Settling In, Again

We’re settling in again to the army routine. Our schedule is the army’s to determine – when they will come home, when we can talk. In some ways, I have a double role this time with both Shmulik and Chaim together and yet not together. They are in different units, on the same base…sometimes completely unreachable, sometimes thrown together as a surprise.

A few weeks ago, Chaim was on base for the weekend (Shabbat). This is a training base located in the Jordan Valley and since it really is only a training base, most units go home. Those who remain are there to protect the base and the area. Chaim was in the group that remained; Shmulik came home. I made chocolate chip cookies that week and packed two containers. “Give one to Chaim,” I told Shmulik and explained that his commander had told me I could call him and he’d arrange to get the package to Chaim if there was a problem.

Both boys are in “Tiranut” – basic training. It is the time the army teaches them discipline and what it means to be a soldier. No other time is nearly as restrictive. They call their commander…”Commander Adi” or simply “Commander.” They cannot sleep when they aren’t given permission; cannot eat anything but army-supplied food outside the one hour per day of “freedom” they are given. Restrictions…discipline…learn. Become a soldier, prove yourself and you will be one of us.

But Chaim’s group was out in the field. Shmulik remained with the cookies all week with no way to get it to him. Finally, the next weekend, Chaim was going off-base; Shmulik still had Chaim’s cookies (his were long gone). Chaim went home…Shmulik got Chaim’s cookies.

That weekend, I made brownies and we took them to Chaim, who had stayed in Jerusalem for Shabbat. I asked him if I could send two boxes – one for him and one for Shmulik. He agreed – and even took other things as well. But this time, Shmulik was in the field and so the package and brownies stayed with Chaim all week.

“Eat whatever you want,” Shmulik told Chaim. We told Chaim. Chaim couldn’t bring himself to do it. He finished off his brownies, and left Shmulik’s alone. Finally, they met up on Thursday, “Why didn’t you eat anything?” Shmulik asked him.

Chaim couldn’t bring himself to do it. Well, they were both coming home the next day, so Shmulik started pulling out the sweets I had sent. He opened the brownies and told Chaim to take some. They shared the cans of energy drink and the other snacks. This is what brothers do.

The next morning, I met Shmulik on the highway near our home as the bus passed to take the soldiers to Jerusalem. I called him in the morning and as we were talking, I heard him say, “Hey, there’s Chaim.” A surprise meeting.

As the bus stopped near me to let Shmulik and another three soldiers off, I saw Chaim waving from the front seat. I waved back with a smile, feeling so happy that I’d had a chance to see him, even for a second.

Today, we are going to a ceremony for Chaim. I’ll videotape it for his real mother and smile with pride when I see him receive his Bible and gun. I didn’t get to see Elie’s “Tekes Hashba’a” (Swearing In Ceremony). It was done without parents, on the top of a mountain in the Negev Desert.

Shmulik’s is in a few weeks – it will be held at the Kotel, the Western Wall. I went to another ceremony there a few months ago and met a lone soldier and his wonderful parents…touching lives, connecting them. This is what the army does. It makes brothers, friends.

It’s been two months since they entered the army. It isn’t as smooth a ride as it was with Elie, but it is a journey of discovery, nonetheless. As with Elie, as summer comes to this region, so does talk of war. It is as regular as the winds, the heat, the turning of the season.

We live our lives this way, all the time, every day. The trick, I think, is to focus on the little things – like a box of brownies shared by two who are brothers in everything but blood.

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