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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:

      Kislev 25, 5772, 12/21/2011

      Chanukah Message: Determination and Triumph

      Some of our holidays are steeped in tradition and law; some are more about joy and fun. They are less serious, less heavy on the soul. Chanukah is a great holiday. On the fun side, it's about greasy foods you try to limit the rest of the year: we eat fried potato pancakes, jelly donuts and chocolate. It's about light and sound: we light an additional candle each night, filling the room with candlelight and song. We gather in the corner of the room. My husband and children each light a menorah and we sing both the blessings and other songs.

      On the serious side, Chanukah is about so much more. 

      The first year, Elie was in the army, I took my three younger children to the shore on the last day of the holiday. I wrote about it here - A Candle and a Wave (amazing pictures).

      His second year, I wrote about his lighting the menorah at a checkpoint in Where you light a candle. This was the Chanukah right before the Gaza War...and he didn't make it home the entire time because tensions were escalating; war was coming.

      His last year in the army, I was calm enough to write more about the holiday than about him. I wrote about Chanukah and the IDF.

      So - this year, relatively calm still, I'll write a bit more on the holiday, perhaps, and only a little on the army. Chanukah is the story of weak triumphant; of good over bad; of freedom; of principle; of light. An evil king of the Greeks began oppressing the Jews. His name was Antiochus and he used his power to persecute the Jews in their land. He forbade many of our religious practices; demanded that pigs be sacrificed in the Holy Temple.

      In an uprising against the ancient Greeks and this persecution of our religion and our lives, the Maccabees, led by Mattathias and his son Judah, triumphed and the Temple was rededicated. There were then, as there are today, miracles that happened - unexplained things that worked one way when they couldn't possibly. A small army defeats a much larger one in battles that contradict all laws of war. A simplified version, but essentially, a small jug of oil - enough for only one day's service was found in the Holy Temple - it would take 7 more days before more oil would be ready...with faith, the Jews lit the oil for the one day and it lasted for all the full 8 days until more was ready. And so today, tonight, we light the menorah.

      Chanukah is about triumph, about dedication. It is about our reclaiming our land and living here when evil tried to remove us. It really is, always has been, and likely always will be, as very simple as that.

      We are here in our land - we will not be removed. Not by the Ancient Greeks, not by the Ancient Romans. Not by the Ottomans, the British or the Palestinians. Not even by the Iranians, the UN, or Obama. The light of Chanukah that was kindled thousands of years ago and continues to burn bright. It was lit again tonight in my living room, in the windows of my neighbors, in the streets of my city and of Jerusalem. Everywhere, from house to house, the message is there. We live here, in the land of miracles and each day, there are miracles.

      Four missiles were found in Lebanon today, before they were able to be fired at Israel. A car was targeted by Arab gunmen near Rechalim; no one was injured. Three firebombs were thrown at a Jewish village and a car north of Jerusalem - no injuries. 

      We live in a land of miracles, under the Great Protector, who watches over Israel.

      Kislev 22, 5772, 12/18/2011

      Why I Love Israel...

      I write too often about the sad and the bad and not enough about the amazing and wonderful. After each Shabbat of down time, one of the first things I do is check the news. I've been a news-aholic for more years than I can remember. The first news I saw was of a terrorist attacking a soldier at the entrance to my city. Two rockets fired over Shabbat.

      Only later did I go back and look again. The headlines speak of an Egyptian protester who was beaten to death by the police; of 30 bodies of dead Syrian protesters that were dumped and found; and finally, of a protest in Tel Aviv (peaceful, of course) for women's rights. Someone left a comment (thank you for being honest) saying that attacks such as this one (Ambulance Sirens) are why they are afraid to bring their family to live here.

      So, it is time, once again, to explain that despite it all, there is no place I would rather be, no place greater where my children should be raised. The third of my five children is about to get married here. My soon-to-be future daughter-in-law is the first to choose, as we did, to come live here. The other two were born here.

