Tania Shalom Michaelian
Writer, story-teller, educator

A Letter to My Firstborn On the Eve of Her Joining the IDF

I first dreamed you when I was 15. In the throes of youthful passion when I discovered Zionism like others my age find their own isms. I thumped Leon Uris’ Exodus like an evangelistic priest and Ari Ben Canaan became my new standard for husband-material. You were conceived with his alter-ego, a man who would one day be at my side as we raised our sabra children, as we worked the land, Bible in one hand, scythe in the other. In my dream, you were strong. You stood like a warrior facing that ancient land, your black hair flying. I could see you so clearly that at times I felt I knew you as intimately as I knew myself.

Several years later, the fervent lust of my teens mellowed with life-experiences and peppered with new shoots of common sense, I left the shores of Africa and headed towards a new life in Eretz Yisrael. So my life-partner didn’t lead ships of refugees through dangerous English navy barricades, nor did he work the land. The Bible sat comfortably on the bookshelf but didn’t dictate a way of life. But he shared my passion for our own homeland, my vision for building the land in a way I could contribute best, and a desire to bring our children into a world where they would have nothing to fear because they were Jews, where they could walk proud and where values of democracy and freedom were instilled in them. I dreamed you then.

When you were born, you were not that child of my dreams. You were soft and smelled of innocence. Your black curls tickled my cheeks at night and your hand curled around my thumb as I nourished your body and soul. We played, we sang, we explored. We marveled at your first steps as our hands cupped the small of your back, we smiled as you chattered, we watched you sleep, we shed a tear when you went off to school and joined the ranks of other sabra children of your age. You learned the myths and the magic of the land, the history and mystery, the legends and the heroes. You returned with songs and stories, you formed opinions and created your own ideals. Like the slow and delicate sprout of a flower, you grew without us seeing. You moved through the shadows of childhood, into the excitement of youth, the bustle of bagrut, the joy of first relationships, the endless flow of friends.

And then it came. A letter with your date of enlistment. An invitation to join the air force. And it was then that I recognized that you are now the one I dreamed. You have returned to me, not in a dream, but in a life-form that is even better than that dream. I know you intimately not only because you have come through me, not only because you have been nourished by my own soul, but because you are living proof that my dreams can turn into reality. I see you now as you are today. A woman so beautiful that sometimes you take my breath away. So intelligent that you leave me dumbfounded as I try to find the words to reply to your questions.  You are equally at home trekking the terrain of your beloved land as you are picking a dress for your prom, silver sandals glinting under the black sheath, replacing the dirt-trodden boots as easily as you blink your eye.

And now, as you get ready to don yet another set of clothing – the uniform of our army – I know that I dreamed you like that as well. I can see you standing like a warrior, facing your ancient land, your black hair flying. Yes, reality will hit hard. I will lie awake at night, worrying if you’re cold, worrying if you’ve eaten enough, worrying that you’re worrying. I will groan about loads of laundry and rejoice when you walk through the door on weekends. I will cook your favorite foods and I will celebrate the family dinners when we are five again.  I may forget that I dreamed you in the hustle and bustle of being mom-to-soldier, when you’re rushing to catch your Sunday morning train or stressing because you’ve lost your glasses yet again. But each time I look at you now, with your uniform or without, I will recognize that strong warrior-woman, that passionate being, that girl-child of mine, as I did in my dream.

Go forth on your journey feeling our hands on your back, our words of love whispering in your ear and our pride filling your lungs. Be true to yourself and love yourself as much as we love you. Fly high with your new wings. And then return to us in peace.

About the Author
Grew up in South Africa. Found a home in Israel. Mom to three adult sabras. Writer on topics that inspire me - history, Israel and social justice. English tutor.
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