They say when times are tough you find out who are your true friends. My wife and I, as the parents of two sons currently serving in IDF combat units, are probably more connected to the Gaza war than are most Americans. So I guess it’s natural that in recent days, I have felt a bit disappointed that a few of our close friends seem totally disconnected from the reality we live every minute.
My wife, daughter, and I returned from Tel Aviv last week, where we had been since the rockets started flying. While there, we were lucky enough to spend one Shabbat with our family together, for the first time in almost a year. You can imagine that one of the highlights of our trip was giving our sons the Parental Blessings in person.
This past Shabbat, from the safety of our home in Chicago, I gave the same blessing from a distance, with a special prayer for their safety (and the safety of all IDF soldiers). While I struggled to convert the biblical blessing from the second to third person (watch over THEM instead of YOU), one of the guests at the table flippantly muttered “blah blah blah” as I was finishing the prayer. Not wanting a contentious shabbos table, I let the moment pass, but both my wife and I felt it like a slap.
Throughout dinner I couldn’t get my mind off the comment. I knew it slipped out in a moment of thoughtlessness, almost halfway between a joke and contempt. (Never mind the rudeness of remarking on religion at a friend’s table- perhaps familiarity breeds neglect?) But as with other careless acts in the company of others, the odor lingered, noxious and overwhelming.
After dinner, I took the guest aside and told him that, while I wasn’t angry, and didn’t want to lay any guilt on him, I nevertheless felt compelled to share my feelings. I started by reminding him I was praying for protection for MY sons. Children whose brits mila he attended, with whom he celebrated major holidays and family events, and who he watched grow into fine young men.
I then mentioned the old adage “there are no atheists in foxholes” and told him that if I (or anyone else) wanted to invoke the Lord’s protection to watch over their children, why would anyone try to diminish it? Even if one doesn’t trust in the efficacy of prayer, even if one doesn’t believe in the power of blessing, how can it hurt? For those we care about, wouldn’t we want to do anything we could to help protect them? Isn’t that what he would want for HIS sons?
I went on to remind him that my sons are in the paratroopers. Although he knew that conceptually, I don’t think he understood how real that is until I explained that half of one son’s platoon had been sent to Gaza 20 minutes before I spoke to him that day, and that he expected he will be in the other half of the platoon next. The other son’s company had already been sent in to Gaza. Both boys have plenty of comrades who have already attended the funerals of close friends. One nephew was 30 meters from a mortar which exploded in an assembly area, killing several soldiers. Another nephew, just married a few weeks ago, had just received his call-up. One cousin hadn’t been home for more than a day at a time for a month. And so on and so on in a litany which Israelis understand all too well, but has absolutely no place in the experience of most American Jews.
My guest’s flippant remark had not been personal. And that’s the whole point. It can’t be personal. How can I expect it to be? To those my age and younger, raised in post-60’s blue urban America, war has no connection to how we EXIST. We didn’t lose friends in Vietnam or Korea. We weren’t part of a whole generation shipped overseas in WW II. In our daily lives, personal, deadly violence is a random shock, statistically almost like being hit by lightning. So how can I expect people here to relate to how I feel?
Yet they do. Amazingly, they do. We have received hundreds of wishes from friends, acquaintances, even total strangers- people of all faiths, people of no religion at all. The outpouring of support has been stunning and gratifying. Still, we expect and hope those closest to us are at least as involved, at least as empathetic, as total strangers, and when that doesn’t prove to be the case, the disappointment drips thick and heavy.
I hope the war doesn’t commence again tomorrow and grieve for the losses so far. Every war needs a name, and this latest, which I think of as the War of the Kidnappings (Milchemet Ha-Chatifot), started with the abduction and murder of three teens, will hopefully end with the tragic loss of Hadar Goldin, barely out of his teens himself. There has been far too much devastation and tragedy on both sides of the border, something Israelis didn’t want, not for themselves nor for the people of Gaza.
I’d like to end with a request, which applies to soldiers in both the Israeli and American armies: If you know their families, and haven’t already inquired about their safety, please do so. Every text, every email, every voice mail is a prayer for the safety of our sons and daughters, our nephews, cousins and friends. We parents won’t mind being deluged, and even if we don’t answer each one back, it’s heartwarming to feel the love.