We began counting on October 7th, so many horrible counts, days of war, number kidnapped, number killed. It’s unimaginable yet it’s real.
My perspective is that of an outsider that’s a sort of an insider. A Zionist mom of multiple lone soldier reservists now called back to war. Being so far away, we were grateful to get a call from one of our sons even if it was in the middle of the night for us. But being outside of Israel felt like being detached from a part of my body, a part of my heart; and so, when I was given the opportunity by Nefesh b’Nefesh to travel to Israel, I took it. Usually, our trips to Israel are planned months and months in advance. We pack carefully knowing that we want to bring stuff for our kids and needing to make sure our suitcases don’t go over the maximum weight. We plan fun things to do while we’re there and coordinate visits with our many friends. Not this time, it’s war and things aren’t usual. For this trip I was approved for a ticket gifted to parents of lone soldiers from Nefesh b’Nefesh on Sunday and I was on a plane to Israel on Tuesday, hoping I’d be able to see my sons but knowing that I couldn’t count on it.
The flight itself was uneventful, I only noticed a difference when we landed. The pilot came on to welcome us to Israel, instead of the usual speech he thanked us for coming during this ‘difficult time’, he asked us to pray for the safe return of the hostages and for the soldiers. We had just flown into a country at war, how could he have said anything else. That was just the beginning of the differences. As I walked through the airport to passport control, I noticed signs all around pointing to shelters. Of course, I should have always known there were bomb shelters in the airport, just as there are all over Israel, but it’s not something I actively thought about until now.
I’ve always loved walking into the arrivals hall in Ben Gurion, the long sloping open walkway, the Jerusalem stone, the giant floor to ceiling window flooding the hall with light and the ‘Welcome to Israel’ at the end. But this time it was different. The hall is lined on both sides with photos of the hostages. I didn’t want to look but how could I not, in each photo they looked so happy, on each sign was stamped ‘bring them home’. Instead of tears of joy at arriving in Israel I had tears at the profound sadness of just one horrifying aspect of this ‘difficult situation’.
Entering passport control was eerie, not the hustle and bustle but rather practically empty. I commented about this to one of the staff and she replied, ‘it’s because of the difficult situation’. That phrase again. Not because of the war, because of the ‘difficult situation’. Is that Israeli resiliency? I know it’s not denial but maybe because Israel is always under attack they view this as not an extreme, but rather just not usual? In baggage claim everyone was subdued, no chatting or jostling for luggage, just quiet and seriousness.
As I said this trip wasn’t planned as our trips usually are, thankfully my son in law said he’d come get me at the airport so we could ride the train together to their apartment in the south. I knew I wouldn’t be in any state to do so on my own and I was so grateful. Instead of just him I was greeted by one of my soldier sons, on leave and there to surprise me. I couldn’t have asked for more than to see him standing there in front of me, he looked good, the only difference was the gun he had slung over his shoulder. As a reservist that’s not a sight I’ve seen for a while. I got my second surprise that evening while cooking dinner. Another of my soldier sons walked in, in uniform, home for a day maybe two depending on the ‘difficult situation’. No matter, I’d take one hour if that was all I could get.
Jet lag isn’t fun and having slept a few hours I was up in the middle of the night. We’re not so far south that it was part of the evacuations, but close enough to Gaza to hear, and feel the booms. I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed them had my son not said something about it earlier, but now I do and it’s surreal. Am I really sitting here, listening as bombs go off near enough that I can hear it? I’m sitting, relaxing like a normal person but how can this be normal? Earlier in the evening my son in law asked if I wanted to see the Iron Dome in action, that they get a regular ‘show’. Again, not normal.
So now I’m here, in a country at war, yet I’m not afraid. I’m worried, I’m heartbroken but I’m not afraid. For right now I have my soldier sons under one roof with me and I’m going to relish the joy at being with them, along with the relief that they’re ok right now. I know I can’t hold on to them, they have an important job to do. But right now, the ‘difficult situation’ is being held at arm’s length.
My youngest son was supposed to go back this morning, there was a bus picking up the chayalim in his unit to take them back. He said the bus is always late so I asked if I could come with him to the bus stop, I just wanted every minute I could get with him. As the chayalim gathered at the bus stop my son introduced me to the guys in his unit and others that he knew. There was a light, positive atmosphere, chatting, handshakes and hugging. So different than the solemness I saw at the airport. You could see the comradery between these guys, even though they range in age from early 20’s to 40 you knew they were a team. We took some photos, I couldn’t bring myself to smile, and before they get on the bus I hugged and hugged him. My son tells me no crying, tears aren’t allowed. He knows that’s not happening, but he has to say it anyway. I watch him get on the bus and then I leave. Ten minutes later I get a call. My son’s officer saw me at the bus stop and told my son he could have another day off, score one for the Jewish army that cares so much for Jewish moms!
So for right now my heart is full again, and I can still feel the relief of having them all under one roof, safe for one more day before they go back to their job of defending Israel.
I’ll take it.