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      A Soldier’s Mother
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      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:

      Tishrei 4, 5770, 9/22/2009

      A Shot in the Air


      Sometimes, you measure your progress in milestones, ones you knew would come but forgot you were expecting. Actually, in all likelihood, this latest milestone has come and gone (I'll have to ask), but this is the first time I'm hearing about it, so it is new to me.

      I drove Elie to my office today, there to wait an hour until he could catch a bus to his base. He surfed the Internet and played games at the table in my office; I sat behind my desk answering emails and planning my week. It was quiet, but pleasant as the moments ticked away. We'd talked quite a bit over the long holiday weekend; sometimes the quiet is a comfort.

      Too often on this winding street where my offices have been for the last few years, we hear a screech of brakes and wait. Sometimes we hear a thud; sometimes we don't.

      Today we heard a thud, both going quickly to the windows that overlook the street. We saw a woman with her hands held to her head, obviously distressed, run around the car. She got into the driver's seat and sat there. She was fine. No injuries; but clearly she was upset and from all that we could see, it was her fault.

      We looked to the second car and at the people around the street. No one seemed concerned; no one was racing to help; I could tell that Elie was trying to determine whether there was anyone injured. The other car door opened and a man stepped out. No injuries, a fender bender.

      Elie stayed with me as we watched. The woman got out of the car, walked across the street...and put on her shoes that were on the sidewalk. Huh?

      So, the best we could figure was that the woman had pulled up to the curb to buy something in the coffee shop on the ground floor of our building. She must have forgotten to put the car in park (did I mention that my street is a hill, gently sloped?). We assume her car began to roll backwards; she watched in horror as it slammed into the back of a car that had just passed in the opposite lane. In her haste to get to her car, she must have kicked off her open sandals. A mystery solved - not even 9:00 in the morning.

      They exchanged information; the excitement was over, thankfully, no one was injured. Back to the computers for a few more minutes. All too soon, it was time for Elie to leave.

      He picked up his heavy backpack and swung it onto his back. Without thought, I leaned over and picked up his gun to hand to him. It seemed silly for him to bend with the heavy backpack on his back.

      "You aren't scared to hold it anymore?", he asked, clearly amused.

      "Well, it's not like I'm firing it," I answered back.

      "Not like me last week, huh?"

      Okay, this was new. We'd just spent the last four days together and I hadn't heard anything. As calmly as I could, I asked him to explain. No big deal, an ordinary event, Elie said. Too ordinary, too common. An Arab approached the checkpoint and was asked for his identification. He handed it over and it was clear that it wasn't his; he'd stolen it and was trying to cross into Israel illegally for purposes unknown. It could have been to work...it could have been to steal, to harm, to kill. At that moment, it was anyone's guess...and you don't risk people's lives on a guess.

      When the soldiers began to question him, the Arab took off. There are clear instructions on what to do in this instance...and who is to do it. Elie was the senior commanding officer at the checkpoint. He raised his gun, cocked it loudly, called out demanding the Arab stop, and then fired in the air. In the split second before the Arab stopped, Elie had already taken aim at the man's legs.

      Thankfully for all sides, the man stopped and was arrested. My son shot in the air; as he was trained. That he was prepared to fire goes without saying. After two years in the army, my son is a soldier.

      For a while now, I've viewed this soldier's parenting business much as a roller coaster. I can feel the times when I know I am climbing up this big hill, certain there is a fall ahead of me. I didn't know about the fall that comes after the climb at the beginning; the fall is that plunging fear that steals your sleep and leaves you wanting to cry. At first, I thought it was all about climbing, and learning, and then flat areas of calm and adjustment.

      After the first few plunges, I realized this army thing was very much a roller coaster, each fall different in length and severity. There are great highs...not all followed by the fall, and sometimes, you can fall, even from the flat area of the roller coaster (which technically shouldn't be possible if you were following this analogy, but there you go).

      Gaza was the greatest plunge for me, the deepest and the longest...and yet, I'd been in this wonderful flat zone until Elie called to tell me that where he was (in the center of the country) isn't where he would likely be in a few hours. That began my fall and it pretty much continued for the next several weeks.

      Since the Gaza War ended, the last few months have been very much in the flat zone. I have even been playing with the idea that maybe I've passed my last plunge with Elie. Today wasn't a plunge - after all, no one was hurt; a warning shot was fired in the air. Nothing happened...except my son raised a weapon and fired it.

