Parental Challenge

As your children grow, so too do you. Each challenge they face, is a challenge you face as well. When they first walk, you have this urge to catch them, to stop them from falling. Their first day of school, you want to go along and protect them from everything. And so it goes through their lives and yours.

I’ve been challenged more than a few times, unsure how to handle a situation. I’ve made mistakes and have apologized to my children because I don’t want them ever to believe I am perfect. I am flawed and they have to know this because some day, whether I tell them or not, they are going to know this. And. when that day comes, when I fail them, they will either be devastated, or they will accept and cope and rebuild our relationship stronger for the honesty. At the same time that I have shown them that I am not perfect, I have taught them they don’t have to be perfect either. I don’t want them perfect. They only have to be true to themselves.

The army has little patience for this concept. They are interested in the bottom line in many ways. For some soldiers, this works. They fly through the army, learning, developing, gaining. They give to the army and they receive so much in return. This is how it was with Elie, how it is with Chaim. I think it was this way with Yaakov, but it was all new to me and I was less involved. Yaakov shared with us what he would and though there were frustrations, he handled them mostly on his own. I was more involved with Elie, but because I knew less of the army in general, I was more trusting that they’d get to the right place in the end (and they really did). I heard from many others during those years – ones who were not so lucky as I was.

I know the army doesn’t handle each boy equally or fairly. That isn’t their concern. They are in the business of taking a boy and shaping him into a soldier. The fact that during that shaping, a man is formed, a person develops based on what he was as much as what he will be, is not relevant to the army.

Elie was my first real soldier, my first son in the army and so the army involved me, even if Elie would not have. The ceremonies, the officer coming to my house. It was all designed to guide us through – and it did. After you give birth to your second child, one thing you learn very quickly, is that each child is different. Where Amira almost never cried, Elie almost never didn’t cry during those first few weeks. Everything bothered him and it was so hard to keep him calm and happy.

Amira played with toy cars. She used them to bus her dolls around the make-believe city she created in her mind. Elie used the cars to crash into walls and the dolls as action figure fighters. Then came Shmulik. He was the balance between the two. The boy who played with cars and balls; the quiet one who didn’t cry easily and was easily contented with music or a touch. As they grew older, the boys loved the same things – cars mostly; and hated the same things – school mostly.

Elie found motivation in the army; Shmulik lost it. One of his commanders told me that he took a bad fall in the early weeks of training and somehow from that moment, became less interested in succeeding and more interested in just finishing. His headaches, which he’s always had, have gotten much worse. To be honest, they are, in many cases, brought on by his behavior. The army is more demanding, and so you need to rest more. He was stationed in the Jordan Valley, one of the hottest and driest places in Israel, and so you need to drink more.

He went to the doctors to complain; demanded medical assistance. In the end, about a week to a week and a half ago, he went before a medical board which took his nearly perfect profile of 97 and dropped it to 64. This is equivalent to dropping it three points…just below the required level for serving in a combat unit. It was, if I am to be honest with myself, what Shmulik wanted to happen.

There is a tradition in Judaism that promotes the concept that people are not perfect and so no one ever get a profile of 100. Eight days after a Jewish boy is born, a circumcision is performed. The army deducts three points for this “operation” and so the highest score you can receive would be a 97. It is one of many things so very Jewish about our army – the concept that perfection is God; humanity and its flaws our reality.

From the newly “perfect” score of 97, points are deducted for all manner of things – asthma, bad eyesight, and on and on. Elie was given a profile of 97 and I joked with him about his grades. All his life, I encouraged him to get good grades…and often, he brought home less, “Now,” I asked him, “NOW you bring me a 97?” But it was said with pride. Pride in his physical abilities; gratitude for his health.

I was resigned to Shmulik bringing home a 97; I expected it though I was no less grateful. I am struggling not to take his 64 as an insult; as a sign that he is less than he was. I’m grateful he doesn’t read my blog; as I was grateful that Elie didn’t.

This is where the challenge begins. Shmulik is now a jobnik. Something he wanted for himself enough to make it happen and something that bothers me because I can’t believe it is a true reflection of his abilities or the service he should be offering to this country.

There are two kinds of soldiers in the army: combat soldiers and jobniks. Jobniks are the backbone of the army; their purpose is to serve the needs of combat units. They cook, they sew, they truck around supplies. But they do so much more. They staff much of the military intelligence divisions, and are the masterminds behind so much of the army technology. There is no shame and much, much honor in serving the State of Israel – no matter in what unit you serve. It is more honorable to be a jobnik and serve this country with love, than to be a combat soldier and seek all manner of ways to avoid doing what your unit needs.

