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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:

      Kislev 25, 5770, 12/12/2009

      A Rainy Night, A Lightning Strike, and Israel

      This past week, I strained my arm...I don't really know when or how...only the resulting pain whenever I moved it, up, down, sideways...agony. I felt it Tuesday; suffered with it Wednesday and finally surrendered Thursday. My husband and kids were amazing. I told them I couldn't drive home; I'd sleep in the office. The thought of driving a car was more than I could face.

      My middle son refused to let me curl up alone in an office; he drove our second car into the city and the next day my daughter and husband retrieved the first car I'd left there. My daughter came to my house on Friday and spent the day with the others cooking, cleaning and preparing the house for the Sabbath. She took me to the doctor, brought me drinks, helped rearrange the pillows on my bed, ordered the younger children to do things. It was...for a mother...a humbling experience. Not the caregiver, but the receiver; not the homemaker, but the served; not the doctor who mothered, but the mother who was doctored.

      My husband and middle son moved furniture around to clear space before the window in the dining room. Part of the holiday of Chanukah involves lighting the menorah, a nine-candle candelabra, each night of the eight day holiday adding another candle. But we don't just light it for ourselves, we light it for all to see, to publicize the miracle of the holiday (which I'll write about next).

      So, with the pain in the arm and the preparations, I didn't have time to call Elie and I guess he didn't have time to call me. After Shabbat ended, I called him to  find out how he was, what was new, when he thought he'd be home.

      He's fine. He doesn't yet know when he will be home next and it has been raining non-stop in the Golan for more than 24 hours. His base is strategically placed higher on the side of a mountain...there are rivers of rain flowing down the sides.

      It was noisy in the background. "What's happening there? Are you having a party?" I asked.

      "Yeah, sort of," he told me. It sounded like a really nice sort-of party to me. There was music and voices - it was nice, warm, lively.

      "How was Shabbat?" I asked him.

      "Very nice," he told me. And then he added...around 9:30 last night, lightning struck the communication antenna on their base.

      "What happened?" I asked quickly...already thinking of it falling on someone or exploding, or I don't know what.

      "It set off the alarm," he said.

      What that means, he explained, is the entire base began to move. Those that were already dressed, ran to the weapons - getting soaked in the process. The first wave had already grabbed clothes and were already running in the rain as well. Those who were supposed to call and find out what was happening, made their calls. Elie and others were getting dressed in the few seconds it took to realize it was a false alarm.

      It had happened before, he told me, when someone tried to cut the fence on the border and they all mobilized. "It doesn't mean a war has started," Elie explained, "just that something happened." Ah, I see...okay.

      So, within minutes or less, they had realized it was lightning. Those who had started to dress, went back to bed...those that had run to the nagmashim (APVs and cannons) came back in - all laughing at themselves for the sudden and unexpected drenching they took.

      It was such a pleasure to all of them that it was nothing more serious than a burst of lightning and a bit of rain and excitement. Two years ago, this group sat in a field in the Golan, expecting that Syria might attack after Israel had taken out a building being prepared for a nuclear facility (or so the newspapers claim); almost a year ago, this group sat beside Gaza in the midst of a war...

      With great pleasure, the dry and the wet among them went back to sleep last night after a much preferred lightning strike drove them from their beds for a short while.

      And tonight, up there, high on the Golan, my son and his unit lit the Chanukah menorah to publicize and remember a miracle, a victory of our people over another enemy, long gone. It is what makes our people what we are, here in our land...then, two years ago, last year, last night, tonight, and for all the tomorrows that will come, with God's help.

      Kislev 22, 5770, 12/9/2009

      When the People Will Hike

      One of the interesting things about Israelis and Israel is that we love to hike. We climb mountains, descend into riverbeds. We seek water, the highs and lows of the land. We explore the caves, the hills, the valleys. Everything, everywhere...whenever we can. It's a national obsession - perhaps born out of too many years in which we could not freely hike our land.

