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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:

      Av 15, 5769, 8/5/2009

      A Test of Strength: N95 vs. M16


      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

      Joint Agonies, Joint Enemies


      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.






      Tammuz 15, 5769, 7/7/2009

      A Soldier Calls - Who Will Answer?


      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.






      Sivan 29, 5769, 6/21/2009

      Remembering the One Month Marker


      There were many posts during the first month Elie was in the army - about the first time he came home in a uniform, the first time he came home with his gun. It's been a long road, traveling over these 2 years since Elie has been in the army and I'm anxious to bring you up to where Elie is now, who he is now. Looking at these older posts brings back so many memories. I smile at the fears I had, the uncertainties. I'm anxious for you to meet Elie as he is now, to see how he has grown, what the army has given him and what he has given the army.

      But just as I had to live through each moment, I think I should pull you into the present a bit more slowly than just jumping across months and stages so, here's the post that marked his first month in the army. Already, I was beginning to understand so much of what I now take for granted.

      One Month in the Army - April 25, 2007

      It's now one month since Elie entered the army. It's been a month of worry, and a month of learning to accept. It's been a month of growth for Elie, and for the family. We have learned to cherish moments, to grab them and hold them close. When he comes home, when he calls.

      Tonight, he cannot call me to wish me a good night. To tell me what he did during the day and how things are going. He doesn't call every night, but he calls quite often in the one hour free time per day they are given before they go to bed. So much is regulated for them - when they get up in the morning, how much time they have to say their morning prayers, eat their breakfast.

      They have a specified period of time for dressing, for rest periods, eating, and more. They are encouraged to call home because, as I have come to learn, the army recognizes that their soldiers need to have their parents calm and aware of what is happening to them. We become a sounding board, another pair of eyes watching over as they take our sons and transform them into soldiers.

      As I wrote, Elie won't be calling tonight because he called last night to tell me that they would be out on an exercise tonight. More shooting practice, and this time, Elie will learn how to shoot...well, some big thing with a gun on top. Happily, this weekend Elie will be coming home again.

      That's another thing the army recognizes - the need to do things gradually. To take a boy from his home, after he has grown there 18 or 19 years is a hard thing to do and so the army recognizes that they need to send them home often enough that we understand that we are not losing a son but rather, our son is gaining new experiences. These boys are not ready to be soldiers and hike and run great distances. They need to be built up - strengthened, and so, Elie and his unit walk several kilometers - more and more as time will go by.

      What all of this tells us, teaches us, is that we aren't the first. The army actually knows what it is doing with our sons...at least so far.

      So - today it is one month that my son has been in the army. There is no cake, no telephone calls, no celebrations. I'm not sure if anyone but me even realizes the significance of the anniversary.

      Somewhere, at this moment, Elie is sleeping under the stars of the Negev Desert in a sleeping bag, with his gun within reach. And miles and miles away, I sit here with a quiet sense of satisfaction - that we have come this far. I brought a small 6 year old boy with beautiful blue eyes to Israel and now he has grown old enough to serve in the army.

      And a sense of dedication - and a sense of pride.

      Lila tov, hamudi (good night, my sweet one).


      Sivan 26, 5769, 6/18/2009

      First Days in the Army


      By far, one of the hardest days I had experienced up to that point in my life was the day Elie went into the army. It was emotionally draining because I forced myself to not react, not cry, not hold him back. It was all about letting him go free and easily with a promise to myself, that after he went, I'd fall, I'd cry, I'd come to terms and go forward. The first few days and weeks were an incredible experience because it was, essentially, my first real encounter with army life.

      My Son the Soldier - Induction Day - March 25, 2007

      Well, the day has finally come - arriving with a mixture of so many emotions and unspoken fears. Elie packed his bag last night - as ready to go as he has been for some time now. Perhaps over the weekend, he was a little more playful, a little more "around" us than usual, but this morning, it was all business.

      He woke me up at 6:30 a.m. (I'd been up long before, but I wasn't going to tell him that). We got in the car, found the place a short 20 minutes later. There were a few other cars parked in front of the building, each with a young man sitting in the front beside a parent. No one got out to talk to anyone else, each holding those last few minutes. You don't want to speak any great words of wisdom - there aren't any left to be said. You can tell him that you love him, but really, he knows it already. This isn't like school, where he can call if he needs me to come and pick him up. His experiences are now his own and we are left behind in real life, as much symbolized by his walking alone into the building after a few quick words and a refusal to give me a kiss (typical of a teenager boy). I sat outside with nothing to do but go back home. Other parents still sat in their cars with their children, but I'm glad we did it the "quick" way.

      There is no ceremony, no great moment, just a gentle slide into a new world. He went in his direction without hesitation; I reluctantly went in mine and I tried all day not to think of where he was. Or, more importantly, I tried not to think of where he wasn't. From the time my children were born, almost without exception, I have known where they are. Perhaps not to an exact location, but close enough to know that they are within reach, within a short drive or call away. Now enters a time when more often than not, I won't know where he is, what he is doing. I will have to trust that no news is good news, that he is ok.

