My only son is going into the army. On July 29th. He recieved his induction papers not too long ago and the date was automatically entered into all our calendars. He’s entering a unit called handassa kravit – technically, it’s a combat engineering unit but besides building things they are also the unit that was responsible for blowing up the tunnels in the last war. While my friends and family asked why on earth would he want to enter this type of unit, I answered instinctively that considering he’s been blowing things up since he was barely out of diapers, it seemed apt.
There is a very common saying that when the cat is away, the mouse will play. I was overseas visiting family for two weeks and while I was gone, he had decided to build a foundry on our front porch. Granted, the boy is not stupid. Had he decided to build such a thing while I was home, it would not have happened. No way, no how. So he smartly waited until I was away. He gathered up the necessary equipment, like an iron pot, coal, plaster, sand, pipes and a blow dryer (?) and then he began melting anything metal he could get his hands on – old license plates that he found on the side of the road and a metal baseball bat that has been lying around the house for the past few years along with other metal scrap lying around the garage. Of course, in retrospect, he probably should have drilled a hole into the metal baseball bat before attempting to melt it at 1200 degrees so it wouldn’t have literally exploded into a ball of fire while simultaneously singing all the hairs off his arm and almost injuring my nephew (sorry, sis….), but boys will be boys. Of course, he is now pleased as punch that he’s managed to blow something up even BEFORE he enters the army.
This day, July 29th bears even more importance than simply the date my son becomes a soldier in the Israeli army. It also, weirdly, happens to be the same date as my grandfather’s birthday. This may seem like just a coincidence to you, but it has much more meaning to me.
When my son went on his Poland trip in the beginning of 12th grade, he came home and didn’t talk too much about it. I know it affected him, but he’s never been a touchy-feely kind of kid. But what he did say is that he had this weird feeling – a goose-bumpy kind of feeling – when he first walked under the infamous sign “welcoming” visitors into Auschwitz. He said, that as he stepped under the sign, he couldn’t stop wondering how it must have been for his great grandfather (Melech Good z”l) to walk under the same sign under vastly different circumstances so many decades ago. It resolved something in him about being an Israeli and what exactly that entailed. That he was nearing a time in his life where he would get the chance and the opportunity to help and protect his country and his countrymen from those who wish to do us harm. And that he was lucky to be living in a time where this is possible, unlike his great grandfather, who was unfortunately unable to do so.
My grandfather died three months after my son’s bar mitzvah and we were fortunate enough to have him travel all the way from Canada to celebrate with us. I remember him crying as my son finished reading from the Torah and when I asked him why he was crying, he said it was because he never thought that he’d ever have the chance to witness his great grandson become a bar mitzvah in Israel. It was about two years after his death that I went on a roots trip to Poland. And it was there that we discovered my grandfather’s real birthday. He never knew it. Like so many Jewish parents in rural Poland at that time, his birth wasn’t registered until he was almost 21 years old in a common tactic to avoid their sons being conscripted into the Polish army. And as a result, he never knew his actual birth date. Since his bar mitzvah consisted of just an Aliyah to the Torah, a shot of whiskey and some chick peas and herring, there wasn’t even a Torah portion that he might have remembered. And so, upon coming to Canada, Canadian immigration officials picked Christmas as his birthday and that was the day we celebrated for years, knowing all the while, that it wasn’t real.
But now we know. We know it’s July 29th. They say that with enough time, things often come full circle. I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious day for my son to enter the army. And I can’t help but think of it as fate. And when I watch him walk away from me in Givat Hatachmoshet and head towards the bus that will take him to basic training, I know my grandfather will be spending his birthday watching over him.