      I guess it's a relatively new sensation - maybe I'll call it a hiccup. A little bump up and back into flat mode. Yes, that's it...today, I experienced a hiccup.

      Later in the day, my middle son called to tell me that a boy Elie had known for the last few years had been killed in a traffic accident. He had crossed a road last night and a car hit him; the funeral was today. Shmulik went - he was friend's with Elyassaf's brother.

      A bump, a plunge, a climb, a flat zone, and a hiccup - I'll take them all and pray my sons and daughters remain safe.

      May God bless Elyassaf and send comfort to his family. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they know no more sorrow.





      Tishrei 3, 5770, 9/21/2009

      Why I Never Liked Zbiggy


      There are people who don't realize that the world doesn't really care about their opinion; that their day in the sun has come and gone. One such person is Zbignew Brzezinski. Brzezinski, who served in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, has been a "hasbeen" ever since. He campaigned most strongly for Barack Hussein Obama...but wasn't given a post because it was clearly recognized that his longstanding hate-affair with Israel would be too obvious an indication of Obama's future course.

      The one thing Brzezinski never learned to do was curb his tongue. This is probably to our good fortune as it quickly disqualifies him from any assumption of even-handedness. Sadly, Brzezinski has chosen to open his mouth yet again, and, as expected, nothing worthwhile has come out.

      According to news reports, Brzezinski has chimed in on what Israel should do about the nuclear threat to Iran. His answer, as always, has been...nothing. He is vehemently against Israel attacking Iran, lest it inadvertently damage the United States.

      Gee, you idiot, I want to ask him, what about our safety? What about my children? What about our right to live in our country without facing a nuclear attack from a country that has, more than once, threatened to wipe us off the face of the world?

      If and when Israel attacks Iran, it will be because the world failed to force Iran to back down from developing nuclear weapons...as they once failed to stop Iraq and more recently, likely would have failed to stop Syria. The world has that option, but time is running out. Iran cannot go nuclear. That is a simple and logical fact that Zbignew Brzezinski ignores. The threat goes well beyond Israel's border. All of Europe can be reached by Iran's long range missiles; according to some maps I have seen, Iran could technically even reach Zbiggy's home in the US.

      The US continues to talk of talk, in a situation that will not be resolved by words. The time will come, faster than the world is ready to accept, when a military strike will be required. Who will fly those jets is not yet certain, but if they are Israeli pilots, they will fly knowing that the safety and future of their families and millions of other people, will rest on the success of their mission.

      It is a heavy burden, but one that our pilots have accepted in the past. It took the world 10 years to thank  Israel for wiping out Iraq's nuclear reactor. Perhaps it will take that long or even longer for the world to thank  Israel about Iran.

      Israel has acted in the past, as any nation would, to protect its national interests. More - to protect the physical nation, not just its interests. We are talking about a direct, clear, and present danger to the future of Israel. No comment from Zbiggy-boy on that threat.

      Iran has been warned, sanctioned, threatened more and yet continues to hurl itself, and the world, to a nuclear Iran. The United States, with Obama at the head, is once again willing to talk. If ever there was a man who failed to truly understand the Muslim world of which he is so enamored, it would be Obama. If there was ever a man so blinded by his hatred of Israel, it would be Zbiggy.

      Now, Zbiggy has done it again. On the honor of the Jewish New Year, Zbignew Brzezinski has offered Israel and the Jews his advice. No, no greetings and best wishes, but rather, a warning: prepare to be destroyed by Iran, and if you dare to defend yourselves, expect to be attacked by the United States. That's right, he his charging the United States air force with flying against Israel in order to protect Iran. Yes, that is one bright idea, Zbiggy, one bright idea! Says Zbiggy:

      “They [Israeli jets] have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch? We have to be serious about denying them that right. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not."

      Leave it to Zbiggy to blame Israel and not Iran for this impending conflict. My only question is whether the genius of Zbiggy, which clearly leaked out of his brain long ago, thought up this bright idea all by himself, or if he got Carter and/or Obama to help him.





      Tishrei 3, 5770, 9/21/2009

      We're Brothers, You Idiot


      There is a custom to say special prayers before the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The holiest place in Judaism is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – the location where our holy Temples were built and destroyed. Today, the Temple Mount is in Arab hands; our Temple yet to be built. What remains to us, then, is the Kotel, the Western Wall. There our people gather almost around the clock. Rarely will you find a time when someone isn’t there praying, beseeching, asking for blessings.