      Elie called me around 6:30 p.m. - not quite as good as him walking through the door, but still a wonderful gift. He's fine. He's wearing a uniform. He complained about the heat of Tel Aviv after the cool and wonderful air of Jerusalem's hills. They gave him boots and they are more comfortable than he expected them to be. They didn't have any undershirts, but he's got the 3 or 4 that he packed from home. They fed him lunch and dinner and there's a place to get snacks. He has a place to sleep, some boys he knows from school and one from a neighboring town. Tomorrow he'll go to the base. No, they didn't give him a gun (I didn't expect them to). No, he doesn't know the rest of the schedule. All normal talk - so many questions I could ask, but won't. I'll take it one day at a time...for the next three years. Today is over. He's safe. He's fine. Tomorrow is another day.

      My son is a soldier in the army of Israel. Why that makes me want to cry, I can't explain when it is something that I have accepted, something in which I feel pride. For now, the fear and worry that threatens to push the pride aside will be my personal battle in the next day and week and year. My son is where I have always wanted him to be, doing what he must do. It is something that Jews have been unable to do for thousands of years - to defend their land and their right to live here. My son is a soldier in the army of Israel.

      Those First Calls - March 25, 2007

      The first calls from a son in the army are precious. You listen to the voice. He sounds okay, he's being taken care of, he's happy. He'll tell you the plans, as the army tells him. No one to argue with, when what they tell him isn't logical - that too is part of the army.

      So, as Passover approaches, we are told that Elie will be able to come home for the Seder on Monday night, but have to return to the army Wednesday morning. He'll then be able to come back home on Friday, but have to return to the army on Sunday. He'll be able to come home on Monday for the last day of the holiday, but have to return again on Wednesday after that. Is it logical to endure a three hour trip on Friday and Sunday and Monday and Wednesday? Wouldn't it be better to let him stay at home from Friday to Wednesday? How much training will he really be able to do? A few hours - maybe the equivalent of one full day?

      This is the lesson we are to learn, and learn it early. You do not question the logic of the army. You take what they will give you and be grateful for it. There are so many questions we'd like to ask, but each call home is only for a few minutes.

      His day starts early and ends after something like 17-18 hours. Elie gets up at 4:30 a.m. and has a long and detailed day.

      "How are things?" we ask.

      "Fine. Good," he answers.

      "So, did they cut your hair on the first day?"

      "No"

      "Ok, that's good. "Did you get all your supplies?"

      "Some," he answers. "We got the pack and sleeping bag."

      And he explains about there being two kinds of uniforms - essentially those that are worn on the base for training and those that are worn when a soldier goes off-base. He's only been issued one type so far.

      I ask more questions. He answers and tells me what is happening. And, of course, as soon as we hang up, my mind fills with questions I didn't ask.

      Is it cold there? Are you warm? Is the food good? Are you tired? It seems silly to ask him if he has made friends - this isn't school or camp.

      But the thought of him being alone is scary for me. Of course, he won't be alone. He's on a very large base "somewhere" in the south. Alone is the last thing he will be for the next three years. He'll sleep with others in the same room, even shower in close quarters. Everywhere he will go, will be with others. But I want him to have people he can talk to, boys he can laugh with. There is no time off - except an hour before bed. I have to resist speaking in terms that are foreign to the army and while he will gain brothers-in-arms and in many cases friends for life, I worry about who he has to talk to now. They are all going into this as a new experience, depending on their commanding officer to guide them through. Faith is a wonderful thing, but somehow the mother in me still thinks of reasons to worry.

      I'd like to think that some part of me is always aware of my children. Through business meetings and work or resting or shopping, at any moment, I am "aware" of my children in my heart. But so far, this "awareness" is different than it has ever been before. Now, it is a small ache buried deep inside. At any moment, it can swell up to the level of worry and then settle down. It can ignite my imagination (something that I am prone to at the worst of times) into thinking dim and dark thoughts and then I force myself back to reality. He is safe. He is on an army base going through basic training, for Heaven's sake! He won't face any really real danger for...for...days? Weeks? Months? Years? Never - will I even know when that moment comes. Perhaps that is the scary part. I may not even know. You could drive yourself insane if you continue on this road. Better to stop and look at the moment. Today, he is safe. He's ok. He's good. Today until it fades into tomorrow, I will not worry. Tomorrow - always tomorrow, I will allow myself to worry, but today, I will force the worry away because in all the years he was growing up, there was no other place I wanted him to be, no other country I wanted him to call home.

      He will be safe and we will get through this all - one day at a time. We have survived three days already. I will get used to this new method of communication - short conversations, quick, intense. He's ok. He's safe. One call the first night; another the second night.

      Today, a - text message "Ima, everything is good. I'll call you tomorrow." Everything is good - he'll call me tomorrow. What more can a mother ask for when she has already determined that the next three years will pass one day at a time.


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