Middle East 12:14 AM 6/19/2013
Middle East 2:14 AM 6/19/2013
Defense/Security 9:39 AM
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:
Av 18, 5769, 8/8/2009
Sometimes, I can be very silly and embarrass my children. I've done this before and will likely do it again. I remember clearly times when my mother embarrassed me ("this is my daughter. She's 14 going on 40" was one example). I doubt there is a parent alive who hasn't, with the best of intentions, accidentally caused their child to squirm in front of their friends.
When they are lucky, they don't find out about it. Those are the best of cases - and a most likely circumstance when you have a son in the army. There was the time I walked over to a soldier at a rest point on the highway going north and began talking to him - only because he had a turquoise beret like Elie's. I did the same thing to another soldier at an engagement party - only he actually knew Elie and we had a nice conversation about where Elie had spent the war (near Gaza) as opposed to where he spent the war (in the Golan).
There was the time I told the soldiers sitting at the checkpoint that I was Elie's mother and I was bringing him hamburgers; and the time I told the soldiers that I was Elie's mother, so it was okay for them to eat the pastries I was handing them.
A few years ago, we opened a Training Center in Jerusalem, there to offer courses on technical writing, marketing writing, QA Software Testing, Translation, and so much more. Elie was "in" on helping us set up a lot of the workstations. He worked for hours to build desks, put together chairs and cabinets and computers. The one thing we didn't do at the time, was set up an Internet connection on each workstation. We rationalized that people would be distracted, check their email, play games, and so we didn't run the wiring.
Our "neighbors" in the building teach people how to play an online game. I don't understand the mechanics of it, but they give sessions to teach people how it works. The only thing is, only the teacher has a computer most of the time. So, at some point they came over and asked if they could run a few sessions here in our computer center. We agreed in principle and all was well...and then a few days ago, they came over and asked if they could have the sessions "tonight."
I explained that I didn't have Internet access, which was critical. I said we could have...but we don't. So they sent over one of their computer people and we began figuring out how we could run wires and connect as many workstations as we could. We actually did quite well and got 14 stations up and running and connected.
As we finished each one, I clicked the browser icon and navigated to www.cnn.com to test if we were really online. It seemed simple enough. Honestly, I'm not a great fan of CNN, but you can rarely find a shorter URL address. At one point, the computer expert sat down and started to type in www.cnn.com, explaining that he would use my chosen website.
I said, "well, if you want my choice, go to my blog." I opened the browser, typed in the address and a second later, the blog, with Elie's picture, opened up.
"Hey, I know him," he said to me.
"Artillery," I said and was amazed to hear him mention Elie's brigade number and division.
"You really do know him. How?"
"I taught him how to shoot," he said.
"Yes, I was his instructor during basic training for shooting."
No, heYitzchak (the computer expert) doesn't remember how well Elie did or much about him other than his face, his group - but it was still a wonderful feeling to connect with someone who knew Elie in that world he goes to when he leaves home.
It also proves, yet again, what an incredibly small country this is, how interconnected.
Av 16, 5769, 8/6/2009
I love comments from readers. I even sometimes add a "comments on comments" post to my blogs because I want to respond to them. In general, comments fall into two categories - those that support, and those that attack. Rarely, does a comment actually fall into both categories, though this next one does:
A 22 year old is not a "boy." he is a man who at 19 was doing a man's job. Three years later and you don't understand a soldier's life and purpose? All this hand wringing, emotionalism and sentimentality is just what our enemy wants to see. why they keep dangling the prospect of returning a probably already dead son to his parents for outrageous concessions. This outrageous display of "poor me, poor us" is just what they hope for. If this is Jewish values, then Jews don't deserve an IDF nor do they deserve to be free from tyranny. Stand strong, rely on Hashem for comfort and stop feeding the enemy so they can become engorged on our shame.
So, let me explain. First - this blog is called, "A Soldier's Mother" - and that's what it is about. It shares, primarily with other mothers and fathers, what it is like to have a son enter the army, even go to war. I understand a soldier's life and a soldier's purpose. I also understand, first hand, a mother's worry. If I were to write to Hamas, I would talk of the strength of our soldiers, their determination, their power and their motivation. I would tell them that they might as well pack it in now because they will never defeat such an amazing group of soldiers. No where do I suggest Israel exchange countless terrorists and security prisoners for Gilad Shalit - dead or alive. My complaints are not even for the Israeli government.
