Grey socks? Check. Shoe polish? Check. Dog-tag cover? Check.
It’s like packing your kid for sleep-away camp. Except it’s not.
I knew this day would come from the moment we chose to make Aliyah. I anticipated the jumble of emotions before we even got on the plane 11 ½ years ago with four young children in tow. I eagerly awaited this milestone with a nervous excitement that had lain nearly dormant, awakened by a sudden, abrupt reality that launched me into my new role one day prematurely: the role of mother of an IDF soldier.
What am I making such a big deal about? After all, it is so routine here in Israel. Everyone goes to the army. Well, not everyone, but this is not the place for that…
For me, as it is for so many others, living in Israel is a realization of a dream. Not my dream, but the collective yearning of our People for two thousand years. Here we are, a mere 65 years into the miracle of the modern State of Israel, and we have the privilege of being part of that great narrative. Naturally we all have our own side stories, some more significant than others. But this is the part where my son steps onto the stage; my son, and by extension, me. Not just me but my entire extended family. We are the cheering fan club watching from the sidelines. Cheering for the entire cast, but naturally saving our most boisterous cheers for our own boy.
In Israel, going to the army is a part of coming of age. You go to high school, and, no matter who you are, or what segment of society you belong to, at some time in about 11th grade you receive your first draft notice. If you’re anything like my son, you choose to defer your army service in favor of one of the many pre-army programs through which you can learn and grow, thus entering the army in a more mature place, perhaps better prepared for your service.
My son opted for a hesder yeshiva. This Israeli yeshiva program combines several years of advanced Talmudic studies with a somewhat shortened military service in the IDF. At least that was the plan until he secured his job in the army, which required the full three-year commitment. Without any hesitation, my son went and signed whatever he had to sign to exit the hesder framework and begin his army service immediately. We didn’t realize how literal the army takes words like ‘immediately.’
We knew exactly what day he was to go in for weeks already. We designated Monday, his last day before going in, as a shopping day, and had already planned on serving his favorite food for dinner that night. We drove him on Monday morning to the base to just work out last minute details, knowing there was a small chance they would just have him start right then. But why would that happen? Hundreds (thousands?) of young people were being drafted on Tuesday. There’s a system. There is protocol. What could be gained by enlisting one boy, one day early?
We parked at the base, and my son ran out of the car to ‘check what’s happening.’ We didn’t hug him, say goodbye, or even wave. We sat and waited. And waited. After about two hours it was clear to Eitan that this was it… he was starting right then and there. And he couldn’t come back to the car to say goodbye.
Wait a minute… what about my emotional hug? Blessing our son? Taking the selfie with my newly minted army boy? Here was the moment I’d been waiting for, and, it didn’t happen as I’d planned. I felt momentarily deflated; lost. Then my son whatsapped me a photo of him in uniform and I collected myself, my entire being swelling with a sense of pride that no Facebook post could equal.
Anyway, he’ll be back for Shabbat. I can shower him with all the hugs and blessings I want to then.
Right now? I’m right where I should be: proudly cheering from the sidelines; for my son, and for all of our incredible sons and daughters who are selflessly serving Israel and serving all of the Jewish people.