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Our Soldiers, Our Sons

Our Soldiers, Our Sons

Moving to Israel forces us to confront a new reality: our sons in uniform.


The Mediterranean Sea stretched before me, sparkling in the setting sun. Two boats sat majestically in the distance. The sky darkened; the breeze quickened.

Between me and the water stood 200 boys. To the staccato orders of the commanding officer, 400 boots stamped apart, 400 boots stamped together, and a swell of voices resounded in unison. The Israeli flag was raised and verses from the Torah were read, amid the rumbling of thunder. An officer led the swearing-in ceremony, reciting a phrase, pausing for the resounding echo of the soldiers before him. Each boy pledged to give his heart, his soul, and if necessary, his life, to protect the country. Bolts of light zagged across the horizon. Rain fell. One by one, each soldier was called up for his pledge.

“Ani nishba!” (I pledge). Boom. Thunder.

“Ani matzhir!” (I declare).

Families frantically opened umbrellas and thrust cameras into cases. The boys stood at attention, motionless.

I looked at my son. A month ago, he had refused to be told what to do. My pleas to clean his room and take out the trash were respectfully received and conveniently forgotten. Now, an order to merely move a certain way, or not move at all, was honored immediately and completely.

The boys stood at attention, strong, sturdy, soaked. If the faces had been an unidentifiable blur, I would have simply been awed. Young men and women, committed to their country, willing to confront surrounding powerful nations calling for its annihilation. But my awe was laced with personal fear, because I knew one face. I knew its shape, its dimple, its stubble, its scar.

Our pride is shrouded in anxiety. We try to ignore it, deny it, subdue it, but it lives like a tenacious weed, breathing toxicity into our lives.

Aliyah forces us to confront a new reality: our sons in uniform. Our pride is shrouded in anxiety. We try to ignore it, deny it, subdue it, but it lives like a tenacious weed, breathing toxicity into our lives, like an unexplained illness.

How can we delight in the inspiration and hope that brought us here, instead of shrink from the dangerous realities we are forced to face?

One strong response to fear is to acknowledge it. It’s there. I get to know it. How big is it? How dark? Does it stalk me by day, or does it cast a shadow in the quiet of the night? I try not to analyze, criticize, or judge. Just observe. Merely noticing fear disarms and diffuses its power over me.

Another way I deal with fear is to stay present. Fear is always about something that might happen, not something that is happening now. As Mark Twain said, “I have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Since many of us expend so much energy compulsively revisiting the past or worrying about the future, living in the present moment dispels worry and brings about a sense of calm and joy. I can harness the power of now at any moment by drawing my awareness to my immediate experience. What’s happening at this instant? What do I hear? Smell? What sensations am I aware of in my body? What does the seat I’m sitting on, the floor I’m standing on, feel like right now?

Finally I find the polar opposite of fear: faith. Fear involves contraction and tightening of the senses, whereas faith involves letting go, leaning into, and trusting the unknown. For me, fear and faith cannot co-exist. This resembles the myth of multitasking, where it appears we are performing two tasks simultaneously while in reality we are actually shifting at lightning speed between those tasks. I find myself fearful in one moment and faithful in the next. I explore ways to strengthen my belief in an omniscient, compassionate Higher Being. Faith is powerful. Nestled in this cloak of conviction, I am able to choose the way in which I respond to life.

Related Article: Our Soldiers

In three years (or five, or seven, or ten), our child’s military service will end. Like a roller coaster ride, the years will pass regardless of how tightly we close our eyes or how desperately we grip the seat. We can go through this period anxious and tense. Or we can experience it with equanimity, tapping into the original pride and sense of belonging that brought us here.

“Ani matzhir!”

I look across at my son, and sense the smile beneath the solemnity. I coax my thoughts away from the future – from imagined horror and feared tragedy. The cool Mediterranean breeze touches my face. The water drips off my neighbor’s umbrella onto my arm. I breathe. I trust that all this fits into a Master Plan. Right now, I accept, and I am calm.

January 21, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 22

(22) Aunt Liela, January 29, 2012 3:57 AM

You Make Us Proud

Dear Aviva, Your article is beautiful - and written from the heart. While reading your words, I felt as though I was standing with you. You make us very proud. Love, aunt Liela

(21) Chaya, January 27, 2012 1:45 PM

You speak for every mother

Dear Aviva, I am so proud of you! I may have read it before, but it gets better with each read. It is not just reading your words, it is reading your voice, your heart, your thoughts, your soul. It is not just your voice, it is the echo of every mother of every Israeli soldier and perhaps, the mother of every soldier in every army around the world. Congrats on your recognition. May Hashem bless you and your family. With much love, Chaya

(20) Ande, January 26, 2012 11:01 PM

My daughter the sailor

Beautiful article. My daughter is serving in the Navy in a combat support unit near the border with Gaza. Even though we are a religious family I supported her decision to serve her country that we made Aliyah to 7 years ago. She wears a skirt all the time and is the only religious girl in her unit and I am proud of the example she is setting for all the women at her base. Yet when I first saw her with a rifle I had to stop myself from crying. Then when I asked her if she sleeps in a bomb proof building she told me not to worry she is so close to Gaza the rockets fly over their heads. But the worst experience was when I drove her to the bus station closest to her base. The station was filled with soldiers carrying all kinds of weapons, Uzis, M-16s , and heavy automatic rilfes. I kept saying to myself that I should be protecting my daughter yet here I am sendng her off to war. B"H there won't be another war but with our neighbors that is unlikely. I am proud of my daughter even though I realize now I wasn't mentally prepared for this. I am now truly an Israeli parent.

(19) yojewmama, January 25, 2012 4:52 AM

me too

well, my son will be drafted in 2013. he's had his army interview, and has been to "gadna" (a preview week of soldier training for kids in 11th grade), and now he has his draft date. we came here for idealistic reasons. we answered the mysterious, illogical call to return to our Land. this is part of the walk we walk. thank you so much for putting into words what is stirring inside me already. these are the things i can't talk about with some of my US family who think I was nuts in the first place for moving here. but when the topic comes up with the other mothers in my neighborhood, they smile an understanding, reserved smile. well, you know that there is a whole nation behind your son. i pray often when i see soldiers. i pray nearly each time i hear a jet overhead. thank you for your sacrifice. may this experience help your son into manhood in safety and peace. please G.d may your son, along with all the soldiers of the IDF, be strong and courageous, safe and righteous.

(18) Pinchas, January 25, 2012 1:58 AM

a dad reflects on his daughter

My daughter is a "madrichat chir", an infantry instructor. She and her colleagues train young infantrymen - not unlike Aviva's son and his colleagues - how to use the heavy guns that are the tools of their trade. My daughter's expertise is in the "Katlanit", a 17mm machine gun mounted to the roof of an armored Hummer. And we don't live in Israel; we live in the US. Our daughter, at the tender age of 19, made Aliya on her own. Kudos. It is not expected that my daughter or any of her colleagues will ever be placed directly in harm's way; that is not what they are trained to do. But soon after my daughter started basic training, Israel swapped over a thousand terrorists for Gilad Shalit; one of these murderers plowed his vehicle into a Beer Sheva bus shelter that was filled with soldiers, many of whom were killed in the attack. My daughter's base is just outside of Beer Sheva. At that moment I realized that anyone who wears the olive-green of the IDF is a primary target of Israel's enemies, whether they are on the battlefield or off. Our children's service is essential. And while our hearts swell with pride at the fierce dedication of these young people to the State of Israel and the safety of her citizens, we pray daily that Hashem safeguard our children - His children - and keep them all out of harm's way.

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