Wednesday, July 30, 2014

War Report: Three Teens and Bombs and Tee Shirts; Feeding and Praying for Our Boys

Yom revi'i, 3 Av 5774.

"Together we will win!"
Was there ever a time before the three boys?

Many very sad things have happened lately, and are still happening. Yet my Nation is more united than it's ever been. Most people in the various "camps" -- religious vs. secular, politically right vs. politically left, carnivores vs. vegans, what have you -- are setting their differences aside to stand behind the soldiers, as they clear the tunnels aimed with death at Israel's heartland.

Individuals and organizations are taking turns traveling to the south and to hospitals to feed, cloth, pamper, encourage and entertain our troops.

Here is a letter I received from a friend about her sons at the front:

When your kid calls from a war, racing toward incoming rockets seems logical. What did he want from home? Anti-fungal cream, especially if it would help with ringworm and athlete's foot. Apparently, nine days without changing your socks or taking off your army boots is not great for your feet. "And Mom, can you bring those two boxes of Wacky Mac I didn't eat on my last leave home?"

The soldiers were mostly relaxed. They are determined and motivated to carry out their mission. There was NO complaining. On the contrary, we were shown the incredible piles of things that have been donated to add comfort where possible: mountains of socks, baby wipes, mosquito repellent, food, drinks, etc. Their vehicles are covered with letters and pictures sent from a loving and grateful nation. Shocking how much 20-somethings appreciate the efforts made with crayons. But they do!

Photo from Facebook - no idea who took it
My son lost a friend today, a guy who was with him in their early days in basic training. War, even when it appears that you are winning, is not the game our guys would prefer to play. His friend will be buried tomorrow. May his family be comforted. His buddies from basic will not attend the funeral. They will be back in Gaza by then working on the tunnel they're assigned to destroy. Their efforts to protect their families, their friends, and their nation trump their need to mourn right now, even though this hit them very hard.

We do live in a crazy country. I doubt there is another place in the world that allows/encourages soldiers to invite family and friends to visit during a war. And maybe this is one of the few places where you keep the radio on so you can hear the announcements of where rockets are headed as you are driving in that direction; but you drive on nonetheless, praying that at the end of that journey there'll be a 21-year-old who needs a hug from his parents as much as they need hugs from him.

We did hear from our other son after Shabbat. He is fine, but more than ready to finish what his unit needs to do and turn the rest over to the younger guys. He says that he and his reserve unit buddies are too old to be away from wives, children and their lives. 

Tonight we hugged one son with a sigh of relief. Tomorrow he goes back into Gaza. Our married son awaits the next mission (unless he's already there); and we pretend to go back to our lives. May God grant them success and return ALL OF THEM home healthy and whole!

Normal summer moments still exist, thanks to the IDF and the Iron Dome.
The days run together. You try to stay as "normal" as possible. It's not as challenging for us as for our friends in the south, as it's always been for our friends in the south, living under rocket fire for nearly fourteen years. Fourteen years! Children have been born and have grown up with rocket fire and the "Tzeva Adom" siren as the background music of their entire lives.

But even for the rest of us, the war plays in the background if you are a mother, father, sister, brother, significant other, or friend of a soldier. Which everybody is. Your heart breaks over and over again at the losses felt by others, the losses that won't end. Our hearts ache for our family members and friends.

If your son calls, you cling to his voice with every ounce of love and faith and hope your heart can produce. I've asked friends how they are coping, and there is a consensus: you live with two minds. "The bad guys must be eradicated; the shelling must once and for all be stopped; we mustn't yet again stop before the job is done, or we'll be sending another kid to the front in eighteen months or so." (I've sent three sons so far to three wars -- as have many other mothers.) But the other half of our brain is saying "Make a cease fire already. I want him home NOW."

Last Monday was a beautiful little oasis in time, as Stunt Man came back to civilization for the first time in three weeks. He was a little thinner, but he was in pretty good shape physically and emotionally.

Stunt Man on 24-hour leave, seeing his future apartment for the first time. "Nice job, Molly McMolly!"