      Last year, before the new year arrived, my husband and I decided to take a few days in honor of his birthday. We do this once in a while, steal some time to remind ourselves that we are not only parents, but a couple as well. We drove down to the beautiful southern city of Eilat, went to dinner, and learned that Elie’s unit had been involved in a terror attack (It Could Have Been Elie).

      Elie wasn’t there when it happened; he was at a checkpoint. His unit had traveled to Jerusalem for these special prayers (slichot). I spoke to Elie in the middle of the night after hearing about the attack. Only when I spoke to him did I begin to understand that it was not just an artillery unit, but Elie's unit that had been attacked. Elie's unit, Elie's friends, but not Elie.

      This year, as the new year approaches, our middle son went to the Western Wall for these special prayers. The first thing he noticed was that there were many, many soldiers. The second thing he noticed was that they wore the turquoise beret of the artillery unit.

      Shmulik’s friend started to argue that they were not artillery, but Shmulik stood his ground and pointed out the color of the beret. Shmulik is officially a soldier now; but he has joined a program that combines military service with religious learning so that his entry into the army is technically delayed until March. He has a military ID, military dog tags, but has not been issued a uniform, rank, or responsibility.

      So last night in Jerusalem, standing beside the Western Wall, Shmulik looked around and saw that most of the soldiers were wearing the same color berets as the one Elie wears. Artillery – once again at the Western Wall for these holy prayers. As he looked around him, my middle son noticed that most were using the berets as head coverings. This meant that most were not religious, while one was wearing a yarmulke (skull cap) of the modern Orthodox, his beret attached to his shoulder.

      Shmulik looked at the soldier – it looked…just like…Elie. They greeted each other. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if they hugged; it’s a mother question; something not volunteered in the telling of the story and therefore an interruption. Shmulik continued explaining what had happened, oblivious to my wanting to know how Elie looked, every little detail, and yes, if they greeted each other with the hug and back slapping I see in my mind.

      The two brothers met and spoke for a while. I love the picture in my mind of them standing there talking; Elie in uniform, both surrounded by soldiers, Shmulik’s friends, hundreds of others, the towering Western Wall, all that remains of our Temple, standing majestic and beautiful in the lights that flood the area each night.

      While they talked, Shmulik explained, two of Elie’s soldiers came over to Elie and noticed Shmulik. One turned and told him what a great guy Elie is.

      “Yes,” Shmulik agreed, “I’ve only been talking to him for 10 minutes, but he seems like a nice guy.”

      Elie apparently said that he too had been talking to Shmulik for 10 minutes and thought Shmulik was a great guy too. The second soldier promptly agreed. Elie turned to them and laughed, “you idiots, we’re brothers.”

      Shmulik told me this story, laughing as he did. I can see them there, the two of them. They are so different in appearance that I would never peg them as brothers. Elie’s hair is brown; Shmulik’s almost black. Elie has blue eyes; Shmulik’s are the darkest of browns. Elie is taller; Shmulik thinner. They are both so beautiful, so strong, mine.

      The picture is there in my mind and it brings smiles to my face and heart. My sons, brothers, soldiers of Israel.

      “We’re brothers,” said Elie – a bond from birth that will follow them all their lives.






      Elul 27, 5769, 9/16/2009

      Getting Involved - Yashar LaChayal


      One of the things that happens when you become a soldier's mother, is that you begin to make connections with other families whose sons serve, other soldiers. You share their worries, their concerns, their pride. I've made so many connections over the last two years - a network of mothers and fathers here in Israel and around the world, even current and former soldiers. You learn very quickly that there is family beyond family; sons that become yours, concerns and realities beyond your borders. Along the way, I also began to work with an organization that takes helping soldiers to a whole new level. Please bear with me - I don't do this often, but this is so important.

      Unlike most charity organizations, all the money this organization raises goes directly to the soldiers (thus the name Yashar LaChayal, direct to the soldier). They often assist in very personal ways, sometimes as personal as you can get. When soldiers went into Gaza and came out, Yashar LaChayal was there with clean underwear, deodorant, and even shampoo.

