A few years ago, I read an amazing, touching book by Sherry Mandell called, “The Blessings of a Broken Heart.” It’s the story of her son, Koby. But even more, it’s the story of how she has learned to cope with his brutal murder at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.
One fine day, at the age of 14, Koby and his friend, Yosef Ishran, decided to skip school and go for a hike down the side of the hill where they live. They left the safety of their small village and climbed down towards the dry river bed (wadi), land covered by rocks and caves – the dream getaway of every young teenage boy. Koby loved nature and being outside and the world called to him on this day.
A Palestinian shepherd found the boys and murdered them. For no reason other than the fact that they were Jews, Israelis, the shepherd beat them to death. It was a brutal and utterly inhumane way to die.
The book’s title haunted me for weeks and I was amazed by the concept of finding a blessing in something that would seem, by its very nature, to be something so bad, so difficult to understand. And yet, this is exactly what Sherry Mandell did. She found the blessings of a broken heart in her faith, her dedication to others who have also suffered from terrorist attacks. She and her husband founded the Koby Mandell Fund, which is dedicated to helping other victims of terror. Together, they take mothers away and teach them to cope; they take the siblings of terror victims and provide them with a “normal” camp experience, teach them that they are allowed to laugh and live.
I thought about this recently when I read the blog of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq. She wrote about how long her son had been in Iraq before he was killed and how she never imagined that the hug she gave him on the day he left for Iraq would be the last ever. Like Sherry Mandell, this mother’s strength in the face of tragedy was a humbling reminder that there are blessings in all things.
And that got me thinking. One of the first thoughts that popped into my mind was that there are blessings in having your enemies at your doorstep rather than in far off, distant shores. That sounds silly in some ways – better to have your enemies as far away as possible, right? But there’s a danger in that too. Most Americans go about their daily lives with barely a thought for the soldiers in Iraq, and when they do think of them, it is most often with anger directed at the government, rather than a sense of connection with the soldiers. They feel pride in the soldiers but the connection is a distant one.
Here in Israel, our enemies are not thousands of miles away, not even hundreds. Elie is stationed mere meters away and he interacts with potential enemies every day. At any time, he and his unit could find an Arab trying to smuggle something (guns, bullets, explosives, knives, and drugs, at least). At any time, those who he is checking could turn on him, as they have on others. Acid has been thrown several times in the last few months; soldiers have been attacked with knives. Pipe bombs have been found, bullets, explosives.
We cannot forget about our soldiers for a moment – everywhere we go, we see them in the streets; on many roads, we are stopped at a checkpoint, our trunks checked, our glove compartments opened. We are searched as we enter malls and restaurants (by security, not soldiers, but the concept is the same). This means the threat is near, but it also means our sons are near.
There is a blessing in having your enemies close. The blessing is that those who defend us are close as well. Elie comes home on a regular basis – never more than a month away and usually closer to two weeks. I can, if the urge was great enough, get in my car and drive to him and see him within the hour. I won’t do it (all his men would laugh…unless I brought cookies or brownies), but I can. And the can is enough. He is a phone call away. I can hear his voice when I need to, see him perhaps two times a month. This is a blessing, even if to have this, it means the threat is close by as well.
There are other blessings as well. No one can view our battle as an elective one. No one can think we are involved in anything but a war for the very existence of our country. No one can doubt that without our soldiers, the Arabs that surround us would succeed in destroying all that we have built. Many Americans feel the war in Iraq was ill-advised, ill-planned, and some say unnecessary. There is a cruelty in this feeling. How can you say to a mother that her son sacrificed all and then say it was for nothing? No Israeli would say this because there is no option. It is not that we choose to wage a war far away. Our enemies sit on our borders and when they can, as they have more than 60 times in the last week, launch rockets against our cities.
They can try to dig tunnels to get under our defenses and, as Gilad Shalit’s parents can tell you, they can kidnap one of our sons and hold him through the years.
There is a blessing in having your enemies far away. The average American’s life is not touched on a daily basis by war. You can go days and days without thinking of bombs and explosions and death. But there is a curse in that as well. It enables you to forget the incredible sacrifices others are making and worse, it enables you to think that maybe that sacrifice isn’t really for you. They are off on distant shores; what real connection does this have for America?
In this, I am so glad my son fights for Israel, that I chose to bring him here. Our sons fight on shores that are not distant and we know, every moment, what the connection is between the very lives we live each day and the work they do to preserve this.
May God bless the soldiers of America and the soldiers of Israel and may we all remember their dedication, their love of country, and their willingness to serve the nation that sent them to defend…whether far or near.