No one can know, and so we accept it in little pieces, little glimpses. Elie came home last night, bringing his cousin with him. In the United States, families celebrated Thanksgiving. Many Orthodox (or ultra-Orthodox) families reject the notion of thanking God “only” one day a year and thus don’t observe this holiday. When we lived in America, most years we used the vacation time as a chance to gather family and enjoy a quiet meal, and yes, we served a whole turkey with stuffing and tons of food.
When we moved to Israel, where Thanksgiving is another Thursday before another Friday, before our Shabbat, followed by a standard working Sunday, the tradition mostly faded. Here and there, over the years, we have bought a turkey, cooked it and gathered family or friends. This year, dear friends asked us many months ago and I issued an invitation. As the day approached, I had no idea if Elie would be joining us or not.
In the end, our friends came over, plus I invited my parents (Elie’s grandparents) and then, when it was clear that Elie would be home, I invited his cousin to come along as well. They made arrangements to meet in Beersheva, the nearest city to the base (this is no military secret as everyone knows that there are many bases throughout Israel).
Since they are at different levels in their service, the base bussed them off separately, so they agreed that whoever got there first would wait for the other. They arrived starving and exhausted – in other words, normal.
Elie ate several brownies, while Yair was carefully arranging them on a platter (and leaving holes for Yair to fill). They looked beautiful together in uniform (and then they both rushed to get out of uniform and relax). During dinner I spoke to Elie about what next week holds. Last I’d heard, he was holding out for the Medics Course and would therefore leave the Commanders Course.
So, what does the future hold? Elie has decided to stay in the south, in the Commanders Course. He said that there are very few medics in the Artillery (something a mother can only be grateful for) and even fewer taken from his type of unit. The chances that he would actually get approval seems dim and so Elie has decided to stay with the current course. On the one hand, this fills me with pride and, on the other, more concern.
To understand the concern, one must understand the Israeli concept of “follow me.” It is the basis upon which the Israeli army is built and the reason why so many commanding officers are injured. Israeli soldiers lead, they do not order their troops into battle, but lead the way instead. It is logical, as these are the most experienced, the best trained. The less experienced are safer for having their commanding officer right there, in the thick of battle, issuing orders and making decisions. It is not logical, as it risks those who are in command, leaving behind the less experienced should the leader fall. But most of all, it is Israel.
This is how it is done. Many months ago, Elie told me about how only the commanding officer can shoot the massive machine gun on top of his armored personnel carrier. Only the commanding officer knew how to take it apart and put it back together. Yedidyah saw something in Elie, I believe, because he showed Elie how to do this. Now Or will train Elie to be a commanding officer; Yedidyah will be there as well. Elie takes this step into the future with them, gaining experience, learning how to lead.
If Elie passes this course, he will welcome a group of new recruits and they will call him “Commander” and not “Elie” for the first few months together. He will teach them to be soldiers, as he was taught.
So, what does the future hold? No one knows, but at this moment, Elie is asleep, having eaten a full meal of turkey and stuffing, side dishes and more dessert. He’ll share the Sabbath with us and so my heart will be at peace. On Sunday, he’ll return to his base in the south and begin. As usual, I’ll send some large boxes of homemade cookies and brownies with him. He doesn’t know how often he will be home – every two weeks, every three weeks? No one knows the future.
“How many boxes do you want to take back?” I asked him.
“As many as I can,” he answered.
And so, I hope that the future holds only sweet things for my son. As it seems now, Elie may well be a commanding officer in the army of Israel, leading others and teaching them. While that isn’t certain, my role hasn’t changed.
I’ve baked brownies and will make cookies for him to take back and I’ll continue to watch as this boy becomes a man, as this soldier becomes (hopefully) a commander.