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      A Soldier’s Mother
      One mother’s journey through the Israeli army with her sons

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      Paula R. Stern is CEO and founder of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company offering documentation services and training seminars. She made aliyah in 1993 when her oldest son was 6 years old. In March 2007, her son Elie entered the Artillery Division of the Israeli army and Paula began writing about her experiences as A Soldier’s Mother. The blog continues as Elie begins Reserve Duty and her son Shmulik is now a soldier. She recently opened a publishing house, helping other authors fulfill their dream to publish.

      Links to the Author's blogs:

      Adar 8, 5770, 2/22/2010

      The Future....Goes On

      I took a few days and didn't write anything. I missed it a bit - thought about it a few times - and just left it alone for a few days. I took a day to attend my nephew's military ceremony appointing him as an officer, spoke at a Social Media conference in Jerusalem, traveled north to a client. This is what life felt like before Elie went into the army and it is a lull I am enjoying; a time I take for myself.

      My heart and brain have been completely mine...inside me, whole. I haven't feared a phone call...or at least not any that a normal mother would not fear. I have listened to the news, but names and places blur. He isn't near Kalkilye; he isn't over there. I worry for the soldiers who are there...but it is back to the level of a normal Israeli, normal concern, normal.

      Life is filled with before and after moments. Some we know and expect; others we can never imagine. Forever after, life is divided by that moment and yet, often, you just couldn't expect it, didn't imagine the impact it would have.

      Before Elie went into the army - there was a huge black space in his future and mine that I really tried to avoid thinking about. There was nothing I could do and the day would come soon enough...and when it did and I realized I could no longer avoid it, it tested me, challenged me, and changed me.

      It changed my relationship with Elie in a way I never imagined it would - we are closer and I appreciate the person he has become. I so desperately hope it will do the same with my next son as well. It changed my relationship with the other members of my family - some for the good and some for the bad and I have to work on that.

      It changed my relationship with God...I can't really explain that other than to say that when you are afraid, you trust more, you believe more, you beg more and you understand that God is all powerful and that all things rest in His hands and so you pray...you pray that what is good for you is really for the good of all. And you fear...not just for the dangers that are known, but for the judgment that is not.

      This blog, which began as a personal journey, has taken off and touched others and I am forever grateful that those it has touched have often shared with me their thoughts (while taking my worries, fears and joys as theirs as well). I have met people – amazing, wonderful, warm and loving people from around the world.

      That was never my goal and yet it has happened and continues to happen. There are other bloggers and sites that take my words and spread them further and for this too I am grateful.

      And there are the detractors – the nasty ones, like the one who calls himself/herself simply SK and after my last post wrote, “You think now you could end this?"

      I thought about that question last Friday morning as I began preparing for the Sabbath. I’ve thought about the irony of taking Elie home exactly three years to the day after recognizing the journey I was starting. Often I’ve wondered if I should stop and each time so many have written to thank me in some way – for writing what they were feeling about their own voyages, for explaining something about a far off distant land that isn’t really like the way the media says it is, for showing a simple fact…that this boy who puts on a green uniform, remains a person.

      In a very real way, I could not have gotten through the last three years without some outlet, some means of dealing with the internal thoughts that kept me awake at night. I wanted to keep them from Elie, couldn’t share them with others in the family who were also afraid or worried. So it was something I needed to do…but do I need to do it again, as Shmulik enters the army?

      Probably not – though his unit will be doing different things, watching over different places; his role different during wartime. But I’m stronger than I was, I know so much more, and this time, I have Elie with me to interpret and understand the ways of the army when before it was two of us going in blind.

      No, I don’t NEED this blog any more, though I do need the contacts I have made, the friends, the supporters.

      Do I think I could end this now? Absolutely. It would be so easy. It did its job…but you see, I didn’t finish mine. Minutes after my youngest child was born, I turned to my husband with a thought…she was a few minutes old and my oldest child was fourteen, a teenager. Elie was going to enter his teenage years in a few months…and in those moments, I realized that for the next twenty years of my life, I would be dealing with teenagers (numerous at times). That was 10 years ago.

      In a few weeks, Shmulik turns 20, I’ll have, for the first time in many years, only one teenager at home…another coming around the bend soon enough.

