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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:

      Adar 6, 5772, 2/29/2012

      Fogel Murders in Itamar - A Year Later


      It's been a year since the horrible attack on the Fogel home in Itamar. Rabbi Udi Fogel, his wife Ruti, and three of their six children were murdered. It was an attack that shocked a nation that didn't believe it could be shocked. It brought us to our knees with its depravity, its barbarity. We are not strangers to blood, to death, to murder. It has been done to us before and long ago, we accepted that it would continue - until the Arabs want it to stop.

      But this was so much worse. This was just beyond unthinkable. How, how in God's name does a human being slit the throat of a three-month-old infant? Why, why couldn't they have left her there, alive and crying, but at least alive? Why did they have to kill Hadas too?

      How, how in God's name does a human being stab a three-year-old in the heart? Couldn't little Elad have been spared? Why did they have to kill him too? And Yoav, 11-year-old Yoav?

      And a mother who stood in front of the door where her two young sons were asleep - they killed her too. And a father, unarmed and at home with his family. Too much for the mind, too much for the heart and the soul. A year has passed. How are the Fogel children coping? If you can stand the pain it will cause (and even if you can't), read this A Visit with the Fogel Children.

      And since life is about our own experiences and what touches us up close, I'll tell you of another effect, nothing compared to the Fogel children and yet a factor in our lives). Our youngest daughter, Aliza, is doing well a year later. Friday nights - the night the Fogel family was attacked - she still locks the room to her door. She was frightened again when she heard that there had been some robberies in our neighborhood recently. In one case, Arabs were caught; in another, the family came back to find some of their possessions gone. It scared Aliza - happening so close to us, but it didn't shake the foundations of her world. It didn't happen now, but it did happen last year.

      As details of the horrible murders came out, Aliza found some comfort when she heard that Ruti Fogel had protected her two sons as they slept. At one point she asked me why I was saying we would protect her when Ruti and Udi weren't able to protect their children. What answer could I give her? What comfort could I bring to ease her trauma? With her body, Ruti blocked the door, and this is where her body was found. Sickening though it is, this was one point their killers chose to mention - that their only regret was in not finding and murdering the two little boys that thankfully managed to sleep through the nightmare taking place just outside their room. And that attempt, knowing she'd tried and perhaps succeeded because the two boys were alive, helped Aliza.

      Sometimes, you can see something happen and think it is interesting, even as you are so involved in the details you know that later you'll want to look at it all again. This is what happened with Aliza. I was fascinated at the process of a child coping with unspeakable horrors and tragedies even as I was focusing on trying to help her. I felt completely out of my depth - completely unsure of what I was doing. I was afraid I would make it worse, increase her trauma rather than ease it.

      I spoke to parents of her friends - all seemed very upset, but not to the same degree as Aliza. At first, I gave in to her every fear - she wanted the doors locked - I made sure they were. Not just the house - but her room too. I agreed. She wanted to sleep with the light on, I let her. She wanted the windows locked and the thick plastic shutters closed day and night - and I didn't argue. Elie bought her an alarm that fit on her window and I watched as he carefully "installed" it. On and on, she asked and I gave in. After a few weeks, maybe it was longer - I just don't remember the timing anymore, she started having nightmares and I began to think that I was wrong to have thought I could handle this.

      I spoke to her teacher and the school counselor and to a psychologist. I thought the nightmares were a bad sign and even as I took her into my bed some nights or sat with her on other nights, it turns out that the nightmares were a good sign. She's learning to cope with it, explained the school counselor. Already her mind has brought it to a level that she could cope - before she dreamed, it was so traumatic, said the counselor, she couldn't even dream. Her subconscious was finding paths to acceptance or perhaps acceptance is too great a word - maybe a truce with reality?

      A year later, Tamar Fogel and her brothers are still in such pain and it is hard to believe the time will ever come when they won't be. A month ago, Ruti's mother asked one of her grandsons, "What do you say, Roee, are we going to overcome this?’ and he answered, ‘Yes, Grandma, we will overcome.’ Then she asked, ‘Is this world good or bad?’ And this special child of Ruti and Udi Fogel answered, ‘Despite everything that happened to us, Grandma, the world is good." They are learning to cope, learning to smile, learning to live. I am awed by their strength and I know it was planted in them by parents who loved them and protected them.