I discovered something interesting today. If I get away from the news, I feel a bit lost. Unless I get away from the news, leave my house, and go and participate in a mitzvah. Today I joined a group of dedicated people in Efrat to put together yet another of the collections of presents to be delivered to the soldiers at the front. One of the organizers said, "We gave first to the soldiers in Nahal, Tzanchanim and Golani, because they had lost friends. But we are trying to get enough donations together to send out 40,000 packages, because each soldier needs encouragement and our gratitude." (A shout-out to the Maresky family for opening their home and for hosting this effort.)

"Looks like a Neve Daniel kaytana out there." Romi, managing the troops.

"They've had enough candy. Let's send them some nutritious junk food!"

Need your spirits to be picked up? Do a mitzvah with a bunch of nice people. [Photo by Jonty Maresky]

Our kids writing love notes to the soldiers

All the goodies wrapped up to look like a big piece of candy.

People of all ages work side-by-side to prepare the packages.
The T-Shirt Project – A NEW INITIATIVE

Many of the chayalim are not able to carry their siddur​im, tefillin, tehillim, onto the front. Many in the IDF don’t have them. Every soldier needs extra protection to defend us in this war​ – right now. While they appreciate all the items we send in a bag – the treats and necessities – we can’t help beyond our human capacity.

This week – we will be giving soldiers a T-shirt with a printed message on the inside of the shirt – written over their hearts​.​ It is a short Passuk from  King David’s Tehillim, (Tet Zion - 16) which beseeches God to protect, and give refuge.
The passuk is (מכתב לדוד שמרני )
         שמרני אל כי חיסיתי בך – “Protect me, O God, for I have sought refuge in YOU.”
There will also be a personal letter to the soldiers to give them chizuk and remind them that King David conquered Goliath, and the side of Good will win over the enemies.

The outside of the shirt will be illustrated with "Thank IDF Soldiers."
The main idea is to give each soldier their own "Personal Protective Iron Dome" –  a strong Passuk connecting them to Hashem, in a subtle and yet strong way​, and understanding deeply that we need Hashem’s help in times of war as our ​S​ource of protection, refuge and life.
This is a "NU Campaign" and "Thank Israeli Soldiers" initiative.

How can YOU help?

Our objective is to supply every soldier in the IDF with this good quality ‘Dri-Fit’ T-Shir​t – eventually – (with your help)​. Connecting each one of them to Hashem, to us, to Am Yisrael and to the world.

Contact Nu Campaign and send to friends overseas:

What if you're not in Israel, and you want to do something, anything, to help the soldiers? It can be very frustrating to be "outside," while your heart is inside. Or perhaps you are in Israel, but cannot get to any of the "hands on" projects. Are there alternative ways to help?

The Shmira Project might be an answer. The concept is to pair names of soldiers with people anxious to pray on their behalf. This project originated with Rav Simcha HaCohen Kook, Chief Rabbi of Rechovot and The Hurva Synagogue with the Bostoner Rebbe, zt”l in 2009 during the Gaza Operation Cast Lead. It has the support of people across the world and across all denominations. It's being organized in its present format by the mother of a former IDF paratrooper (whom I know and love, but who prefers not to be named unless I can name the incredibly long list of other people who are working on this project with her, both in the Diaspora and in Israel).

I can tell you that it is very comforting as a mother to read the following message on the Shmira Project's Facebook page: "My five-year-old daughter said Tehillim with me after candlelighting on Shabbat for 'our soldier,' [Stunt Man's Hebrew name]."

War is terrifying. But the Jewish people have known terrifying forever. What we have always needed is unity. The loss of those three precious teenangels brought us together in a way I have never seen. There are those who see miracles in this recent war, and attribute them to the merit of that togetherness.

I don't have answers about these days. In fact, I have a lot of questions. But I know absolutely that we can only succeed together, as a united and loving family, a family whose differences pale in the presence of our love for each other and commitment to each other. We proved we could do it for eighteen days. Let's see where we can take the love for each other, and ultimately give it out to all of God's creation.

Monday, July 14, 2014

War Report: Operation Protective Shield

Yom shlishi, 17 Tamuz, Erev Tzom Tamuz.

What's really protecting Israel, with all due respect to the IDF and the Iron Dome
While he is supposed to be tucked away in his reinforced bomb shelter, my friend Marc Gottlieb instead makes a photo of his version of the true Iron Dome. It goes viral, with comments that indicate that there are a lot of hopeful believers out there.

