War time in Israel

It’s different this time. I guess it’s always different. It’s different this time because I don’t have enough fingers to count how many people I know, by first or second degree, who are called up, serving or waiting to serve in Gaza.

And whereas in the past I figured the odds were too out there, I guess this time… it’s all just too close to home.

I don’t have a lot to say. The heart is heavy, the stomach is lead. The beep beep beeeep of the hourly news is louder than before. The prime minister sounds different.

We’re meant to go about our day, otherwise the terrorists win, but that is a really unnatural sensation.

We smile, we softly laugh. Occasionally, we lift our heads at the sound of a phantom siren. We hug our kids even tighter in the evening. We hear explosions from 90 minutes away. We go to work in the morning.

We read the names of the dead sons and really, there is no sigh of relief when you don’t recognize the name.

Because even though it’s not your own friend or brother or cousin or coworker… it’s someone else’s.

 

Small town feeding a small army, or: calling all Israeli mothers of Tzur Hadassah

Welcome to some good ole fashion small town love.

Tzur Hadassah’s natural surroundings are a bit of a training ground for Tzahal ground troops. Every so often we’ll spot them midnight marching down our dead end street through the nature preserve, on their way to spend the night doing – whatever it is; the end of my block is as far as I see.

After this past weekend, we residents got a cry for help in the form of ‘Jewish mothers, our beit ha’am is housing 80+ hungry and tired soldiers from the Rimon Givati brigade for two nights, please do your thing!’

And so far it seems we have.

Yesterday, the kids drew pics after gan, and I made a pasta with homemade sauce.

After 9pm, when they started rolling in, I brought it over. I knocked on the door, behind which a group of exhausted 18-20 year olds were looking up at me. I saw the word ‘food’ (…or ‘confort’ …or ‘townie’) register on their faces.

“Thank you! Wow! Thank you so much!” They were so happy… I remembered hearing from my brother how little things like homemade food or someone sharing something with you can just make your whole army day.

It can also make a small town feel really good. This was a win/win.

A few things amazed me:

  1. How young they are.
  2. How old I am.
  3. How grateful they were!
  4. OMG am I like a ma’am now?!
  5. How much of a freakin country hick I am.

Since it all went down really late, I brought the kids over today, day 2, to see some evidence. Unfortunately, and expectedly, no soldiers were around. 

It’s wonderful to make a difference in someone’s daily life once in a while. It’s even lovelier to do it on a whole town-level.

On a random day.

During peacetime.

Israel Air Force by proxy: swearing-in ceremony, sabras, and planting roots.

It’s a little surreal reading up on your country’s military air strike operations in real time as you drive back from your brother’s air force swear-in ceremony.

But then again, it’s often surreal living here.

We made the three-hour trek down to the Ovda Israel Airforce Base to see my brother’s טקס השבעה or swearing-in ceremony post-basic training.

It was intense as someone who didn’t grow up watching older siblings go through this, or never having gone through it myself as an eighteen year old. The actual swearing in – so powerful. I know my bro – a shlav bet soldier – took it very seriously… years of diaspora Israel education will do that to you (and how). It was interesting how a lot of the 18-year-old sabras didn’t seem as inspired. Maybe because it’s non combat. Maybe because it was a background or support issue. Maybe because this is just what they know they have to do, a cycle of life thing. Maybe… because they’re 18 and only been at this for a month.

In any case… I’m inspired by the fact a few of the young guys went up to him after to tell him how, well, inspiring his loud-and-proud swearing-in was, to his commander, over the tanach.

And I’m also glad the kids got a bit of a sabra rite of passage. They won’t have all the experiences other native born Israeli kids get, but we’re starting to plant those kinds of roots here.

Right here, way deep in southern Israel, at Ovda air force base.

Welcome home, Gilad Shalit, our brother soldier.

There’s no doubt: this is bittersweet.

Today we’re proud. We’re relieved. We’re emotional. We’re exhausted.

Tomorrow we’re going to continue mourning. We’re going to be extra cautious. We’re going to be angry. We’re going to feel even more pain.