      So lest you think, even for a moment, that we sacrifice anything (including our personal safety) by living here, let me tell you the opposite is true. There is no safer place for the Jews than here in Israel. There is no better place to raise our children as fine human beings, as strong Jews, as Israelis - than here.

      I have never, in all my life, felt safer than I do here in Israel - as a Jew, as an Israeli, but as a woman too. I can walk outside at night, at 3:00 a.m. without hesitation, without fear. I can send my 11-year-old daughter out - even in the middle of the night, without hesitation, without fear. I know that everywhere my children go, they have eyes on them. Not eyes of evil waiting to attack them, but eyes of protection (and I'm actually not even talking about God's eyes).

      If my child is not sure where she is - without hesitation, she can go over to anyone and ask. Very few children in Israel are hurt or abducted by strangers here. There are no children's faces on milk containers here - not because the companies won't agree, but because there is no need.

      My country rarely experiences extreme cold and even the heat is almost always bearable. Even in the winter, there are days like today where there isn't a cloud in the sky, the sun is bright, and the air so comfortable. Every day, we do acts of kindness, often without even thinking twice. Today, I drove through my neighborhood and saw a man who indicated he wanted a ride.

      In America is it as stupid to hitchhike as it is to give a hitchhiker a ride. Thankfully, in Israel, this is not true. The fact is, I am very upset with the man who stood there waiting for a ride. In the recent past, he hurt my husband and my family with his insensitivity on two separate occasions, without shame, without guilt, without apologies. I have to admit, I hesitated for a fraction of second before I pulled to the side.

      Without the shame I think he should have had, he asked if I was going past the mall. I answered that I was, and gave him a ride. I didn't start a conversation, nor did he. The air was uncomfortable in the car and I felt no reason to ease the short time until we got close and I asked whether he wanted the mall or the front of the city.

      He said he was surprised by the traffic - a brief conversation. I let him off at the stop he wanted and he thanked me and wished me a good day. If there is anything that I did wrong, it was in that fraction of a second in which I hesitated. Giving him the ride is typical of Israel and Israelis - little acts of kindness that we do. This is my country.

      Last night, the Chief of Staff of Israel's army went out to a restaurant for dinner. While he was there, a woman  experienced a health emergency. Benny Gantz approached and helped her while his body guards stood close by. The Chief of Staff, the highest position in the army, stayed there until the ambulance arrived. An act of kindness - my country.

      Last night, Elie volunteered his time, as he does very often, to be on call for the ambulance squad in Maale Adumim. This morning, my youngest daughter took her turn as a crossing guard again to safely help younger children cross the street.

      Last night, Gilad Shalit slept in his bed, in his parents' house. What nation in the world, other than Israel, would release 1,026 people - among them hundreds of murderers, for one young man? Today, Israel will release the last 550 of the list - among them more than 370 who were convicted of attempted murder. What country, other than Israel?

      Would you trust Hamas to keep their word on anything? I wouldn't and yet Hamas trusted and the world knew that Israel would keep its promise to release the second group. And we are doing it. Should we? Is it in our national interest? Highly doubtful, and yet we do. We'll get nothing for this release. The rockets won't stop and some, probably many, of these 550 will return to terror. It is their way.

      I love Israel because we hold ourselves to the highest standards of behavior and though I am continually disappointed that the world does not see this, I know that we do it for ourselves, not for them. This morning, I gave a man a ride to the mall. Ultimately, I did it because I'd rather act as I did, than act as he did.

      He will have to live with his actions; but at least I know I can live with mine. A friend recently said to me that thinking back, she is amazed at how many family events we have had in the last few years. It is true and I recognize and thank my blessings every day.

      My daughter met and married a wonderful young man - and now they have an amazing baby that just melts my heart every time I hold him. My son married a wonderful girl, the girl he has loved since before the army, before it was really acceptable for them to have made this connection. It was always her and that means so much.

      Elie has met and will soon marry a most amazing young woman who took the time to remind me, "I was yours before I was his" because I have loved her almost from the moment I met her last year (and I just realized recently she has blue eyes!).