      In less than a few weeks, Shmulik enters the army as Elie enters the Reserves. They won’t call him for a year…at least I hope they won’t. But as I have been a soldier’s mother for three years now, all that changes is that the apostrophe shifts…now I will be two soldiers’ mother, three if you count my adopted son Chaim, who will also be going into the army soon…and four if you count my adopted son Yaakov, who will hopefully return and may choose to volunteer as well. Five and six…and thousands and thousands if you understand Israeli culture.

      Each is a son of mine, as mine is a son of theirs. I am part of a culture, part of a huge group of women here in Israel and around the world. A soldier’s mother…it is not a term of shame, but of honor. It is not a call to violence, but a prayer for peace. It is a commitment, as real as the one we make when we birth them, as life-altering as that moment was as well.

      So, this blog continues, SK, because Yaakov and Elie remain soldiers and Shmulik and Chaim become ones. Because I chose to make my life here with my sons, rather than sit on distant shores and comment about life in Israel. I chose to live my life here and in so doing, committed my sons to their destiny.

      I took a week off because it felt good to just feel my sons around me, but what life has made them, what this country requires of them, means I too remain on alert, on call, on duty.

      May you all, my friends and readers and most of all, my fellow mothers of soldiers – my sisters…may you all have a blessed day.

      Shevat 30, 5770, 2/14/2010

      Three Years...and Elie's Home

      I started this blog on February 13, 2007 - it was my first post and it was titled, "Starting Young."

          Starting from a very young age, Israeli boys (and girls) know that they are destined to go to the army. It's part of how they grow up, where they are headed, who they will become. For those of us who came to Israel as adults, it's something that is harder to assimilate. It's so easy, year after year, to deny that it will happen, to postpone dealing with it. So, here I am, six weeks away from when my son will enter the Israeli army, suddenly having it all become real. This blog is a soldier's mother's story.

          Elie is 19 years old. A handsome boy with the most incredible blue eyes. He's smart, a volunteer in the ambulance squad, and lest you think that I think he is perfect, he's got a mighty fine temper and his room's a terrible mess. Elie is the manager of the family, the one who analyzes everything.

      It's been three years. Elie is 22 years old. He's a handsome man with the most incredible blue eyes. He's smart and will likely take a course in the next few months to become an ambulance driver. And though by now, you must know he isn't perfect, he's learned to control his temper most of the time, has learned so much, and promises to clean his room this very week.

      Tonight, as soon as the Sabbath ended, Elie called me. We'd made plans that I would travel to pick him up from his base later tonight, but things shifted, his schedule changed, and it was possible for me to pick him up right away. I left half an hour later and now he is home. Three years to the day since I started this blog...Elie is home. He has another week of training for reserve duty and a day when he has to go turn in his gear, but he's home, he's done. He brought home bags and bags of stuff - his blanket, his running shoes. He's home.

      On the way home, he explained why there were so many army vehicles on the road - waved goodbye to the soldiers at the checkpoint. He's home. It comes with such joy, such relief...and a bit of fear as well.

          So - Elie is all grown up now, a man about to go to the army. We got his "marching" orders last week - artillery unit, and already I am panicking. Not because I don't want him to go, but because I haven't had the time to accept it all. My daughter, Elie's older sister, is getting married in a few weeks and two weeks after that, Elie goes in. I've been up to my elbows in wedding plans and jitters. Dresses and caterers and invitations and most importantly, smoothing out the nerves of a happy and excited bride. And, in the middle of all this, quietly moving closer and closer was this date - end of March, 2007, my son will be a soldier.

      Three years ago, it was my daughter's wedding that softened the days before Elie went into the army. This year, it is Elie coming out of the army that has softened the days before Shmulik goes in. We got Shmulik's "marching" orders...and marching orders they are. He will be part of the Ground Forces...Kfir Brigade...and already I am panicking...Not because I don't want him to go, but because I haven't had the time to accept it all. I have no excuses this time - he doesn't go into the unknown and yet even without the lack of knowledge, my heart still hurts just a little bit, my stomach dances just a little bit.

      I have focused on this day, today, when Elie would come home. I've wanted it to come, terrified that in the days or moments before he would come home, something would happen and he would be hurt. When I started this blog, I was terrified that I would ever have to write my most horrible and terrifying thoughts. I have been blessed - frightened out of my wits plenty of times - but so incredibly blessed. And now, now I dare to ask God to bless me yet again, to watch over my Shmulik as he watched over Elie. What nerve I have to ask and yet, what else can a mother do?

