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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.

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      Shevat 10, 5770, 1/25/2010

      Where there are no men, strive to be a man

      Hillel is often quoted as saying, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man." The interpretation of this simple phrase is often taken to mean standing against evil. Where others won't stand...this is where you should. There is a simpler meaning, as we saw in the last two weeks in Haiti - simply...when there is a need to action, act.

      Israel combined this concept with another that is inherently part of our army, the "Follow me" concept. In those first shocking hours when the world was still assessing what was happening, Israel had already mobilized its rescue and medical squads. A mere 15 hours after the earthquake had struck, Israeli planes were lifting off the ground, fully loaded, completely prepared.

      They arrived to find a hell on earth that few can imagine and without hesitation, they dug in, and in so doing, saved dozens of lives, even hundreds. Over the last fourteen days, almost 1,000 patients were treated, several hundred life-saving operations were performed, more than a dozen babies delivered who might otherwise never have been born.

      BBC and other news agencies tried to ignore the Israeli presence, at least to downplay it. Never mind the Jewish star on the uniform, the Israeli army insignia...we mustn't do anything to make Israel look too good.

      And good Israel did look because what BBC and others tried to do, didn't succeed. It was there in the wonder of the CNN reporter's voice, "My God," she said into the camera in shocked wonder, "they have machines here." Ventilators, X-ray machines - where other nations threw up tents, Israel created surgical departments on the ground, a children's ward, and so much more.

      What Israel did speaks of the essence of this country - what it is, and what it could be if the world but allowed it. In an ironic twist, Israel was forced to pay the United Nations for damages to its infrastructure during the Gaza War the same week it was pulling UN personnel from under the rubble.

      The Gaza War was an avoidable tragedy for all. Had the United Nations but demanded Hamas stop firing thousands of rockets into our cities, we would not have had to act. Had the UN but demanded that Hamas respect their infrastructure and remove rockets from amidst their buildings and schools and supply houses, Israel would not then have targeted those rocket launchers...and damaging the buildings that protected them.

      Gaza was avoidable - Haiti was not.

      No, I do not expect the world to awaken from its prejudices, nor do I expect the United Nations to pay Israel for the massive rescue effort its tax payers accept without complaints. I doubt the United Nations will even bother to thank us for our efforts in saving their personnel or notice the irony of demanding payment rather than offering it.

      We will pay for our doctors and medical equipment and when they return, they will come to a land pleased with their efforts and proud of their bravery. They went to Haiti not for glory, but because there was no one else who flew so fast, so far, so strong. Where there are no men, strive to be a man...where there is no one rushing to do what is right, rush there and save lives.

      Others may soon forget the sight of IDF soldiers precariously working their way under the rubble...but the people of Haiti won't forget, and we won't forget. The Goldstones of the world will bear their humiliation well - their baseless claims against Israel will be believed by those who would believe the worst of us.

      Yes, some idiot claimed Israel was harvesting organs in Haiti, as some idiot in Sweden claimed we were harvesting Palestinian organs and some idiots in Europe claimed we were drinking Christian blood for Passover in the not so distant past. What matters is not what they claim, but what we did. What matters is that once again, in a place where other nations hesitated, Israel stepped in. We strived, and succeeded, in showing the best of humanity.

      There is a baby in Haiti named Israel, another named Deborah, another named Daniel and another named Vladimir - all a testament to Israel, to our brave rescue and medical teams. Others have arrived and will take over the burden of the long-term reclamation of Haiti, our teams return home - most likely exhausted for having worked around the clock in difficult, almost unimaginable conditions. They come back to a nation so proud.

      Shevat 9, 5770, 1/24/2010

      United Nations: Send Them A Bill!

      In war, damage happens, lives are lost. You mitigate the damage by avoiding the danger zones...except if you are part of the war, part of the problem, part of the cause. For years, the United Nations has been more of a problem than a solution, more of an supporter than a fighter of terrorism in Gaza and elsewhere. That may be a harsh statement, but UN vehicles have been used to carry terror weapons; UN schools and "safe" houses shelter missile launchers.

