Zahava Englard

Operation Make it Home by Sunset

Far from being an exhibitionist, my almost 21 year old son, RJ, decided to make a quick wardrobe change outside on the streets of Jerusalem. “You did that right out in the street?” I asked, wide eyed. He shrugged his shoulder and answered, “Aside from a man who looked like he had too much to drink in the last 20 years, and two older guys gazing at me with a “been there done that look,” there were few others who took notice,” he reassured me.

Just as the Jerusalem sun set and women throughout Israel were lighting the Shabbat candles, if one were by any chance in the center of town last Friday, he would have noticed a paratrooper jump out of a sheirut, quickly shrug out of his field uniform known as “bet” and change into his “aleph” uniform – the one a soldier must wear while walking or travelling throughout Israel. If caught by the military police in your “bets”, the punishment could be quite hefty for a soldier. He stands to have a 28 day rituk on base, or rather – lose a month’s worth of Shabbat leaves. RJ made the switch in record time.

To be sure, the army always lets out their soldiers scheduled to have a Shabbat leave by late Friday morning. But last Friday there was an exception to the rule. The IDF was on full alert just in case the “Million Man Global Jihad March onto Jerusalem” turned into the explosive clash promised by the enemies of the State of Israel. As all know by now, it turned out to be, for the most part, a non-event. No doubt, a huge disappointment for the many esteemed members of the UN who are in collusion with the Arab terrorist conglomerate. But that’s a whole other talk show.

My son was stationed near the Syrian border. By 3:30 in the afternoon, it was clear that the fiery rhetoric of the March to Jerusalem fizzled into basically a no-show on the part of the Arabs that were expected to pounce through the Lebanese and Syrian borders into Israel. RJ, along with all the other soldiers stationed there for just this purpose were told they can take their leave. But it was already close to 4:00 in the afternoon, and there was no hope for any soldiers living south of Tel Aviv to catch a bus home before the onset of Shabbat-when the buses would stop running. There was no time to change uniforms. The army provided buses to take the soldiers to the nearest bus stop that would take them either to Haifa, Tel Aviv or Netanya and everyone without exception made a run for it.

RJ jumped on the bus heading toward Tel Aviv, although half hour into the ride he knew his chances for catching the last bus to Jerusalem were less than slim. He hoped to get a sheirut. Even so, from Jerusalem, he still needed to find a way back home, further south to Gush Etzion.

Every major city has a beit hachayal – a place where travelling soldiers can find a place to sleep and a hot meal, but no one wants to spend a free Shabbat at beit hachayal. The soldier wants home, and of course, his mom’s cooking. I told him that if he can’t get a ride in time out of Jerusalem, then he should go to my brother. In the mad rush tumult of trying to reach Jerusalem before Shabbat he somehow forgot that he had an aunt and uncle living in Katamon.

After plunging into his “alephs”, my son pulled his large knapsack carrying all his army equipment onto his shoulder and started walking. It was 6:40, Shabbat had begun. It would be another 20 kilometers before he would reach home. The weather was in his favor, he surmised, and it wasn’t like he wasn’t used to trekking that distance in full gear under worse conditions. Then again, he hadn’t seen his aunt, uncle and cousins in some time, it would be nice to spend Shabbat with them, he thought.

He walked leisurely through the streets of Jerusalem, enjoying the calmness that encompasses the city on Friday after sundown, taking a few detours along the way in order to get a glimpse of the Kotel. Many astute passersby seeing a soldier at that hour carrying all his gear realized he didn’t make it home in time for Shabbat and invited him to their homes. RJ thanked them, politely declined telling them he had relatives in the city and continued on his way. He walked down familiar streets and searched out untried avenues as well. Walking serenely through Jerusalem at this hour was a rare opportunity for him and he took advantage of it. About an hour later, he reached Katamon just as his uncle and nephews returned from shul. His first thought was to jump into a hot shower after being out in the field for several days. The door to their home opened, greeting RJ with the savory aroma of a home cooked erev Shabbat meal. His weary face grew into a huge smile. Ahh, life is good.

About the Author
Author of THE GILBOA IRIS (Gefen Publishing House) and SETTLING FOR MORE: FROM JERSEY TO JUDEA (Urim Publications).