      Tonight, for the first time in almost three years, Elie came home without a gun. He has already returned it.

      "How does that feel?" I asked him.

      "Weird," he answered.

      Weird. That too is a blessing. Tomorrow, he plans to get a haircut and clean his room. He wants to fix up the computer, empty and reorganize his closet. He asked if I needed his help in the office. He's already feeling at loose ends, a bit lost, I think. He knows his long term goals, but not his short term ones. For the first time, no one is telling him what he has to do, when. The rules are essentially gone and now he has to pave his own path. For him, it is probably even scarier than going into the army. I have to remember that he still needs my help and while I focus on Shmulik, I still need to watch and see what Elie needs.

      Tonight, before I went to get Elie, I stood next to Shmulik as my husband recited the blessings that separate between Shabbat and the rest of the week. Soon, I won't know where he is, what he is doing. Soon, I'll write more on Shmulik so that you can learn about him and see how special he is...so different from Elie in so many ways, looks, personality...and more.

      For now, I'll stop the worry for one night, perhaps even for a few weeks. Elie stands down after three years. His gun is back with the army, soon to go to another son of Israel. Tonight he sleeps in his bed, still a soldier for a few more weeks, but it is now a technicality. For at least a year, there is very little chance he will go on patrol, man a checkpoint, and have the responsibilities of command that have been his for so long.

      Tonight, I close my eyes and will sleep deep and with the normal fears of a normal mother. I have no sons on the borders of Israel, none at a checkpoint or deep in the desert. I have two sons who are technically soldiers and neither likely to be called in the coming days.

      I love my country, Israel. Long ago, I chose to bring my two sons here, knowing that some day they would serve. I gave birth to another son and knew all three would serve. I am proud that Elie served; that Elie defended his country and with a bit of shame, I am so glad he is home, so so glad to be done, at least for this round.

      May the God of Israel watch over our soldiers this night and every night.

      Shevat 26, 5770, 2/10/2010

      Life's Course

      The army has a much coveted course that it offers to a limited number of soldiers. It can't offer it to all of them. For the most part, it is another benefit given to combat soldiers, though others are also able to attend when space is available. Elie was lucky - he got the course.

      He was happy for a number of reasons - it meant a week at home. Each morning to rise and drive to the location where the course is offered; each afternoon to return home. Nights were his. The course lasted Sunday through Thursday, each day a new and challenging and informative topic. We gave him one of our cars, which left me stranded at the office. Each afternoon on his way home, he picked me up and drove me home as we talked.

      I'm not sure I can remember all the topics, but let's start. On the first day, they spoke to him about what he can expect from the army when he leaves - an immediate grant of several thousand dollars; a fund that can be used at any time in the next five years for a variety of things - education, buying an apartment, getting married. The fund will sit and gather interest until he pulls it out. After 5 years, it is his for any reason.

      They spent one day teaching Elie and the others interviewing skills - proper behavior, comments, questions. They did role playing with the boys and videotaped them so that they could see for themselves what the interviewer would see. They taught them about putting together a CV and about life after the army.

      They taught them about budgeting - about understanding how much income they have, taken against expenses and how to balance your needs against your resources. They taught them important information about when you shop for an apartment - both to rent and to buy. What to look for in an apartment; what to look for in terms of a mortgage.

      There were other practical aspects of this course that daily left me so proud of the government's recognition that these young men are about to face a new reality. Elie explained it to me as if it was something I didn't know.

      "We've never been so free," Elie explained. They went from high school and their parents' homes to an even more restricted environment where almost every minute of their lives was determined, disciplined, controlled. Now, after three years, all restrictions are gone. They come back to their homes as men. I can't tell Elie how to behave, when to go to sleep, what time he has to be home. The thought is absurd - a boy left my home; a man returns.

      And on the final day, they spoke of far off lands and what happens to too many of our young. After seeing war and terror and violence, after being so restricted, many crave freedom and air. They leave Israel for extended travels to far off exotic lands. Most return home safely; too many don't.

