Ellen Roteman

From the Diaspora, with Love: Have Faith, my Friend

My friend sent me an email asking how I was holding up. My son made aliyah a couple months ago. He sits in ulpan, with rockets flying over Israel, sirens sounding and people making mad dashes for bomb shelters and safe rooms.

He’s up north, in Haifa. Out of the line of fire. And, still, she wanted to know: Was he scared? Was I beside myself with worry?

She knows how it is. Her two daughters made aliyah a few years ago. They live in areas more profoundly affected right now. And she’s got sons-in-law and grandchildren to worry about.

I thanked her for her concern, but assured her my son was amazingly strong and solid about his decision to go live in Israel. (I’m sure being out of the line of fire helps; even the most committed person can’t help but have his resolve chipped away by constantly wailing sirens.)

My husband, on the other hand, is somewhat of a basket case. He’s been to Israel only once – and then on a Mission of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation. He saw the sites, didn’t speak with many Israelis, wasn’t exposed to the resilience and strength of this people. Going, as we did, in a time of relative peace, he has no perspective on how the nation and its people handle what has, sadly, become a way of life for them.

The thing he did see that’s left him obsessing and lying awake at night is how small Israel is, how vulnerable she is, surrounded by nations that allow themselves to become home to terrorist organizations bent on destroying her. And among the Israelis he did meet were soldiers on an army base where we spent one night during the Mission.

To the music of an Israeli pop singer, we danced with the soldiers. In what I presume is protocol for all IDF personnel, they didn’t put their arms aside for a moment. And, despite my concern that I might have a toe shot off, I danced. We all danced. With abandon. In circles, in long lines snaking through the crowd, our children on the shoulders of soldiers.


Two days later, I cried at the thought that these same young men and women could, at any moment, be in danger’s way, as they fought to defend Israel. And, of course, these days I’m thinking a lot about them. My husband is, too. He doesn’t talk about it, but he posted a photo of himself with the soldiers online soon after this current conflict started.

So we worry. We worry for people whose names we never learned, but whose faces we remember.

How much more so for my friend, who has loved ones very much in the line of fire.

She sent another email after the first one, asking after my son and how we were faring just knowing he was “over there.” Of course, I asked after her children and grandchildren. She didn’t say much, but indicated everyone was managing.

Last weekend, I hugged my friend at the Federation’s rally in support of Israel. Her husband would soon blow the shofar, the rallying call to Jews since Biblical times, to start the program. Then he and she would recite a prayer, along with several other parents of Pittsburgh kids who were in Israel now, serving in the IDF.

I knew my friend’s one daughter was in the military, doing something (at least when we’d last talked about it) that she couldn’t reveal. We’d joked at the time, her father reciting that old line about, “If she tells us, she’ll have to kill us.” I’m not sure what she’s doing now for the IDF. Perhaps her parents aren’t either.

But I asked my friend, at the Rally, about her one daughter. She casually mentioned that her two sons-in-law had been called up to active duty as well. At least one of them was in Gaza right now.

I had no idea. I didn’t know what to say. She had been comforting me. Me, with the son in Haifa, never straying too far from home or from the shelters – with sirens a rarity for him.

Is it that she’s lived with this for much longer than I have? That she’s somehow more committed to her kids staying in Israel forever? Or is it that she’s stronger in her faith?

I looked at her, a vision of calm – despite what must be going on inside of her. I looked at her husband, a vision of strength. They did look a little tired. Maybe more than a little, maybe exhausted. But they also looked determined. Very determined. And, suddenly, I knew what to say.

Before I could, though, it was time for the Rally to start, and they were whisked away. And, in fact, I was too choked up to even get it out. But what I wanted to say was, “Have faith, my friend.”

Then again, I didn’t really need to. They were the last people in the world I needed to say that to.


About the Author
Ellen Roteman is Director of Marketing Communications for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh