I love teasing them that I knew so much before they did. I also love feeling that she is not only a daughter-in-law but a daughter too. There’s a picture from their wedding that I love – it is a picture of Lauren and me and her mother as the three of us walked towards the chuppah, the wedding canopy. Lauren was saying something; my head is bent towards hers and we are both smiling. I don’t know what she was saying at that moment – but I love the image of friends beyond the relationship and love beyond the friendship..

Lauren is now the wife of a soldier, and more, a soldier at war. It is a reality I have never known. It is agony having a son in war; I can’t imagine having a husband there. I can’t imagine sleeping alone at night not knowing where he is. I can’t imagine the fear. And when I tell her all the reasons why she doesn’t have to be afraid, she smiles and says she knows. She is so strong, too strong, and I’ve asked her not to read the blog now, maybe her mother and aunt too. I need this place to pour out my feelings and I want others to know. But I want them to believe me when I tell them there is nothing to worry about; that he’s fine; that he’s smart. That he has a place to go when a missile is being fired and the time to get there. I want them to believe what my mind keeps telling my heart – he’s okay. He’s fine. He will come home…though at this moment, I understand it probably won’t be soon.

I was lucky last time – I never imagined I would not see him for three weeks. Three weeks was an eternity but it was dealt with one day at a time. Now, I know it may be weeks before I see him and I can’t control my stupid eyes from filling or the block of pain that comes from my heart as my brain gives this sort of superior snicker and shakes it’s shoulders in surrender (you didn’t know a brain has shoulders, did you?).

And yet, on my mind – but not really my mind, constantly, is fear. It is that endless conflict between my heart and my mind. On Friday, a woman wrote to me that she was terrified of the rockets. I asked her where she lived and she told me Jerusalem. I was surprised and then wrote her, being the long-term Israeli here at all of 19 years, that Gaza can’t hit Jerusalem, that she has nothing to worry about. She thanked me for having calmed her…hours later, I’m wondering how to write to her and tell her I was an idiot.

That night, Gaza hit Jerusalem with three rockets. What can I say to her? And too my children when they ask. My mind knows that it is virtually impossible for them to send rockets into Maale Adumim – we are a few critical kilometers even further away.  But I know nothing of these missiles, of wind and angles.

And on my mind is that four years ago, Elie had it easier than he does now. He was younger and not married. He didn’t look over his shoulder to see what was being hit; his concentration was on what he was doing, facing forward to get the job done. He left a wife an hour after rockets were fired in this direction. In the last war, the boys from Ashkelon, Ashdod, Shderot and many other places, know they were fighting for their families as well as their country and carried that extra burden. Each missile that flew over their heads was one that could slam into their homes. Literally. To an extent, that is what Elie must be feeling as well – and this time, he has a wife here. It was always about protecting Israel – now it is about protecting Israel AND protecting his own home and family.

And finally, on my mind is the reality that four  years ago, Israel gave in to US and international pressure and stopped the fight. Hamas was beaten down but not defeated. It was a mistake we have  to correct now. And while my mind knows that, my heart is with my son, with his wife, with all the sons, the wives, the mothers and fathers. My heart is with the brothers and sisters, on the brink of understanding.

May God watch over the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. May they go in health and may they return in health. May God bring peace to His beloved land and bless us all with safety and life.

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