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Reesa Cohen Stone: For the Mothers of Soldiers-Earn This. Earn It.

by Reesa Cohen Stone, May 27, 2013

When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.
Psalms 126:1

A few nights ago, my mobile phone rang. In itself a relatively rare event, it was even more disturbing as it occurred at 1:30 in the morning. I answered it, even though the screen told me that the number was ‘unknown’. It was, in fact, a prank (not even obscene) phone call, and I closed the phone before the prankster was able to complete his prank. I honestly don’t even know what he had to say. Unfortunately, I was unable to get back to sleep. Only one thought was in my head: Perpetrators of prank phone calls on mothers of Israeli soldiers serving on the Syrian border should be severely punished, possibly boiling them in oil. Slowly.

Soldiers in Israel receive a lot of benefits; free public transport, discounts in restaurants and movies, grants and scholarships, and tons of sympathy and support from the general public. And this is as it should be. As I’ve said before, soldiers, no matter their age, are everyone’s children.

I think mothers of soldiers should receive benefits too, such as discounts on laundry powder and softener, and free counseling services. I think we should get a fun day at the water park, and educational tours of Jerusalem also. It might make up for the extra laundry on Fridays, the money spent on awful snack food, the cakes baked ‘just in case he does come home this weekend’.

Oh, and the need to carry your mobile phone with you 24/6, the lack of concentration, the inability to focus on just about anything, and the sleepless nights.

But it probably wouldn’t.

My kids all roll their eyes at me when, at unpredictable times, I say something like “wow, I miss him” or “I wonder what he’s doing now” or if I – heaven forbid – say to another person “Fred (name changed to protect me – whose son would kill if his name were actually mentioned here) is protecting our country and is serving on the border.”

[For clarity, and so no one gets jealous thinking I’m writing about one and not the other (not that the boys ever read anything here), two of my sons are in the army; one has finished his active service and is in the reserves, and the second is almost finished his active service and then will be in the reserves. My third son is scheduled to begin his active service in a year.]

I really do feel the stress and strain of being a mother of a soldier down to the very marrow of my bones. I’m on edge, I have a shorter attention span (if that can be imagined from my usual microscopic attention span), I rant, I cry at inopportune moments and for no reason at all.

But more than all that, I am absolutely brimming, even overflowing, with pride. It takes all my will-power to restrain myself from prattling on about my soldiers. It’s only because I want to keep my friends and not completely alienate my kids that I don’t. But I wouldn’t turn down a badge to put on my shirt: “My son is a soldier in the IDF! Be nice to me”.

Even more than pride though, every day of my life, I am so filled with humility, gratitude, and awe, it takes my breath away.

Israel’s Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism (??? ??????? ????? ?????? ????? ??????? ?????? ?????, Yom Hazikaron), the official national Remembrance Day, was a few weeks ago. On that day, memorial services take place all over the country, special programs and services are given in schools, and television and radio are dedicated to programs on the subject.

There is one channel that, throughout the day, broadcasts the name of each person who fell defending the Land. A name and the date the person fell would be shown for about five seconds and then the picture would switch to the next one. 23,085 people have died defending the Land since 1860 and it takes 24 hours to broadcast the names one by one by one. 

I sat mezmorized watching the names. Sometimes, I would notice that 15 or so people died on the same day. That was a terrorist attack. More than 30 on one day meant a battle had taken place. I sat and watched 23,085 worlds being memorialized. I thought of their parents, their spouses, their sons and daughters.

Jewish days begin at sunset so that directly after Yom HaZikaron, comes Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Because there is no transition between the days, the music and festivities with which that joyous day begins is an extraordinarily jarring experience.

I clicked off the TV – where I had been watching the final and now familiar names being flashed on the screen – at precisely 7:56 PM, fried up some falafel (the national food), and went with my family to see the fireworks (the good kind, not the kind that come out of Gaza) at City Hall.

Tens of thousands of people streamed around the plaza. Glow toys, cotton candy, and beer were being sold. Music blared. I couldn’t help but stand in the midst of this noise boisterousness and bedlam, and experience, yet again, that embarrassing plight of crying at an inopportune moment and for no reason at all, accompanied by those familiar feelings of humility, gratitude, and awe.

Israel is a miracle in progress and I have had the honor and privilege and blessing of being a witness to the progress and the miracles, and I understand the price we have paid, and the sacrifices that have been made to be here. 

As I stood outside the Beer Sheva City Hall – a city that was not included in the original 1947 UN Partition Plan, and whose 2013 population is 40 times bigger today than in 1948, and 1/3 of the entire population of 1948 Israel – trying not to cry, the last words Captain John Miller said to Private Jack Ryan from the movie Saving Private Ryan came into my head.

“Earn this. Earn it”.

I’m trying.

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