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A 22 Year Old is Not a Boy - Except to His Mother

By Paula Stern
8/6/2009, 12:00 AM
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.