A soldier, a boy, and a mom

Laura Ben-David’s blog about my son filled me with joy. The kind of joy where you reread the paragraphs over and over again, look for new insights, and stare at the pictures for hours. The kind of joy where you minimize the article on your computer thinking you will never, never put it away. The kind of joy that makes you print it out, pay to have it laminated on mahogany, and hang it in your son’s room forever. It is this mom’s treasure from her trip to Israel last summer.

But since I am a Gemini, my reaction was twofold, and so I have a secret to share: I also sobbed after reading it the first time (which was really about 10 times). It has taken me this long to come to terms with this dichotomy.

It was the fourth picture that stung, the one with my son standing there, bright and shiny, next to his solider, holding an M16. He was so proud and happy. And all I saw was the gun.

I cried because I was scared for my son and because I realized what a fake I was. This American Jew was a hypocrite. I cried because I knew that to him, a gun means strength, and power, and maybe even a little bit, it means fun.  I knew that he really has no clue about the pain, the devastation, the heartache it can bring. And I knew that the lesson I thought I wanted to teach him was a lesson I never really wanted to materialize. He had just spent a year raising money to support Israel, and not just Israel, but the IDF, and not just the IDF, but those foreign-born boys and girls who volunteer to join the Israeli army. He chose to raise money for something he just may grow up to be. We had sent him to private Jewish day schools his whole life so he would know the story of Israel, love Israel, be ready to defend Israel. But seeing him standing next to this very real, lovely lone soldier, I didn’t want him to become one.

And this bothered me terribly. What had I done? What do I believe in? How could I say I love Israel but not want my son to protect her? How can I say I want my son to be safe, and yet feel proud about all the other boys and girls who put their lives in danger to defend Israel?

Years ago, when I lived in New York, I had an Israeli roommate. She said something to me that I never forgot: “You Americans, you grow up in a cotton ball. You have no idea what it’s like to live in Israel.” And she’s right. But staring at a picture of a soldier standing ever so close to my son, I caught a glimpse of the view from outside the cotton ball, and I crumbled. With one look I crumbled.

So yes, though it pains me to say – I am a cotton ball Zionist. I send money, I don’t live there. I think about making Aliyah, but maybe when we’re older, when the kids are older. I support lone soldiers, I don’t really wish that my son becomes one. And I will still use every scant cent of my after–tuition money to visit Israel, to support her. My sacrifice: I forgo Hawaii and Italy. My heroism: I book with El Al.

But I think I’ve finally come to terms with my hypocrisy and my son’s picture. First of all, I am not an Israeli and that is that. I will never be able to match the chesed my 972 friends do every day, for every Jew, just by waking up and staying where they are. And so I have to do what little I can. When I say Shalom rav al Yisrael amcha I think of Israeli mothers and fathers. I pray that they will be able to stop sacrificing for all Jewry, because I know I owe them so much. I truly believe that a world with a safe Israel is a world safe for all Jews. And I can only hope that if my son or daughters ever choose to defend her, that I will be as strong and as willing to encourage them as those mothers who have done so before me.

I also know that I can support Israel with my knowledge and my beliefs. It took a recent short interchange to pull me out of my pained guilt. A cousin saw a pro-Israel video I had posted on Facebook. In response, he posted a semi-muted diatribe against Jews and Israel. He feels for the Palestinians; his brothers, the oppressors, embarrass him. I quickly took it down and sent him a short personal message, about 800 words long, summarizing Israel’s position in the Middle East. In the end I was proud to think I possibly made a dent in his thinking.

And when my history lesson was over, when my frustration over once again having to defend Israel had subsided, I thought about my son again, and his picture, and out of nowhere I realized that I should love this picture because of what it is not. His picture is not the iconic picture of the oh-so-young boy, face frozen with fear, arms empty, forced into the air. His picture is a not a black and white relic from a world where Jewish men, women, and children could be marched against their will away from their homes, to their deaths. His picture is the beaming face of a boy raised to love Judaism, his people, and his land. It is 2014 and people still hate us, want to drag us from our home, but who am I to be sad or scared when my son gets to stand in front of the Kotel, his soldier beside him, with strength in his heart and in his hands.

About the Author
Alison Weinreb lives in Los Angeles, spent two defining years in Israel, and visits often. Professionally trained as an English teacher, she also provides consulting and mentoring services. With her husband and three kids, she lives just a short drive away from the Pacific Ocean, but she often finds herself yearning for Jerusalem stone and the Mediterranean Sea.