I would not have minded if Shmulik was sent to a jobnik position from the outset. I am bothered by how this came through; how he maneuvered it. My daughter thinks perhaps he doesn’t realize how much he caused this himself, but I am not sure. Had he taken this path from the start, he might have chosen to do something meaningful for his service. He is smart – he could have chosen other options the army offers. But the army is an interesting organ, one that treats its soldiers as it believes it is being treated. Show motivation, and you are rewarded. Betray it, and it will not support you.

For every soldier that tries hard to go into a combat unit and fails, there are several more who are capable of joining combat who choose not to take this path. It is a choice they make, a question they are asked. They are asked, “are you willing to serve in a combat unit?” They don’t really want the ones who will say no. An unwilling soldier is a bad one; a motivated soldier may save lives of those around him. Shmulik could have said no long ago and it bothers me, having made the commitment, that he now seeks to get out of it.

All of this is not really about Shmulik, who has made his choice, but about me. My challenge is to accept that Shmulik was never a motivated soldier. He did not like the challenges of the army, the difficulties. The army tests you hard because war is worse. They put you in the field for a week at a time and give you war rations to eat; they deprive you of much of the comforts and through it all, you know that come the weekend, you’ll be home.

Whatever conditions they put you under…war is worse. I learned that when Elie went to war, when I heard the exhuastion in his voice, when I knew he was cold. I heard it in the frustration he had when he knew we’d ended the battle of Gaza, but the war would continue.

In truth, I believe in the long run, the stronger the person, the more they carry, the better it is for them. When I see so many others take the easy way out, I want my children to see that what these others lose out on is greater than what they gain for having cheated their way our of doing their share.

And finally, as there are two types of soldiers and two types of people, there are two types of parents. There are those who adapt for the good of their children and there are those who expect their children to adapt to their expectations.

I want to believe I am the first type and not the second. I am in a funny position – what mother wants her son to be a combat soldier? Wants him to risk his life? And yet…

So Shmulik went to the Medical Board and his profile was lowered. He thought he would return to his unit. The unit was enjoying a week’s vacation together in Latrun. I told him he would be sent back to base, that they would take his gun away and likely assign him to some menial talks. I did not expect much from the army, assuming they would find some way to show their displeasure at losing a combat soldier. Shmulik didn’t agree. He thought he would be able to choose and hoped he would get something close to home. I was so worried they would give him some horrible position.

Shmulik was so confident; I was even more so. He called his commanding officer, thinking he would be told to go to Latrun. The commanding officer told Shmulik to travel to the Jordan Valley, hours from his unit, to go back to base. It was what I expected and yet I was so worried. Don’t crush him, I wanted to beg the army. Don’t make him miserable for the time he has left to serve.

Shmulik arrived on base. He reported to an office and gave in his forms. The officer asked Shmulik what he wanted to do now. Shmulik loves to drive…anywhere….anytime…anything. “I’d love to drive,” Shmulik answered, “to be a nachag boss.” (A commander’s driver)

“You live in Maale Adumim, right?” the officer asked Shmulik.

“Yes,” my son answered.

“Okay,” answered the commander, “you can be the driver of the head of the base” (who is from Maale Adumim).

“You’re kidding, right?” Shmulik answered, already beginning to feel bad that the man was playing with him.

“No,” answered the officer. The position opened that morning.

Shmulik met the commander of the base. He was the man I’d heard speak months and months ago. The one who explained to the parents what their sons would be doing. He was the one who told us that in four months, our sons would be trained fighters and would climb the mountains behind the base to show other parents what their sons would learn.

And he was the one who stood before us during the two ceremonies – one for Chaim and one for Shmulik, who spoke of our sons going to war and telling us that he would do everything to train them, watch over them. By the afternoon, I was so worried. Shmulik had gone to base and I didn’t know what was happening. I called and he answered. He told me he was on his way home, and then told me his new job.

He’s very excited to be the base commander’s driver. It’s more than a driver, he explained. He will be this commander’s “right-hand man.” He’ll do whatever the commander orders him to do, errands, computer work, call, get people – whatever it is. He’ll drive with him wherever he has to go. And one more thing. The base commander has special training to drive in a certain way. He wants his driver to be able to drive evasively and so he’ll be teaching Shmulik how to drive.

