You know how sometimes you want to tell someone something and that person is a leader, an important person a recognized individual who could walk in the street and everyone would know who he is? That’s how it is with Israel and Former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi was in command when Israel went to war in Gaza in 2008.
He ordered our sons to battle, to defend against hundreds of rockets that were being fired against over one million Israelis. He put our sons into Gaza, into the open fields that bordered it. One of those soldiers was Elie.
Two years before, in 2006, Ashkenazi’s predecessor, Dan Chalutz sent our sons to a border and beyond. That time, it was Lebanon, and Chalutz – who came from the air force – started a war by air. He miscalculated on many issues, finally sending in the ground forces – too late, with not enough supplies, goals that were not clear. Lebanon was a failure in many ways and Gabi Ashkenazi studied and learned. Not just him, of course, but the entire army.
Moments after hearing Ashkenazi and an impressive panel (Dennis Ross, Ms. Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, etc. – but that’s another post), hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand people began moving to a hallway and the next session. I walked in one direction, greeted two friends, continued walking, and then suddenly found myself a few feet away from Gabi Ashkenazi.
You have a split second to decide – talk to him or don’t. Say something, or not. In a session where everyone else spoke English, he understood clearly all the discussions, but chose to speak in Hebrew. I did the same.
“I have to tell you. My son was in the Gaza war and because you were there, I believed he would be safe. I just wanted to thank you for watching over him and all of them. It was so important to us, that you did what you did, as you did it.”
“You don’t look old enough to have a soldier,” he told me.
“I’m even a grandmother,” I told him with a smile. “I even have a grandson.”
“I’m still waiting for my first,” he responded with a laugh.
I knew he had to go and others were trying to get his attention. “I just wanted to thank you,” I told him again and began to step back.
He touched the area close to his heart and said to me, “I’m very touched. Thank you.”
That’s all – silly, no? I just have always wanted to tell him that what he did, how he handled the troops, how he conducted the war, had a tremendous impact on what we all accomplished and somehow gave many parents some tiny bit of security at a time when we all felt so afraid, so worried.
I feel as if somewhere in the story that is my life there is a list of things I have to complete – and one of them was thanking Gabi Ashkenazi. I have many more things I want to see and do and genuinely pray I have another 70 years or so to accomplish all of them, but this one was one I thought I’d never have a chance to do. For this alone, if nothing else, I thank Peres’ President’s Conference.
Paula R. Stern