      A year later, in my little world, Aliza has learned to cope. It has been an unbelievable year - one of her brothers got married; another got engaged. She became an aunt, and an adult according to Jewish law with the celebration of her bat mitzvah. It's been a year of growth - our family has added Shmulik's beautiful wife, Na'ama, Amira's amazing son, and soon, Elie's so-special Lauren. It's been a year of celebration as we danced and laughed at weddings and parties and through it all, we remember the Fogels and worry about their orphans.

      It's been a year without five members of the Fogel family...and many others who have been murdered in the name of a war we did not choose. Often those who wish to argue against my beliefs speak to me of occupation and my response is always the same...and never addressed - if the so-called occupation is the only reason why we are at war today and the occupation began in 1967, why then was the Palestine Liberation Organization founded in 1964? One responded that the occupation began in 1948 when we attacked the Arabs...no one could accuse this person of having learned history.

      You cannot stop or start history when you want. It did not begin in 1967, nor did it begin in 1948. But beyond history is today's realities and we must all learn to cope with them. At the start, I asked what kind of human being could have murdered little Hadas, Elad and Yoav. I have yet to receive an answer to that question.

      A year later...and we are all no wiser. Several months ago, a father and his baby son were murdered by rock-throwing attackers. This past week, a young mother was attacked but thankfully managed to escape.

      It's been a year since the Itamar murders. May God avenge their blood and continue to bless us all with their memories.







      Adar 4, 5772, 2/27/2012

      Things You Don't Want Your Kids to Know


      I had a discussion with Shmulik this morning. Our routines have settled into a nice pattern where he drives me to work two or three times a week. He takes the car to his yeshiva, and then we go home together. As he was speaking, I wished I could record what he was saying. So many things I want to tell you about and as he continued, it switched to so many things I wish he didn't know. There is a wisdom there in his words, a clarity in his youth. He is married and yet still I see him as the boy he was, as well as the man he has become. He sees the world, I thought to myself, more than we want them to see.

      He started with one thing and then got to the other. The first was interesting; the second broke my heart a bit. So the first. There is a problem in Israel, a division of society that runs deep. On one side of the divide, there is the misconception that Ultra-Orthodox Jews are backwards, warped, left behind in the 18th century, perhaps in Poland or the Russia of pogroms. On the other side, there are people who see a world that they do not want to live in, do not want their children to know. For the most part, they are not nearly as materialistic as much of the world. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews to whom I am related are modest people who live in small apartments, work to raise their children and invest in them - not with computers and modern toys, but with time and love and attention.

      Their children are so incredibly polite and though they run and play as all children do, there is a sense of caring and responsibility. Older children care for the younger ones and yes, part of that is necessity. When there are nine children in a family, the older ones learn quickly that they have to help - and they do.

      For the most part, the Ultra-Orthodox are warm, family-oriented people who believe they have found a way to make life mean more and want to pass this on to their children and yes, protect their culture and their children from things that would infringe on the lives and communities they have built. They believe they have the right - and don't they really? - to choose what of this world they will bring into their lives and what they feel would be better to leave out.

      They have cellular phones - and use them. But the Internet opens doors to deep and dark places so they would just as happily leave it away from their daily lives. Cars are not evil, buses, etc. but where darkness lurks, they choose the more obvious path to light. Or, they believe they do and as it is their lives, they have that right.

      The problem, of course, is when anyone takes their right to make their own choices, and inflicts it on others. That is the eternal debate in Israel and with the Ultra-Orthodox. What right do they have to ask me to sit in the back of a bus because they believe men and women should be separated as much as possible? The answer, of course, is that they have a right to their separate buses - just so long as I have an equal right to my non-separate buses.

      Each morning, we drive to my offices through one or two of their neighborhoods and so the discussion came about. "Who goes to war?" Shmulik asked me and then answered. According to the Torah, the tzadikkim - the righteous ones - went and in that way, believed God was with them and would support them. So, asks Shmulik, if the Ultra-Orthodox seek to be considered righteous ones, why don't they take the lesson from the Torah and serve in the army?

      It's an interesting question. Many Ultra-Orthodox will argue that the "atmosphere" in the army is less conducive to a religious way of life, but really, given all that the army does in terms of making sure religious soldiers have kosher food (mehadrin, etc.) and a proper atmosphere, this isn't really a good argument and his question remains. Wouldn't the army be compelled to offer a better environment for religious soldiers - if it had more of them?