      On extended days off from the army, rather than avoid his army friends, Elie will arrange to get together and hike with them. Our family has gone on many hikes - few really challenging ones, as I am a bit nervous having children walk near the edges of cliffs and things. It is probably another one of the seldom recognized miracles that happen daily here that so few people actually get injured.

      Some of Israel's recognized tourist sites are carefully marked. Follow the green or blue arrows. Stick on the path and climb and descend...that's what I do. I am a path-follower. Boring it is, but what can you do. As soon as I leave the path, I am sure scorpions and snakes and lions and tigers will attack. No, it's the path for me (at least as far as my kids know, so let's leave it at that. Kids, stay ON the path).

      What do most Israelis do...especially the young ones? (Read here my three sons and most army-age people.) Well, if there are arrows, it is too much evidence that man has been here before. Why walk the path, my sons often feel, if they can scale the sides. Elie is often the first to break off to the side...his brothers follow as I slowly wind my way safely and slowly along the path. They sprawl on the ground, relaxed and amused, as I catch up to them.

      As I said, it is a national obsession that we can't do often enough because despite living in this beautiful country, we live in the real world. We work...hard...and if you keep the Sabbath, you really have no day in which you can simply escape to the far reaches of our land.

      So, when can we hike? The answer is the holidays - as many of them as possible. We go in the summer, on Passover, on Sukkot...and on Hanukah, which starts at the end of this week.

      And...where do we go? The answer is everywhere - from the very north, to the very southern tip of Israel. To the north, we have the beautiful Galilee. For those of us who live near the desert, we are always and constantly amazed by the green, lush forests. Water runs freely there and the urge to step into the water, even in the winter, is overwhelming. Further to the east, lies the Golan Heights. It is magnificient, majestic...on a scale that is all Israel. There are waterfalls and nature hikes aplenty up on the Golan; cows roaming in the fields. It borders the Sea of Galilee, so there are beaches, free and clean, along the edges of the water and cliffs to your back as you stare across the sea.

      Stick with me, you'll see where I'm going in a minute. We love to hike in the south, in the west, in the east...and yes, in the north.

      Elie is with his unit on the Golan Heights. They serve a dual purpose up there - it allows our artillery to be on the border where one of our enemies lies just a few kilometers to our east...and it's open space where they can train. Each loud explosion echos across the land. You can hear it for miles away...likely in parts of Syria too. Good. Let them hear our might and strength...if it pushes war off for this day and the next. Let them hear and know we are ready not only for war...but for the true peace you can only negotiate when your enemy realizes that peace is his only option.

      So, they are up there, Elie's unit, to train. It's been almost a year since the Gaza War. In the next few weeks, Elie's unit will conduct several training exercises. To keep them combat-ready, some of the exercises will be with live ammunition. They need to feel the power of these machines; they need to feel the ground shake, the fire explode as the cannon fires.

      So, to summarize, in the next few weeks...
      • You have a nation that loves to hike...and people who feel their greatest challenge is to explore every crevice of our country and a holiday that will pull the people in huge numbers.

      • You have an artillery unit, located atop the Golan Heights - a relatively small chunk of land. Because it is so small, the open fields, except for the areas marked as mine fields, are often marked as shooting ranges which are also used as grazing areas for cows in a carefully coordinated dance between civilian and army. The army is required to open and shut gates in the fields to keep the cows contained (another "only in Israel" phenomena).
      This is not a good combination and so, despite the army needing to practice, there will be no live ammunition exercises during the week of Hanukah lest the "Israeli" in us all encourages someone to walk in the middle of a training exercise.

      Apparently, this is not as unusual as it sounds. Elie said that from late Thursday evening until Sunday (which basically defines our weekend), the army also doesn't shoot live rounds because it knows that people tend to wander into these areas despite the clear markings that warn them otherwise.

      Note to Israelis: Please don't take my word on the above. If you go to the Golan and see a sign saying 'Fire Range"...stay out!

      Note to Elie and his unit: Enjoy the quiet and happy hanukah!

      Kislev 15, 5770, 12/2/2009

      A Son Comes Home...