A woman's gotta know her limitations. To paraphrase Dirty Harry.
It's a weird, weird world. We talk to our children at war. (My mother certainly never chatted routinely with me, back in my army days. Fifteen minutes a week on the mess hall phone, if we were lucky.) My son calls me from the front periodically with instructions for wedding preparations, and laughs at my wedding outfit woes. "Young, tanned people look really good in seafoam. Older, pasty-faced Irish ladies should not wear sea-foam, at least not around their faces. I'm sticking with the navy part of my navy-and-seafoam ensemble as far as the hat is concerned." It's so damn good to hear him laugh.

Another of our sons says to his father, "You and Ema really should go to a shelter when there's a siren."

"We go to the hallway," his father answers.

The wise young soldier smirks. "Oh, yeah. Like that's safe."

"Look -- I'm with my best friend. And if the landlord's mamad gets hit and the landlord's family rains down on us through the ceiling, we'll know we're in trouble." We amuse ourselves with the image of raining balebatim. It's hard to explain the idioms to the landlord's family, because "raining humans" doesn't really translate into Hebrew. But they laugh anyway, because Americans perplex and amuse them.

My army sends warnings via cell phone and dropped leaflets in Arabic to the civilians among the enemy, warning them of an attack. The IDF gives the civilians time to leave the area. Then, they send a "knock-knock" bomb to tap on the roof of a building they plan to bomb (because it is pinpointed as a source of rocket fire). Only after these warnings do they actually bomb buildings. WHO IN THE WORLD DOES THAT???

Meanwhile, my husband and son plan the coming football season, recruiting from among the new olim -- because Jews are still making aliyah, even during war. Another son plans to travel to Israel for his brother's wedding, wishing he could be here sooner, to "do his part" in uniform, rather than standing on the sidelines, feeling ineffectual. We understand him. Many of our friends abroad express the need to be here with us in this time of crisis, rather than being safely far away. Yet another son writes passionate pleas for peace, between Israel and her enemies, between Jews and Jews.

My chavruta, a long-ago immigrant from Morocco, laughs with me about perspective. "Everything is so crazy right now," she says, showing off her grasp of American slang. I ask what she means. She stares at me, incredulous. "We're at war," she says, as if that explains it.

"Esther, I've lived here for nearly seven years. In that time, three of my sons have been called to the front in three different wars. This to me is normal."

But, of course, she is right. At three in the morning, when I cannot ignore it any more, I think and pray about how much I need each of my guys to live to be really old. I ask myself if I am crazy to be living here. And then I get out of bed (because fighting to sleep doesn't bring sleep) and read the world news, and hear about another random school shooting or mall shooting in the US, or the terrifying siege of a French synagogue, wherein the trapped congregants were praying for the safety of the Jews in Israel; or I read about the entire Middle East on fire around us -- and I realize that crazy is the new normal everywhere in the world. Might as well be in the Holy Land, where I at least know that every step we take and every sacrifice we make is for our own land and for our own people.

Someone tells the poignant story of getting off a bus with a bunch of Tel Avivians and tourists when a siren sounds. They look at each other, and realize that there is no bomb shelter in sight. So they make a group decision to huddle together and try to protect each other with their bodies. An elderly lady cannot get down on the ground, so a couple of people forget about their own safety and stand with her to cover her with their arms. The girl telling the story relates that she is brought to crying and terror by the elderly lady's screams. She begins to cry, lying on the ground. A girl in pants and a short top takes her head in her lap, and recites Tehillim over her, forgetting about protecting herself. What a remarkable people is this nation Yisrael!

Lucy Aharish of i24 News asks a 16-year-old girl in Ashkelon, who has lived under rocket attacks for eight years, what she would say to her 16-year-old girl counterpart in Gaza: "I would tell her to stay strong, to stay safe, and maybe one day we can live side by side in peace."

Please share with me the quote of one young person on the other side that is as full of humanity. Please. I need to hear it.

Bottom line: life is not easy anywhere just now. Proof we need Mashiach, RIGHT NOW. But there is nowhere I'd rather be, no people I'd rather be with, than in this land of Israel, with this people Yisrael.

The Nation Israel Lives

Have an easy and productive fast. May this be the last of the sad fast days. May it finally be enough.