Israel received the coffins of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in exchange for the release of the brutal murderer Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah terrorists and a number of terrorist corpses on the very day we went with our family to Latrun for our grandson’s graduation from basic training.
We were on the way to the Armored Tank Division base between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, close to Ramle, when we heard on the radio that instead of our missing, living soldiers, for whose safe return we had been hoping and praying, we were receiving their bodies. No doubt they were killed in the initial operation in 2006 and Hizbullah had been playing mind games with their families and our nation ever since.
So it was with heavy hearts that we entered Latrun, despite a semi-picnic atmosphere on that very hot July day. The families of the soldiers had brought food and drink and we had some time to talk with them before the official program began.
Our grandson Shmuel, 21 and married just three months ago, had earned his orange cap in the chilutz v’hatzola (search and rescue) unit, and we watched under the scorching sun as he and his comrades marched, presented arms, received their caps, etc.. This all led up to the singing of Hatikvah, our national anthem, which never fails to bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. The soldiers threw their caps into the air in celebration of a few days’ leave before their next posting.
This ceremony is not new to me. We had gone through it in the 1980’s when our own four children were in the army. We have also seen other grandsons complete training in both the IDF and the Israeli Air Force. In a year or two, other grandchildren will join them.
It doesn’t get any easier. One boy, just 16, spent part of his school holidays in Eilat taking a diving course and learning how to hold his breath underwater without an oxygen tank. He has informed his parents he wants to be a Navy Seal, one of the most dangerous jobs he could choose. His older brother is serving in a bomb squad.
And all the time, the question in my mind is: What if? What if we had not made aliyah? What if we’d remained in the safety of Australia, my birthplace? Would these young people now be graduating college rather than completing army training, preparing not for war but rather a career and a financially secure future?
The truth is, had we not moved here we would not have had these particular grandchildren. Our children would not have served in the Army or married their Israeli partners. We would probably have had other well-loved grandchildren, but not the 18 who are the fruit of our aliyah, and I can’t imagine life without any of them.
The price we have paid is very high and the chances are that things will not be different should we be blessed with great-grandchildren. With enemies on every border, terrorists even with Israeli passports, Hamas and Fatah actively encouraging suicide bombings, and rockets continuing to rain down on cities like Sderot, Middle East peace still seems an impossible dream.
Despite all this, I could not imagine living anywhere else. This is our country, our people. I feel so privileged to wake up every morning in Jerusalem, where the most mundane tasks take on a special significance just because they are happening in this holy, mystical city.
Hope has been described as the waking man’s dream, and this is what sustains us. Hope – Hatikvah. And that is why, no matter how often I stand to sing the words about a free people in our own land, the tears will flow. But, as always, I will feel indescribably proud.