      I'm looking forward to this weekend finally arriving more than I have in many weeks. Elie will be home. He's been gone almost two weeks but somehow these last weeks have seemed longer and harder; work has thankfully been flowing in and requiring long hours. I want a break.

      Our second son, Shmulik, is arranging to take off from his yeshiva even though this is an "in-house" weekend. I hope they'll let him come. My daughter and son-in-law will hopefully come for at least one meal...and...

      Hospitality is something deeply ingrained in our culture and our land. It is as old as Abraham rising up to welcome visitors to his tent. We love having guests, welcoming them, doing what we can to encourage them to return. We show guests from abroad what an amazing country we have built...come see this land...we are so proud.

      Look at the trees we have planted, look at the roads we have paved. Look at the houses we have built, the cities, the industries. I still, more than 16 years here in this country, am amazed to see the street signs in Hebrew.

      So - come visit me, I tell people...and mean it. I love to cook...and as luck would have it (lucky for my family, anyway), I actually cook quite well - or at least I am told this. Food is always plentiful in my house - it fills my table as a means of thanking my guests for coming, and God for providing.

      This weekend, we will have a special homecoming. When Elie first left home on the path to the army, he tried a Hesder yeshiva. There were things he liked about it and things he didn't and after about 6 months, he moved to a Mechina in Nokdim. To help you non-Israelis catch up...

      Hesder is an arrangement with the army. Instead of doing 3 years of army service, the boys dedicate 5 years of their lives to a combination of service and study. They learn for the first 1.5 years, are in the army for the next 1.5 years, and learn again for the last 2.

      Mechina is a pre-army preparation school - often combined with religious study, as it was in Elie's case. They do this for 1.5 hours...and then go into the regular army...Nokdim is the place where Elie's mechina was located, just south of Jerusalem. Shmulik is in his second year of Hesder and will enter the army in March to begin his service.

      So, when Elie was in Hesder for that short period of time, his roommate was a young man name Yaakov, who came from Florida to learn and then serve in the army. Elie brought Yaakov home several times for Shabbat and then for some of the holidays. We adopted him into our family, taking him on vacations, having him over whenever...as often as we could. Elie and I went to his army ceremonies, as his local family.

      We took Yaakov out to celebrate when he was given his army beret - purple for his Givati unit and we welcomed him home, tired and hungry, for Passover. One day, as his army service was coming to an end, Yaakov brought his brother Chaim to us. Chaim was visiting and would soon be coming to learn in Israel. Yaakov was finishing his army service and planned to return to the States, to marry, to go to school and then as soon as possible, return with his wife to live in Israel.

      When we first met Chaim, we told him - Yaakov is our son and brother...you are Yaakov's brother...therefore, you are ours too. Yaakov finished the army; moved back to America for college. Married. He's visited once...still hoping soon to move here after college. Over the last year and more, Chaim has been a frequent guest in our home, there for the holidays. Like Yaakov, we took him with us to family dinners, family events, local happenings - he is, as we promised that first time, one of ours.

      One of my most moving memories of my youngest son's bar mitzvah took place on Friday night. My youngest daughter became very sick with a fever and my oldest daughter stayed with her for part of the time to enable me to visit a bit with our guests. I missed the evening prayers while I sat with my daughter; but was able to go to part of the dinner.

      I heard my husband welcome our guests, say the blessing over the wine (Kiddush) and as Elie went to his father to receive his blessing, I quickly got Yaakov and Chaim to stand in line. Shmulik and then our youngest son lined up behind Chaim and there - in the picture I couldn't take but will never lose...were my five sons standing waiting for my husband to bless them each.

      May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe
      May God bless you and watch over you.
      May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
      May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace

      A few months ago, as summer was coming to Israel, Chaim returned to his American family. It was hard for him to decide what to do. To go, to stay. To make his life in Israel; to return to his family and leave Israel behind. We talked of this. He was so torn. His family wanted him home...he wanted to make his life in Israel.

