Kendall Wigoda
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Super Saba and Savta: The heroes on the home front

As young parents answer the army’s call of duty, retirees answer theirs: full-time childcare

There’s an elite undercover unit in Israel that most people are, at best, tangentially aware of. They don’t wear uniforms so they blend seamlessly into society. You could be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a member of the unit in your own kitchen and not even know it. Yet they have been training for decades and with one quick signal, they are ready for battle. Most of you know at least one member of this prestigious yet silent unit, although you would probably dismiss their credentials at first glance. Every battalion in the army has members of this unit attached to it.

They are known by their Hebrew initials: samech samech (or, unfortunately, in English, the “SS”). But most of the time they are known simply as Saba and Savta, Bubbie and Zaydie, Oma and Opa, Nono and Nona – the variations are endless.  

Yes, in Israel it is highly unlikely that we could win a war without them. Their feats of bravery and stamina are legendary. Although if you ask any of them, they will likely respond that they must have been delusional when they offered to take care of their grandchildren so the parents – their children and their spouses – could answer their own calls to duty.  

How’s it going after five weeks? Here are a few testimonials.  

“I don’t know what we were thinking when we said we would help with the grandkids so our daughter could volunteer with her old unit and our son-in-law could go join his. We are way too old for this.”

“I called a 60-year-old friend last week and she didn’t answer because, as she explained later, she was putting the baby down. And then I realized that I had just parked two toddlers in front of that TV show about the little pig from England! I started laughing with no one in particular. I couldn’t remember if it was 1999 or 2023.”

“We have six grandchildren with us and we have spent the last few weeks doing arts and crafts, fashion shows, singing and dancing, and making and eating lots of snacks. In the middle of all this, one of my daughters had a baby. Her husband got home for the delivery but he couldn’t stay. Her father had to bring her home to us from the hospital. They are still here.”

“My son, his wife, and my 9-month-old grandson moved in with us because they don’t have a protected room in their apartment. And now everything in our house runs around my grandson’s schedule. I love him but I can never go more than 20 meters from the house with him in case the sirens sound and I have to get him to the safe room.”

“We’re used to them [grandchildren and children] coming for Shabbat, but this is like 10 Shabbatot back-to-back, and with only one parent instead of the usual two.”

“At first, I was tidying up when they went to bed until I realized that it was totally pointless because they would be right back at it the minute they woke up the next morning. Now, I have just accepted that we live in the middle of a semi-permanent disaster area.”

The final couple willing to share their feelings about taking over parenting duties in their 60s fell asleep part way through our conversation. This made it difficult to get a comprehensive picture of their recent experiences. As you can see, they took the concept of “sleeper cell” in an entirely different direction.

At some point in the future, when Israel brings the Hamas nightmare to its rightful conclusion and life returns to some kind of normal, the newly named Triple S brigade (Sayeret Saba v’Savta) can get back to whatever they were doing before Hamas rained down hell on their quietly pleasant and well-orchestrated senior years.  

Throughout the coming years, memories of the Triple S will fade until some intrepid journalist stumbles across an old Times of Israel blog post and starts searching for more information. A few of the younger members of the Triple S unit may still be alive to tell their tales. First, there will be an electronic book and then there will be a movie in whatever medium movies will be seen in the future. And then, finally, they will get the acknowledgement they truly deserve.

To quote Winston Churchill: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

About the Author
I spent 15 years as a Public Relations and Marketing Communications professional in Canada before making Aliyah in 2002. Since then I have written freelance articles for Israeli newspapers, written lots of marketing communication pieces and taught a lot of English. Sometimes life here is funny and sometimes it is sad, but mostly there's a lot of weird and wonderful moments.
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