      It is a debate we cannot finish because we are both on the same side. We both believe that the army and the Ultra-Orthodox would be better served by cooperating more and by all religious young men serving. We see a balance between the body and the soul - and both must be nurtured. It is a debate that Israel has had for the last 60 years - a need to seek spiritual and physical protection for our land and it is wrong to make one group provide all the physical protection. My sons should serve on the borders of Israel - as should the sons of the Ultra-Orthodox. I fully believe that God values the prayers and dreams of my sons (and daughters) equally with those of the Ultra-Orthodox.

      Then, the conversation turned a bit. According to Jewish law, you are allowed, even commanded, to violate all but three laws to save your life or the life of another. Judaism is truly about living, not dying. We do not find glory in death. If you are starving, you eat not kosher food. If you are in a dangerous location, you travel, even on the Sabbath. All laws are off (except three) when it comes to life.

      And so we came to the concept of bending or breaking some of the commandments during wartime and that led to the concept of Milhement Mitzvah. A milhemeth mitzvah is an obligatory war. I sometimes wonder if  the misguided concept of Jihad in Islam is a distortion of the concept of milhemet mitzvah.

      (For a great source on contradictions and outright inaccuracies in the Koran, see this great site: Answering Islam.) Anyway, we talked about the concept of an obligatory war and that's when Shmulik knocked me off my feet (not in the literal sense, of course) - "every day here is a milhemet mitzvah," he said.

      And before I could adequately process that, he told me what I've always known, and something I wish my children didn't, "they want to destroy us completely - so every day is a milhemet mitzvah," he concluded.

      An obligatory war is one that is fought because there is no choice - because if you don't fight, your enemies will. The Arabs will shoot rockets at our cities, sneak into our homes and murder our babies. They will fight without honor, without bravery, and sneak off to murder what and when they can. An obligatory war is fought against the Samir Kuntars of the world, the Hassan Nassrallahs, and yes, even the ones who claim to be moderate in English, while calling for our destruction in Arabic. These are the ones who would kill a father in front of his little girl, and then murder her as well with their bare hands, or murder a three-month-old baby girl, or stab a three-year-old in the heart.

      An obligatory war is one that is fought against an enemy that does not want peace and will not let you live in peace, no matter what you do, no matter what you give. Though the Torah speaks of absolving a man in his first year of marriage from going to war, it also explains that in a milhemet mitzvah, even the groom should leave his wedding canopy (chuppah). This is what Aharon Karov did in the Gulf War, when he was seriously wounded. This is what others did - the soldier who missed his son's circumcision ceremony; fathers whose sons and daughters were born while they were in Gaza.

      Yes, Israel is involved in a daily war that is obligatory and unavoidable. And yes, Shmulik is right, it is a daily fight, a daily war that obligates us to defend ourselves.

      An Israeli ambulance was stoned a short while ago in Hebron, a bus was pelted with bricks; a few days ago, two Israeli young men, off-duty and dressed in regular clothes were assaulted and nearly lynched. The Arabs caught one of the boys, shoved him to the ground and carved "you dog" into his scalp; a firebomb was thrown at an IDF patrol; another rocket was fired at Israel's south.

      A milchemet mitzvah - every day.







      Shevat 27, 5772, 2/20/2012

      A Life That Might Have Been Stolen



      There is a disease called Alzheimer's that robs the body of the mind, the soul of its future, and the family of its center. It is slow. It is insidious and just its diagnosis is enough to promise an agony of days dwindling down to mindless loss, leaving all around it to try to hold the center for as long and as best as they can.

      There is a condition called NPH, or Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus which means a rise in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. There are three main symptoms that are caused by this condition. One is Alzheimer's-like memory problems. Another is a horrible shuffling movement as you walk; an inability to lift the feet. It makes walking painfully slow, each step a labor.

      The thing is, if you relieve the cerebrospinal fluid - essentially water - on the brain, the symptoms of NPH disappear. Much if not all of the memory problems go away, the labored walk gone.

      About two years ago, my parents' doctor said my father had Alzheimer's and we began that slippery slope towards darkness. My mother has dealt with it more than the rest of us, watching it, fearing it, being hurt by it. My father was told that this was happening - the feeling being that he should have the right, while he still had the chance, to do what he wants, to get things in order. My father loves to write - it would or could be his chance to write a bit more.

      The thought that he might have NPH and not Alzheimer's was raised. He was tested and the family doctor felt that putting him through a spinal tap and long, slow draining of the fluid to test which condition or disease he had was not advised. The slope downward remained his future. He was tested again, and again the family doctor advised against any procedure.