      We were caught in the middle. We want him here with us, but understood it was a decision he had to make on his own. Chaim left for the States telling us he would return at the end of the summer. The summer came and went; Chaim was still with his family in America.

      "Tell him to come home," my middle son told me. His tone was intentionally childish. He already understands the dilemma Chaim is facing.

      "When is Chaim coming back?" asked my youngest daughter. She can't really contemplate choosing between home of the body and home of the heart; between family and land; between Israel and America.

      Chaim told me he was planning on coming back before the holidays in September - just after the summer ended. The holidays came and went and still I had no date when he would leave his home to come home; leave his real family to come to his adopted one.

      Yaakov and Chaim both called me on my birthday a month ago. Yaakov first - he sang me happy birthday and promised to send me pictures of his baby daughter. My first grandchild in many ways - may she be the first of many to come!

      Chaim called later in the evening. "Yaakov sang to me," I joked. I asked him when he was coming back...even though I was afraid I was just torturing him.

      "Soon," he told me. "Soon."

      Early this week, as I was driving home. My youngest daughter called me. "Chaim is trying to call you. He's coming this Thursday."

      Chaim called. He's coming home. He's leaving home to come to the home of his people; leaving his family to come to us. I am so happy...for me, and so sorry for his mother. He plans to enter the army, perhaps even with my Shmulik. For his mother and for me, it will be our second sons entering the army; the second time we will think where they are and worry.

      We will have survived the first round with the army, she and I. She from distant shores, me here in Israel. Her sons have chosen to dedicate years of their lives to help Israel, to fight for Israel, as have my sons.

      I cannot imagine how hard it is to be a soldier's mother when your son is so far away. It takes little bravery to be a soldier's mother when you know, really know that your son is fine and that you are, at the worst of times, less than a tank of gas away from him.

      In March, it seems, Chaim's mother will again become a soldier's mother and I will, it seems, remain a soldier's mother...in many ways with two in the army. I can share her worry, her concern. The only thing I can't share at this moment, is the sadness that her son is going so far away. With guilt in my heart...I am so happy Chaim is coming home.

      All I can do is tell you, Chaim's mother, that I will bake him cookies and brownies. I'll give him food and a place to sleep; brothers and sisters to keep him company and if you come to Israel...when you come to Israel, I will open my home to you as well. If Yaakov and Chaim are my sons...you will be my sister.

      Kislev 11, 5770, 11/28/2009

      Not with my vote: An Open Letter to Bibi

      It is strange to include this post in a blog about being a soldier's mother and yet, it belongs here. I write this as an Israeli, as a Jew living in the land of Israel. The mistakes the government makes this week, will require the army's cooperation to implement and ultimately, defend against.

      An Open Letter to Bibi Netanyahu from a Former Likud Member

      One of the first political things I did in the early years after making aliyah more than 16 years ago, was join the Likud party. It was the party of Menachem Begin; it was the party of strength. It was a party not afraid to make peace and not afraid to wage war. It did both with pride and determination. From Menachem Begin, the torch was handed to Ariel Sharon.

      Ariel Sharon was supposed to be the lion of Judea. The war hero. Arik. He visited my yishuv in those early years and like many, I went to hear him speak. He stood gazing at the Mediterranean from a hill a few minutes from my home and explained that it would be insane for Israel to pull out of Samaria (Shomron). “You don’t surrender the hills,” Sharon said that day.

      I voted for Sharon, as I would have voted for Menachem Begin if I had managed to come to Israel at a younger age. With pride and determination. I gave him my vote because I believed he would uphold the vision of the Likud party – strength, honor, and an unwavering commitment to the land and people of Israel.

      Sharon lied. Beyond the corruption that he and subsequent Israeli leaders have shown, Sharon committed the worst sin imaginable in political life. He betrayed his followers. He stole my vote and used it to evacuate Gush Katif. He did it with malice and cruelty, to a people who had supported him, trusted him.