      And my two younger children are blessed with their own celebrations and joys. Davidi has grown so tall - he fulfilled the promise I wanted for him - he's taller than Elie. He's so beautiful...and he has blue eyes too! For someone who never thought having blue eyes was genetically possible - I have two blue-eyed children! And Aliza grows secure and happy and free.

      Weeks after we'd come to Israel, a 6-year-old Elie was talking to my mother-in-law about living in Israel, "Savta [grandma], I'm so free. I'm free." He said. That freedom is the greatest gift I have given my children by moving here when they were young and by living here all of their lives. There are national freedoms - that allow peaceful protests as happened last night in Tel Aviv and in the last few months in many places in Israel. There is no "Arab Spring" here in Israel because we don't need it.

      And if police cross the line into violence as they did yesterday in Cairo and beat a protester to death, the Israeli courts and justice system will deal harshly with them; the government will not protect or excuse their behavior.

      These are instances of national freedom - and in this sense, Israel is the only free country in the Middle East.

      But more than national freedom, we are free as individuals. We live free of fear in a way that is unimaginable to most Americans. I have stood in the center of Jerusalem with a friend from the States and listened to her speak on the cellphone to her husband and tell him how peaceful it was. Cars honk, people yell at each other for how they drive, a store owner is nasty because the kids are blocking customers from coming in.

      And then, a small child approaches the counter and carefully counts out his change to buy some candy. He is half a shekel short (less than 15 cents). The next person in line is just as likely to take out a half a shekel as the store owner is to wave away the money, smile at the child and wish him a good day. That is the Israel I love and the one that will bring me to tears a hundred times a week.

      Yes, a security guard was injured at the entrance to my city yesterday. But I live a life time of days in which stories like the little boy come true. For those alone, I would choose again to live here in this beautiful land that cherishes life, its children, its soldiers, the sun and the land.

      I love you, Israel - more and more each day, each month, each year.

      Kislev 10, 5772, 12/6/2011

      Survivors and Refugees

      Despite reality TV shows, the word "survivor" for me is almost always tied to those who walked out of the hell that was the Holocaust. Television is fiction, trying to survive the Holocaust was the reality for millions of Jews; more than six million didn't survive. My grandfather was born in Poland and fled in the early 1920s. He left behind his mother and two sisters - he was their hope for a better life in a place less filled with hatred and oppression. He went to America and worked very hard. 

      My grandfather compromised the religion in which he was raised to earn the money he needed to bring his mother and sisters to safety. He continued to eat kosher food, but he worked on the Sabbath, as his job required him to do. Hitler's race to power defeated my grandfather's race to save his family. His mother and sisters died in Auschwitz. Once, he saw a movie - a news reel - of what was happening in Europe and when he saw the dead bodies piled up, he began to sob. My mother remembers him saying, "my mother, my mother." His mother and sisters were not survivors...they did not survive. 

      When I stood beside the gas chambers and crematoria there, I whispered to my grandfather's family of the great-great grandchildren and great-great grand nieces and nephews of theirs who live in Israel. I spoke to my husband's grandparents - all four of them, who had been killed there, and I cried for them because they did not survive.

      My grandfather suffered the loss of his beloved mother - but he was not a survivor. He was in no concentration camps, no ghetto, no forced labor camps. He was not a survivor, nor was my mother, his only daughter. You either survive something, or you don't. Either way, your children may be effected by what you endured, but that does not make them survivors too.

      My mother-in-law and father-in-law were young when the Nazis stormed into Hungary. They survived the horrors of the Holocaust. My mother-in-law was in Auschwitz. She and her brother and sister survived; her parents, a  young sister, an older brother and his wife did not.