      They spoke of drugs and showed them a video made by a young man who had traveled to India with friends. He'd never been involved in drugs, but with the encouragement of friends he was traveling with, began experimenting. Months past by, of which he has no memory. He doesn't remember how he got back to Israel, only that at some point, he came back to himself and was finally drug-free. Young man to young man, he warned Elie's group. Go, be safe, return home healthy and whole.

      I don't think Elie will be among those who travel off to distant exotic shores. We've talked about him perhaps making a visit to family in the United States and traveling to see things there. It's distant, but doesn't hit the exotic and frightening on my scale.

      He's thinking what he wants to do...no answers yet. Perhaps for a short while, he'll do nothing and that's okay with me too. He joked once that after the army, he would never wear green again...at least outside of his yearly reserve duty.

      From the beginning to now, the army has amazed me. The fact that they take this time to teach soldiers about mortgages and interviews shows how incredible an organization it is. Their primary goal has always been to defend Israel, but they understand that they have the power not just to save lives, but to launch them on to successful paths.

      I wish as a soldier's mother there was someone I could thank for the gift they have given to my son. In making him a soldier, they have made him a better, stronger, healthier, smarter man. I gave them a boy, much loved and handsome. He was smart, they made him smarter. He was too quick to anger, they taught him discipline. He was always analytical, they taught him to think. I gave them a beautiful boy, they return to me an amazing man.

      Shevat 22, 5770, 2/6/2010

      What is a Miss?

      Palestinians shot a rocket at Israel yesterday. For all intents and purposes, they again missed their target...whatever that might have been this time. Palestinians also launched explosive barrels against Israel's shore lines. For all intents and purposes, they again missed their target...whatever that might have been. The devices - three so far and counting, were all found and neutralized. A miss. Again.

      Because this new water warfare is a bit unique, it garners a bit of international attention but for all intents and purposes, the explosives were oh-so-boringly disarmed. No spectacular explosions; no blood; no deaths and so, sadly, no real news as far as much of the world is concerned.

      The world is blasé about the rockets that keep raining down on us. Yesterday, another rocket - the 20th rocket in a period of 34 days. The rocket crashed down near a city of 25,000 people. Certainly, Hamas cannot control the rockets - proof in the fact that they keep missing. But...because they cannot be controlled, because they are launched indiscriminately, they bring with them terror.

      There is no miss when it comes to terror - and that is the point that must be made.
      A miss doesn't make the news but that doesn't mean anything on the scale of what is really important. Twenty times in the last month, close to one million people have been terrorized by rockets.

      In the last few days, all of Israel has been warned - avoid the seashore and if you go, beware. If you see a suspicious object...it could be a bomb. Can you relate this idiocy to your life - you who live far from such a concept?

      When I was young and wanted a day of freedom, it was to the beach I went. I have always felt so close to the water, so touched by the majesty and power of that place where water meets land. Two years ago, I asked my youngest daughter what she wanted to do on her last day of vacation. Elie was in the army, her older sister in her first year of marriage. My youngest child picked the sea and so we went (A Candle and a Wave). I watched her dance among the waves, enthralled as I have always been. Today, in fear, there are many who are not going to the beaches; the army has told us to stay away while they comb the waters of our shoreline. Boats have been warned as well. This too they would take from us, if we let them.

      What amazes me is how the shades of terrorism never seem to include terror. Attacks are measured only in bodies and blood - but what of the terror itself? What of the family who avoids the beach, the mall, the buses today because they are afraid? What of the child who walks and is afraid on his way to school because he knows that a Color Red might sound and he has to run and hide and only has 15 seconds?

      What of the mother who plays in the park with two of her children and wonders if she can, within 15 seconds, get to both and safety as well? All these are facets of terrorism too easily ignored.

      That the Palestinians missed murdering innocents in Sderot yesterday and the day before and eighteen other times this past month, is a blessing, a miracle, a gift. The fact that alert Israelis are finding these water bombs before innocents find them is a blessing, a miracle, a gift. It is wrong to ignore the horror, the terror, the indignity, the murderous intent...simply because, by the grace of God and our security forces, the Palestinians have, once again, missed their targets.