      I vowed then and there to quit the Likud. Not with my vote will Likud betray its supporters and the land of Israel. Not with my vote...but friends convinced me that the worst of the party had pulled themselves out into Kadima and that the Likud that remained would return to its roots. I wanted desperately to believe. I canceled my cancelation. I decided to try to believe. I listened, I hoped, I voted. One last time, I listened to the voices who spoke of party strength and vision, a commitment to the land of Israel and the future.

      I believed and voted for Bibi Netanyahu as the only viable candidate to save us from worse and almost immediately after my vote, I realized that I had been wrong, they had been wrong. Bibi was not the visionary; he would bend to the Americans and international pressure. I had voted for Bibi, and received Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres. The dream of the Likud is gone - we were following Yitzhak Rabin's road. Lost. Betrayed. Gone.

      I couldn't change my vote, but I could stop my membership. What would be done, would not be done with my name, my support. A few months ago, I called my bank and canceled my membership in the Likud. “Not with my vote,” I told my friends. Whatever Bibi Netanyahu will do, it won’t be with my support.

      In the last few days, as expected, Bibi betrayed the Likud members, as surely and as completely as Ariel Sharon betrayed the residents of Gush Katif and northern Shomron. Bibi turned his back on Menachem Begin and the doctrine of strength he believed would bring Israel to peace. With pride and determination, I tell you, Bibi, you do not have my support. You do not have my vote and you do not have my faith.

      We have no peace partner. You know this, you have said it enough times. But you will do this – stop building in our land, in exchange for promises of American support from  Barack Hussein Obama. What a fool you are and what a fool you have made of Likud.

      But this time, it was not with my support. This time, Likud veers to the left and I continue on the path that Menachem Begin and others proposed years ago. There will be peace when the Palestinians accept who we are, what we are, and where we are. Not because we pulled out of Gaza, not because we stopped building for 10 months, and not because of any other stupid and meaningless concessions you throw at their door.

      All you do, as Sharon and Rabin did before you, means nothing if you can’t accept that simple fact…and more, if you lack the courage to explain it to the world. The closer you come to convincing the world that we might achieve this imagined peace you seek, the sooner bombs will start exploding in our streets. Hamas will push you back to sanctions and actions so that they can cry their tears and demand world condemnation.

      And when the bombs explode…you’ll order a closure to try to prevent further attacks. Too late, as it always is, to save those murdered in cold blood, the innocents you were charged to protect. But you'll play the game Hamas has put before you. You'll talk the talk and impose a closure and you'll expect the world to condemn...but they won't. They never do. The world will condemn us again – as they did the last time, as they always do. This freeze means nothing other than your complete lack of courage.

      You shame the Likud party; you shame Menachem Begin. Without doubt, Ariel Sharon and Yitzchak Rabin would take pride in what you’ve done tonight because in the end, what mattered to them, what matters to you, is what the world says, what the Americans think.

      But what you haven’t done, is shame me because I disengaged from Likud. I left. I surrendered the party to you, but not the land. Perhaps in the next 10 months there will be no building in Judea and Samaria, but long before those ten months are up, the Arabs will prove you to be the fool we know you to be already.

      As the old adage goes: Fool me once, shame on you – that was Ariel Sharon. Fool me twice, shame on me. You didn’t fool me, Bibi – I left Likud and in my leaving, I take my pride, my determination, and my love of the land of Israel.

      There are words that become associated with people. Neville Chamberlain will forever be tied to the word “appeasement”. Ariel Sharon will be remembered for betraying his followers and you, Bibi, will be remembered for your stupidity.

      Cheshvan 23, 5770, 11/10/2009

      Thoughts that Break the Heart

      Sunday, November 8, 2009

      Yesterday afternoon, Elie didn't feel like eating much...a sure sign he's sick. He took a nap in the afternoon and when he woke up, he was hot, miserable, glassy-eyed.

      What now?

      When he was officially inducted to the Israeli army, his national health insurance policy was automatically canceled. He was now the responsibility of the State - for all health care, everything, anything. Israel would pay. They have an entire medical system within the army - doctors, nurses, emergency centers, rehabilitation. All there...but he was home for the weekend. What now?

