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Danita and Michael Aziza

Danita Aziza: On Having A Son in the IDF Right Now: Finding the Words When There are so Few to be Found

by Danita Aziza, November 16, 2012


In some of life’s circumstances a person’s reaction is direct and obvious. In other instances, emotion is far more complicated and difficult to sort through and express. For me, this is one of those times. Our son, Benji, a medic instructor with the Israel Defense Forces, called to tell me that Operation Pillar of Defense had begun as I was slouched in a swivel chair in a St. Vital salon having hair dye applied to my thinning grey strands. I can’t really talk, Mom, he said, giving me just enough time to prop myself up, assure him in a motherly way that everything would be ok and mutter, proud of you Benj. More than half a world away, both in distance and reality, we, as a family, are grappling with him being in an area where we believe rockets are falling and being there when we are not.

When we made the exceedingly difficult decision at the beginning of last summer to return to Winnipeg, we merely contemplated, but in hindsight didn’t fully acknowledge, the likelihood of the scenario that is now unfolding. While there is always something hovering when you live in the Middle- East, Israeli culture dictates that you adopt the "live in the moment" philosophy rather than obsess on what could be. Benji assured us he would be fine, and thus we convinced ourselves that he was on a secure base with the best of people, lucky to be doing a job that was both personally enriching and deemed to be of value to the unit in which he serves. The IDF had matured him, molded him and given him an education in life that he would have never acquired anywhere else. And so while it seemed definitely not ideal, but theoretically alright, he continued on with his service without us close at hand.

Up until that phone call at the salon, which now seems way too long ago, I don’t think I truly got what it is to be an Israeli. Oh, like Israeli parents, over the past year and a half we attended the ceremonies and burst with pride when Benji completed each phase of his training. We learned to fry the schnitzel just short of crisp, freeze home baked cookies in small packages so they don’t break when they go into the big green backpack and have the uniform laundered, ironed and hanging on the banister in time for the Sunday morning return to base. Like other parents, we felt for our son when he was deprived of sleep or bored during a long stint of guarding and we beamed when we received his hastily typed, yet upbeat and more often than not, humorous text messages. We caught on easily to experiencing all the glory that goes along with having a child in the IDF, but now we are now struggling with the shockingly unglamorous side; the feeling of deep and intense gut wrenching worry.

Up until Wednesday, we were used to daily electronic conversations with Benji. Right now our communication has been reduced to watching for two check marks to appear beside our iphone WhatsApp message. Two check marks tells us that he has read what we wrote. While I normally curse the technology at our fingertips, right now it allows us a glimpse into his life, when he is sleeping, on a break or busy doing what it is he has been trained to do. While we are far away, I know that parents close in distance can know little of their son or daughter’s whereabouts and go days without hearing from them as well. You cannot allow the worry to consume you, just as it cannot consume them, and so you occupy yourself with the news, thinking of how to help from afar, your work, tidying the house, taking calls and answering emails from concerned family and friends, thinking a lot, and simply waiting for the call or the sudden hey!that appears from nowhere with a startling click on your smart phone screen.

We have no monopoly on worry. Right now there are far too many Israeli parents who have more than one child serving in military units some flying in the planes above or in forces on the ground, have their own and the safety of aging parents and small children to consider and are truly within harm’s way. Their resilience and strength sets the benchmark for all others to follow. For them we need to find the words, the demonstration of support, and the prayers. And for all those very brave boys and girls, our Benji included, please know that we love you, we are so very proud of you and we wish you a Shabbat blessed with Shalom.

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