My dear son,
I have nowhere to send this letter and no way to hear back from you, but I guess I’ll write it anyway…how are things going today in Gaza?
Did I ever tell you that for the past two decades I’ve dreamt different versions of the exact same dream repeatedly? It goes something like this: It’s ten minutes before Shabbat candle lighting. I am not at all ready; in fact, from the looks of it, I had no idea what day it was. I haven’t cooked one single thing. Or gone grocery shopping. The fridge is empty. And of course, we are having guests…lots of them.
Different versions of the dream include different fanatical variations on this theme. In one version, it is not Shabbat, it’s actually Pesach…
And I haven’t begun to clean or kasher the kitchen…
And we are having all of Abba’s family over…
Plus the neighbors…
I guess a classic Jewish mother is lurking inside me, one whose primary worry is providing food to those who cross the threshold of her home.
Sleep is fleeting these days (for most people, I imagine), but my dream world is rich and full. Lately, I haven’t had any dreams about deficient Shabbat prep, or unexpected guests. Instead, I dream of terrorist or rocket attacks. I dream of running with the children to safety and other apocalyptic scenarios. Explosions feature prominently.
I also have good dreams, the ones where I forget that there was ever a war. I dream of fall vacations and spring flowers, of babies being born, and summer kayaking and camping trips. It seems as if the moment I finally fall asleep, intense and vibrant images flood my brain. I fall away into a dream world, one where I know that nothing is real. Sometimes, it feels like it’s better than being awake.
Yesterday we met your cousin, who is home for a few days leave. We know that you were stationed together in the same battalion since October 7th, so we quizzed him relentlessly. We wanted to hear when he saw you last, what life was like on the battlefield, and how morale was among the troops. He described the setup, and we were reassured to hear that all the Pumas (like the one you ride in) are flanked by tanks.
I know you can guess what silly question I asked: What did you eat out there?
Jewish mother that I am, this seems to be high on the list of important things to know. It’s the same question I’ve asked you for years whenever you returned home – after sleepaway camp, in high school, and then in the army. How was the food in at your base in Balatz? How was the food when you stayed in a tin can up north? What did you eat when you practiced drills of days in the Puma? And during that week when you slept in a ditch?
Your cousin’s reply was as expected, “Mostly cans of tuna, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not much else.” Miserable, but as expected.
Last night, I dreamed a new version of my classic dream. Last night you came home. Well, to be more precise, you didn’t come home, you just were home.
In my dream, we were all there, sitting down to dinner with the whole family. Suddenly it dawned on me in dreamland: You’re here!!! I looked down at someone’s plate and noticed that we were eating your least favorite dinner, “Tuna-ghetti”, the classic family favorite from my childhood.
So, I got up from the table in a frenzy and ran to the grocery store, which by some stroke of good fortune, had been relocated from the shopping center to right across the street from our home. But at 8 PM, it was closing! Somehow, I made it in, and approached the Customer Service desk, “You don’t understand,” I whispered with emotion, on the verge of tears, “You have to help me! My son’s home – just back from Gaza.”
“Slicha gevert, sagarnu,” We’re closed, a dark-haired manager replied.
“But I promised him that I would make him his favorite dinner when he got back,” Actually, I promised him a birthday cake too, I thought, “He’s been in Gaza for a week and a half. I need meat.”
The clerk looked like she just might budge. It was for a soldier, after all. Behind her, the checkout ladies were counting out the last of the coins into their registers and the aisles were darkening one by one.
Without a word, she turned around and headed to the back of the store. She returned with a package of sliced skirt steak, the kind you would use in Chinese food. “Zeh Beseder?” Okay? she asked me.
Bseder Gamur. I felt full of lightness and happiness. Singlehandedly, I had solved the biggest problem in dreamland. I continued thinking…I have never made this type of meat before, but I’ll figure it out. Should I stir fry it with broccoli – do we have any of that at home? Or just whip up a garlic sauce and serve it with long noodles? I crossed the imaginary street back to our home in the darkness.
And then I woke up. It was morning again.
For a brief second between dreamland and consciousness, I wondered if you would come home today, or maybe tomorrow. And then I remembered that you are not at home, nor are you coming home any time soon. Your unit is destroying tunnels in the heart of Gaza, according to your commander, and will be continuing further south once your work there is done. No late-night emergency dinners required here.
Instead, I thought, this day will be as many before, going through the motions, trying to be a positive and productive human being, to act with faith.
And wondering how you’re doing, wishing I could hug you. I don’t normally do your laundry, but I have a burning desire to wash your clothes and return them to you in fresh smelling, neatly stacked, ironed piles. I want to send you your favorite chocolate chip cookies, so you can close your eyes and taste home. I want to do anything to take care of you, to reach out and touch you, to let you know that we love you. And there is literally nothing that I can do.
Because you are taking care of us right now, of the whole nation, in the most important way possible.
I wonder what the relatives of those kidnapped in Gaza are dreaming about…if they are even ever able to sleep. How badly do they want to take care of their loved ones, who they know, with near certainty, are scared and alone? I can’t even imagine what’s going through the tortured minds of parents with kidnapped children. And I can’t help them. At all.
But you can.
And what are you dreaming of, over there in a war zone in Gaza? What do you dream of while sleeping in a dug-out ditch or squished inside your Puma, on a mission to save our people, a force of light fighting nightmarish people of darkness? Do you dream of gunfire, explosions, and surprise attacks? Are you scared?
So I can sleep better tonight, I’ll imagine that you close your eyes and have dreams of lying on the cozy couch at home with a blanket by the fire, like you did when you were enduring the most miserable army training exercises last year. I’ll imagine that when you wake, you are making a silly joke as you pop open your umpteenth can of tuna for breakfast. I’ll imagine that somehow, you have music playing in your Puma. Half the time, the soundtrack is absurd, sappy, pop-tunes, the most ironic war background music; the other half, it’s pumped-up action music. Just like you told me it would be.
I’ll see you tonight in dreamland. And back at home soon.
I love you so much.