      He clearly didn't have the energy to travel more than three hours, taking multiple buses to get to the Golan. His fever was raging, his head pounding, his throat aching. He called his commanding officer and got the name of the army's nearest clinic in Jerusalem. He explained that they were open in the evening so that soldiers wouldn't claim to be sick to get out of a day in the army. We had all night to get there, but we already knew that there would be a long wait.

      This is a first in a journey for which I had hoped there would be no more firsts. In more than 2 years, Elie has never needed to get this type of emergency medical care, never tried even once to pretend to be sick...now, really sick, he needed to go to a doctor.

      Within 15 minutes we were out the door, but he was wilting before my eyes, getting weaker and weaker. It was a terribly frightening drive...more terrifying in some ways than going to war because while he was near Gaza, it was my imagination working, and reality was a phone call away. There was no reality here other than a very high fever which wasn't coming down despite Advil and Tylenol and a strong young man who could barely stand.

      We got to the place and I saw a parent walking in with his son. Okay, that was the first worry. Parents were allowed to be with their children; girlfriends, everyone. A bit of relief as we walked in. Elie got a number and sat down, slumped back and closed his eyes. He was bundled in a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket he uses in the cold and snow of the Golan Heights...and he was still cold.

      We were 20 numbers away from being called when I gave up and went to the nurse. Can't you see he's really sick? Other than one other soldier who was also sitting quietly looking miserable...none of the others were in nearly as bad condition as Elie was and I was amazed at how fast he had deteriorated. What was happening?

      It seems the older I get, the less calm I can be in a medical emergency and, for years now, there's been no need to be calm at all. Elie or his older sister or middle brother have been trained by the ambulance squad. They have taken dozens of hours of training. I hold hands; they administer, check, whatever. With a look of an eye, they warn me to not scare the child. I remain silent. I hold hands while they put in the bandage or check the injury.

      There was no one there last night to get in between me and the medical emergency, no one to explain that while taking numbers and standing in line may work in a bakery, it was a stupid way to handle a medical clinic. I gave up. I couldn't sit there and watch Elie another minute. I went to the nurse and told her Elie couldn't wait.

      "Look at him," I told her. "He needs to see a doctor now."

      She must have heard, must have seen. She told me to go to the nurse and I got Elie to comply. At the nurse's station, Elie sat down and put his head on the table as the nurse gathered equipment and finished with the previous patient.

      Elie started flexing his hands. "Elie, why are you doing that?" I asked him.

      "I can't feel my hands." Okay, that's enough to panic any mother. Why are his hands numb????

      I told the nurse - she seemed much less panicked than I was, but she took his blood pressure and his pulse (BP low, pulse high).

      Elie told me he needed to lie down. I knew that already. The nurse told us to go into the hall and see the doctor. What word don't you understand? I wanted to scream.

      "He's going to fall on the floor," I told her. "He needs a place to lie down NOW."

      I guess it finally got through - she pointed to the beds across the room and told me she would get the doctor. Salvation, I thought to myself. Well, I was wrong.

      I helped Elie to get across the room. He more slid onto the bed than anything else. I helped him straighten out a bit. He started fumbling to close his fleece jacket because he was still freezing. I took over and closed it while he touched his lips.

      "What's the matter, Elie?"

      "My lips are numb," he answered. Okay, what little was left of my heart fractured even more. Perhaps the scariest moment for me was when I took his hand before the doctor came in...and he held mine. That is so not Elie. He'll give me a kiss upon parting, accept one when he comes home.

      He's not the little boy who comes over for a hug any more. Each hug or kiss is a treasure I must claim and yet, he held my hand for a few minutes till the doctor walked in and that was so frightening because it meant somewhere inside of him, he was scared too. I was about as close to frantic as I could be when the doctor walked in.

      "What's the problem?" he asked.

      "He has a high fever and he can't feel his fingers or his lips," I said none too calmly.

      "Who are you?" he asked.

