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Return and Remember, Fear and Triumph

By Paula Stern
9/23/2009, 12:00 AM
Last year around this time, Elie's division decided to send their soldiers to Jerusalem. I've written about what happened then (It Could Have Been Elie) , and this year when Elie joined his unit (We’re Brothers). Elie came home a few days ago for the Rosh Hashana (Jewish new year) holiday and we talked about several things. It had been a while since we talked, so it was nice to have this time as we did a quick shopping and drove home.

He told me about meeting his brother, and laughing at the soldier who didn’t know they were brothers. “You don’t look alike,” I said.

Elie dismissed that – as if the whole world should know. I loved the story of their meeting at the Kotel (the Western Wall, which is actually the retaining wall of the Holy Temple…and all that remains of it). I wanted to hear it from Elie’s side.

“How many went to the Kotel?” I asked.

“A lot of us. The g’dud Rav (the Rabbi of the unit) wanted to do something special since last year but nothing happened, so he decided this time a lot of us would go.”

“Did some of the same people from last year go?” I asked him.

He wasn’t sure about the ones who were injured, “but there was one girl who was there last year. She was really scared to go this time.”

They took them to the top of the Mount of Olives. From there, the view of the Old City of Jerusalem is simply breathtaking. It is, according to Jewish custom, from the Mount of Olives that the Messiah will come. The soldiers walked down the mountain, across the valley of Kidron, and up to the Old City walls.

I think that’s a triumph – to have these soldiers, from the same unit that was hit last year, walk to the Western Wall. There is a road that enables someone to drive right up to the very gates beside the Western Wall. There was no need to have these soldiers walk down the valley and back up…and yet there was every need.

As they walked, the commanders moved to the sides of the group. They kept with them light sticks and as they came to the roads, the commanders took up positions in the middle of the street, waving the light sticks to alert oncoming traffic. The soldiers passed in safety. I can’t imagine that the incident last year wasn’t in their minds.

Even now, a year later, as I pass bulldozers traveling slowly in the streets of Jerusalem, I think of the four times Arabs have used these bulldozers to ram into buses, cars, and pedestrians. It is an automatic thought that comes to my mind; how could the soldiers not have thought of what happened just last year, to their own unit?

And so they returned, remembered. They conquered whatever fears they might have brought with them to walk the beautiful streets of Jerusalem. There are major triumphs in life, and there are small ones that go unnoticed by most of the world.

A young girl, in uniform, walking amidst a large group of soldiers may not appear to have been triumphant. Had I witnessed her walking with the other soldiers, I never would have known, had Elie not explained. She was one of those who was in the attack last year; one who saw her friends hit by a speeding black BMW that wanted to kill them.

She saw the car, the bodies flying through the air. She saw the soldiers take aim and fire, stopping the terrorist from reversing and hitting the injured soldiers around her.

This year, she came with fear, remembering having been attacked last year while simply walking to the Western Wall. But she came anyway, and it is that silent bravery that touches my heart…that, and the commanders, my son…who guarded their soldiers with extra care this year so that their return to Jerusalem would be a triumph.

No newspaper did a story about their return; no radio announced it. No parents witnessed it; no one spoke of it. The soldiers of Israel came to the Western Wall of our Holy Temple, to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. They came, they saw, they returned in triumph.