July 11, 2024
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July 11, 2024
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I traveled to Israel a few weeks ago to see my daughter Eliora at her “tekes,” her acceptance ceremony into the Israel Defense Forces. Because we were in an active war zone, parents (i.e. civilians) were not permitted on base to attend. I did see Eliora, in Yerushalayim, the day after she was inducted. She was in her full uniform with her new purple string and pin indicating that she was now part of the IDF’s human resources division as a ma’sh’ki’tash. As an advocate/social worker for the troops on the base where she is assigned, her job is to help soldiers with their problems. We were planning to spend Shabbat together.

A war zone is defined as an area in which military combat takes place. In an inactive war zone, like Israel, laundry, lunch, grocery shopping, surfing, sitting in an outdoor cafe, walking your child to camp, taking the bus to work are done without thought. Daily life and responsibilities go on, but there is a deep-seated thought in everyone’s mind, an unconscious alertness, even when war seems far away. “I need to be mindful of the matzav, the situation.” Even a lonely garbage bag sitting on a sidewalk can become an object to fear—but generally, you just bury the thought and forget about the bag…unless it’s really suspicious.

In an active war zone the thought process is very different. Every object is a threat. And you need to know where to run to when the sirens go off, so you need to look around, see where you are and where the protection is. You have only seconds to run and hope they miss.

On July 7, I was on the beach in Tel Aviv with my cousins. Down south, as usual, it was raining rockets—and had been for weeks. We cousins had gathered on the beach, coming from New Jersey, Texas and California for a fun-filled vacation. We were three adults and five children. The kids range in age from 5 to 16. Four people were in the water, one adult and three of the older children. Two adults and two children were on the beach making sand castles

Then the 90 second siren sounded and it took several seconds to realize what we were hearing. It took another few seconds to decide—do we swoop up the children that are with us and run, or does one of us go warn those that are swimming? I look up and see our family struggling to get out of the water, so we grab the kids and run to the retaining wall for shelter.

A boom blasts in the sky as we run. We look up and see smoke. B’H, the Iron Dome worked! A miracle! (Most consider the Iron Dome a technical achievement. Others consider it a miracle coming at a time when the people of Israel need protection—and Hashem provided the knowledge to build it. I like to compare this to Parshas Pekudei and Bezalel. Am Yisrael was in the desert and they were instructed to build the Tabernacle. They were given complex instructions. Who could possibly build that which had never been built or even seen before? It was the foresight and ability of one man who was placed in that time and in that place to perform the task; so, too, with the Iron Dome team.)

How much real time was left to run? At best, I have 75 seconds. See how far you can get running on a sandy beach carrying a 5-year-old, or desperately swimming to shore to begin your run to safety in that timeframe. A few minutes later, Bibi broadcasts that Israel is at war with Hamas.

Early the next morning, at 7:30, we wake the little one to go to camp, just across the street. She gets dressed and crosses the street alone. At 8:30 most of the rest of the house is sleeping. The siren goes off. Did the siren wake them or did my shouting? Within seconds we are in the hallway. Stay away from windows and be in an alcove that is hopefully reinforced.

What do you grab? Should I take my purse with my ID in it? As it turns out I didn’t, I just ran out to the hallway. But what if I was caught in the midst of an explosion? What if a search team was looking for people alive or dead? How would they be able to identify me if I don’t have my passport near me or on me? What if the siren had gone off when the youngest of our family was crossing the street? Where would she run? Should an adult run to her and be with her in the camp’s shelter? Or do we bring her to the building’s alcove which is closer? You have 90 seconds…

Over the next few days, my family members and I were in various places when the siren sounded—in shul, in a restaurant, food shopping, walking to the bank, doing routine things as if they were routine days.

My first day in Yerushalayim was Thursday, July 10. I was walking through the Yafo Gate to meet Eliora when the siren sounded. Yafo Gate leads right into the Arab and Armenian quarter, so one could be lulled into believing that might be the safest place on earth from Arab rockets—but Hamas didn’t care, even if it hit the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount! Then what would have happened?

I ran back and ducked under the gate, and the booms were practically overhead. B’H! The Iron Dome had taken out rockets headed for the Old City.

Eliora and I were able to spend Shabbat together. She told me how she helped a number of soldiers get through their fear and anxiety in the first few days of the attacks. She has a soothing way about her; she exudes confidence and has great skill when calming down a situation amd is perfect for her new, important job. But Shabbat was not completely peaceful.

While walking back from the Kotel after davening Mincha, we heard the siren. Fortunately for us we were near an open building and ran into the foyer to wait out the alarm. Later in the evening Eliora insisted on business as usual…we went out to a restaurant for the best pizza and beer in Yerushalayim. We sat outside enjoying the light of the full moon and the cool breeze. I asked if she would take Sunday off to be with me, since lone soldiers are permitted to spend up to 30 days a year with parents who come to see them from chutz l’aretz. Eliora replied, “Ima, it is my first day on a new base in a new job and they will need me because I am replacing someone who is leaving. And anyway, there’s a war on!”

How do I argue with that?

Sunday morning at 6:30 am, Eliora was dressed and packed to get the light rail to the Central Bus Station of Yerushalayim. I held her close, trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears. I am so proud of the responsible woman she has become. In her own words she writes: “About eight years ago today I made the decision to join the Israeli army as rockets began to rain down on northern Israel. Today, rockets are still raining down on Israel in the south and the north. However, this time I am in the army and doing what I can for my nation.”

This is Eliora’s third active war zone. The first was when we got caught in Nahariya on the first day the rockets fell in 2006. Next she was in Israel in November/December of 2012 when rockets rained down on Yerushalayim and now, this.

I returned to the relative safety of New Jersey on July 14, crying all the way. I am leaving my only child in an active war zone, to defend our people from evil created by the unending hate of Klal Yisrael.

May HaKadosh Baruch Hu continue to protect us with his umbrella of miracles over the Jewish State of Israel. Am Yisrael Chai!!

By Varda Hager Mother of a Lone Soldier from Teaneck

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