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To my captain, as he leaves the army

You can be relieved that you have finished this long IDF stint as you embark on civilian life - and I can now sleep at night, without worrying about you in the army
Pinning the rank on Erik together with Brigadier General Yossi Iluk. (courtesy)
Pinning the rank on Erik together with Brigadier General Yossi Iluk. (courtesy)

Twelve years ago, in September of 2008, I stood with you at the Kotel in Jerusalem, your first time there. You turned to me with tears in your 13-year-old eyes and told me that you belonged here, in Israel, and that when you were 18 you would make aliyah and join the army.

Five years later you made aliyah, keeping your promise to yourself, and setting out to live your own life on your own terms. The whole country of Israel saw your aliyah flight on the TV news that night, and watched your mother bawl her eyes out as you took your leave.

Six years, two months and 19 days. That has been the length of your army service. All that time ago when you enlisted, and became a private in the IDF – who would have imagined that you’d be in the army for so long, and end your army career ranked a Captain? 

Who knew that you would see two of your younger brothers make aliyah and join the army after you and finish before you? Who knew that all three of you would become experts in blowing things up? All of you became combat engineers…. The Dergel boys, blowing sh!t up legally since 2014…

Soon you will be cutting your choger / army ID card (I will cut mine too. After being a card-carrying army mama for over six years I totally get to do it as well) signifying the end of your service, and the beginning of civilian life. You can be relieved that you no longer have to answer to higher ranks, nor do you have to be  responsible for a group of soldiers in your care. Your mama can be relieved that now she can sleep at night, not having to worry about you in the army. (She won’t because she now has other newer worries…. But that’s her deal)

Being a soldier has defined you and your life for the last few years. Civilian life, while so free of certain kinds of responsibility that you are used to, has other responsibilities, ones which I know you will live up to. You learned so much about yourself as a soldier, and then as an officer. You matured, you grew up, you evolved. 

I have many memories of your army service — most I cannot share in a public forum and I really do not want to have to get the army censors involved. One thing that sticks out is from when you were a newbie soldier dealing with the way the army was run. “Ima,” you said, “we need you to come out here and organize the army. You could run this so much better.” Eventually you became a logistics officer, doing your bit to run the army a bit better.

When you were in basic training and had no time to yourself we worked out a system of when we could speak. You would call every Friday just as we were waking up here in New York, and we’d have a few minutes to talk. You really had no more time than that to call, and I lived for those phone calls. Occasionally you would call at other times and I would panic, thinking something was very wrong because you were not calling at the regular time. Even now, before you call, you text me to ask if it’s a good time – because you remember my heart failure.

I learned that just because the news said something happened a) it wasn’t necessarily true and b) my son(s) were not necessarily involved. I would call you and ask you and you’d always tell me that if there was bad news I would have heard it by now. And you’d constantly remind me not to believe everything I read. I learned to not read the news from Israel. The anxiety was not worth it. I knew if there was anything worth knowing, you or your brothers would let me know. It’s a struggle being a lone soldier parent — and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with time.

Every time I came to visit I was so proud to walk with you (and your brother(s)) in uniform. My son(s), the chayal(im). To hear you tell people that you were a chayal boded, a lone soldier, and that I am your mother visiting from chutz la’aretz. Hearing others call you a hero because you volunteered to serve.

But nothing gave me as much pride as pinning your epaulets on you when you were promoted to captain last year. You are the third generation to serve in the IDF — your grandfather and your great uncle served, both of your uncles too, and now, many cousins. But you are the first to reach such a high rank. Your great-great-grandfather who survived the Shoah, your great-great-grandmother who didn’t — the idea that their great-great-grandchildren would be able to serve in our own army, and with distinction? There are no words for the comfort that would have brought them.

Last year, you went to Poland with the army. You and your colleagues stood in silence in the concentration camps, reading names of those who perished. You read the names of our family who died there on those grounds, and afterwards you wrote:

If someone had told my great great grandmother that less than 80 years later, her great great grandson would be standing in the camp where her life was ended, I don’t think anyone in their right mind could have believed it.

But less than 80 years later, here I was. The heavy footfalls resounding from my boots probably didn’t sound very different from the jackboots of the S.S. murderers who marched there years before. But there was a huge difference.

We won.

And there, on the site of our people’s lowest point, we made a solemn promise. Never again.

We have our own country, and a defense force whose sole purpose is for the Jewish people to never again be murdered and persecuted for who we are. And I am proud to serve my country and my people, by doing my part to keep our homeland safe.

I hear you speak Hebrew and you sound like a sabra. It amazes me that you have been able to learn the language so well, to speak fluently and colloquially, and to seamlessly fit into Israeli society. I was blown away (ha! another combat engineer pun) that when you were in Officer’s Course you had to study this humongous textbook in Hebrew in order to pass the course. You passed with flying colors.

You have served your army and your country so well – now it is time for you to serve in a different capacity. You will do your reserve army duty, sure, but you will now start living a civilian life that is good and wholesome.

I am so excited for your future.

With love from your biggest fan,

Ima xoxo

About the Author
HaDassah Sabo Milner is a Welsh Jew who lives in Monsey NY. She is a writer and a blogger and a lifelong foodie, and works as a paralegal. She's married with four sons who provide her with much fodder for her writing projects. HaDassah's oldest son made aliyah in Aug 2013, and her second son joined him in July 2014. Son #3 made Aliyah in August 2016 .Son #4 just graduated high school, has no plans for aliyah and works as a volunteer EMT.
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