June 11, 2024
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Parenting a Gaza Soldier: Coming Home

After four months of fighting in Gaza, our son Eitan finally came home. He was mobilized just four days before his official discharge and assigned to a unit of younger soldiers. At 21 he was the saba (grandfather) of his unit. He cut his hoger (army ID) in Gaza during a lull in the fighting and continued as a reservist until his tour of duty was over. That was when he left Gaza. But Gaza never really left him.

We were warned by friends and professionals that he might come home with baggage from his experience. We knew that being away from home would change him, even if he hadn’t been in a war zone. We expected him to be different, trying to prepare for the worst. But we weren’t prepared for his loudness.

Or his impatience.

Or his obsession with washing the floor every day, and intolerance when we were unable to meet his standards of cleanliness.

Or his denial that he was intolerant, obsessed, impatient and loud.

In order to help us cope, we joined an olim parent support group to get guidance from other parents with kids in the war or kids who were recently discharged. We learned that what we were going through was not uncommon. Kids come back with a whole range of reactions. They’re out of sync with home life, just like we were out of sync with his wartime life. So, we changed things up a bit. Instead of nitpicking about his irritating behavior, we started to point things out and tried hard to not put him on the defensive, to acknowledge what he was doing and get him to acknowledge it as well.

As the weeks went by more parents in the group started sharing and we discovered that we weren’t so bad off. The meetings helped. We grieved, we shared, we forgave, and eventually learned to cope with a tragedy that should never have happened, a war that was going on far too long, and what it all meant for us as olim parents who raised children into this war. In the process, we learned to listen and read between the lines even when Eitan was less than forthcoming about his time in Gaza.

For example, Eitan once let slip during a Shabbat lunch that a Hamas terrorist in civilian clothes once fired an anti-tank missile at the APC (armored personnel carrier) he was driving. Thank God it was a dud, and nobody got hurt. For him this was one more example of how “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply to Gaza. For us it was a reminder of how Eitan tried to spare us from worrying about him in Gaza and how much more he could have told us but did not.

Gaza taught Eitan not to alarm his parents. But even more notably, Gaza taught him to rely on himself.

Eitan has learned that the only standards that matter are the ones he sets for himself. As he explained, the day after his unit was pulled back from Gaza, they held a debriefing session with the army psychologist. The psychologist assured everyone that they were heroes and should be proud of the gains they made. However, Eitan vehemently objected. Hamas was still there. Most of the hostages were still there. How could anyone take pride in a failed mission?

Like other Israeli kids of his generation, Eitan witnessed unmentionable brutality firsthand. I, on the other hand, belong to a generation sandwiched between Holocaust and Gaza survivors. As a child I remember my parents spending long hours talking with other survivor friends, sometimes in Yiddish, sometimes in a language I could not understand. I can envision Eitan and Yoni doing that with their buddies, while my wife and I look on in confusion.

Nevertheless, we are learning how to get along with each other, smoothing the rough edges in our relationship. It’s hard, but fortunately, there are a number of qualified counselors and services in Israel who understand what we are going through and are ready to help, in addition to support groups such as ours. I can only hope that we can provide our kids with the support and guidance they need to go beyond this and move on, and that the nightmares of Gaza will not cloud their vision or darken their dreams for the future.


Rabbi Sid Slivko, who made aliyah in 1997, has twin sons who were born in Israel plus family in New Jersey and New York. He is community relations coordinator for Olim Paveway, which assists olim as they navigate through the klitah (absorption) maze and remains by their side as they build a new home in Israel, offering guidance, practical advice and moral support. Their website is www.olimpaveway.com.

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