And if life were not good enough for my son, the base commander explained that in the coming weeks, he was changing bases and would be assigned a new position about 20 minutes from our home. “We’ll be going home almost every day,” the commander told Shmulik.

And if that were not enough, the commander is home almost every weekend – and so Shmulik will be as well.

There are moments in your life when you feel God’s love, when you know you have been blessed. “God loves you,” I told Shmulik. There is simply no other explanation. The army could have treated Shmulik with contempt, blamed him for his headaches and given him a horrible position sifting flour or sorting rice for the next year or more of his service. Instead, they gave him dignity, touched on something he loves to do, and gave him a man of inspiration to serve beside.

For these blessings, I thank You, God – for taking my sons and blessing them, for teaching them, for giving them a path to follow and a meaningful way to serve.

16 Comments on Parental Challenge

  1. What I love about this post is the way that, in the end, the whole situation, which wasn’t sounding too promising, turned into an opportunity to thank and praise G-d for His goodness. This is how I love to see life – that if we are patient, G-d gives us reason to thank Him. How lucky you got to that point already!

  2. Oh Paula, I am so happy for you, your family and for Shmulik! This is a dream come true for you all. A major blessing for you all.

    I also want to thank you, this gives me hope, that perhaps Jered will get his dream job, or his second dream…

    It also explains the good side of being a jobnik, from what I have always heard, it was a bad thing (at least in my son’s head!)

    It gives me hope, that with Jered’s injury, perhaps some good will come from it, and he will be happy and proud again, to have made aliyah and an Israeli soldier…

    As always, your blogs are meaningful and insightful, and help me get through all of this. <3


  3. Thanks BatAliya – yes, it was such an amazing journey. There is just no other way to view this but as such a gift from God!

    Hey Shelley, Thanks so much – yes, I hope the army will find Jered an amazing position. I was hoping to get him into the army spokesperson’s office – I spoke to someone there; he said it is harder to get in there than it is to get into most elite units.

    I’m glad I can give some hope – there really is honor in every service.

  4. My son is a jobnik- he asked for it (maybe since he uses his free time to study and “make-up” his matriculation exams). He is also a driver, and this defensive driving is VERY important. (Arab drivers have several times TRIED to cause an accident.) He may not be in a high-risk position, but risk IS there, and I am happy knowing that he is doing something that is definately needed. [Once his fast driving enabled a dog unit to reach the site of a needed action (DS couldn’t tell me more) which he knows saved many lives.]
    Finally, as you have seen–each child is different (DS younger sibling is deadset on going to a combat unit).
    Don’t let your pride in having a “combat son” blind you to his needs and abilities.

  5. Hi Ricki’s Mom – this was exactly my issue and my point. I’m proud of Shmulik for not getting out of the army as so many other young men (religious and non-religious) try to do. I’m proud of him for attempting to be a combat soldier. I know another combat soldier who was hurt during training and wants nothing more but to get back to his unit. For him, being a jobnik is agony and a great disappointment. I think the timing of Shmulik’s switch from combat to jobnik just bothered me because here’s a kid who is dedicated and motivated and he can’t be in a combat unit while here’s a kid who is not injured but lacks the motivation to overcome.

    Perhaps what bothers me most is that life is full of challenges you have to overcome. I’m afraid in surrendering and finding an easier way out, Shmulik is setting a pattern. It isn’t so much about jobnik versus combat as it is about setting a goal and meeting it. There is great, great honor in bring a jobnik. Without the jobniks, the army could not function a single hour, never mind a single day. As I wrote, they are the backbone of the army. The very support that enables our combat soldiers to do what they must.

    My challenge is accepting Shmulik’s decision despite my fear that he is setting a pattern of giving in rather than overcoming. For now, he is very happy. His commanding officer just picked him up in a DMAX and they are heading off – Shmulik driving.

    Thanks for commenting and please, keep me on my toes. You are right – a parent’s pride should never blind them to their child’s needs and abilities. I’ll do my best to always remember that.

  6. I’ve been reading your blog for quite sometime. And I am personally upset by what your son Shmulik has done. The IDF deals with plenty of recruits who lack motivation, yet the vast majority of them still push their way through until the end. Unlike your son who gave less than his all to the state that defends his nation and family.