      During the Gaza War, and even during the Lebanon War before it, Israel made two things clear - "If you sleep with a missile," said our United Nations Ambassador, Dan Gillerman, "sometimes, you don't wake up." And, if from your home, your school, your hospital, your mosque, you launch a rocket, expect one of our missiles to be launched right back at you.

      During the Gaza War...this happened numerous times from UN locations and Israel correctly hit back.

      During the Gaza War, thinking themselves immune, UN personnel walked freely in Gaza without coordinating with the Israelis, without respecting Israeli leaflets that warned residents that certain areas would be targeted. UN personnel were killed because missiles know no honor, have no respect for children, for women, for innocents.

      A missile doesn't care that it was fired into one of our schools, that it was used to target a city, a mall; and a missile seeking a specific target, such as a rocket launcher, will not care that United Nations personnel have decided to meander around in a war zone where civilians should be sheltered. In Israel, each building has a bomb shelter, most streets have a reinforced bus station. Hospitals and schools have reinforced safety areas...and on and on.

      In Gaza, the leaders have bunkers dug deep in the ground to protect them. All the people of Gaza have is an enemy who warns them and does what it can to avoid hurting them.

      "Lebanon and Gaza are very different," Elie explained to me. "In Gaza, there is no where for the people to run," he continued, and so the army of Israel did what it could. Good enough that the majority killed during the war WERE combatants, but not good enough to avoid civilian deaths entirely.

      So during one bombing run, UN personnel were caught and in several cases, UN property was damaged and the UN demanded that Israel pay for the damage. Amazingly enough, it gave no blame to Hamas, but never mind - justice was never a strong point for the United Nations.

      And Israel decided to pay. Last week, it paid the United Nations almost 11 million dollars...during the same period of time it was rescuing United Nations personnel from collapsed buildings in Haiti. The Arabs sent no one to Haiti, no supplies, no rescue teams - except a small force from Turkey. Nothing from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Gulf States. Nothing from Iraq, Iran, Yemen...and on it goes.

      So Israel sent in a team of rescuers, of doctors, of medical personnel...even police to help the security situation. And my comment to the Israelis - send the United Nations a bill for 11 million dollars for the cost of search and rescue and medical treatment of their personnel.

      They can bill us, we can bill them. In Gaza, UN property was damaged because the UN allowed Palestinians to fire rockets from near and within their property. UN lives were lost because in their conceit, they thought they have impunity to travel where they wanted, even in a war zone.

      In Haiti, lives were saved by Israel - as in Gaza lives were lost. If the UN is to blame Israel for the second, it should credit Israel for the first. If Israel must pay for the damage, Israel should be paid for the recovery.

      Israel has saved countless lives, minute by minute, hour by hour, the number of people rises. Almost a thousand have been treated, hundreds of life-saving operations, more than a dozen births. Yet again, yesterday a man was pulled from the rubble - alive, after 10 days, by Israel's team.

      Let the United Nations pay their bill - a bargain, for $10 million dollars...the lives of the truly innocent were saved. You cannot predict exactly when an earthquake will hit and what will happen when it does.

      The damage to Gaza was easily predictable and easily avoided...had the United Nations spent less time on supporting the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and more time on real education. Israel was not 100% responsible for the damage to UN property and personnel in Gaza, but it was 100% responsible for that which was retrieved in Haiti.

      It's time to send the UN a bill!

      (Personally, I'd recommend demanding a cash payment.)

      Shevat 6, 5770, 1/21/2010

      Elie Came Home from War...and Now from Base

      Elie Came Home from War...and Now from Base
      I started a few weeks ago reading again over the entries I had made during the Gaza War. Day by day, I looked back, slowly remembering what it was like. I was looking forward to this day, when I would read the entries about the war being over...and then I got distracted by the tragedy in Haiti and the amazing response from Israel and from around the world.