Rather, I question why the Red Cross manages to provide all sorts of humanitarian aid to people all over the world and yet in three years, hasn't managed to see one young man. I want to know why UNRWA is allowed to continue operating while Hamas is allowed to violate the very international laws that govern the organization sponsoring UNRWA. Beyond that, I disagree from a mother's heart. A 22-year-old, even more so a 19-year-old may be a man in the eyes of other men, in the eyes of the army, the government, his friends, and even the world. But to a mother, he will always be her child, even at 50.
When I sent Elie into the army at 19, he was not a man. Today, at 22, I believe that he is, though I think these are labels that are largely meaningless. I have watched my son mature in the last few years, take responsibilities, take command - by virtue of his training, his personality, his strength of character, and by virtue of the authority the army has given to him. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that Elie is richer for the experience of being in the army. Having said that, the blog, when read from its start 2 years ago, shows not only the transition in Elie, but also my own transformation.
Yes, at the start I was scared, terrified and worried. I was also proud, determined, hopeful and so much more. Those first days and weeks were about learning and adjusting. Within a few months, I'd settled down with a better understanding of how the army works. Then, as happens regularly, the army shifted ground, rotated responsibiltiies, and I had to learn a whole new way.
Again, after a bit of time, I adjusted, I learned and watched my son being formed into the commander, into the man you say he is. Then, I watched the army take my little boy and send him to war. And yes, he was my little boy (see What I Want...and What I'll Do). And I wrote to myself rather than to my readers. It was once again my sanity versus making my son crazy.
I wrote that I wanted my little boy home and I didn't want him to play with big things that go boom and yes, it was my weakness but more, it was the mother in me. The Jew in me, the Israeli in me, and yes, even the mother in me answered right away, that despite wanting to bring him home...
What I'll do is answer the phone if Elie calls and I'll talk to him calmly. I'll listen if he tells me he's staying where he is. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him up north. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him down south near Gaza. I'll listen, I'll tell him to be careful, and call me when he can. I won't for a single moment, tell him that I'm scared, that I have no real experience with this war thing and that I don't really want him to have any experience with it either. What I'll do is continue to listen to the news and pray for our civilians who are under attack, and our soldiers who are risking their lives to defend them.
And most of all, what I will do is dig deep inside where I store my faith in God and in my country and my people. I will do what every Israeli is doing today, hoping this will end soon, but not too soon that we only succeed in putting off to tomorrow what should have been dealt with today. I will do all of this because we are what we have always been, a nation with no choice but to deal with what our enemies choose.
For those first few days, I couldn't even reach him so, yes, I whined and worried and perhaps the Arabs could see this as a sign of weakness, but honestly, as my son was pounding out artillery shells against key targets in Gaza, I can't imagine the Arabs there were thinking the IDF was weak. There is no shame in praying and there is no shame in having fear. The shame would come if we allowed ourselves to be paralyzed by that fear; if, because of that fear, we didn't act as God requires us, as our nation needs from us.
A 22-year-old is not a boy when he is standing with a rifle or shooting artillery, flying our skies, fighting our enemies in tanks and boats. But maybe, maybe at 22, all alone in Gaza for more than three years, and most especially if Hamas has killed him already - let the world think of Gilad as a boy. He was taken at age 19 - just a few months into the army. He hasn't gone through the training that Elie has received, hasn't commanded men. No, for all that he's 10 months older than Elie, I can't imagine Gilad as a man.
Anyway, I believe we come from the same ideological base, you and I. For all that you didn't sign the comment, I imagine that you are not a soldier's mother - I'm not even sure if you are a soldier's father. It could well be that you were a soldier, or perhaps not. So let me explain that my blog is called "A Soldier's Mother" because what it does is open to others what I believe many soldiers' mothers feel.
