Sunday, May 2, 2010

Soldier Boy the Second

Yom rishon, 18 Iyar 5770, Lag B'Omer.

Last night was another special night at Casa Mizrachi.

Part of what made it special was that our kids could have gone off with their friends to any of various bonfires throughout the land, as Israelis fulfill the holy rite of torching our own country in honor of Shimon Bar Yochai.

Instead, Sports Guy and the Stunt Man stuck around and played music with the 'rents.  The Dearly Beloved's band, "The Strung-Out Quartet," graciously allowed us to play along with them, as we entertained a steady flow of guests from 9:30 PM until just before midnight.  Even after midnight, there was a nice little blues jam session.  Just family -- and particularly poignant tonight.

Stunt Man gets called up for service in the IDF in a couple of days.  So every moment with him has taken on a heightened degree of sweetness.

This morning, he had to report for a final medical check-up, to determine what his ranking will be for the various jobs in the military.  He was very anxious for a high rating, as his goal is to be fit enough for one of Israel's elite combat units.

"The place was full of kids, of course," he relates to us, upon his return, "and they were all talking about how hung-over they were [from the night's celebrations].  One guy said, 'I haven't slept in like 27 hours.'  I felt great, because I got to bed at a decent hour."  He looks smugly pleased with himself.  His parents utter a silent prayer of gratitude that, for this time at least, peer influence didn't win out.  "I scored 97," he says proudly.

"YES!"  I shout, happy for him.  "That is almost perfect!"

Stunt Man adds to my education regarding the dry humor of Israelis.  "Ema, 97 is perfect.  You can't get any higher unless you're uncircumcised."

After I finish begging his pardon -- because you don't always know when Stunt Man is kidding -- he explains.  "I heard that when the British ruled here, they said that Jews were imperfect, because they were circumcised.  So the highest score a Jew could get was 97."

I snort at this, one more remnant of pompous British rule, still left lying about from the 1940s.  "What?  They never abolished that rule?"

"It's kind of an 'in your face' jab at the British, Ema," he says, and I get it.  Nobody's perfect -- but the Jews are as perfect at 97 per cent as anybody else is at 100.

People frequently ask us how we feel about our kids going into the army.  Or they say remarkable things like "Are you going to let him go in?"  (The latter always tickles me, because I wonder how people can continue to live in the fantasy world where they can make an 18-year-old do anything he doesn't want to do.)  Or they say truly bizarre things, such as "Oh, you guys probably aren't worried at all, since you are former military."  (To that, my husband is very likely to launch into how hard it can be to know exactly what an M16 round does inside of the human body...)

I try to explain that the parents of soldiers try to put their feelings behind closed doors.  Call it the "Fear and Trepidation Closet."  I can't tell you that I never visit that small room, filled with dark and terrifying emotions.  But I think it's healthy to visit it very rarely, and to keep a strong lock on the door.  You can't conquer these concerns.  The most you can do is to corral them.

So right now, we're savoring his company, his music and his unique sense of humor.  We're basking in the warmth of his pride at making the mark he has set for himself.  And we are allowing ourselves to feel intense pride in his decisions and desires.

"עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה כי-יכול נוכל לה" ["We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!" (Bamidbar, 13:30)]

Haveil Havalim, The La"g BaOmer Edition, is live at Toby's place.

Lag B'Omer: the 33d day of a period of semi-mourning, culminating in celebrations including bonfires, barbecues and music
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