      Because the family doctor remained concerned for both my parents, she finally recommended that they take my father to a neurosurgeon who specializes in NPH. He decided the chances were 50/50, perhaps slightly better. Still, we were advised not to get our hopes up. 

      A procedure to test what would happen if a permanent shunt was put in to relieve excess water on the brain was done last week, the worst possible week for me as it was right before the national conference I help organize each year. From afar, I listened and heard. When it was done, after 48 hours of this slow draining, my father walked normally for the first time in longer than I can remember. His cognitive abilities were rated much higher than just 48 hours before. 

      My sister told me over the phone the evening before the conference. My mind was filled with so many emotions - anger at the family doctor for being so sure it was Alzheimer's, shock and dismay at the thought that the rest of my father's life might have been stolen from him. So many thoughts. How many others, I wondered, never know. How many people travel that slope into oblivion needlessly?

      The anger dissipated quickly. The family doctor has always been amazing to my parents. What she did, and what she didn't do, was misguided but it was what she believed was best. The shock and the dismay, however, remain. How many lives are lost, condemned, unfulfilled by this common misdiagnosis?

      And as the days stretch towards when my father will have an operation to place a permanent shunt to drain the fluid and what we continue to hope will be even more of a reversal of the symptoms, another thought comes to my mind. What was almost stolen, is being returned. The lost chance becomes a new chance. Few of us are given second chances in life; my father has been given one. What he makes of it is up to him. I hope he will begin to write again. I hope he will cherish all the more what he could have lost.

      I hope the family doctor will remember this and take a chance. Doctors should not cause their patients pain and suffering, and yet, sometimes in not choosing this path, they cause even more danger and damage.

      A life that might have been stolen, has been, or will be, taken back. And still, I am left with the agonizing thought - how many others remain stolen? 








      Shevat 6, 5772, 1/30/2012

      Beating Demons through the Generations


      It's just after midnight here in Israel. I should be finishing a project; I should be sleeping. Instead, my mind is drawn to the fact that it is my Aliza's 12th birthday on the Hebrew calendar. She's asleep in her bed; excited by the plans we have to celebrate this week. Tomorrow, she and I will steal a day away. We'll go out for breakfast and then go to the Western Wall. It is, in many ways, a symbol of all that we are as a people and so we'll go there, as we have taken her brothers and sister so many times.

      Later, we'll do some shopping and come home. She is my baby and I have to keep reminding myself that she is growing so fast, reaching beyond, upwards. There is such wisdom inside of her, such gentleness. She is named after my mother-in-law and my grandmother. Two women who were hounded by hatred from their homes - one in Hungary in World War II; one from Russia after World War I. One was put in a gas chamber, but miraculously pulled out to live and raise a family. One caught in a horrible pogrom in her town. She was in the synagogue when the local Ukrainians came and set it afire. She too managed to survive and live to raise a family. Of all that they would have wanted for Aliza had they known her, I cannot help but believe they would have wanted her most of all to live the very life she lives here. 

      And like the women from whom she came, little Aliza has fought off demons as well. Their demons and Aliza's have much in common - the Ukrainians, the Nazi, and the Arab cousins that butchered a family and terrorized a nation. I forgot the depths of the fear she has conquered until I stumbled on a blog post I had made only a few short months ago. I guess the blog serves as a reminder to me as well as to others. In honor of her birthday, I'm reposting the story of how a little girl has lived up to the women whose name she carries. With thanks to them and love for her....

      Beating Demons - October 17, 2011


      For those who don't know, my youngest daughter is 11 years old, 11 and a half really. A few months ago, on a Friday night, two Palestinians sneaked into the Fogel home in Itamar and there they murdered...butchered...two parents and three children. Their bodies were discovered by their 12-year-old daughter, Tamar, when she returned home Friday night from youth group activities.

      While much of Israel was caught up with the agony of this young girl and her two remaining brothers, suddenly and violently orphaned, I had my own bit of drama and trauma here in my home. My daughter identified with Tamar and became terrified that the same would happen to her. Nothing comforted her at first. She was afraid, for the first time in her life, to be alone at home even for a few moments; she was afraid of the dark; afraid of open windows that would allow terrorists to enter our home.

