My Gift to Them

Grand multipara. That’s me—a woman who has given birth to seven or more children. Actually, I have 12. To answer your question: no, no multiples.

More than the color of my hair, my profession, and my favorite food (cheese), being the mother of 12 children has defined me for the past 12 years, when my 12th and likely final child was born. Having 12 children is both my excuse and my imprimatur. The shabby state of my furniture is a testimony to my grand multiparous state. Offering unwanted parenting advice is my rightful purview: “I ought to know, I have 12 children.”

Turning down a request for something I don’t want to do is as easy as saying, “Sorry, can’t. I have 12 children to care for.”

(photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Some people think my large family is something meritorious. Others wonder why I did it. There’s no easy answer. Mostly, it’s just a feeling that it falls on my generation to replace the 6 million murdered in the Holocaust.

Maybe it isn’t fair to have to fill in the blanks. But that’s what I tried to do—with help from my husband, of course.

When the sirens went off for the first time in my area on Friday night, just after I lit the Sabbath candles, I had a feeling of déjà vu. That siren took me right back to the first Gulf War. My coping mechanisms were finely honed by this time and I didn’t panic.

But many of my children were siren “virgins.”

For the first time, it wasn’t some imaginary child just like them, living in Southern Israel under a constant barrage of missiles. It became REAL. It was just a single siren. Not the thousands of sirens that have rung out in Sderot over the past 12 years, just the one.

That single siren made things oh-so-tangible for my children: the ones who hadn’t yet been born during the first Gulf War.

Back then, a social worker came to my former settlement to offer a little mini-course to the women in dealing with war. We learned that people handle emergencies in different ways. There is the person who smiles and goes into denial. There is the person who is completely freaked out, yelling and running around the room, unable to settle down, and then there is the person who is calm but in the moment.

I have seen all of these reactions to war in the first generation of children I raised, my first seven. But I had not yet seen how my second generation, the ones who still live at home, would cope during a time of war.

(photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

When that Friday night siren went off, I was calm. My instincts kicked in and it was all about my kids. I was focused on identifying and dealing with their needs.

One teenager was kind of stunned when the siren went off. He had just finished showering for Shabbat and was in his toweling robe. He repeatedly asked me with an undertone of panic, “What should I do? What should I do?”

I answered him very calmly, “First, go get dressed. Then we’ll see.”

Then we heard a big BOOM.

We looked at each other. I said, “Wow.”

And then we heard another boom, softer this time.

He asked again, pitifully, “What should I do??”

(photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

I was mindful that his panic was mostly a male response to helplessness. Men are driven to protect those they love. He felt he should be doing SOMETHING. But there was nothing for him to do, practically speaking, except to put his clothes on.

While I was dealing with my teenage son, my husband Dov had run to our synagogue to get to our younger two children, who had gone to pray with their older brother, the one who’d been an infant during the Gulf War. My big son took fine care of them, hustling them to the synagogue shelter before most of the congregants figured out the import of the siren going off during their Sabbath Eve prayers. Dov brought the little boys home to me. It was just an instinct that they should be home, with me.

Dov took the teenager, now dressed, back to the synagogue and I stayed with my two youngest. I asked them what they were feeling. The older of the two was filled with bravado. The younger one wasn’t afraid to voice his fear. I took them into my bedroom and played a game called Apples to Apples with them. It really helped calm them and make them feel better.

(photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Since that first, hopefully only siren, my youngest son told me twice more he was scared. I didn’t brush off his fears or tell him to “man up.” I nodded and listened.

Today, I kissed him on the cheek as he was about to leave for school. I went over with him what he should do if he was outside and heard a siren: Throw down his school backpack, hit the ground, and if possible, edge toward a wall. Never go under a car.

Then I looked him in the eye and I said, “Look, I cannot promise you that nothing bad will happen. But I can tell you with a large degree of certainty that we will not personally experience anything bad where we live. It is very unlikely that a missile will hit us or our town.”

He nodded, appreciating my honesty and the gravity of the situation.

(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

I thought back to the email message I’d received earlier, from my friend in Cleveland, who wrote: “I have no idea how you guys can live like this. That’s not to make you feel bad it’s just a true statement.”

And I reviewed in my mind my response to her: “Oh, I don’t feel bad for giving my kids this existence. I feel very proud to be here. So do my kids.”

It’s odd. I’m the last person to do anything dangerous. I’m the last person to put my children in dangerous situations. Yet I feel perfectly comfortable to be raising my children in Israel, war or no war.

I could say that bad things happen to people everywhere. But that’s not really my viewpoint. In attempting to analyze my own feelings about this: raising children here, when I could just as easily take them away to a safe haven, I was finally able to clarify my beliefs and put them into words. It’s this: living for a principle is sometimes more important than living in safety.

(photo credit: courtesy of Israel Olympic Committee)

Living in Eretz HaKodesh, in the Holy Land, is the most important thing I have ever done in my life and the most important thing I will ever do. Raising my children here, in sometimes difficult straits, is my gift to them. I believe they understand this. I believe they cherish the fact that I gave birth to them all in the holy city of Jerusalem and raised them in holiness in our homeland.

I don’t think they would have it any other way.

About the Author
Varda Epstein is a blogger and Communications Writer for