    I was in his position as-well. I myself requested a combat unit and after assessing me in a number of interviews by a number of different officers (AFTER tzav rishon). I was told i would be placed in a classified unit operating in the territories. Not knowing what I was committing myself to, I committed myself to joining and enduring a long genuinely brutal training period.
    -What the state of Israel put me through I would not wish upon my worst enemies. I wake up at night with flashbacks, not from my service, but from the training I went through.

    Did I think of quitting during my traumatic training?

    -I hated it. And there were plenty times I felt like giving up and spending my service smoking grass and pushing papers.But one look the flag of my state was enough for me to bear it out and do what all kravi boys learn to do [push through]. I am not a alone in this situation. Most combat soldiers truly hate the conditions they are put in during training, but nearly all of them have the balls to complete it.

    I am surprised by your son, who comes from a zionistic family (and brother’s military background) and yet somehow was not able to muster up the strength to give it his all and complete the training.

    Dont take my words so personally. You’re a great mom. But this phenomenon is starting to be a real plague upon the nation, with the draft dodgers and what not.

    I hope Shmulik is happy dropping out and being a jobnik driver (a job any shmuck with half a brain could do). A draft dodger in uniform.

  7. Hi Sha’bak,

    First, I commend you on your service and thank you for it. I’m sorry your training was so traumatic but at a guess, I believe the army determined it was necessary. I know some of the training the army does, including rather extreme measures meant to prepare a soldier for the worst-case-scenario. That this never happened to you, leaving the training as the traumatic part and not the incident for which you were prepared, is actually a blessing.

    As for Shmulik – I think you are being too harsh. He will certainly complete his national service and what he does now is important. It is not for you (or me) to decide the importance of the task. As I wrote – the army is a unit, a complete entity. While I know there are “filler” positions, I strongly doubt most jobnik positions are not needed. More, to call any soldier, “even” a jobnik – a draft dodger in uniform is simply not fair. Shmulik did have migraine headaches. His father has them, his sister, his brothers. It is inherited and not faked. What I wrote was that I believe had he been more motivated, he could have overcome the migraines and remained in combat. There were times in Elie’s service that he was flattened by the headaches as well. His unit, like Shmulik’s did understand and took care of him. The difference was that Elie tried to get back to his unit, despite the headache; Shmulik wanted to get out of the situation that caused the headache.

    You aren’t completely wrong, certainly. Elie too feels disappointed and has similar emotions to the ones you express. But he too feels that it is wrong to call Shmulik a draft dodger or even someone who is avoiding his service.

    Tonight, he sleeps at an army base. He is serving Israel and will carry these memories with him. He’ll do miluim and may yet return to a combat unit. His commanding officer is a very inspiring person – perhaps he will guide Shmulik in this direction, perhaps not. The future remains to be seen.

    Thanks for commenting and again – our nation needs sons like you, who served despite all hardships. I wish you peace – in our nation, and within your heart.

  8. There is no such thing as a jobnik! It is the men and women who drive the supplies, work at a desk doing paperwork, checking weather reports, cooking the meals, repairing the planes, tanks, jeeps, etc, that do the work so the few men in combat units can fight.

    Your son’s contribution to the IDF is no less valuable than the combat soldier’s. In fact it is more valuable, for without this work, the IDF would screech to a halt.

  9. Hi Findalis,

    I know what you are trying to say – but the reality in the IDF is that there are jobniks and combat soldiers. It is a necessary part of the army. The reality is that jobniks definitely do an invaluable service, but the army revolves around the combat soldier and I’m not sure this is wrong. It is he (or she) who puts his (or her) life on the line in a very real way. S come jobnik positions are dangerous; most combat positions are. In theory, you are correct. In a mother’s heart, you should be and you must be correct. In the reality of the army, we as a nation praise the combat soldier to a higher level. He is paid more for his service each month; he is often called upon years and years after his service to continue in the reserves while many jobniks are not. We can’t change the reality of the army and Shmulik knew this and felt that his medical issues were enough to justify his switch.

    I do not value his service less, nor do I think his time is less meaningful. If anything, he will “enjoy” the army experience more because the training was just too difficult.

    Years ago, a teacher suggested that I accept my oldest daughter is not as smart as I know her to be. The teacher told me to lighten up and let her enjoy life. I told the teacher that I wanted her to crack down on my daughter for one week and force her to do all the work. If, after one week, she still felt my daughter couldn’t do it, wasn’t smart enough to handle the tougher subjects, I would yield. I got a call two days later from the teacher, “you’re right; she’s very smart” said the teacher, who then pushed my daughter to deliver her best.

