January 30, 2015

An Officer (and a Gentleman)

It is Wednesday afternoon and we are at the tekes siyum (graduation ceremony) of our son Ariel’s 32 soldiers.  This exciting moment marks the end of their six months’ basic training. Proud parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins come out. Some hold up large signs, others wear matching T-shirts printed with their soldier’s picture on them. Everyone brings coolers stuffed with food and  perches with cameras and videos ready to capture the big moment.

Yet just a few hours ago, Hezbollah had shot anti-tank missiles at IDF jeeps on the northern border. We knew there were casualties. We knew there could be a war.

Six months earlier, these same soldiers, three units comprising 113, entered the army as young kids. Now they stand as a cohesive, professional group of motivated soldiers. Six months ago, they were all strangers. Now they have formed close bonds that will last a lifetime.

Six months earlier, when these soldiers entered the bakum to be drafted, a war in Gaza was raging.  Rockets were slamming into Israel by the dozens. Code Red sirens blared in Ashkelon, Beersheva and Ashdod. It was very unsettling. Despite wars, the drafts continue.

In fact, when Ariel was first drafted in November 2012, there was also a war in Gaza. Hundreds of rockets were pounding southern Israel and the inhabitants were fleeing their homes. On the day Ariel was drafted, the Palestinians shot an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep.

When Ariel graduated from his Officers’ Training Course early June 2014, it was a time to celebrate and a time to be tense. Soldiers were combing the Hevron area to find the three teens who had been abducted and we stood together and prayed for them.

As I sat at his officers’ graduation ceremony last June, I felt pride for my son. Yet I was experiencing deep sadness for the missing boys and found I could not even bring myself to write about Ariel’s huge achievement.  Ariel came home that evening with a respectable new title, a bar on his lapel and a huge new responsibility.

Ariel received his new recruits soon after, and along with three mefakdim (sergeants) who report to him , they molded them into a cohesive, responsible, enthusiastic group.

Now, here we are. It is Wednesday afternoon and we are at the tekes siyum of our son Ariel’s 32 soldiers. This time, I am not watching the soldiers; I am looking at my son the officer standing in front of his group.

He stands tall and commands authority. He looks serious and even a little intimidating. He has worked hard over the past six months and feels he had done a good job.

As a mom and an olah who has never served a day in the army and still cannot speak much Hebrew, I cannot fathom what army life is like.  I have no idea what my son does everyday and my only tangible connection to the IDF seems to be washing his khaki uniforms when he comes home.

At this tekes siyum,  I feel pride as I watch him marching with the other officers and standing in front of his soldiers like a serious leader.  As I watch him saluting allegiance during HaTikvah, along with other officers and high-ranking soldiers, I feel his dedication and loyalty to protecting Israel.

I am honored to have a selfless son, and I know how special it is for a young person to make such a huge commitment. (As an officer, he must serve an additional year and four months to the prescribed three years of army service.)

It is Wednesday afternoon as we stand at attention, watching the blue and white flag being raised and buffeting in the sea breeze. We all sing HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem. The soldiers receive their pins and some are rewarded for excellence.

At the end of the ceremony, in keeping with tradition, the soldiers lift their berets and they spiral into the sky.  The green berets fly up with a communal joyous cry, and come crashing down with a thud. Training is over and now there is a serious job to be done.

And such is life in tenuous, heart-warming Israel.

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