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Stages of War

By Paula Stern
9/12/2012, 11:09 AM

I've done this twice before - but really not. Twice in the 19 years that I have lived in Israel, my country has gone to war. The first was after an infiltration by Hezbollah that captured two soldiers - and a massive missile barrage on the north that endangered the lives of over one million Israels. The war was in the north, far from my home and while I agonized for all of those in the north, there was never a moment when my life or my home was in danger.

There were four days in which I could not breathe, four days in which I lived with the terror of those up north. Amira, my oldest, had decided to volunteer in Tsfat (Safed, in English). She would play with children and help families, often restricted to bomb shelters. Play with them, distract them, whatever it took to get through the day. It's an aside to what I wanted to write - but then again, that's my norm. So here's a little side story.

A relative didn't think Amira should go into the war zone, even to help. She said that it was too dangerous. Rockets were falling all over and she had a point but there is something inside of me that needs to give my children the freedom to be who they are and this need to help others is so much of what Amira is. Then, this relative invoked Jewish law, saying that one is not allowed to do something that would endanger one's life. This is true...and so I did what most Orthodox Jews do - I asked. Boy, did I ask. I called the Chief Rabbi of Maale Adumim and explained my problem. 

"Is she going on vacation? Of course, she can go! What a wonderful thing she does." But, he warned me, "I can't promise she will be okay. I can't tell her to go. But if she goes, tell her she goes with the blessing of a Kohen." To this day, my eyes fill with tears when I think of those precious words. A Kohen is a direct descendant of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel. His blessing meant so much to me. I held on to that for all the time that she was there. 

There were massive attacks in the north daily - including on Tsfat. There was a direct missile attack on Tsfat on the Sunday morning that Amira left. That didn't stop her. She agreed to my pleas to call me often, especially if something happened. She was there by mid-afternoon and stayed that night, the next day and the next. Finally, on Wednesday, she left that northern city and came home. As had happened while she was heading to Tsfat, a missile hit the city after she had boarded the bus and begun her journey home. But for the entire time she was there, nothing had hit - this was an amazingly long period of time for a city that had been hit practically every day and often more than once. Without doubt, I have always recognized this lull in attacks as the blessing of a Kohen.

The second war that occurred while I was living here was the Cast Lead Operation - what I often call the Gaza War. Again, it was not my life or my home that was endanger, but my son was on the front lines and it was a period of my life I will never forget, ever. There was no Kohen who blessed Elie as personally as this Chief Rabbi blessed Amira, but I know that there were blessings said every day - for Elie and for all the soldiers.

The stages of war include:

Rhetoric - that build up of threats and words that backs nations into corners. And during the rhetoric stage there are threats and sometimes more.

Preparation - at some point, the tide that this rhetoric brings to our land becomes overwhelming and you know, deep down, that war is really coming. This starts the stage of preparation - mentally and physically. We had this when we knew the US was going into Iraq and Israel was a likely target. I don't consider that a war I have lived through because other than tension and worry, there were, thankfully, no missiles, no physical damage to contend with. In the north, in the south - preparation was real, as was the war that came after it.

Explosion - that first moment when the planes fly, the soldiers march, the tanks move. In Lebanon, it came swiftly; in Gaza it was a build up that happened over days...weeks if you count the incessant rocket attacks that preceded Israel finally making its move.

I think we are somewhere between the rhetoric and the preparation stage in this "conflict" with Iran. We are passed the rhetoric and threats stage, into the belief that the tide is building. We are not really in the preparation stage - we in this case being the people of Israel. The army has long since been in the preparation stage. They know what they have to do; they know if they have a reasonable chance of doing it. The Prime Minister knows, as does the Secretary of Defense (the general, not the politician), as does the Chief of Staff and others in the army.

When we enter the real preparation stage, the Home Front will begin making it clear what we should do, what we should have on hand. A news website has already listed the things that we should have at home. The Home Front has not commanded this yet and I'm not ready to go out and stock up on water and tuna and other essentials but the thought has been planted.

If this war is to come, there is so much unknown. I don't know if my home, my family will be in danger. Certainly, large portions of Israel will be. I don't know if two of my sons will be called into the Reserves, though so many of our other sons will be. I can't start this thought now because it will cripple me.

If I stop to imagine a massive barrage of missiles hitting Israel, I can bring myself to panic. Not because of the missiles themselves - I want to believe our bomb shelters are strong enough to withstand them. But truthfully, it is the moments before the bomb shelter that terrify me more. The stage between preparation and explosion.

How will I gather my children to me fast enough? Three are married. They are adults - not to be gathered as one gathers small children and yet I have this urge inside of me to do just that. I have to force myself to be logical...I do.

Amira's bedroom is a converted bomb shelter - she and her small family would likely stay there comfortably - even with Haim's family sharing the space. Shmulik would come upstairs to our bomb shelter or go to his in-laws; I hope Elie will come fast to our house with Lauren - I've already mentioned it to them. Davidi goes to school in Jerusalem - will we have enough warning to get him home? The schools will have bomb shelters but his gas mask is home still and how will I know that he is okay? Where will Aliza be?

If it happens at night, she'll be home with me. I hold on to that thought. If you go much further, that is the path to madness, to crippling fear and so I stop. I breathe deeply and I look outside to the sunshine. The trees sway in the gentle breeze. Cars drive past; honk as they go. A truck stops to unload and the traffic cop argues with him - it's all normal. It's all natural. It's beautiful in Jerusalem today, still very hot but with the barest of hints that the summer heat is beginning to relent. The holidays are coming - family time, meals together, no work.

One inevitable fact I have learned after almost 20 years here is that tomorrow will come, as planned, as designed, no matter what I do. This war with Iran will come - or not - depending on forces greater than I can ever affect. What will be is what is intended to be - that is the cornerstone of faith.

And so, I'll put away my fears and worry about the stages of war for later. Maybe I'll buy a six-pack of water - but if I do, I'll tell myself to believe that it is for the holidays and not for war; for pleasure and not for fear.

And I'll get through today and tomorrow and the next...as I got through every day of five years being a soldier's mother. It is what we do here in Israel - we get through. We live. We choose life as no other people in the world ever does because we have tasted death and we know where our enemies will take us.

I'll write this document; I'll attend that meeting. I'll go home and throw in a load of laundry, plan the meals and the guests for the coming weekend. I'll change the sheets in the room where my parents will sleep and I will know that all around us - in the north and in the south, from the top of Israel to the southern most tip - we are protected. By our sons, by our army - and most of all, by God above.

Never does the Guardian of Israel slumber; never for a moment does He turn His eyes away. There are stages to all things - to live, to war, to this day and the next. May God forever know the love and gratitude of His people as we know His protection.