      They gave gloves, long underwear, anything that was needed. They've donated refrigerators and washing machines to soldiers from needy families, send packages to lone soldiers, and so much more.Their site is full of all the ways they have helped soldiers since the organization was founded during the Second Lebanon War and so I won't list them here. On their website, they give an example of a simple mother's plea, and how they responded.

      From Yashar LaChayal website: “My son is cold,” says one mother, and within days, her son’s unit was given thermal pants and socks.

      A few months ago, they asked me to join the Amuta as a Board Member. It was an easy answer for me because I know first hand the work they do, and some of the people they have helped. Several years ago, I drove to the Lebanese border for this organization to deliver supplies to a unit that was just about to enter Lebanon. A few months ago, I drove south to deliver supplies to a unit stationed outside Gaza and experienced my one and only Color Red in Ashkelon on the way.

      In the last few days, Yashar LaChayal has sent around this note about their work and the upcoming holidays. I'm posting it here because if you make a habit of donating a small bit of charity before Rosh Hashana, I hope you'll consider this organization and send aid directly to our soldiers:

      Rosh Hashana is a time when we traditionally look forward and backwards. We close one year and look forward to the challenges that will face us in the future. It is hard to imagine that a year ago, we had only an inkling that Israel might find itself, yet again, embroiled in war. Now, as we close this year and welcome the new one, we once again reflect on Israel, where it is, what it has experienced this past year, and where we hope its future lies. We also do it with a sense of pride because once again, just as our soldiers were challenged to meet our enemies on the battlefield, our country was challenged to meet the needs of our  soldiers, to show them that they are important to us, their concerns ours.

      Israel has been, since its establishment in 1948, a nation at war. It asks, even demands daily sacrifices from its sons and daughters. If Israelis live relatively normal lives, going to work, raising their children, celebrating the milestones just as people all over the world do, it is because behind it...and in front of it...stands it soldiers. When all goes well, the soldiers provide for Israel's security and Israel provides for its soldiers.

      This is where our organization has stepped in, again and again. The army simply can't meet all the needs and soldiers are forced to stand their ground or make do with what they have, Yashar LaChayal steps in. This was
      the case during the Second Lebanon War, and again during the recent Gaza War. This is the case on an almost daily basis, beyond the needs of war.

      Recently when a lone soldier, someone whose family doesn't live in Israel, found himself without something as simple as army socks on an isolated base with no way to get off base to purchase the socks and no money even if he found the time, his mother was frantic. From somewhere in the middle of the United States, she contacted a friend in Israel, begging her to find a way to help her son. The friend turned to Yashar LaChayal, who immediately arranged a special delivery so that the soldier received not only the warm socks he needed, but a supply of other warm clothes for the winter. You can follow our progress at:

      http://yasharlachayal.org/index.php?/successes/other_projects/

      Yashar LaChayal is guided by one simple principle - all must go directly to the soldiers.

      The number of soldiers we have touched in the last year easily reaches into the tens of thousands and we have so much more we would like to do, that we need to do. As the New Year approaches, we hope you will investigate our worthy organization (our website is: www.yasharlachayal.com) and join many others who have come to support our efforts. Please take a moment to write to friends and family and ask them to support Yashar LaChayal as well.

      May you and your family, and all of Israel, be granted a year of health and safety, happiness and peace.







      Elul 25, 5769, 9/14/2009

      When Right Seems Wrong...but is Really Right


      I called Elie today. I've been missing him a lot, which is, of course, silly since I just saw him last weekend. Life is particularly pressured right now and it seems to have manifested itself in a number of ways, including this feeling of being out of touch. So, I called with a ready excuse about the cellular phone company service. Elie asked me if I was near a computer and when I told him I would be in 5 minutes, we agreed that I would call him back after I got home.

      He guided me to a website - "Go to YNET," he said, explaining that I needed to go to the Hebrew news site and not the English one. "click News."

      He guided me to a news article and asked me to capture the video. It took me a while to understand the story and what the video was showing. The story goes like this - at least the published one:

      An Arab truck driver pulls up to a checkpoint at 6:30 a.m. with proper paperwork. His truck is filled with rocks designated for building. The soldiers inspect the truck and ask the truck driver to dump his load so they can check under the rocks. The truck driver complies. The truck is emptied. The soldiers don't find anything and allow the truck driver to continue. However, in order to continue, he must now hire a tractor to pick up the rocks and put them back into his truck. This is at his expense and his lost time.

