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.
The army has a much coveted course that it offers to a limited number of soldiers. It can't offer it to all of them. For the most part, it is another benefit given to combat soldiers, though others are also able to attend when space is available. Elie was lucky - he got the course.
He was happy for a number of reasons - it meant a week at home. Each morning to rise and drive to the location where the course is offered; each afternoon to return home. Nights were his. The course lasted Sunday through Thursday, each day a new and challenging and informative topic. We gave him one of our cars, which left me stranded at the office. Each afternoon on his way home, he picked me up and drove me home as we talked.
I'm not sure I can remember all the topics, but let's start. On the first day, they spoke to him about what he can expect from the army when he leaves - an immediate grant of several thousand dollars; a fund that can be used at any time in the next five years for a variety of things - education, buying an apartment, getting married. The fund will sit and gather interest until he pulls it out. After 5 years, it is his for any reason.
They spent one day teaching Elie and the others interviewing skills - proper behavior, comments, questions. They did role playing with the boys and videotaped them so that they could see for themselves what the interviewer would see. They taught them about putting together a CV and about life after the army.
They taught them about budgeting - about understanding how much income they have, taken against expenses and how to balance your needs against your resources. They taught them important information about when you shop for an apartment - both to rent and to buy. What to look for in an apartment; what to look for in terms of a mortgage.
There were other practical aspects of this course that daily left me so proud of the government's recognition that these young men are about to face a new reality. Elie explained it to me as if it was something I didn't know.
"We've never been so free," Elie explained. They went from high school and their parents' homes to an even more restricted environment where almost every minute of their lives was determined, disciplined, controlled. Now, after three years, all restrictions are gone. They come back to their homes as men. I can't tell Elie how to behave, when to go to sleep, what time he has to be home. The thought is absurd - a boy left my home; a man returns.
And on the final day, they spoke of far off lands and what happens to too many of our young. After seeing war and terror and violence, after being so restricted, many crave freedom and air. They leave Israel for extended travels to far off exotic lands. Most return home safely; too many don't.
They spoke of drugs and showed them a video made by a young man who had traveled to India with friends. He'd never been involved in drugs, but with the encouragement of friends he was traveling with, began experimenting. Months past by, of which he has no memory. He doesn't remember how he got back to Israel, only that at some point, he came back to himself and was finally drug-free. Young man to young man, he warned Elie's group. Go, be safe, return home healthy and whole.
I don't think Elie will be among those who travel off to distant exotic shores. We've talked about him perhaps making a visit to family in the United States and traveling to see things there. It's distant, but doesn't hit the exotic and frightening on my scale.
He's thinking what he wants to do...no answers yet. Perhaps for a short while, he'll do nothing and that's okay with me too. He joked once that after the army, he would never wear green again...at least outside of his yearly reserve duty.
From the beginning to now, the army has amazed me. The fact that they take this time to teach soldiers about mortgages and interviews shows how incredible an organization it is. Their primary goal has always been to defend Israel, but they understand that they have the power not just to save lives, but to launch them on to successful paths.
I wish as a soldier's mother there was someone I could thank for the gift they have given to my son. In making him a soldier, they have made him a better, stronger, healthier, smarter man. I gave them a boy, much loved and handsome. He was smart, they made him smarter. He was too quick to anger, they taught him discipline. He was always analytical, they taught him to think. I gave them a beautiful boy, they return to me an amazing man.