      All their lives, my in-laws were remembered as survivors, scarred by what had been done to them, by their memories, their nightmares. All their lives, they looked behind them, wondering when the Nazis would come again. They and hundreds of thousands of others who managed to escape Hitler's final plan were the survivors who reminded us what the Nazis had done. But, the thing is...surviving is not "transferable." My husband's parents were survivors. He is not. Our children are not. The child of a survivor - is not a survivor. Like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripple effect goes on, long after the stone sinks to the bottom. But the stone did not hit   all the waves it produces; the children of survivors are not survivors themselves. 

      What this means is that the number of survivors dwindles each day as more and more pass away. The last of the generation - most only children in those final days of World War II, are in their 70s and beyond. This is recognized throughout the world - by Germany, Israel, the United States, and Jews everywhere. Too soon, there will be no more survivors. What is the great truth of the Holocaust? That there are very few survivors left and the burden of remembering has already passed to my generation and beyond. My sons carry the names of  those who died in the Holocaust; my grandson carries the name of one who survived.

      And now, another discussion of reality versus fiction.

      In 1948, the Arab population of what was then called Palestine, chose war over statehood. They rejected the United Nations Partition Plan that ended the British Mandate over Palestine; a plan that would have seen an Arab and a Jewish state established. The Jews, including many survivors, agreed to the Plan and declared the re-establishment of the State of Israel after 2,000 years in exile. Five Arab armies promptly invaded - Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and units from far beyond. 

      During the fighting, a bit before, and most definitely after, hundreds of thousands of people fled in many directions, from and to many countries. Some fled to get out of the way of the fighting (Arab armies broadcast to local Arab communities that they should get out of the way as the Arab armies came to "push the Jews into the sea"); others fled in the midst of battles; others, like hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab countries, fled an expected wave of persecution, arriving in Israel with little more than the clothes and the few packages they were allowed to take with them.

      The Jews who came from Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and beyond, were refugees. They were put in tents until apartments were built or found for them. Within a short period of time, measured in months or perhaps even years, all were resettled and absorbed. Today in Israel, there are no Jewish refugees. In the house next to mine are Jews whose parents came from Yemen and Morocco. Across the street, from France and Russia. Some who are many generations in Israel, even one who can trace her roots back two thousand years - unbroken in this land.

      The Arabs who fled the conflict settled in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and beyond. They were refugees. They were put in camps...and kept there. Their Arab brothers made no attempt to absorb them, to find them homes, to build them apartments. They reveled in their poverty. When these refugees had children, the Arabs proclaimed that their children were refugees as well. Their grandchilden, great-grandchildren, and beyond.

      What is the great Palestinian refugee truth? There are very few Palestinian refugees who are still alive - and those that are alive, are in their late 60s, 70s and 80s. You cannot transfer the "title" of survivor; nor can you transfer the mantle of being a refugee. Those born in Jordan are Jordanians - even if the Kingdom of Jordan denies them the right to vote so that they can maintain the fiction of being a Hashemite kingdom - one whose population is actually more "Palestinian" than "Jordanian."

      King Abdullah of Jordan was born in Amman - he says he is Jordanian. Queen Rania was born in Kuwait. She says she is Palestinian because her parents were born in Tulkarem, an Arab city in Israel. She is, in truth, Kuwaiti, as those born in Jordan are Jordanians, those born in Saudi Arabia are Saudis, even if they are denied the right to work or vote or purchase land. There was no government in Palestine - only the British Mandate and before that Ottoman control.

      What you have is not a refugee problem - but hundreds of thousands of people who have been denied from birth the right to live as equals in the nation of their birth - no, not Palestine or Israel - but all the nations to which they fled - Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and beyond.

      The Jews who came from Yemen are Israelis, as are their children. We are not a nation of Iranians, Lebanese,  Egyptians, Syrians, etc. - we are a nation of Jews and Israelis, many of whom have roots in these other countries. The Jews who live here do not have Yemenite citizenship, nor do their children or grandchildren.

      What an amazing abuse of history to systematically lower the number of survivors of the Holocaust while hypocritically increasing the number of Palestinian refugees with each generation and each passing day. If a child born in Egypt is a Palestinian refugee, than my husband and my children are all Holocaust survivors.

