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Yosefa (Fogel) Wruble
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The body of the people

I have sometimes found motherhood to be all-consuming. Until I think of the demands the state places on our children
Illustrative. Mother and child. (iStock)
Illustrative. Mother and child. (iStock)

Many women experience pregnancy — the gift of new life growing in one’s womb — with a sense of warmth, love, and purpose. They love cradling their growing belly, speaking to the developing baby, and genuinely enjoy the physical changes along the journey. For me, pregnancy has always been a means to an end. Fourteen weeks of all-day sickness. Then there’s about eight weeks in which I am filled with gratitude for a healthy fetus, followed by 18 or so weeks of “hold tight until it’s over.”

As a nursing mother, the process of bringing children into the world and sustaining them is essentially a two-year process. Being the fighter that I am, for years I thought this negative experience of pregnancy was one I could work on and improve, similar to how I cultivated empowered and effective birth experiences after a first one I was ill-prepared for. But at some point during the pregnancy of my third child, for which I was utterly grateful after experiencing multiple losses, I resigned myself to the physical misery and anxiety that pregnancy creates for me, and decided to complain only to my (poor) husband, and redirected the precious energy I had left to caring for my other children.

It has been 12 straight years now in which my body has been in the service of my family. Pregnancy, nursing, hosting children on my lap, getting them dressed. I have not always filled this physical role with peace. Nursing has always been a challenge, but it has been a priority that I committed to, each child anew. My older children (thankfully!) do not need my physical body in the same way — they have aged out enough for me to experience the dynamic role that is being a parent, namely feeling inadequate in so many dimensions each day. But there are still some small ones and a baby who do need my physical support for sustenance and protection. Many women are forever left with marks from their years of service: a body forever altered by stretch marks, weight gain, varicose veins. Each woman possesses a collection of private memorabilia, reminders of her role as creator.

* * *

Since Israel began retaliating with ground troops in Gaza, the names of young and not-so-young men arrive every morning. Checking the news has become a horrific activity, so much so that if I need to work or function in any serious way, I don’t open it that morning. Reading the news is to be attacked by Potter’s death-eaters. Air and life’s happiness are sucked right out of you. And so, while it feels selfish to move on with my day while another family has been broken, this is what I do. We have to. Even when every boy is someone’s son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson.

About a month ago, while scanning the headlines, greeted with the ticker-tape display of handsome young men never to laugh or be hugged again, I suddenly understood that, while my body belongs to my family, nurturing each child, sustaining all of them day and night, the body of each Israeli man (and some young women) belongs to the nation, fated to fight and protect it.

One might say we all have a choice in the matter. With some limitations, I can choose how many children to bring into this world and how long to nurse each one; each young man can try to choose his unit, perhaps opting for a non-combat role (women in combat roles have actively chosen them, which is somewhat of a different responsibility). But for most of us living this visceral life, the word “choice” seems rather irrelevant. As biologically intuitive as it is for me to sustain my child, so it is for young, healthy Israeli men brought up in Zionist homes to defend their country until their last breath. While my “sacrifice” is blessed and frequent, theirs is rare, but absolute and final.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the totality of their commitment, certain that on most days they do not think too much about it. Without being asked, each young man becomes the collective shield of the state, a reality we only really remember when they are called to active service. I’ve watched these men, among them, my husband, for over 15 years. Standing at the communal gate, in the old city of Jerusalem, at checkpoints, but only recently with such an unending string of lost life have I internalized the frightening commitment inherent in their service.

* * *

For seven months, I have been cradling and nursing a baby boy, a boy born after four girls. While I don’t really yet know the repercussions of this change, other than more voracious movement than I remember from my daughters, I can’t stop imagining his soft, small body in uniform. In quiet moments in his darkened bedroom, nursing in a broad-backed blue chair while he looks all snuggly in dinosaur pajamas, I dig my mouth against his warm neck, whisper, “I love you, sweet boy,” and pray that my sacrifice will be enough for the both of us.

About the Author
Dr. Yosefa (Fogel) Wruble is a 'ramit' in the Migdal Oz women's beit midrash, hosts a weekly podcast for Matan, and is a lecturer at Herzog College. Yosefa serves her community as a Nishmat-certified yoetzet halakha. She publishes Torah-themed articles online and in print.
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