Deep in our hearts, as I told my mother-in-law when Elie was only 5 years old...and even then I guess I knew...what we feel is tremendous pride in their strength, tremendous gratitude for God having brought us to this moment to stand back and watch our boys become men. We feel honored and we have faith in their abilities...that is all for the outside world to see and inside, we are mothers and have a right to fear for our sons, we have the right to worry, we have the obligation and the need to pray.
And, with all that, I will never believe that the Arabs are dumb enough to believe that because we worry, the IDF can't do again what it did a few months ago in Gaza. Our cannons and helicopters, our planes and tanks and artillery speak a language they understand, that they will listen to, or ignore at their peril.
Tags: Defense/Middle East
Av 15, 5769, 8/5/2009
So...have you ever wondered about how battles between inanimate objects would go? Elie's life is filled with lessons. There was the time that the ball met the glass vase - yes, with predictable results. Then there was the pillow versus the glass candlesticks. Now, this one might be a close call, so I'll have to explain that the pillow won.
There was the tape on the curtain versus the picture frames. That was a no-brainer, as Elie gently tried to remove the birthday decorations that someone had taped to the curtain, upon which someone had placed several pictures. Suddenly realizing his error, Elie simultaneously tried to catch the glass frames as he said, "Not good, not good." It was actually quite a successful attempt and only two frames were smashed, but if you could have seen the horror on his face and heard the tone of his voice, you would have laughed too.
So, it seems Elie has spent his life learning physics and how objects interact. It's actually quite appropriate that he was sent to artillery, if you think about it, as he has now learned the science behind the things that he has sent flying through the air. He's learned the concepts of friction, of weight, of air and wind and how to calculate so many things.
And today, he learned another thing. When you match an M16 rifle against a Nokia N95 cellular phone, yes, indeed, the rifle will win. The good news, as Elie points out, is that the army will have no complaints against the poor phone. Not even a scratch can be found. But alas, the N95 cannot claim the same. It seems that our cellular provider will be asked to replace the screen...well, at least the parts that are now blank.
One of the secondary reasons I keep this blog running beyond my own selfish need to write, is that I can sometimes offer advice to others. So, allow me to offer this note for mothers and fathers with sons and daughters about to enter the Israeli army (and perhaps other armies as well).
We want our children to have cellular phones - we need them to have it. How mothers survived even 10 or 15 years ago without their soldier having a phone is beyond anything that I can imagine and yes, I know I am quite spoiled in this. But beyond the fact that we want them to have a phone, the army actually needs them to have a phone, if at all possible. It isn't a requirement, but it is definitely an advantage. Elie communicates with the army and the army communicates with Elie via his personal phone.
It is a fact of life here in our army and likely in other armies around the world as well. The army knows these phones are not secure; the boys know what they can and cannot say, when and where. Anyway, back to my advice - if you send your child to the army...and you should...and if you send your child with a cellular phone...and you should...please, please - get insurance on the phone!
Oh, and tell your child, if they are in a combat unit and they are issued an M16 - it's a no-brainer, no matter how good the Nokia phone is, and it is a great phone...it is not going to survive a meeting with even the handle of an M16.
Av 10, 5769, 7/31/2009
One of the things I have noticed since becoming a soldier's mother is the increased sensitivity to all things military. Names of Arab towns flash across the news and my ears hear the names and think of their location in terms of where my son is serving. Another heightened sensitivity is the ever-present fears all mother face - of injury, of capture, of worse. And so, as much as I have always been concerned and worried about Ron Arad and even the three soldiers captured by Hizbollah years ago, the more recent kidnappings of Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser was a nightmare more real because for the first time, I too had a soldier.
Elie was inducted into the army less than a year after Gilad was kidnapped. By the time Ehud and Eldad came home in coffins, Elie was already serving on the Lebanese border. Imagining the horror and pain of their families took little imagination.
As Elie has gone through the military these past two years, Gilad has remained a captive of Hamas, denied the protection of international law, which required Hamas to allow representatives of the Red Cross (at least) to see Gilad. News came recently of an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan and I wondered if America would now understand our joint agonies, as we face joint enemies.
Bowe R. Bergdahl was serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment earlier this month when he vanished, just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He's now been held over one month by Taliban extremists. Bowe comes from Idaho and is only 23-years-old.
