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Romi Sussman
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The silent phones

When my sons were on missions in Gaza, I'd wait and wait for the WhatsApp check to become two, and then blue. Now I mourn with the many who are still waiting
Painting created many years ago by one of my current soldiers.
Painting created many years ago by one of my current soldiers

About a year ago, one of my sons was involved in a mission that meant he would be out of touch for an indefinite amount of time. We don’t talk to our army kids every day and we certainly don’t assume that they are always available to respond. But this was the first time that one of them was knowingly unavailable for large swaths of time while in a dangerous situation.

One of my friends was in the same situation and we spent those few days in agony. Each minute glancing at our phones, we hoped for a message; hoped to hear that the mission was over and that they were okay.

Little did we know, how could we possibly have predicted, that these terrifying few days were a tiny glimpse of what was to come. We would not have thought, then, that we would be able to handle too much more time out of touch.

War and terror in the modern age of WhatsApp, Facetime, and constant contact are certainly very different from war at any other stage of history. Two of our children spent significant time in Gaza in the last few months; the lack of contact, the unknown, was a black hole of fear and longing and, literally, having to remind ourselves to breath.

They would write a message at some point telling us that they loved us and that they would soon be going dark. And that would be it.

For days, and days and days. And sometimes those days turned into weeks.

And we would look at the single check mark on WhatsApp and wait for it to turn into two, and then to turn blue.

And I think of the 600-plus army parents who have done the same in the course of the last seven months, without ever getting that extra check mark or that blue.

And I think of the thousands of parents, siblings, spouses in the last seven months who did the same, specifically on October 7th, and never got that extra check mark or that blue.

And I think of the family members on October 7th who tried desperately to be in touch with their loved ones, only to find that they had been kidnapped. And those check marks and blue never materialized.

It has taken months for us to start to process with our soldiers, and with our son who was in Sderot on the 7th, what happened to them that day and in the following weeks after the 7th. Only recently, I asked one of them how much he knew on the 7th, as he raced South. He said, “Mommy. We have a full Golani WhatsApp group. We watched the entire thing unfold. This one wrote for help in the pillbox. That one said 10 terrorists had just entered the base. It never ended. They wrote and wrote and wrote for help. And then they stopped.”

I have no idea why I didn’t realize this. Of course, both of my army sons have WhatsApp groups with the friends from their units, with friends from other units, etc. And they watched, completely helplessly, as their friends screamed for help, gave explicit details about where they were and what was happening, and then stopped writing.

And they saw videos.

And listened to voice messages.

Last week, one of these army sons went to Kibbutz Kfar Aza with the army to bear witness, to hear from survivors and to bring more meaning to their service. One of the survivors mentioned the WhatsApps that he has preserved from that day. As he said, “These are the last words that most of my friends spoke before they were murdered or dragged into terror tunnels. I’m not sure what to do with these messages. But they are priceless. They are their story, and all of our story.”

My sons have been out of Gaza for a few months already and one of them has finished his service. I still get surprised when they answer my WhatsApp messages; when they send pictures. Every time one of them writes I get a jolt of excitement realizing they are in touch; and then I remember that it is no longer extraordinary or shocking.

Except, after what we’ve all been through and what they’ve experienced, it is extraordinary and miraculous.

Each day is.

And as I give a prayer of gratitude with every check mark and blue color, I think of those for whom there will never be another blue; and I think of those clinging to their phones, hoping for the return of the blue, as we move well beyond Pesach, watch college campuses in America fall apart, and wave goodbye to the seven month threshold.

As we approach Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, the silent phones haunt me.

As they should.

About the Author
Romi Sussman is a teacher and writer. When she's not at her computer, she's juggling raising six boys ages 13-23 and conquering daily life as an Olah. She enjoys blogging here and on her personal blog at http://aineretzacheret.com.
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