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:
Elul 27, 5769, 9/16/2009
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:
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
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.
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.
Elul 17, 5769, 9/6/2009
I've been thinking a lot about Gilad Shalit for many months which. considering he's been held by Hamas for more than three years, isn't unusual. Gilad Shalit's situation is every soldier's mother's nightmare. Only death can be worse than what the Shalit family has endured and there are times when I wonder if even death is worse.
So many say to me, "Come on, you don't really believe he is alive, do you?"
I have to confess, I do. I have no evidence, no strong believe, no facts on wish to base this presumption. I recognize that it is an emotional decision - it hurts to much to think that once again this is only the twisted tortured workings of Hamas, though I know that they, Hezbollah, have done this very thing countless times so successfully.
It is Hamas that continues to violate international law without punishment or even large-scale condemnation from anyone but Israel and a few stragglers. Certainly the Red Cross has taken no action; the UN has predictably done nothing. Silence reigns from the majority of European leaders. To their collective shame, no international representative has been allowed to see Gilad, to check on his condition, to demand regular contact with his family. And worse, no sanctions, no demands, no punishment, no real consequences have been levied against Hamas for this indecency.
This is so different from how Israel treats Palestinian prisoners, so different from the college degrees many of them are earning, so different from the regular visits they receive with their families. And yet, Israel is afraid to trigger the anger of the world by even temporarily suspending the rules that Hamas has systematically and completely ignored for years. Why does a Palestinian sitting in our jail for security crimes, even murder, have the right to see his family, to hear of his children and his parents, while Gilad gets nothing, sees nothing?
The case of Gilad Shalit reminds us too clearly of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and yet the differences are startling and have to be mentioned. There was clear evidence that at least one of the two soldiers had died during the cross-country attack on the Lebanese border, and that the second would have been, at best, in critical attention. Knowing how the Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, whatever, focus on causing injuries rather than healing them, it was always doubtful that any surviving soldier would have received the necessary treatment to survive.
Beyond all corruption, beyond all hatred and friction they caused in our society, I find no forgiveness for the simple failture of the Olmert government to prepare us, the people, to accept the very real possibility that both soldiers had died in the raid and all the moment when we would be faced with bodies and not live soldiers. The army and government only really tried to make us believe this towards the end, almost two years and a war later. By then, we were no longer ready to really accept it. A humiliating prisoner "exchange" was agreed upon and there was a collective gasp, when Israel first saw the coffins and realized we had been praying and hoping for two years - all in vain.
All indications are that Gilad Shalit was taken alive. Common sense says the conditions under which he has been held have likely been barbaric, that Hamas certainly is not interested in his comfort. Bargaining tool or not, Gilad remains a soldier of Israel, a child of our hearts. And herein lies the second worry I have. There is a scene in my mind that I know Hamas will never let us play out.
It is of the tens of thousands who would line the streets to welcome Gilad home, the outpouring of a nation, the tears of all mothers. What wouldn't we do to have Gilad home...and doesn't Hamas know this.
In the days before Purim and Passover and the High Holidays each year, we know that our enemies will attempt to launch an attack. Our joy is an insult to them, our happiness their undoing. They will not want us to celebrate Gilad's homecoming and they will do something, anything, to prevent that. More than what Gilad has endured in the last three years, the next few weeks and months may well determine his condition.
And that brings us to Ron Arad. This is the other extreme. We know he was taken alive; we know he survived in captivity for some time. Just as we failed to bring Gilad home, we have failed Ron Arad and his family. Today's news report that Arad died in captivity, some 9 years after his capture, feels like a knife to the heart. Deep in my soul, I doubted that he could have lived this long, and wasn't even sure I wanted to imagine a life time of waiting to come home for him. And yet, thinking of him dying alone and seemingly abandoned brings no comfort either.
I am not an advocate of releasing prisoners at all cost. Returning Ron or Gilad in exchange for future kidnappings and more terrorist attacks has never called to me. But where each Israeli government has failed is in the effort to make the world fight this battle.
We know where we live and it is natural to agonize for our missing son. Noam Shalit said it best - stop talking, Defense Minister Ehud Barak - at least stop talking to us. Tell the Europeans to stop sending in aid, until Hamas sends Gilad out. Tell them that we understand a prisoner deal must be made and we are ready.
Not to release murderers - because we aren't asking for a murderer. Not to release terrorist masterminds, as we too are not asking for this. We will release as many innocent prisoners as we can - those who perhaps violated the law by being where they were not allowed to be and perhaps those of that sort - all in exchange for Gilad.
No, it won't be thousands, possibly not even 450. But it will be like for like, as is the only way to ensure future kidnappings aren't encouraged. No, the Arabs won't be happy with this but they will accept it - because they need UNRWA schools which should be closed; they need Red Cross assistance, which should be stopped; and they need money from the European Union, which must be delayed.
Gilad Shalit is not Ron Arad...not yet. But he could be if our governments fail to demand that the world recognize what we already know. We are dealing with an organization that does need international support. Shut it down...and Gilad will come home.