Gilad Shalit, aged 19, was kidnapped from Israeli soil as part of an infiltration/attack which resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and Gilad's being dragged across the border into Gaza. Since then, Hamas has refused all attempts to allow international agencies such as the Red Cross to see him.
They were kidnapped by the same enemy, held against their will. Video and transmissions are used not to reassure the families that their sons will soon be home, but to torture them, leave them unsure and bereft.
Gilad and Bowe both deserve their freedom. They were doing nothing wrong when they were captured, other than serving their countries.
In a few short weeks, Gilad will turn 23. He's in his fourth year without his family. In Israel, the government contemplates and then pulls back from the idea of denying Palestinian prisoners visitations from their families, as Gilad is so denied.
These prisoners - caught after violating laws or held for security infractions have brought attention to themselves because they did something - they attacked army patrols, threw rocks or fire bombs or crossed into areas without permits. Gilad did nothing - nothing but enlist in the army, finish his basic training, and take up a position near Israel's border with Gaza.
Palestinians came into Israel, crossed under our fence in a tunnel they dug to enable them to attack Israel...and this is what they did. They dragged a 19-year-old boy into Gaza and then held him for more than 1125 days. They torture his family, suggesting Gilad is hurt, suggest he will die if we don't immediately agree to trade 1000 prisoners...prisoners who were not innocently sitting around doing nothing when Israel came and grabbed them and dragged them off.
And then, when Israel says - ok, we are willing to release hundreds, but show us that Gilad is alive...show us he is well. Follow international law and let the Red Cross see him, talk to him. Let his mother talk to him. Be human beings, for once in your life. We allow wives to speak to their husbands, mothers to their sons. Their conditions are known - many have access to television, computers, even phones, though these are not allowed in the cells (and even then, many have them). Gilad has nothing - be human beings and allow a 22-year-old boy to speak to his mother...and then we are yet again met with a wall of silence.
With the taking of Bowe, America is thrust into the same agony as Israel; Bowe's family into the same horror and worry as Gilad's family.
May Bowe and Gilad come home soon - safe, and healthy.
Tags: Defense/Middle East
Tammuz 15, 5769, 7/7/2009
I wanted to slowly bring you all up to date on my journey as a soldier's mother. It began 2 years ago and I've already posted many of my experiences during those first few weeks. But, as I travel back, we are still moving forward and so today, I want to write about something else and then in the next few posts, complete my look backwards.
In the last few weeks, as Gilad Shalit approached the third anniversary in captivity, my thoughts and prayers have focused on him. I have not allowed myself, except for brief slips, to imagine myself in Aviva Shalit's position. I doubt I could handle it with such grace. I'm sure she is angry at times, how could she not be?
On the 3rd anniversary, many people on Twitter tried to get Gilad's name to the top of the Trends Tracking count. We reached 3rd place - which I believed to be both symbolic...as it was Gilad's third anniversary, and a success.
As that day approaced, Israel released a Hamas leader and I wondered at our government's stupidity. Yes, we have a justice system that requires a trial, a sentence and, at the end of that sentence, release from prison. But what of Gilad's sentence? When does his release come?
It is, to my mind, so very western of us, so very democratic, that we release a Hamas terrorist on a specific day, no matter what he promises to do in the future, no matter what Hamas does all around. The problem, of course, is that we aren't in the west, are we? We don't live among democracies who will honor a trial and a sentence; nor do we live amidst societies who honor life and care about the suffering of others.
Today's news of the release of a second Hamas leader shouts into the darkness that surrounds the Gilad Shalit situation. But it is a mockery, a sham, an embarrassment. Who will answer? Who will explain the logic of releasing two Hamas leaders while an innocent Israeli boy remains in isolation from his family.
Gilad will come home...only when the government and the world are serious enough, only when they care enough to demand it in terms that will force Hamas to release him. When we release Hamas leaders, we send Hamas a clear message - sure, keep your son; that's fine. When we open the crossings, allow fuel and electricity - we show them what fools we are.
Gilad is calling out to us. If we answer, how we answer will determine when he comes home.