Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Yisrael Meir, our just turned twenty-two-year-old, long payot-adorned soldier son is our ben zekunim (son of our old age). There are drawbacks of having older parents. Whereas with the older five, we would go on all sorts of trips, by the time numbers six and seven arrived, we had reduced energy and stayed home more. There was also a lot less romping and sporting around with the younger boys.

But there are benefits as well. For instance, our ben zekunim had a head start with his army service. He has four brothers who served in the army, and two of them were in the tank corps and at the same base as Yisrael Meir. They passed on all sorts of useful and important information to their baby brother such as how to sleep with your rifle so that your commander can’t take it from you when you are counting the zzz’s. He was taught how to clean his rifle in a better manner. He was told when it was best to keep a low profile.

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Having our baby drafted was the hardest draft for me. Yisrael Meir is so sensitive, shy, quiet, introspective, slim and yeshivish. How would he get accustomed to the harsh mentally and physically challenging, and restrictive army life? I was nervous for him, but to my delight, on the day of his induction he said that he felt happy to be going into the IDF. That was a major relief for me.

One cold winter day, Yisrael Meir came home from the army without a jacket. I asked him, “Where is your army jacket?” Despite his brothers having given over their army prowess to Yisrael Meir about guarding his possessions, someone stole Yisrael Meir’s jacket from his unlocked duffle bag while Yisrael Meir was out in the field doing tank maneuvers. Yisrael Meir told me that he was wearing an insulated undershirt under his uniform, so he wasn’t so cold.

Yiddishe Mama that I am, I asked him how he could get another jacket. He didn’t know. Since I volunteer in a clothing gemach I told him that I would look in the special section for soldiers. (By the way, the gemach does not charge for army clothing, kippot ,and tzizzit.) I kept my eyes open for an army jacket. One time I was excited to find one, but it wasn’t the kind that he needed. Oh well!

Yisrael Meir is such an excellent soldier that his commander told him that he wanted him to go into the training course for commanders. Now, as I mentioned, Yisrael Meir is extremely introspective. He thinks and thinks and thinks about issues. He finally told his commander that he was not interested in becoming a commander. His commander would not take no for an answer. He even called up our son Eliyahu Yeshaya, who had been his tank commander, thiking that perhaps Eliyahu Yeshaya could persuade Yisrael Meir to pick up the gauntlet.

Various army people spoke with Yisrael Meir, but he was not convinced that he is appropriate to become a tank commander. Yisrael Meir also spoke to some of his brothers about it. Two of them felt that it would be good for getting him to overcome his shyness and that being a commander would really build him up. One of our sons told me that he was unsure as to what would be better for Yisrael Meir given that he is such a sensitive and sweet person.

For months, the decision plagued our youngest son. I davened that he make the right decision. (In my heart of hearts, I wanted him not to become a commander so that he would get back to yeshiva as originally planned, as well as start in shidduchim.)

In the end, the decision was made for him following one of those long army marches with tons of kilos on the back and at times, helping to carry a stretcher with a “wounded” soldier outstretched upon it. Yisrael Meir’s knees became very painful and swollen. In phone conversations we (his parents) and Eliyahu Yeshaya encouraged him to keep pestering the commander to allow him to see a doctor. It took approximately two weeks, but finally a doctor checked him out. He was given permission to sit down for guard duty, and he didn’t take part in various physical exercises and marches. There was no way that he could train other soldiers with this medical issue.

Then came the “week of war” wherein the soldiers needed to remain in their tanks nearly all of the time. It was the finale of their accelerated and advanced two-month training program. One evening that week at about 9:00 p.m. we received a message from Yisrael Meir that, at 10:00 p.m. there would be a graduation ceremony. We watched it online and I was able to spot Yisrael Meir, among all of the other similarly-clad soldiers with masks hiding most of their features, by his long payot!

The next day he came home and had a story to tell. Before the graduation ceremony, all of the soldiers had to bring in all of their army belongings to the logistics officer who checked that each soldier had all of the army gear that had been given to him in the beginning of his service. Just to explain: in the army there are madei aleph and madei bet, “A” uniforms and “B” uniforms. Madei aleph is worn for army ceremonies and for going out in public. Madei bet are the work clothes. If a soldier lacks a certain item then it will cost him to have it replaced.

When it came Yisrael Meir’s turn to show the officer all of his army gear, the officer asked our son where his madei aleph jacket was. It had to be worn for the ceremony that night. Yisrael Meir explained that his madei aleph jacket had been stolen. Instead of being reprimanded and charged hundreds of shekels, the officer just handed Yisrael Meir a brand new jacket!

During Shabbat he told us that there was more to the story of the jacket. He told us that there were a few unclaimed madei bet jackets from the field. He thought of taking one, washing it and hoping it would pass for madei aleph. But after giving it much thought he decided not to, since it belonged to the platoon and he had not gotten permission to take it. Just because someone had stolen his jacket, did not mean that he could take an unclaimed jacket.

Honesty is always the best policy, even if we don’t see immediate and positive results!

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Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer who has been living in Israel since 1981.