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Dear Lone Soldier's Mom

By Paula Stern
10/29/2009, 12:00 AM
If there is any harder path to follow as a combat soldier's mother, it is to be the mother of a lone soldier. A lone soldier is a young man or woman who has decided that they must serve the country of Israel, as my son has. But there is a difference, a huge difference in that Elie can call me at any time, at any moment. With four words, he would have me running to my car, driving beyond the speed of light to get to him. With a simple, "Ima, I need you" I would be gone.

He knows this, as all my children do. Call me and I will be there. It doesn't matter where, when, why. The call is enough, the need the most critical thing. There are the silly little things that can be answered in a phone call - loneliness, the need for information, the need to talk. This can be given no matter where the mother is, though time and expense can be a factor.

And then there is that which is priceless, to us as mothers, and to them. Driving them to base when they are tired or have to get there at a ridiculous hour; loaning them a car for their day off; doing their laundry or helping them at least; home-baked cookies. It's the smile, the hug, the quiet discussions that make my life (and hopefully Elie's) easier as he follows this path.

I got the following comment from a lone soldier's mother and wanted to add it here because she shares a side of being a soldier's mother that I don't experience but is so important for others to understand. I live with much of what she experiences, and so much less.

She didn't choose her son's path, didn't anticipate it, didn't expect it. I did. I chose to bring my son to this country as a young child, knowing that this meant he would be a soldier some day in the distant future. I knew and was as prepared as I could be. I knew from the time Elie was six years old, even before he was born, to some extent, that the day would come when he would wear the uniform, carry the gun, and go places I don't want to imagine. I knew; she didn't.

She writes of his maturity and I see that in Elie too. She writes of things her son must do, things that Elie does too.

She has learned to live with uncertainty. Yes, that has become my constant companion.

She writes of the years after the army, as her son enters the national reserves, in many ways the true fighting force in Israel and I share with her the knowledge that she and I will be soldiers' mothers for decades to come.

And finally, she writes that she doesn't believe she has the same grace under fire that we Israelis have and here is the first time I will disagree with her. From the moment Elie entered the army, I knew that I belonged to a family much larger than the one I had started forming when I married my husband and we began bringing children into this world. Suddenly, everywhere I went, in meetings after meetings - there was a diversion, a comment, talk of where our sons and daughters were, what they were doing. What unit, what base - became a binding force between complete strangers. It happened just yesterday during a conversation with a woman who came here to discuss a new line of courses specifically for women...and soon it I learned that she has two sons who are soldier. It is the way of things in Israel and elsewhere.

I learned something else last year when Elie went to war - there is an even larger family I had never dreamed of joining. They are mothers in America and Europe, who have sons in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over, anywhere, who fight the same enemy, the same cultural values that seek to destroy my country (and theirs). They live with a grace I envy, a deep sense of faith and belief and a commitment to the same values our sons defend.

As I began to write here, I realized that American mothers who believe I am so brave, so filled with grace under fire...don't realize that I am awed by them. They are all mothers of lone soldiers - their sons far from home. Like this mother who wrote to me, they are so far from their sons, hours and hours, even days away from them. They cannot go to them, but must wait for them to be brought to some other place or brought all the way home. I am haunted by the thought and marvel at their grace that they live with this challenge.

I am so blessed to be so close to Elie; to have him come home every few weekends. To know, at a moment's notice, I could throw everything away and get in my car and drive to him. Sometimes, the drive is an hour away. Sometimes two, sometimes four. It doesn't matter. I don't see the grace she speaks of, the bravery others tell me I possess.

But what I do know is that she is in America. I am in Israel. We, she and I and you and them, are everywhere and our sons know our love, feel it through the telephone lines and deep in their hearts. We support them, love them, bless them, pray for them.

Lone Soldier's Mom has left a new comment on "Hearts and Rockets":

    If someone asked me what is the most important thing you have learned about yourself since becoming the mother of an Israeli, and in particular, the mother of an Israeli soldier, I would say I have learned that I can live with uncertainty.

    I have found out the hard way that rockets can hit where they have never hit before, that there is no such thing as a quiet checkpoint, that the IDF can send a unit from a brigade which has never been stationed outside the West Bank into a war zone.

    I don't always know where my son is and what he is doing there. Things change quickly and when you least expect it. I no longer trust that I can sleep well because he is safely on base for the night because too many times I found out the next day that he wasn't. There is never going to be an end to all this uncertainty. After the army is reserve duty. In a war the reserves are called up and he will be anxious to go. In everyday civilian life, he goes from one place to another that I recognize as the sites of terrorist attacks, this bus station, this restaurant, that street.

    It has all been a hard lesson for a suburban American mom who had a different kind of life all planned out and under control until three and a half years ago. My son has gained a lot of maturity and a different sort of confidence since he's been in the IDF. He's got a stronger backbone now. He's got guts.


    I think this will stay with him forever, the knowledge that he had to do some really hard things for the benefit of people he will mostly never know and he was up to the task. Somewhere along the line, I realized that the IDF has changed me for the better, too. I'll never have that grace under fire that is so, so Israeli, but maybe a little bit of it has rubbed off on me.