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We're Brothers, You Idiot

By Paula Stern
9/21/2009, 12:00 AM
There is a custom to say special prayers before the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The holiest place in Judaism is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – the location where our holy Temples were built and destroyed. Today, the Temple Mount is in Arab hands; our Temple yet to be built. What remains to us, then, is the Kotel, the Western Wall. There our people gather almost around the clock. Rarely will you find a time when someone isn’t there praying, beseeching, asking for blessings.

Last year, before the new year arrived, my husband and I decided to take a few days in honor of his birthday. We do this once in a while, steal some time to remind ourselves that we are not only parents, but a couple as well. We drove down to the beautiful southern city of Eilat, went to dinner, and learned that Elie’s unit had been involved in a terror attack (It Could Have Been Elie).

Elie wasn’t there when it happened; he was at a checkpoint. His unit had traveled to Jerusalem for these special prayers (slichot). I spoke to Elie in the middle of the night after hearing about the attack. Only when I spoke to him did I begin to understand that it was not just an artillery unit, but Elie's unit that had been attacked. Elie's unit, Elie's friends, but not Elie.

This year, as the new year approaches, our middle son went to the Western Wall for these special prayers. The first thing he noticed was that there were many, many soldiers. The second thing he noticed was that they wore the turquoise beret of the artillery unit.

Shmulik’s friend started to argue that they were not artillery, but Shmulik stood his ground and pointed out the color of the beret. Shmulik is officially a soldier now; but he has joined a program that combines military service with religious learning so that his entry into the army is technically delayed until March. He has a military ID, military dog tags, but has not been issued a uniform, rank, or responsibility.

So last night in Jerusalem, standing beside the Western Wall, Shmulik looked around and saw that most of the soldiers were wearing the same color berets as the one Elie wears. Artillery – once again at the Western Wall for these holy prayers. As he looked around him, my middle son noticed that most were using the berets as head coverings. This meant that most were not religious, while one was wearing a yarmulke (skull cap) of the modern Orthodox, his beret attached to his shoulder.

Shmulik looked at the soldier – it looked…just like…Elie. They greeted each other. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if they hugged; it’s a mother question; something not volunteered in the telling of the story and therefore an interruption. Shmulik continued explaining what had happened, oblivious to my wanting to know how Elie looked, every little detail, and yes, if they greeted each other with the hug and back slapping I see in my mind.

The two brothers met and spoke for a while. I love the picture in my mind of them standing there talking; Elie in uniform, both surrounded by soldiers, Shmulik’s friends, hundreds of others, the towering Western Wall, all that remains of our Temple, standing majestic and beautiful in the lights that flood the area each night.

While they talked, Shmulik explained, two of Elie’s soldiers came over to Elie and noticed Shmulik. One turned and told him what a great guy Elie is.

“Yes,” Shmulik agreed, “I’ve only been talking to him for 10 minutes, but he seems like a nice guy.”

Elie apparently said that he too had been talking to Shmulik for 10 minutes and thought Shmulik was a great guy too. The second soldier promptly agreed. Elie turned to them and laughed, “you idiots, we’re brothers.”

Shmulik told me this story, laughing as he did. I can see them there, the two of them. They are so different in appearance that I would never peg them as brothers. Elie’s hair is brown; Shmulik’s almost black. Elie has blue eyes; Shmulik’s are the darkest of browns. Elie is taller; Shmulik thinner. They are both so beautiful, so strong, mine.

The picture is there in my mind and it brings smiles to my face and heart. My sons, brothers, soldiers of Israel.

“We’re brothers,” said Elie – a bond from birth that will follow them all their lives.