The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Shmulik’s commanding officer pretty much defines the concept of a “man’s man” – at least as I would think of him. He’s the quintessential definition of an Israeli officer in war, in life, and in command. He’s been in the army since he first entered as a paratrooper somewhere back in his late teens.
He’s steadily climbed through the ranks, moving up very fast because he is charismatic, intelligent, young, handsome and dedicated. Shmulik met him just before he became a Major, now he’s a Lieutenant Colonel and I have no doubt the only limitation on where he will go is within him. Shmulik is convinced he could become Chief of Staff someday. He’s certainly capable, I think.
I heard him speak to a huge gathering of soldiers and parents. He’s a hero of sorts, a man of action. He epitomizes the Israeli commander who will command his troops with the traditional, “follow me” order. He was badly wounded by terrorist fire and when the doctors said he may never walk again, he prove them wrong. He walks – and he runs. Faster than Shmulik, longer distances. He guards what he eats (but he likes my chocolate chip cookies).
He’s a realist and he knows how to play the crowds. When we went up to the base for an introduction to what our sons would be doing in the next few months, S. was head of the base and did the talking. He introduced the weapons our sons would learn to fire, narrated the exercises the soldiers would learn to identify, quarantine, and eliminate terrorists. He walked us through an ambush of a terrorist hideout and explained that the soldiers there up on the hill were one session ahead of our sons. In four months, he told us, your sons will be up there doing this for other parents, “only you’re not invited,” he said with a laugh.
At one point, shooting the various weapons at a target in the distance started a brush fire. No problem, S. explained as a bunch of soldiers went out with what appeared to be poles or brooms, to fight it. This was the desert and there wasn’t really much to burn except brush so there was no urgency. People turned to watch the fire. I could hardly believe what I was seeing – they didn’t bring out fire engines and pour water – they beat the fire down. In a country always short of water, it was a fascinating display and we were glued to the progression of the fire, burning in almost a perfect circle because of the lack of wind.
S. wanted our attention for the program to continue. Like most of the audience, I watched the fire. And then, I turned to him and watched him watching the crowd. I videotaped (and later gave it to him) the part where he called out, “hello? To me…to me. It’s just a fire. Don’t worry…okay,” he said as the realist in him came through (and the humor), “ok, watch the fire for a few minutes and then we’ll continue.”
I thought it so funny at the time. The humor, the acceptance. I didn’t know then what a wonderful role he would play in Shmulik’s life a few months later.
S. waited a few more minutes while the soldiers did their work and got the fire mostly under control and then he began again. He isn’t ashamed of his emotions – another thing he taught Shmulik. Shmulik saw his fury when they went to the site of a horrible terrorist attack in which two parents were murdered, leaving orphans behind. The rage burned inside him and yet he controlled his anger as he ordered troops into action and monitored the situation.
Shmulik learned about humor when S. told him to use the fast lane meant for cars with many passengers, “and me,” S. told him. And he learned about humor when S. laughed endlessly because Shmulik had made some cute CDs for S.’s daughters, never noticing that they were in English with Hebrew subtitles. When he asked Shmulik about the English, Shmulik answered that there were subtitles, which made S. laugh even harder. S.’s daughters couldn’t read Hebrew; couldn’t understand the English that was so natural to Shmulik.
Shmulik learned about arrogance as S. asked him why he was driving so slowly, pushed him to speeds that were necessary, and cautioned him to slow when conditions required it. He told Shmulik he was driving “like a girl” – and laughed when Shmulik responded back with a comment about S.’s family.
One of the things that meant the most to me was the fact that in his being this big commander of the base, S. is also humble in his way. At least when it comes to his wife, “she’s the fighter,” S. told thousands of people and it was clear that he meant it. “She’s what lets me be here.” While he is at the army several nights a week, his wife is home taking care of the family, a much harder job, he would have you believe, than his.
He was explaining where he lives, a bit about himself, “I’m married,” he explained, “and I have four daughters.” When he didn’t get the expected laugh, he said it again, “yes, four daughters.” This from a man who spends his life training young men to be fighters. I heard a similar speech a few weeks later when we attended Chaim’s ceremony. He and Shmulik were on the same base for a time and so a similar speech was made to the parents of Chaim’s unit. This time, people laughed right away and he grinned proudly.
The thing about S. was that he pushed his soldiers to find the best in themselves and he did it in a way that inspired them to want to reach down and find more. He inspired Shmulik with his dedication and his love of Israel. This is the land he defends and he treats his soldiers as his sons.
I know he’d like to have a son, but what came through each of the times he mentioned his family is that he is clearly a man in love with his ladies and felt that all children are gifts from God. He thought it was funny, I think, that here he is in a world of men, with a world of women at home. And the respect with which he spoke about his wife, how she is the support of the family, the true fighter, that showed what a man he is.
Shmulik works as a security guard now at the local mall. Several times, he has seen S. come to the mall with his daughters. “They walk behind him like a row of ducks,” Shmulik told me with a smile. “They just follow him and he knows they’re there!” And they remember him. The come running up to him and call him Abba’s chayal – their father’s soldier.
Last week, Shmulik told me that S.’s wife was expecting again – and today, he told me she gave birth to another daughter. Five daughters. Shmulik thinks that is very funny and wants to call him. Somehow, I have no doubt that S. is smiling too. Yup, he’s a man with five daughters and he remains an inspiration to hundreds of sons.
Mazel tov to S. and his wife, the fighter – I don’t know if you will ever truly understand what you give to your daughters…and to your sons.
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