Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson / Flash 90

Hillel (MTA graduating class 2016) completed his active army service on December 5th.

Aren’t you so relieved? Everyone keeps asking me.

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The truth? No. Somewhat. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Maybe? Maybe not.

As usual, my heart and my head are not always in sync and my ideals and dreams run wild while my head attempts to hold me grounded and in reality.

I loved Hillel’s dream. And love his current dream. Because really, it was my dream too.

But please, don’t tell him that. I try to convince him wherever I can slip it in that if he goes to YU, he only needs to come home every two months.

We view soldier life as dangerous, daring, grueling – and it is. Or so I have heard. Putting yourself directly in the face of the enemy. It is true. I heard stories from Hillel of times when there were Arabs on his left and Jews on his right. Everyone was throwing stones at him and there was no escape because he was the protector (along with Gd all around him) for the bystanders. That’s enough to make any mother’s stomach drop at lightening speed but all it did was make me cry in gratitude to Gd that he was okay and gratitude to Hillel that he was this brave species that blessed our family with his presence.

To be honest, when he was a soldier. I felt there was a special aura surrounding and protecting him. Do I still feel that way? Yes of course. In a different way. My connection to Gd during those 18 months was so strong because of the constant conversations I was having with Him and deals I was making. Keep my boy safe, please. Keep all of them safe. Because they are in Your land. Watching over Your people. But they are only boys and they are only as good as Your protection. WhatsApp was my lifesaver because I’d sleep with my phone by my side, wake up in the middle of the night and hopefully see the message, “I’m back”, or “have a great day ” and with one deep sigh, fall contently to sleep for those few precious hours.

The transition from army mom to civilian mom happened at lightening speed and as usual, I am two steps behind when acclimating to new situations that children seem to accept and jump into the present as if their new surroundings were the routines of yesteryear.

His army service, for me was an emotional roller coaster. Truth? It was not so much the army. The emotional roller coaster is still present and growing when I allow myself to admit that 21 years have past since he was born and he is in Israel. Far away. Doing what we raised him to do. Living the life outlined for us in the Torah. Far away. Motivated, determined and building roots. Far away. Notice my head and heart haven’t united just yet and is a work in progress.

Please stay, I want to say – always – at every moment. But as parents, we learn the hard way, that saying nothing is sometimes the best support you can give because the alternative is saying too much, of what we want for ourselves….but not what speaks to them and makes their hearts beat. As mothers, we are problem solvers. Always quick to offer advice, suggestions and words of affirmation. Sometimes, there is no solution and just acceptance for the blessings each situation has to offer. The more we seek those blessings, the greater they are.

Hillel is still considered a soldier under army rules and his current active duty is debating over pages of the Talmud, books of mussar and words of holiness. And me? How is my connection going? Admittedly, a bit weaker. Where is my sense of urgency? Just tonight there was a car ramming right next to where Hillel was. And he was spared. That’s Divine protection. So why isn’t my direct line flowing as freely these days? Why when I see soldiers, do I still cry tears of every emotion given to women, yet the tears taste different than months ago. These soldiers are ours, because they are all our children, and we passionately pray for all of them, but those soldiers mothers direct lines to Gd is something I envy and I wasn’t ready to let that go yet. Of course you may ask, why do you need to let it go? It’s there. Grab it…it’s yours.

I look at Yeshiva Hillel and his friends, in their civilian clothing and put them side by side with Soldier Hillel and his friends, in their army clothing and the two images look like different species. One rough, big, strong fierce and brave. Larger than life. The other normal, smaller not in statute but mere size, kind, benevolent and sweet.

With their checkered shirts and beige pants, you would never know all that they went through the past two years. They look like regular humans. Beneath those sweet, docile smiles on these boys lay strong, larger than life brave men who put themselves on the front lines for you and for me. And the other picture, of Soldier Hillel and his comrades show these huge, strong men where underneath they are really still boys, who need the same love and kindness that you wouldn’t think men in green would desire.

And so, I take lessons from that. We look and see things but we don’t know. We don’t know what people have been through. Whether their exterior shows a gentle touch or rough edges, whether they wear a smile or a frown or a growl or a grin… our job is to be kind and compassionate to everyone we encounter. Everyone has a story and just like the soldiers who make a better day by making the world a safer place to be through physical actions, they -and we – have a job to make a better day today and tomorrow, by making the world a safer place to be emotionally through kindness, compassion and empathy. My direct line is still there. I’m relearning how to use it in the way that feels right and constant. Thank you soldiers and civilians who join together under different personas and fulfill the roles you are meant to fill at the needed times.

We appreciate and value all of you in every way.

(The author, Vicky Krief is a mother of three, in Edison NJ. Her oldest son recently completed his active duty as a lone soldier in Israel)

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