      Will Germany now pay reparations to each of these children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as victims of the Nazi regime? Will the United Nations create an organization to see to the needs of these new "survivors." Will the Poles return the land of my great-grandmother to me? Will the Czech republic return my husband's grandfather's shoe store and home to him?

      No - only the Palestinians, it seems, get to wave their hypothetical flag of suffering before the nations of the world, and only Israel is expected to pay for it. How truly lame.

      Cheshvan 23, 5772, 11/20/2011

      Israel's Secret Weapon Against Iran

      I love how people ask me what Israel will do - as if I would know. I am a citizen of Israel; I have my opinion. But I would guess that you can count on a very few hands how many people KNOW what Israel will do and I sincerely doubt (and hope) the President of the United States is one of them. I would guess that you could count on less than one hand how many people KNOW the timing of what Israel might do, and I KNOW that the President of the United States is not one of them.

      And yet, I know the weapon, the true weapon, Israel will use if and when it attacks Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Some will dismiss this as whimsical. If you are of that type, you can stop reading right here because you are probably right and oh, so wrong. Some will say that God Himself will avenge, in advance, anyone who would dare to attack His people. Sadly, we know that is not true. Even today, there remain survivors who can tell you of a time when God allowed His people to suffer. If you are expecting me to say that God will handle Iran, here too you may want to stop.

      So let me tell anyone who has continued past the previous comments what I believe, what I know, about what will happen. I believe that if the world will not stop Iran - and I believe with all its talk, it won't - then yes, Israel will attack Iran and, if it does, it will, most definitely, use a secret weapon. It isn't so much secret as one that is denied. We've used it in the past, in the distant past and in the recent past.

      There was a meeting once at West Point in which an American general spoke to new cadets. I have heard his name, but can't remember it - so perhaps someone can help me with  more of the details of the speech he gave. What I remember from the story was that the general cited many different battles in history as examples of great historical military strategies. One cadet raised his hand and asked why the general did not include any of Israel's battles. The general refused to answer, telling the cadet to see him after the speech. When the cadet approached the general quietly at the end and asked his question again, the general explained that he could not use Israel's military strategy because they were, from a military point of view, impossible. He told the cadet that what Israel had accomplished was physically, historically, militarily impossible. No, he didn't deny that Israel had done it - only that, essentially, without God (and I would add our secret weapon), we could never have done what we did. That cadet chose to leave West Point. He came to live in Israel and joined the army here.

      As for our secret weapon - it is a combination of two great forces - determination and desperation. That simple - and that impossible to duplicate. In 1948, a nation of vastly outnumbered, under-armed, badly trained, and with the added weight of tens of thousands of half-starved, empty-handed refugees from hell - defeated five standing armies. In battles to great to count, victory by the weak was delivered - by God and by  the knowledge that there was no other place, no other land. The Arab threat to push the Jews into the sea was both dramatic and accurate - that was the only real place they had left.

      On Yom Kippur (October 6, 1973), when Israelis were in the synagogues praying, Egypt and Syria launched a war against them. About 1,400 Syrian tanks faced off against 170 Israeli tanks. Within three days, scores of Syrian tanks had been destroyed, at the cost of almost 3/4 of the Israeli tanks. By October 9th, the third day of the war, Israel was down to just 6 tanks. In a valley that has since been called the Valley of Tears, a young Israeli named Avigdor Kahalani was facing impossible odds. He had only a handful of tanks and defeat was certain. Kahalani called his situation in, and was ordered to withdraw. He wanted help - that's why he called, and he was told to retreat.

      Kahalani refused - he complained to command that he couldn't hear them and that he was going on. In a battle that could only be described as half mad, he ordered his tanks to spread out and fire wildly in all directions. The Syrians believed that reinforcements had arrived and fell back. Determination and desperation. Kahalani knew that if the Syrians came down off the Golan Heights, all of Israel lay before them.

      Will Israel attack Iran? When will it happen? Will it happen? I could enter the pool of guessing games; I could tell you what I believe, which has no basis in reality. But rather, I'll say something else.

