When our son phoned to say he was coming over with his wife and children, my husband said, “Fine, we’re home tonight, and for a change there’s real food. Ima prepared supper for other family members that are on their way over.”
It was a pleasure to see our youngest son and his family. It always is, but the pleasure lasted just a short while. We soon discovered that Reuven came to say good-bye. He had been called up in what is known in Israel as Tzav Shmonah – Command #8, the emergency notification for reserve duty.
“Maybe this time you can use your wife and children as an excuse not to serve,” I suggested. But Reuven didn’t bother answering. He expected a higher degree of acknowledged obligation on his mother’s part, equal to his own strong sense of responsibility for Am Yisrael.
We’ve been in and out of wars so many times since our aliyah in 1960, but this is the first time we parted from a loved one called up to serve in the middle of war, while rockets fall, day and night, from north to south. It’s not easy.
I remember the first time I was caught in war, a young wife and mother in 1967. Some neighbors didn’t bother to come down to the shelter even though there was a steady barrage from the Jordanians in East Jerusalem fired directly at us. One neighbor’s reaction was, “I’ve been through four wars, so what’s another?”
A second neighbor asked my permission to walk my daughter home from kindergarten under heavy shellfire. “I know how to walk through fire, I lived through this in ’48,” she assured me.
I was so taken by these brave women – they knew how to walk through war, and didn’t show signs of the stomachaches and pains I suffered. And then I witnessed one older woman bless her six sons, each dressed in his army fatigues, before they left to battle in a defensive war against enemies wishing to destroy Israel. I thought, surely Israel will be at peace with her neighbors by the time my son grows up.
All these years later, our two sons and two daughters are grown men and women with families of their own, and even our grandson is a paratroop reserve officer. Six wars plus the Intifada brings me to my eighth war in 46 years. Once again Israelis are called upon to defend their right to this land. I repeatedly recite verses of Tehillim to keep my fears at bay. Unlike my neighbors of yore, I’ve never learned to walk through shellfire.
This morning I met an old acquaintance named Diane, and she reminded me of the beginning of our business association during the 1991 Gulf War. She and her husband had opened a new business, gift baskets filled with sweets, prepared and delivered according to their clients’ wishes. They had advertised for the first time shortly before the war, and she remembered that I was first to respond to their newspaper ad.
During the opening week of the war my husband’s brother passed away, and he was brought to kvura on Har Hamnuchot in Jerusalem. At the shiva, there were times when Scuds fell, and more than once we had to take people into our sealed room, which for us was our bedroom.
Purim was approaching. We were in the habit of preparing mishloach manot packages for business associates, and up until that year I prepared the packages myself. But the thought of preparing packages from my sealed room turned me off. When I saw the ad I thought it would be easier to have someone else do the preparation. Someone else’s sealed room was surely better than my own.
I phoned the new company with its first order for Purim. I wanted something original, and rather than a regular basket I suggested we buy shoulder bags sewn especially as a carry-around for our gas masks.
“What will you do with the bags when the war is over?” Diane asked. “They’ll be useless.”
“Don’t worry,” I answered. “They can be conveniently converted for use as small carry-on travel bags.”
The bags were filled with all sorts of sweets and wrapped festively. The night Diane’s husband, Rick, delivered the packages to us turned out to be the night the last Scud fell. At the time, of course, we had no way of knowing that. We took Rick into our odor-filled, sealed bedroom and kibitzed with him, “If we’re stuck here at least we have lots of chocolates and wine to drink our way through Purim.”