      I looked at him for a second and thought about all the things I'd like to say...like, what difference does it make, you idiot...but I was so good. With as much authority as I could muster, I answered, "I'm his mother."

      That apparently isn't as impressive as I would have liked it to be. He turned to Elie and asked him some questions. He checked Elie's breathing and came up with the brilliant idea that it was a virus and to cure it - lemon tea. That's all. He didn't need to check his throat, his ears. He listened to his breathing, he checked his stomach because Elie said it was hurting, and told me to give him tea...with lemon! He stressed the lemon.

      I was thinking along the lines of asking to see his medical license or suggesting another alternate location for the lemons, but restrained myself, "Don't you want to run any tests?" I asked, quite proud that I had sounded so calm and reasonable.

      "Gevarti [roughly My lady...but not nearly as poetic], what tests would you like me to run?"

      Okay, now I'm not appreciating this so much...and finally realized he was about as close to useless as could be. I just wanted him to make my baby all better, but of course, was smart enough not to say that.

      He concluded with excusing Elie from the army for three days, giving us papers to indicate Elie's blood pressure etc, and dismissed us. I looked at Elie and asked how he was doing. He could feel his hands and lips again and said he was "okay." Of course, he'd been saying that all along.

      I told him we could get him a wheelchair to get him back to the car. He absolutely refused. He was, he insisted with what little strength he had, okay.

      I helped him back to the car, watched him sleep on the way home. He put his legs up on to the dashboard. He was smarter than the doctor, wanting to encourage his blood flow to pump blood back to his hands.

      We got to the house. He was so weak. I helped him up to the living room and let him lie down on the couch. He slept with a cold towel on his head for an hour until the fever went down enough for him to eat something and take Advil. At some point, he asked for his telephone to send a message to his commanding officer. He held the phone till he got the response, then put it down and closed his eyes again.

      Another hour passed before he was feeling well enough to go upstairs to his bedroom. He felt cooler - the Advil had finally kicked in. I set an alarm, woke in the middle of the night, around 4:00 a.m., went to check on him, and though he was much cooler, I woke him up anyway and gave him Tylenol.

      This morning, and all day, I've brought him cups and cups of tea - with mint and sugar the way he likes it, not lemon! He's had toast several times, some water, some apple juice. He's not in pain, he's fine. He's smiled each time, thanked me for giving him whatever. He's had no fever for the last few hours, has gotten up and gone to the bathroom on his own.

      He is, in short, my Elie.

      And since I titled this post "thoughts that break the heart" - I'll confess that of all the thoughts that came to me last night and today, the one that finally broke my heart had nothing to do with Elie at all.

      Someone sent a tweet (Twitter people understand that one) about Gilad Shalit and it hit me. Who takes care of Gilad when he's sick? What agony does his mother feel, knowing that over the last three years, Gilad has been alone through each illness? What would I have done if Elie had been this sick in the Golan? The answer is easy - I'd have gotten into my car and driven up there. I'd have pulled him home, begged him home, anything, everything.

      In all the time Elie has been in the army, he's had sniffles and colds, but never anything like this high fever. Never so weak he could barely move, that he couldn't feel his fingers or his lips. I know now, from my brother-in-law the doctor and NOT the army doctor...that this isn't nearly as unexpected or as frightening as I thought it to be.

      But does Gilad know that? Elie has had medical training and yet seemed surprised that he couldn't feel his lips, his hands. Does Gilad know not to be scared? Who was there to hold his hand as he lay weakly on the bed...does he even have a bed? The thoughts are useless...the ability to imagine endless, the heart broken for a mother who cannot hold her son's hand.

      My son is upstairs in his room, with a cup of tea made by his mother. At his worst, I was there to hold his hand and be with him. Throughout the day, I checked on him. He never felt alone, he was never alone.

      There are so many crimes that Hamas has committed. Today, I discovered another.
      May Gilad know that in her heart, his mother and all the mother's of Israel are with him, reaching out with love to hold him. May he come home soon.

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