      We did not come to this land to be taken from it. I do not believe God will ever allow us to be exiled again. Elie is organizing his passport to travel with his future wife to visit her family. His passports are all expired - all of ours are expired. People keep saying we should get them renewed and I know they are right and yet I hesitate. I will not leave this land. The Iranians will not succeed, nor will the Syrians or the Palestinians.

      Our secret weapon is that we have no where else to go, no other land that is ours. There are more than 20 other Arab countries; there is only one Jewish one. We would like to live in peace with our neighbors and as soon as they agree, we might actually have a shot at it someday.

      In the meantime, Israel may have to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure because we may not have a choice. If we do, I believe with complete faith, that we go with God as our Pilot. We will succeed - because we are determined, because we are desperate, because ultimately, our secret weapon is that we don't have 19 other lands from which to choose from...only Israel, always Israel.

      Tishrei 20, 5772, 10/18/2011


      In the Cast Lead War in which my son fought, there were many who said Israel was wrong. When we tried to point out that Cast Lead was preceded by the massive bombing of our cities by rockets and mortars, the word "disproportionality" was used. What does this mean?

      It's simple, was the response. Sure, Israel was getting bombarded - but most of the rockets miss, don't they? Well, yes, with the help of God and through no intention of the bomber, yeah, they miss most of the time and hit empty fields. Of course, when they do hit, they kill and maim and destroy - people and massive amounts of property and even when they miss, they cause terror and shock, trauma and psychological pain.

      But yes, when Israel fires - most times, we hit our target. Of course, they didn't like our target and they didn't like us hitting it so they moved their rockets into schools, mosques and hospitals so they could say we were destroying civilian buildings. It was, they claimed, all about disproportionality.

      Of course, that word only works when the Palestinians want to use it. We aren't allowed to use it because...because...well, just because. So tomorrow, we will release 1,027 prisoners - among them the murderers of almost 600 Israelis. Those that have murdered children, babies, mothers and fathers. They have left a trail of orphans, widows, and parents who will never recover from the agonies of losing their sons and daughters.

      We will do this for the return of one son - Gilad Shalit.

      Disproportionality? 1 for 1,027? Apparently so - by sheer math, this means that each of these prisoners is worth 1/1027th of the life of a Jew, of an Israeli. But this is not a politically correct statement in a world that wants to believe in the equality of man...expect, of course, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.

      Our high court has pushed aside all last minute petitions against the trade. From our side, we are clear. Whether it will happen or not, now depends solely on the honor of the Palestinians - a frightening concept. So let's say it depends more on the pragmatism of Hamas. Tomorrow, they will declare themselves the victors - it's what they do no matter what happens.

      But that's really okay with me. I'm fine with living in a land that would trade 1,027 terrorists and murderers to get back one Jewish soul. Am I afraid of future deals and more kidnappings and attacks - of course I am. But for tomorrow, I'm going to put that all aside and thank God I live in Israel, where we would let loose these killers to save Gilad. I thank God I don't live in a society that will take to the streets tomorrow to celebrate the return of killers, that my country will be cleansed of the filth that is Ahlam Tamimi and the like.

      No, not all - but most of the 1,027th of them will go to Gaza, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and I'm going to believe that the air I breathe will be that much cleaner, disproportionally cleaner than it is right now.

      And I'm going to do one more thing - I'm going to believe, with complete faith, that what man fails to do, God will. God will avenge the blood of the 600; God will remember their sacrifice and the pain of their families and curse these miserable 1,027 people - all the days of their lives.

      No, I would not want to be Palestinian tomorrow, a society that will be judged for its heroes and will be found lacking. Celebrate tomorrow, Gaza but know that we celebrate too. We celebrate the return of Gilad Shalit and we celebrate that we are not you, not a society who worships killers and death.

      And in the next war - because we all know there will be one - perhaps you'll have to come up with a different word because disproportionality just won't work after you demanded and received 1,027 for 1.

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