For the next few days in Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, no one gets in and no one gets out.
A storm is brewing. A blizzard, actually. The supermarket shelves have been emptied and our refrigerators are stocked in anticipation. While summer-like weather can very well last till December, snow is no stranger in this part of Israel, though usually short lived under the Judean sun.
Blizzards, too, are generally infrequent and the country is not of a winter mindset. Shovels and snow plows are as scarce as a car driving through Mea Shearim on Shabbat.
So it is, with the first hint of snow, our roads are literally closed down. Jerusalem is at a standstill and Gush Etzion is no better off with power outages as a given.
But as we comfort ourselves over hot chocolate while the wind, so strong, howls and thrashes at our windows with a fury, our eyes look beyond. Beyond our homes and beyond the steady surge of snow.
Because our hearts and our minds are elsewhere.
Because there’s no escape from it.
Because here in Israel, it’s inevitable. Predictable. Normal.
So we are looking out to the shetach, out in the field. Where many of our soldiers are. Because we all have someone in the army. Whether it’s regular army or in the reserves. They’re out guarding our borders. They’re out on drills, missions and training exercises. And we think about our chayalim, our soldiers who are out in the cold, out in the snow, guarding our borders while the rest of us hunker down for the storm.
My own sons finished their regular army service, my younger one “freed” just a little over a year ago and now in reserves. I used to ask them and their friends what it was like out in the shetach during the winter months with nothing to shield them from the fierce winds and the hard rain. And the mud….the seemingly endless supply of mud.
Their stories were interspersed with jokes and laughter, even over the most miserable of experiences. They were proud of themselves. Proud of what they had undergone and proud of deserving their uniform.They had every right to be.
Later, I weaved through all their joking around in my head and wrote down some of their real thoughts.
“You keep telling yourself in your head to keep going. Just a little bit more….just a little bit more…”
“Sometimes it’s freezing and there’s no ‘inside’ to go to. You just freeze.”
“Never enough food for everyone, but I guess we couldn’t expect a feast.”
“After a while, on the long night treks, carrying half your weight on your back during training, you learn how to march and sleep at the same time.”
“It’s canned food. You make the best of it when you’re really hungry, which you always are in the shetach.”
“I would usually count down the hours and curse time for moving so slowly.”
“The best meal out in the shetach would be when we placed toilet paper on an opened can of tuna to soak up the oil, then you light it on fire and let the tuna cook. Tastes really good when you’re really hungry.”
“You’re holding a lot of weight, walking countless kilometers and you play games with yourself in your head to keep you going, one more step, and then another and you tell yourself just a little more, just a little bit more.”
“You dare to imagine that maybe the officers will decide to just cancel the rest of the drills since we’ve been doing such a good job lately. Ha! And then you snap out of it.”
“You’re so tired you can fall asleep on rocks. And in the mud too….you just don’t care.”
“We all longed for the same thing. To get back to the base so that we can shower, eat better and sleep in our beds for a longer amount of time. Sleeping in a warm bed was the most important thing.”
As with all brewing storms, the ill winds of the night eventually give way to dawn and the snow rapidly falls and coats the earth. And we watch it all through frosted windows safely from inside our homes, snuggled in our blankets or wrapped in our shawls while sipping our hot chocolate. All the while knowing what is beyond our snowscaped hills, out there in the fields — our chayalim — those who are out in the shetach, those who are out guarding our borders, those who are out there braving the elements and braving the enemy, protecting all of us.
May God’s light shield our chayalim and keep them safe and warm.