He’s Coming Home

hero image
IDF Soldier
22 Jan 2009
Photographer: IDF Spokesperson

We made aliyah only a little more than a year ago. And tomorrow our son comes home from his first war.

As my husband and I had served in the US military, we came to our decision with open eyes: Israel has been a nation at war for as long as we have been alive. While we believe there is no better place for a Jew to live, there is no sugarcoating the fact that all of our sons would probably wear IDF uniforms, and would probably experience the trauma of war. Part of why we took so long to make aliyah (16 years) was dealing with this reality.

Did we have the right to put our kids into the apparent path of danger, simply to enhance our concept of a higher attachment to Torah?

We wrangled with this question through the First Intifada, through the Oslo War, through bus and cafe bombings, through the contempt of a “civilized” world that still smugly pontificates that “both sides must renounce the violence.” We discussed the tragic decision to use soldiers as policemen during the awful and wrongful “Disengagement” which laid the groundwork for this current Gaza War. If we as soldiers had been asked to choose between our mission to protect and defend our citizens, and our responsibility to respect and obey the government we represented — what would we do? More relevantly, what would our sons do?

Every so often, we would get ‘the call.’… “Ema, I love you very much. I really love you.”… This call was code for “I’m going back in; and I am terrified I won’t ever speak to you again.”… all I could do was polish his sword.

It finally became clear that whatever purpose or mission we may have had in America was pretty well used up. One day, as we listened to yet another ambulance shriek its way to the retirement home across the street, my husband said to me, “Ruti, I can’t just wait for my ambulance to come. I have a little more adventure in me.”

Thank God, our sons had come to similar decisions, even before us. So we made the move together — not just physically, but as “one man with one heart.” One son even made the move a couple of years before the family — the “point man” of the operation, as we say in the Army.

When this son went to war with the Golani Brigade, we, and his wife, glued ourselves firmly in front of our computers and radios. We attended closely to each news story. Wanting to know everything.

Not wanting to know anything…

In the evenings, the men in my house watched war movies. I listened to old time radio. Comedies mostly. That is how we coped between phone calls. During the day, I blogged, and read the blogs of others. My military training told me that staying positive through the mission is more useful than being scared.

But, of course, I was scared.

I have been worrying about that kid keeping his limbs attached to his body since before he was born. It’s not like I was going to stop when people were firing projectiles at him, trying to hit him. I worried about what would happen to his body if they got him. I worried about what would happen to his spirit if he got one of them. I felt his pain when he missed his wife desperately. I felt his fear, even though he would not voice it.

He would call when he was “back from the office,” our code for when he was at the base just outside of Gaza. We had lovely talks, sometimes philosophical, grappling with the situation’s politics. He couldn’t tell me much; and I didn’t ask. We honored the rules. “No civilian phone line is secure.” Mostly, we just updated each other briefly. I gave him news he was seeking; he just gave me his voice.

Every so often, we would get “the call.”

What do you say to your soldier son when he calls to fall apart over the devastating injuries sustained by a friend?

“Ema, I love you very much. I really love you.” He would say the words slowly and carefully, as if asking me to pay. close. attention. This call was code for “I’m going back in; and I am terrified I won’t ever speak to you again.” And my military/mom response was very cheerful, because that is my job: “You are one of my heroes, Josh. Your abba and I are so very proud of you. You have been well-trained. You know your job, and you are good at it. Think about what is in front of you, and the guys on either side of you. Remember For Whom you work. That’s all. I love you very, very much.” This was the verbal form of polishing his shield and sword. It was all I could do.

When I cried, after I hung up the phone, one of his younger brothers would come and hold me for a few minutes.

What do you say to your soldier son when he calls to fall apart over the devastating injuries sustained by a friend? How do you comfort him when he shares his fear, his guilt, his empathy?

You cry with him. You let him pour it all out. And then you listen and silently applaud as he pulls himself together, as he sees visiting his friend and attempting to strengthen him as his next mission. As he comes out of his pain, and comes back to life. You know that his friend will probably end up comforting and strengthening him, as is so often the case in tragedy. But you know that your son will grow from this, as we are bidden to grow from the good and the terrible that Hashem puts in our path.

It is hard to send a child off to war. But we understood the importance of his job. A government’s only real function is to protect its citizens. The citizens of Sderot — many of them small children — have not known the feeling of security for eight long years. When the Gaza war began, it seemed that we would at last demand that security for them, or drive their tormentors away. It seemed that we would demand freedom for Gilad Shalit, who has spent more than 900 days in captivity. It seemed we were no longer “tired of fighting, tired of winning.”

Photographer: IDF Spokesperson

When the “cease fire” was initially announced, I was torn exactly in half. I felt joy for my child, who would sleep in a real bed, inside of the first building that he had been in for three weeks. I felt happiness for my daughter-in-law and for us. But I was also disappointed, yet again, as our government ended another mission before it was completed.

My soldier son cornered the market on wisdom this time. “Remember, Ema, that a Torah Jew knows that we can’t solve this. Not with politics, and not with fighting. We soldiers are only doing a ‘holding action,’ until Moshiach will come and fix it.”

We have all survived the first test of our commitment to this country. How did this affect our younger sons? One wants to come to Israel from the States. “It’s time, Ema. I can’t stay away any longer.” One keeps checking the calendar, to see if he is old enough to go into the IDF. Like his big brother. The little one just keeps playing football, wearing his Gush Katif kipah, and listening.

Please God, help us to stay strong and positive, as we await Your intervention. Please help us to never forget that You run this whole show — and that it will be all right in the end. You have made certain promises to Your people; and You never lie.

Oh, yeah… and please let our children grow to be really, really old men, intact and healthy, with great stories to tell their grandchildren. Amen.

Ruth Eastman made aliyah from Baltimore in 2007. She and her husband and some of her sons live in Neve Daniel. When not busy “raising crops of boys,” Ruth works for an online US-based college, does proof-reading and editing, and writes a blog (http://rutimizrachi.blogspot.com) offering readers insights into the many positive aspects of life in Israel.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.