Today we can be mothers of lost soldiers. Mothers waking up from a nightmare.

Tomorrow we’ll be mothers constantly on the lookout. Mothers in reality.

This has been a conflicted process, and there are simply no sufficient words for the people who are not able to hug their sons and daughters today… or any day… ever again. We can’t forget their pain – them being our brothers and sisters as well – especially as we’re at great risk to once again experience it in the future.

Something I loved today was the way Gilad and IDF Chief Ganz met and saluted, and then Ganz pulls him in for a giant fatherly hug.

A word on Gilad: It’s pretty amazing how composed he’s been. How much he’s been smiling. I guess I expected a different guy. Clearly exhausted, fatigued, malnourished, but still composed, orderly and calm.

Now that he’s home we should continue to pray that his health improves and he gains the ability to fulfill whatever role he’s meant to play next.

And that we should have no more Gilad Shalits, ever.

 


Don’t be colorblind.

Doesn’t matter which side of the line you’re on. Or which color: black, white, orange, blue, or a comfortable shade of gray.

We might revere the S word or despise it. But we can’t ignore it.

For any stripe, it’s important we all watch it happening, to be sure we are seeing with our own eyes what is going on in our country, among our people. What our army is dealing with. So that when we talk about it, we have as much information as we can.

And this topic doesn’t start or stop at dramatic, traumatic videos. But it’s a start

Israel medical aid in Japan. Also, please let go.

Here’s a feel-good video from the IDF blog featuring the IDF medical team in Japan right now, helping in the damage zones. Apparently Israel’s medical team was the first foreign aid to set up a mobile hospital in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami.

It’s really nice to see IDF footage shared in a positive light, even if it’s from their own blog. When it comes to foreign aid in crisis, Israel has really proven itself in past years (Haiti, anyone?).

But one thing I can’t – ahem – shake off: Why is Dr. Ofir Cohen-Marom, the commander of the medical force in Japan, holding the Japanese Foreign Minister’s hand for that long?! So full of good will and emotion, as you can see. But if I was that woman I’d be like, uh, you let go now.

 

Giving lone soldiers their post-army profession.

Lone soldiers.

I have no idea if that is just an Israeli concept, but what it means to us is the demographic of soldiers in the IDF who are immigrants and have no immediate family located in Israel to support them throughout their army service. They have no default place to go for weekends off or Shabbat and holiday meals. The family they have to visit is abroad somewhere – Brazil, England, France, Australia, the United States, etc.

They come to Israel and serve and then they leave the army but a lot of the time they don’t leave Israel; they’ve made aliyah, after all. So they need professions, skills, education – they need what we all needed, a first job to kick start a career in Israel.

Your company or organization could possibly help them with folks who’d like to mentor a lone soldier in their potential field.

The HESEG Foundation offers scholarships for lone soldiers and matches mentors with their scholarship recipients in the fields of computers and software, communications, law, business and accounting.

For more information, contact Itamar Shalev.

Here’s a bit more about the HESEG Foundation:

HESEG Foundation provides full academic scholarships and living expenses to former ” lone soldiers ” (חיילים בודדים) who have completed their services in the IDF and have chosen to make Israel their home. Lone soldiers are men and women from all over the world, who come to Israel to volunteer in the IDF. These remarkable individuals leave their families and friends behind, and are driven by their ideals and commitment to Israel’s security and future.

HESEG was established by Canadians Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman as a way to recognize and honor the contribution of the lone soldiers to Israel, by providing them with an opportunity, through education and career development, to start a life in Israel.

The HESEG scholarship program focuses on nurturing leadership and motivating achievement in the academic world, and in broader Israeli society. Scholars are required to meet a high academic level and contribute to their community through weekly volunteer work.

From discussions held by HESEG with its scholars HESEG identified a need for scholar counseling and guidance. As a result HESEG has launched the mentors program, a personal guidance program where professional specialists from different fields offer their guidance and expertise to our scholars and alumni.

There are currently 21 mentors participating in the program, three of which are advisory board members. Mentors are matched up with scholars based on shared interests and meet with their scholars in an informal setting to offer advice and guidance.