      When I tried to tell her we would protect her, she answered too wisely for her age, "Tamar's parents couldn't protect them; how can you?" Indeed, Udi and Ruti apparently did manage to protect two small boys sleeping in another room, and so, at least Tamar has those brothers, though the Awad cousins did manage to murder her other two brothers and her baby sister. Aliza seemed to be getting worse for a while. It wasn't enough just to assure her that the front door was locked; she wanted her bedroom door to be locked too. It wasn't enough that we have bars on the windows; she wanted her window closed and her shades drawn closed against the dark.

      She had nightmares that I thought signaled things were getting even worse, but according to the school counselor, this was actually a good sign in that it meant she was starting to find ways to cope. That her subconscious was sort of taking the trauma out and examining it and learning to deal with it. Whatever the reason, there were nights she came to my bed, shaking and crying and spent the next few hours with me.
      I consulted people, psychologists, etc. and went with my instincts. I allowed her to fear and answered each fear. She slept with a fan rather than an open window. We put a window alarm on the window as well. She slept with a light on; she locked her door and checked the house locks too. Slowly, so painfully slowly, all that she has added on, she has removed. She can now sleep in her room with the door unlocked - except Friday nights. The lights are off again; the windows open again.

      And then came a special challenge. We are now celebrating the holiday of Sukkot in Israel. Our front porch has been enclosed with bamboo mats and a fragile roof has been added. Decorations line the walls and the "ceiling." But a simple rain would easily pass through, strong winds...even gentle ones...set things aflutter in the sukkah.

      The point of the sukkah is to remind us that life can be precarious at times and it is our faith that strengthens and protects us. There is a custom to not only eat in the Sukkah, but to sleep there as well. To sit there as often as possible during the
       days and nights, to almost live there. Aliza wanted to sleep there. There are no windows, no doors, no locks.

      She won't sleep there on her own but for the last several nights, either a friend has slept over or her younger brother pulled in a mattress on the other side and last night, I joined her.


      I was awakened by the dog barking and I listened to see who approached. She slept peacefully and sleeps still as I sit a few meters away writing this. Aliza doesn't know about the agreement to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners; doesn't know that dozens will be released back to their homes in Jerusalem and nearby. She doesn't know that a vicious killer named Ahlam Tamimi will be released to Jordan, to the hills I can see from my window.

      But she has beaten the demons that have frightened her these past months. She has put them back and away and perhaps the next time she has to face them, she will see them for what they are - cowards that sneak in the night, slither in the dirt while she lives in the light.

      http://israelisoldiersmother.blogspot.com/2011/10/beating-demons.html









      Shevat 2, 5772, 1/26/2012

      How Does it Feel to be Hated by Millions?


      I got a comment on my blog, A Soldier's Mother, which led me to thinking I had to respond. 

      How does it feel to live in a country hated by millions of people all over the world? NOT because its a jewish country (as you would like to believe), but because of your country´s hatred, racism, war crimes and evil acts. America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia... How does it feel?

      How does it feel to live in a country hated by millions of people all over the world? Well, not great but if you've been hated for hundreds...no, thousands...of years for all sorts of stupid reasons, you kind of accept that it isn't going to change and you also understand the base root of the hatred.

      So, if the reason millions hate us is because our country is responsible for all you claim - you wanna explain why more than 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis - before the State of Israel was re-established in 1948? You wanna take a stab at explaining the Crusades, the Pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition?

      How does it feel? It feels great to live in my own country and  know, for the first time in 2,000 years, we are in control of our destiny. We know that we can protect our own. We know that if you hijack a plane and separate the Jews out, this time, the Israeli air force will fly in to save them, as they did in Entebbe.

      We know that if you threaten your Jewish population, we will fly in and bring them home to Israel, as we did in Yemen and Ethiopia; we'll challenge dictators and tyrants, as we did with the Soviet Union, to release our people and give them refuge. We know if a Jew is lost in a horrible tsunami, Israel will send a team and while the team is there, they'll search for his body. We know if there is an earthquake in Turkey, Israel will be among the first to send in rescue teams and the Israeli team will send off a small group to dig in a building to find the Israelis.

      We know that no matter where our people are - anywhere in the world, we will stand against the true reason why millions hate us simply because of who we are, and we won't be fooled by rhetoric into thinking the cause is anything but what it has always been.

      So how does it feel to accept who you are, where you live, and what your country must do to survive? How does it feel to finally be in control of your own destiny, to be free in your own land? To raise your children in the place where they belong? How does it feel to have sons and daughters who are proud of their country and choose to defend it...and more, have the option to choose life - for the first time in 2,000 years, and the power to make that option reality?

      Pretty darn good. Thanks for asking.







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