November 27, 2012

Coming Home For Shabbat

With renewed violence from Gaza, last week was filled with emotions for everyone in Israel. I too was glued to the internet, TV and Twitter and when Radio Galgalatz intercepted programming every few minutes to warn of incoming rockets, we were all gripped with fear, even if we did not have to run for shelter.

When the ceasefire was announced, I felt relief, doubt and confusion. And with this lull, my soldier son was granted his first leave to come home for Shabbat. Although we had not seen him in four days, it felt like it had been months.  I simply wanted him to relax and sleep. I wanted to do his laundry, to make him his favorite food and to hug him.

From our hurried conversations during the week, I knew basic training was no picnic. I could hear the shock in his voice, knew of his aching muscles, and his frustration. Deep inside, I panicked. What had I done by bringing him from Canada to Israel? Instead of being woken up and commanded to run outside, stand in formation in a cold, dark night, change into uniform, go back to bed only to get out, up, out, dressed and undressed again and again and again, he could have been lounging in a Starbucks somewhere, studying for university mid-terms.

I thought about him every hour of the day and anxiously awaited those brief phone calls before he went to sleep. But when he called on Thursday evening, I detected a change in his voice. He sounded confident, proud and stronger. Yes, he had a good day and yes, we would see him tomorrow.

When we excitedly ran to meet him at the bus stop, I saw a soldier sitting on a bench, elbows resting wearily on knees. “My son,” I gasped, barely recognizing him. As he stood up in those black boots, he seemed taller than when I had last seen him, some four days ago. He gave us a big grin and a warm hug.

In Israel, a soldier commands respect and is part of something greater, as if he treads on a special red carpet. In synagogue on Saturday, he was given an aliyah and a special blessing. Our rabbi honored him with words of strength and the community congratulated him on his new role. 

This will be a hard, long road.  Every parent knows this all too well. But to see our children shine, flourish and give of themselves to be part of something greater is a privilege. Early Sunday morning, when he leaped out of bed, eagerly put on his uniform, and tucked his woolen beret into his shoulder lapel with a flourish, I felt confident that being in Israel really is the best thing for him.

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