GI Joe Dreams of a Young Man

My son, Pesach and his sister, before boarding the IDF bus.

There are moments in time that you have been waiting for your entire life as a parent… You eagerly anticipate your baby’s first smile, first words, and first steps. And, then you tear up as you drop him off at Kindergarten for the first time, and his first time in Grade School.  Suddenly High School approaches, and dating ensues. Nothing entirely prepares you for the moment when your son is about to join the army.

Sure, I have been waiting for this moment for 13 years, when we made aliyah as a family. He was only 8 years old… and eagerly looked at soldiers, and their guns with awe. GI Joe held nothing in comparison to a strapping young Israeli solider at the checkout line with us at the supermarket. My son was hooked. In high school, he trained for it… working out daily with Krav Maga equipment, sprints, boxing gloves, and the like. He was eagerly waiting for the moment he would become a soldier… and I quietly stood by the sidelines. I was secretly hoping that he would maybe do “Hesder” and have a shorter army service. But, not this kid…he wanted to do the full three years, come hell or high water.

And, so, he decided to go to Yeshiva Gevoha (a yeshiva program which is not part of the Hesder system). He went to a yeshiva in a small community… he wanted to learn and not to be distracted by city life and outside demands. He learned for one year and asked for another…. so we agreed. And, then… he had an accident.

He was on a Summer trip with Bnei Akiva kids. He was in charge of leading the kids to the campground. When he arrived at the gate, the key did not work. “Jump over” his gut told him (and hundreds of kids waiting). He did, but he misjudged the jump, got to the other side and heard a gasp from the crowd. He had opened the gate, and then looked down at his hand, it was torn apart by barbed wire. The choveshet (emergency medical services provider) rushed him to an ambulance…and to what he thought was Terem. Turns out, he was rushed to a hospital in Tzfat. He had ripped his hand and two fingers apart. The bones were intact, but he needed stitches.

I received a call from him “Mom…” he said. The minute I heard his voice, I knew that something was wrong. He told me that he was being stitched up, and he was OK, and that he was going to be put on a bus to Bnei Brak, and could I pick him up. “Of course, I can!” I offered to drive to Tzfat to get him, but he just wanted to get home fast, and not wait. So, I ascended. And, every minute until that boy got off that bus on the busy side-street of Bnei Brak was pure agony.

He got off the bus, carrying his own bag and wearing a “Tembal Hat”. He looked like a typical Israeli kid…wearing a blue youth group leader shirt, the hat and all. But his hand…was wrapped up from fingers to elbow in bandages. He said he was tired, and that he just wanted to rest. I fed him dinner in the car, and he slowly closed his eyes and fell asleep.

For a week, he was shuffled from doctor to nurses in our insurance plan until a neighbor suggested a hand clinic at Tel Hashomer Hospital to evaluate his stitches, and his hand. The doctor took one look and said he needed immediate surgery…his nerves had been severed. They needed to sew them back together. If nerves are severed, they have to be sewn back together, quickly after the trauma in order to repair the damage. We had no idea how grave the situation was. We accepted the first surgery available, and my son went into surgery with faith that he would get restored feeling in his hand. For he had been losing feeling in two fingers since the stitches.

When they wheeled him in, I was a basketcase, but I held it together. Then, suddenly, as I am sitting in the waiting room, I hear a doctor saying “Mrs. Blacher?” I ran to the doctor in green scrubs and a funky do-wrap.  “There was a complication,” the doctor began. My heart sank…a complication could mean many things, but it was not a good prognosis. The doctor then quickly explained that the nerves are like rubber bands, and the week of waiting made it impossibly to stitch the nerves together. He had to take a bit of a nerve from his arm and transplant it into his hand, and “Do you approve?” I immediately ascented… anything to restore his feeling in his hand!

The surgery lasted 30 more minutes, and he awoke from the anaesthesia quickly. This young man is such a tzadik that the first thing he said was “When can I daven mincha?” I laughed at his request and said to the nurse “I think he is going to be OK!” I also had to ask the nurse to convince him that today he was not going to be able to daven mincha.

After speaking with the doctors, it was clear that my son would not be enlisting in the army anytime soon. He had a year of Physical and Occupational Therapy ahead of him to retrain his new nerve what to feel and do.  He would not be going into the army this year at all…

My son was crestfallen… he had wanted to enlist in March. I simply stated “God wanted you to learn one more year, so do so! And, enjoy the time that He has given you. It is destined that you must learn another year, so do so with grace, and God’s grace.”

And, true to his word, he did learn for a year. His wounds healed completely, and he completed months of grueling physical therapy to repair the damage to his hand. Sure enough, his IDF profile returned to its original status of 97. And so, today, nearly a year after his accident, my boy joined the Paratroopers. And, as his name lit up on the calling board to board the bus, I felt the tears form in my eyes.

I was not sure this day would arrive. This boy with the GI Joe dreams, who endured a true miraculous recovery…was actually going to board a bus to serve the IDF. I hugged him and cried. He awkwardly held me, not sure of what to do… Kids do not know what to do when their parents cry. Parents are supposed to be strong. I was not only crying out of pride…I was crying for the gift of a second chance that my son had been allotted. God bestowed a true gift to this child. And, those hands will do great things for the IDF…without a doubt in my mind. So, I whispered into his ear: “Be safe and strong!” and I slowly let him go.

As he boarded the bus, I fondly watched, and suddenly a memory flooded to mind. A wistful memory of this boy climbing out of the car on his way to Nursery School. Him shyly waving back and smiling with confidence towards a new experience heading his way. And, as he sweetly smiled, walking towards the IDF bus, I knew it would be OK. This boy is going places…and he will take his confidence to new heights as he and his comrades train for the IDF.

May God watch over their platoon, and may Israel be strong to fight our enemies.

About the Author
Ariel Blacher, MSW, has been an educator in the Israeli school system. She is currently a writer working in the Hi-Tech industry. Her recent book, Gila Makes Aliyah, was published by Koren Publishers in 2018.
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