      "How can we live this way? What kind of life is this?" another Arab tells the camera.

      I watched it a few times and then called Elie back. What am I missing, I thought to myself. This doesn't make "us" look good.

      "Where you there?" I asked Elie. I had looked each of the soldiers carefully, but I didn't see Elie. Then again, some were turned away and from the distance, it is hard to tell.

      "No," Elie told me. "But they're my soldiers. I can tell who they are, and even who isn't in the camera but was there."

      "Elie, what's the story here? It doesn't look good."

      That's when Elie explained. The driver isn't so innocent. He's known to the soldiers. The fact that THIS TIME his truck wasn't carrying anything that he wasn't allowed to transport, doesn't mean he wasn't caught in the past. More important that the story, for the soldiers in Elie's unit, were the comments. Almost 70 of them, "and Ima, all of them are good. They all understand."

      Yes, they are supporting the soldiers and that is what made Elie happy.
      • Don't surrender to them. Much honor to the army.
      • And what would you say if between the stones, you found explosives?
      • it's difficult to stand at a checkpoint and spend hours guarding for eight hours and have people come and question all that you do. As one of those who examine the merchandise and goods that are brought across checkpoints, I try also to do the best I can for each side. It isn't easy to sleep at night knowing that you could end up passing through explosives or the next suicide bomber. So to all those who have a complaint against the army or the soldiers, keep it to yourself. (Signed a Soldier on a Checkpoint).
      • Nothing wrong with what was done. If they let them pass without being checked, then I would say that there is a problem. Kol Hakavod (all honor) to the soldiers for doing a great job, protecting all the people who sit in Tel Aviv and always complain.
      •  It is obviously a security issue. A full truck comes to a checkpoint. How is a soldier supposed to know that there are no explosives inside? It's obvious the rocks aren't the issue. It's something I learned as a soldier. If we don't check, the Arabs learn and bring in explosives. It doesn't matter that in this truck, there was nothing. Now they see us checking and won't bring in explosives that harm our civilians. Kol Hakavod to the soldiers.
      And on it went, comment after comment, in Hebrew and in English. What the soldiers did was correct. This time, the truck didn't have explosives; this time, nothing was hidden under the rocks. On the same day this happened, several knives and firebombs were found at other checkpoints. Perhaps this wouldn't have made the news if something had been found. Yes, the driver was inconvenienced; yes, it is a sign of the situation in which we find ourselves.

      And as the many commentators wrote...and as our soldiers read - all honor to our soldiers. So many times our soldiers feel that the world doesn't understand their work. This time, they understood, they read. The article wasn't very positive, trying, as YNET often does, to paint our soldiers in a bad way and yet the readers proved to the soldiers that what they did was correct.

      THIS time, the truck had nothing on it so the driver will go on his way. But just as important, many other drivers who might have thought to smuggle something through that checkpoint will understand that the soldiers are checking. A friend, who daughter was killed several years ago in the Sbarro pizza bombing attack once yelled at a reporter who was concerned about the conditions under which the Palestinians live and the damaged "quality of life" they may experience because of the security situation.

      "Don't you dare talk to me about the quality of their life," the bereaved father answered, "when my daughter has no life."

      Sometimes, what seems wrong, is really right and what is right, seems wrong. I am often told that peace will come to the Middle East when the Israelis do certain things. Stop the occupation, they say, and there will be peace. But there was no peace in 1966, before the so-called occupation began. All the return of the refugees, people say - but we too had hundreds of thousands of refugees and we took them in, gave them homes and a land and a part of our future.

      There are so many issues in the Middle East that can be summed up very simply, though the world likes to make it complicated.

      On Friday, Israel launched artillery into Lebanon...yes, it's true. But the artillery was in response to two katyusha rockets fired at Israel. The katyushas were fired at our cities; the artillery was fired at the launching ground of the katyushas. Had there been no rockets launched at Israel; there would have been no artillery being fired. The UN promptly stepped in and, once again, made fools of themselves by asking for a cessation of violence.

      Idiots, I want to tell them. Don't you see? Stop the rockets, and there will be no violence, no artillery. Stop the smuggling and attempts to blow up our civilians, and there will be no need to search your trucks.

      Sometimes, when right seems wrong, it is because you aren't looking at the whole picture.






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