I could write about a great weekend with Elie home, and I will, when I’m not so tired and it’s not so late, but as the day ends here in Israel, I’m left with one image that truly makes my heart sing. This morning, the army took Elie’s entire “gidud” (don’t ask me what that is or how many it includes – I don’t know the English equivalent, but it’s a large group) – except for the part that must stay up north – on a “culture day.” I don’t yet know where they took them, but Elie was to meet everyone at a central location at 9:00 a.m. It was probably a day in which they would go hiking, but it would likely include some historical site, something of significance to make the army take them there.
These sites are related to our history in this land. Over the course of Elie’s being in the army, they have already taken him to Yad VaShem (the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem), the Kotel (the Western Wall that remains from the Holy Temples), the City of David (an archaeological dig that has uncovered our ancient connections to this land). The army has taken them to several memorial sites and museums and much more.
Last night, while driving home from the mall (where we went to buy Elie a new strap for his gun…yes, it’s sold in a regular camping store in the mall), he got a phone call from one of his soldiers. The young man explained, as he seems to try to explain to Elie on many occasions, why he cannot possibly get to the designated meeting place on time. It’s a regular occurrence. This time, his sister was coming to visit at midnight and so the soldier didn’t think he could get up on time. Last time, he needed to stay home and get a hair cut, and another time, he had to help his mother.
It was, given the many other excuses he has come up with, rather pathetic and Elie had little patience. He listened, questioned and finally ended with, “In short, be there tomorrow at 9:00.” (It sounds better in Hebrew) and was so Israeli (and Elie).
So, we woke early, left too early, and despite the traffic, arrived at the location (or where we thought the location would be) at about 8:10 a.m. and there, waiting at the bus stop, was one soldier with the matching beret of the artillery unit. He had a friendly smile that flashed as Elie came into view. Already, we could see several other soldiers from Elie’s unit converging from nearby.
Elie asked if the soldier was sure this was the correct location and they spoke a few moments about various reasons why this might or might not be the site. All the time, both seemed so happy just to be there, relaxed, easy. Elie got out of the car, got his backpack from the trunk and came back to the front of the car to get his gun. No, he wouldn’t give me a kiss goodbye, and I didn’t insist, but it was a sweet smile he gave me and a thanks. I pulled out into traffic, looking where I could turn around, but had to continue on a short distance. Finally, turning into a parking lot (followed by three other parents who also were looking for a place to turn around), I made my U-turn and got back on the main road.
Across the way, as I approached the growing group of soldiers (all with backpacks, blue berets and guns), I saw them greet each other, and Elie. On the one hand, I have seen it so many times already and on the other, I never get tired of watching. It’s a quick joining of the hands, a slap on the shoulder, a moving slightly together. They are so at ease with one another, truly brothers in so many ways and I feel so relieved to give Elie back to them. I trust them to watch out for Elie. It’s a silly thing to say, to feel, considering that Elie is one of the commanders and is responsible for them. Silly because Elie has the same training (or more). Silly, but still true – Israeli soldiers feel a connection and show it in the joy with which they greet each other after only a day or two or three apart. They show it with the smiles, the slaps of greeting. It’s there in their eyes and I felt such joy in being given the chance to see it.
I slowed the car, hoping Elie would look up, and sure enough, just as I passed Elie looked, waved and smiled, and, in the simplest of terms, my heart sang. He looked so happy, among friends. It seems so silly – surrealistic, if you will. My son is a soldier in an army that has been at war with our neighbors for more than 60 years. At any moment, in all honestly, war could break out on any one of three fronts (and that is being optimistic).
While boys in his age are going to college in America and worrying about cars and girls, my son is learning how to attack our enemies with pinpoint accuracy; how to defend himself and his country. He’s learned how to shoot a gun, throw a hand grenade, navigate in the dark and more skills than I can think about – and today, among his friends, he smiled with such joy. It was pure and simple and reminded me there is no where else I would have him be.
There are worries – and I’ve written about them. There are fears in the past and likely in the future and silly tears I’ve shed at night. And there is such joy that my son could be so much a part of this incredible thing called the army of Israel. The smile as he greeted and was greeted took me through my entire day. Right now, my guess is that Elie is on a bus somewhere driving north to rejoin the others so that training can resume tomorrow. Today was a bit of a break for them – well deserved and hopefully well enjoyed.
Lebanon is tense as Hizbollah and the Lebanese army battle for control over various areas. The US has confirmed that Israel hit a site where a nuclear reactor was being developed in Syria and relations are very tense there. The Syrians will want revenge, for that and more. Hizbollah wants to attack, and might if they feel it will better their position in Lebanon. The Palestinians murdered one innocent man yesterday in a shower of rockets and mortars and while things with Egypt and Jordan seem quiet, one never really knows what will happen in the Middle East as summer approaches. In short, it was a typical day in the Middle East, but none of that mattered to me today.
All of that is for tomorrow and the weeks to come – but for now, I’ll go to sleep with the memory of the smile between friends that I was lucky enough to intercept and remember the look of simply belonging that I saw as Elie stood joking with his friends, soldiers in our army.