Elul 13, 5769, 9/2/2009
This blog has been running now for more than two years. I started it's reincarnation here on Arutz Sheva at the beginning and then skipped to my current posts, but there were some that I wanted to post here that I felt were particularly special and explain what life is like in Israel, both as a soldier's mother, and a soldier. During the first year Elie was in, I learned so much about the army, about the way it treats its soldiers. I learned a lot about my son, and I learned, or perhaps I should say was reawakened to how much Israel loves its soldiers. This post, dating back to February, 2008, took place while Elie was taking the Commanders Course. As part of the course, each soldier took responsibility of the other soldiers, to see what it would be like once they'd finished the course.
This post is dedicated to Israel's bus drivers. It was called:
Even the Bus Drivers Love Them
Yesterday, while driving to a special course in the north, Elie received a phone call from one of the other participants in the Commanders Course telling him (as the soldier responsible for knowing where everyone is) that the soldier had forgotten his backpack on a bus. He was calling to tell Elie that he was going to try to catch another bus to catch up with his backpack.
Elie gave him permission simply by telling him to update him to let him know what was happening. In yet another very Israeli story -after the phone call, the soldier jumped on the next bus and explained to the driver what had happened. Soldiers get free buses and trains to almost anywhere in Israel and so they don't hesitate or worry about the number of rides they take.
When the driver heard the story, he quickly radioed ahead to the bus in front, telling him about the soldier's backpack. The bus promptly pulled to the side of the road and waited for the second bus to catch up so that the soldier's backpack could be returned safely.
There are so many stories like this in Israel. Recently, a young child fell asleep on the bus ride home from school. He woke up, looked around, and realized he had missed his stop. Suddenly frightened, the young child started to cry, at which point other passengers asked what happened and alerted the bus driver. Without hesitation, the bus driver turned the bus around and took the boy to his stop. He then turned the bus around again, and continued along his route.
Another "famous" bus story had to do with one of Israel's leaders. When the bus driver realized that a former prime minister had boarded his bus, he insisted on driving the astonished leader to his doorstep, even though it was off the usual bus route. Embarrassed at the attention, the leader tried to argue with the bus driver, but the applause of the people on the bus made it clear that they agreed with the driver.
The drivers yesterday, the one who called and the one who stopped, might not have had to turn a bus around for this soldier, but certainly they warmed his heart by making sure he and his backpack were reunited. With their help, the soldier quickly retrieved his property, jumped on another bus in the opposite direction, and was barely late for the start of the day's activities.
Elie told me this story as if it was something natural and logical but I found it enchanting and just one of the many reasons why I'm so happy to live in this country.
Elul 12, 5769, 9/1/2009
Officially, the Gaza War ended on January 18. Many suspect this was because Israel knew that tremendous pressure would come from the incoming Obama administration if the war were to continue. So, the troops were withdrawn just in time; the equipment moved, a unilateral ceasefire declared.
For me, the war really only ended a few days later, when Elie finally came home and was able to join us for our youngest son's bar mitzvah celebration. I spent hours talking with Elie, trying to make sure he was okay with what had happened, that he wasn't traumatized or haunted, depressed or uncomfortable. What came home was a young man who understood why Israel went in, if not why Israel stopped on January 18th. What came home was a young man comfortable with what his country called upon him to do. Not haunted, not traumatized. Proud of his role, happy to be home and clean and fed.
He talked about Gaza. He was knowledgeable and clear and his convictions were strong and unwavering. He was happy to be home, but not happy that Israel has stopped before truly wiping out the rocket threats. What Elie knew then, what all Israel knew, was that Hamas' ability to launch rockets and mortars against Israel had been damaged, the infrastructure of their ability to attack Israel slowed, but not eliminated completely.
The war ended 227 days ago but the rockets have continued. Yet again today, a rocket was fired at Israel - that makes at least 237 rockets in the last 227 days. More than a rocket a day...
And I can't help but wonder what country in the world would accept such a thing? Obama wants us to compromise, to surrender all building rights, including natural growth. This means my daughter can't build a home here in the same city where I live. Obama, who has likely never been to my city and understands little of life here feels he is correct in mandating our behavior and worse, demanding concessions of Israel unilaterally and without any give from the other side.
How incredible - they shoot rockets...and we are ordered to compromise. I have little doubt that if one of these rockets hits a school, Obama will issue his standard regret statement. But today's rocket didn't injure anyone - never mind those surprised and frightened by a sudden explosion on a peaceful weekend day.
I wonder what the Germans or the French or the Swedes would do if someone were to explode a rocket somewhere in their country every day. Would it be acceptable so long as the rockets failed to do major damage? Until, of course, the rocket hit something, killed someone.
Back in December, 2008, we launched a war to stop the rockets from terrorizing our citizens. Around the world, many understood our actions, but only after hearing that we'd had more than 10,000 rockets launched at our civilians. Even the Egyptians seemed to be saying to the Palestinians, "well, what did you expect them to do?"
The war ended on January 18, but the rockets did not. An average of one rocket per day has fallen in the last 224 days.
If it was your government allowing this, what would you demand of them?
If it were your army, what would you have them do?
I don't want my son to have to go back to Gaza, but I also know that if he doesn't go back within the next 7 months...my next son will.