    That is what I have always asked my kids to deliver – their best. I don’t care what grades they get (or where they serve in the army). I care about them looking me in the face and saying, “Ima, I did my best.”

    I know that Elie did his best in the army and found so much more of what he is capable of achieving. I am left with this sad feeling that this is not the “best” Shmulik can do, though I have come to understand that he believes it is. He can look me in the face and with all honesty, say, “Ima, I did my best.”

    And that is why in the end, I am very happy for him. Was it his best? I don’t know. Does he believe it was his best – yes, he really does.

  10. A friend of my son’s had his left arm blown off by a rocket attack during the Gaza war. He was left-handed. He had to push and fight to stay a combat soldier and not be discharged. They made him prove himself in an even harder combat brigade, Givati. He can’t wear a prosthesis yet and his hook is not compatible with the equipment, so he does everything with one hand. They have selected him for commanders school. He never gets to go home to his family at night or on the weekends because they live in the United States.

    Maybe sometimes in living their everyday lives, people forget what this is all about and they look at themselves and their own needs and wants and comforts because they have lost sight of the big picture of why combat service is so important: giving all they have so that this tiny nation which is constantly under attack will always have the willingness and the commitment and the ability to defend itself, no matter the cost to the individual.

    I thank God for this soldier, and for my own son who made aliyah at an age when he only had to serve 6 months as a jobnik. He had to fight to be assigned more time so he could be in a combat unit. Because he is my only child, I had to sign his life away to the IDF. He ended up doing more than 2 years. It was hard for him with his glasses and painful flat feet, being older than the others, being a lone soldier. He was injured numerous times and once had to receive IV fluids out in the field for extreme dehydration. He says he can face anything in life now because nothing will ever be as hard again. From the first day, he made a pledge to himself that he would never complain and he never did, and he never gave up, and he would do it all again if he had to.

    The combat soldiers of Israel are a band of brothers. For all the rest of their lives they can look at each other and know what they are capable of and what they have achieved, to the honor and glory of this country. I’m really, really proud of my son. I wasn’t sure he had it in him, but he kept pushing himself to be all that Israel needs, because that was the motivation, that’s why he went through it all, that’s why he did it.

  11. Yoni's Mom // August 3, 2010 at 3:16 pm // Reply

    Shabak you are way out of line!!!
    I say this to you as the proud mother of a newly graduated Hovesh Kravi. However, instead of enjoying his regila, one week off. My son is agonizing of the fact that apparently all the units have to give back to new medics to be used as “jobnik medics” at a clinic anywhere the army chooses to send them.

    My son only wants to be a combat soldier, he only wants to go back to his unit. No amount of telling not to worry has calmed him down/ So here you have the army making rules that take young men fully motivated and ready to serve in the front lines and they have to then worry about being sent into service off the field/

    As for motivation he tried. Combat training can make or break you. He gave it a shot, it is not easy. Some dont even try. I say well done and good luck in the new tafkid.

    All the best
    Yoni’s mom

  12. This post was very moving, especially to see, that from God he finally got to be in a good position. From here he can only go up and progress.

    You were in a very complex parenting situation, who knows what went on in his head. It could well be best that he moved to a less stressful position now, than later, some children just can take stress.

    All the boys are taught that kravi is best, it must have been really hard for him to feel that it was really too much for him.

    Hope he has lots of luck (and he could get famous, everyone knows the name of Motta Gur’s driver!)

  13. I think your son shmulik has a very healthy attitude towards the army, one that is prevalent in most normal youths: The army sucks, but there is no way to escape it.

    As a mother, I would be worried if he were a fanatic militarist.

  14. I don’t Shabak is serious. I think he is just being ironical.

    I suppose his aim was to have mom stand up for her son (despite the disappointment she expressed), and he achieved it when she said “you are too harsh”.

    So thank you Shabak: you made mom see the other, positive side of the medal…

  15. As someone who has health issues including migraines, I’ve taken on things and then realized I’d taken on too much.

    Shmulik needs to really do some soul-searching and figure out if he’d taken on too much or if he fled from something because he didn’t want to do it.

    If it’s the former, he needs to learn to judge his abilities in the future (not an easy thing) and if it’s the latter, it’s a very very tough road to teach yourself not to flee when something’s hard.

    In either case, I wish him the best of luck and thank him for his service to our country!

  16. A question: if the 3 points are automatically deducted b/c of the brit, how come the highest medical profile WOMEN soldiers can get is also 97?

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