      And tonight, as I was about to close down, I thought back to the date...a year...exactly a year ago, Elie came home from the war...and tonight...he came home from base. A year ago, I couldn't imagine anything beyond seeing him, hugging him, having him finally back at home, safe in his bed. That came true and again tonight, as he told me to leave him a list and the credit card, drank from the bottle (yeah, I can't get him to break that habit) and went to bed, I am grateful yet again. We are so close to the end of this journey...day by day, we feel it growing closer even as I know that as his journey ends, my next journey begins.

      But I learned three years ago to take this each day, one day at a time. That's what I did at the beginning; that's what I did when Elie was at war; and that's what I will do now.

      It is so easy, with him home safe, to look back...one last look - at what your heart feels when your son is in danger, your country at war.

          Elie called in the early afternoon, "Can you pick me up?"

          I was in the mall shopping for shoes for my daughter and for me. Suddenly, all things became so silly. I had no patience for shoes, though we found them - Elie was coming home!

          I dropped my two younger kids at home, grabbed brownies and the special tuna-corn pancakes that Elie loves, a bottle of ice tea and some cups - and drove. I didn't take a map; didn't have the GPS from the other car. I know the general way - I'll wing it if I have to.

          Enough gas - another delay avoided. Drive...drive and don't think. Drive and enjoy.

          "How much longer?" Elie called at one point.

          "Another 30-40 minutes at most, I think." I told him at one point.

          "I'm still inside. I'll try to get a ride out now," Elie told me. I wouldn't be allowed up to the cannons but would meet him at the same place I met him last time. He would try to find someone with a jeep to drive him to the meeting point.

          I took a wrong turn - drove twice as fast to get back to the right point. Called Elie when I got to the meeting point and he wasn't there. The parking lot where I had met him last time was empty. Before it was filled with cars of reservists who had been called to war. There were no buses - last time, there had been three - full of soldiers being moved to and from the front lines. There were no helicopters hovering overheard. But there were signs, "The people embrace our soldiers" and "You fight for our holy land" and simply "The people thank the fighters of Israel."

          "Drive down the road till you get to the military police blocking the back road." He told me - and I did, past the "Closed Military Zone" sign in Hebrew and in English. The atmosphere was relaxed. I pulled next to another set of parents whose son was now in the car. I smiled at the mother; she smiled at me. There are times words need not be said, and yet volumes have been exchanged.

          Elie was standing there with all of his backpacks. He filled the trunk, even put more in the backseat.

          "Want me to drive?" he asked.

          That's man-talk for "I want to drive" or "Can I drive?"

          I countered with, "do you want to?" which was kind of unnecessary because he was already moving to the driver's door. I figured the least I could get out of it was a hug. I asked if he wanted something to eat or drink. He took the ice tea. I won't tell you about him drinking straight from the bottle or that I couldn't bring myself to even complain about it. We'll pretend it never happened.

          "Do you want some brownies?" I asked him.

          "Later," he said. "I just ate."

          I offered the military police brownies before leaving. And as we drove home...or he did, we talked and talked and talked.

      If I tell you what I did tonight, you won't believe me, but I'll write it anyway. Tonight, I was at the mall buying shoes for my younger children and me; I really was. Tonight, Elie came home, drank from the bottle of ice tea...and went to sleep.

      Of all blessings that we have in life, one we sometimes forget to recognize is the simplest of all blessings - to have your child at peace, asleep in his bed, safe from all who would harm him.

      May God bless the children of Israel...of Haiti...of America...of all the nations and all the places in the world - with a warm bed, food to eat, something to drink.

      May God bless the army of Israel who protected our people last year, last month, last night and today - and may God bless our doctors, medical teams, and soldiers who are so far from home trying to help the people of Haiti.

      Shevat 3, 5770, 1/18/2010

      The Humvee is Dead

      Sometimes, they say the funniest things. Elie called tonight - he was in such a mood.

      "What's new?" I asked.

      "Nothing," he said in that tone that suggested I'd have to guess my way into this.

      "How are you?" I asked. "Everything ok?"

      "Yup." Not gonna help, are you?

      "Whatcha doing?" I asked. I'd hit the jackpot.

      "Walking," Elie answered.

      "Walking? Where are you walking?" Up go my hopes...could he be walking down my block, coming home, surprise?