      Shevat 14, 5770, 1/29/2010

      The Gift of Peace

      What a misleading title that is...the gift of peace. No, I don't really believe Israel and the Middle East will see peace any time soon. I could point fingers at the Arab countries who refuse to accept our existence, to the Palestinians who continue on the path of violence. I could list the rock throwing, firebombing, ongoing rocket attacks and tell you how many Arabs were caught with how many knives this week in varying lengths.

      I could write of our current and past leadership that showed weakness to an enemy that thrives on it and to a world that accepts, again and again, the injustice of blaming the victim rather than finding the true cause.

      There is no gift of peace any time soon in the Middle East - no matter what other leaders such as Barack Hussein Obama mistakenly believes or wants to believe. His suggestion that everyone is responsible for blocking peace...Netanyahu, the right-wing, the left-wing, perhaps the last man on the moon...shows he understands nothing.

      I can tell you of increasingly dangerous armaments, or Iran's nuclear plans and Europe's blindness. I can write of Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah - all born of the same violent cloth, and I can write of all that threatens the future here and where you are too...but that would be the opposite of my direction for today.

      Because despite all that I have written so far, the truth is simply that peace will come - today, in fact...in not so many hours.It will come for a brief time only - sad, but true...at last so far. Today is Friday - the first day of our brief weekend, the last work day for some. It's a day of preparation here in Israel - we are preparing for tomorrow.What I love about Fridays is that they represent endings and beginnings.

      We are saying goodbye to the past week - whatever we didn't do...we let go. It will be there on Sunday and need to be done. Whatever disappointments we had, whatever didn't go right...Sunday will come and allow us yet another chance to correct it. So we end and know on Sunday we will begin again.Shabbat, Saturday, is about cleansing - your house, your body, your mind, your soul.

      It's about taking time to make a bigger, better meal than you had time for the rest of the week. Taking more time for your family, longer discussions - and not about work and daily pressures. It's about putting away the trappings of this world - the phones, the computers, the televisions, the cars...whatever.It is so symbolic of where I am in my life.

      Shabbat is the day in between last week and next week - and yet it has a character all its own. It is a moment of calm because psychologically you really do succeed in forgetting the past and the future. If ever time were to stop...this is the moment we would want to hold. If tomorrow never comes...we can actually relish staying here in this moment.Elie is finishing the army.

      Shmulik is beginning. This transition period has its own character, its own sweetness. What will Elie do after the army? Will he really leave it or choose at the last minute to continue (as some do)? I don't know and won't know until one or the other happens.Will Shmulik go into the Tank Division? So far, it is looking strongly that he won't. Kfir? Givati? Golani? Does it really matter in the end? I won't know where he is going for a few more days or weeks.

      But there is peace coming today - peace in having Shmulik home, in knowing that Elie is returning right after Shabbat for a special course he will attend next week. Peace in knowing that he isn't really in a dangerous place. His checkpoint, though surrounded by Arab villages, is in a relatively quiet place and the base itself is well located and secure. Next week, he'll be sleeping at home each night - a whole week of seeing him each evening.

      There is peace in the smell of food filling the house; the candles set and ready to be lit on the small table near the mirror. The gift of peace is one that comes each week with the Sabbath...and leaves with it as well. To live in a world of quiet, of family, of home - it is a taste of better times to come. When? I don't know but with the Sabbath comes the knowledge that we can survive the whole week, month, year, and the decades and centuries because each week we are given that small bit of time in which we pull into ourselves and our families.

      May God grant peace to the world, to Israel, His people.

      May He grant peace to the medics and rescue workers who have returned from Haiti; and to little Wadley Elysee, a six-year old Haitian child suffering from severe heart defects. Wadley's medical record was sent to Israel several months ago, but there was no way to get him to Israel for surgery that he needs to save his life. Without the surgery, Wadley would probably not live to see the age of 10. While in Haiti, Israeli doctors took the time to find him amidst all the chaos and destruction. Wadley and his mother were flown back to Israel with the returning aid mission and he will soon have his surgery, another gift from Israel. May Wadley know the peace of Shabbat and live a long and healthy and happy life.

      And finally, to my sons - to the three...and to the two. To each of them, to all of them. May you always cherish the Sabbath as a time of peace, no matter what wars you are called upon to fight in the future. May you be safe everywhere you go, blessed for your service and know that wherever you go, you take my prayers and my love.

      Shabbat shalom.

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