      "On base," came the response and down my hopes slid back to normal. On base? It's kind of lightning out...and raining...

      "Why are you walking on base?" I asked and here it came...

      "The Humvee is DEAD," he answered in that wonderful voice of his, almost a laugh, but not quite.

      "What happened to it? Really dead?" Dead, he answered. "Dead, dead, dead." Something about busted pipe and oil spilling out and I'm not sure what but the bottom line is that rather than driving around...he and the others are on foot patrol.

      There's another vehicle...it isn't anything really serious...and given that overall it's kind of a warm rain, life is grand for a 22-year-old commander walking in the rain around his base in Israel.

      He wanted to know if he could come home tomorrow to take the car back to base...making it easier for him to come home on Thursday. He called back to explain that he'd get a ride to Jerusalem with a jeep that has to go up north...unless the weather is bad up north, in which case, the jeep won't go...in which case, he won't come home.

      "Well, be careful," I told him stupidly, "it's raining."

      And then he answered, "REALLY? I'm on patrol...and I'm WET."

      Right...I'm the one sitting in my dining room; he's the one outside. I didn't have to tell him it's raining.

      I spoke to him about 20 minutes later after more lightning sparkled across the sky. "Maybe you should go in," I said when he answered. "It's dangerous to be out in this, no?"

      "I'm back in my room," he answered. "I finished 10 minutes ago."

      He's warm; he's safe. It's raining and pouring outside but he's inside and fine. The only problem, of course, is the Humvee...it's dead.

      Tevet 25, 5770, 1/11/2010

      The World According to Elie

      Perhaps that is too grand a title, but I have two Elie-isms for today and didn't know which one to use as a title.

      The first happened during Shabbat, as he was playing with his younger sister. Her endless squeals, his capture and tickles. They wrestled, he grabbed her and lifted her in a hug as she complained and ran. At one point, he said to her, "Before I kick you, give me a hug." It was...it was just Elie, and of course, his sister complied immediately.

      The second Elie-ism happened as I drove him to into Jerusalem today. There was one of those amazing scenes - a new meeting point, protected by soldiers on the perimeters...high and low...and then I saw why - hundreds, perhaps a thousand soldiers - with guns, without, Elie's artillery beret, green ones...light and dark, colors, backpacks...and so many buses. A central meeting point to take these soldiers back to bases far and near. I saw a helicopter circling...it was a vivid reminder, though none was needed, that though my son and these soldiers serve so close to home...they are, for days at a time, so very far from our reality.

      But, before I dropped him off, we were talking about the escalation in rocket attacks in the last few days. 10 last Thursday, several on Shabbat, four more in the early hours of the day.

      "Will it take another war to stop these rockets?" I asked Elie.

      "Probably," he answered.

      "Will the world understand this time?" I asked myself, as much as I was asking him and his answer was the one I expected.

      "Probably not," he said, and then came his latest Elie-ism. "It's like they're complaining to the world, 'they hit us back first'."

      It reminded me of a story from my childhood. I don't actually remember it; but I've been told the story so many times. Apparently, I was not the most angelic of children; I was, more often than not, the source of the conflict.

      One day, my sister went to my father and complained that I had hit her. My father promptly believed her story and came and disciplined me. During or after his punishment, I explained that my sister was in fact the one who had hit first.

      My father didn't know what to believe and so he returned to ask my sister. She told him the truth, "yes, but she hit me back."

      Thus it is with the Palestinians. They shoot rockets at us; taunt us; dare us. And then when we do hit back by attacking a military unit about to launch rockets, the Palestinians demand world attention, UN inquiries. How dare they hit us back, they cry to all who will listen and even those who won't.

      Yes, we dared to hit them back today and yesterday and so it reminded Elie of the story I've told from my childhood. The difference, sadly and absurdly, is that I was a child of 4 or 5; the Palestinians should know better...as should the world.

      Four more rockets today...the world, according to Elie, should know better than to fall for the persistent complaints of the Palestinians. "Yeah, but they hit us back" shouldn't work in the real world.

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