June 6, 2024
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Parenting a Soldier in the Gaza War: An Oleh’s Story

On Oct. 7, my wife and I sent our son to Gaza.

I was getting ready to go to shul. Eitan and Yoni, our twin sons, were already out when the sirens sounded in Yerushalayim. “Why is there a siren on Shemini Atzeret?” was my first thought. My second thought was “Where are the kids?” Half an hour later, they came home to tell us that Hamas was attacking from Gaza. We all went into our safe room and turned on the radio to listen for updates. Two hours later the call came. Eitan, only four days away from his discharge, was going to war.

Eitan was an armored personnel carrier (APC) mechanic with no combat training. Yoni, who was in combat intelligence, had been studying at home for the last two months after he was discharged. Ironically, he was not called back.

Michele and I had lived through a number of military operations and “intifadas” since moving here, but no war. After our two sabras were born, we hoped and prayed they’d be spared even as we prepared them for military service. We made sure they went to the right kindergarten and grade school because school friends can grow up to be brothers in arms. We encouraged them to learn coding or develop other skills that keep them far from the front line. We hired consultants to keep them from choosing combat.

In the end, combat chose them.

For Michele and I, the Gaza war was a game of emotional whack-a-mole. At night we tried to suppress our anxiety with faith, praying that everything would be over soon, that Eitan would come back, and that Yoni would not get the call. (He did volunteer from time to time despite not being called to active duty). We were proud of both our kids who were strong and unafraid, but anxious for our son in Gaza.

Much of the anxiety was because before they went into Gaza the unit commander confiscated everyone’s cell phones. Each day we didn’t hear from Eitan left a void that we would inevitably fill with dark imaginings. The daily news always began with the ominous “We are permitted to announce …” opening, followed by the names of the latest casualties. We’d breathe a sigh of relief when Eitan’s name was not on the list, but the relief lasted only until the next news report.

My wife and I would doomscroll through our social media and choose which funeral service to attend or which shiva call to make. Maybe God would count that in our favor.

I made it a ritual to WhatsApp Eitan at the end of every day even though he would only have occasional use of his cell phone. I’d update him on family news, send memes. Jokes, jokes and quotes from his favorite philosophers. Michele corresponded with other IDF parents on WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger. I joined a Tehillim group and made sure to read “his” Chapter (89) every day. I prayed for the soldiers and hostages even if I did not make it to shul. It put my mind at ease.

However, the most prevalent emotion we felt was guilt — guilt for raising our kids here and putting them in the line of fire. But there was also survivor guilt when other soldiers Eitan’s age were killed or wounded. In my mind, every bullet or rocket that targeted another soldier gave me false reassurance that it was one less for Eitan.

Finally, there was also sorrow — the sorrow for a whole generation of Israelis who lost their lives, their limbs or even their faith. But to their credit, they never lost their sense of purpose.

At one point, when Eitan had a day off and we were permitted to visit him on base near Gaza, I brought him an IDF siddur. I knew the war was filling him with doubt. He had seen death and destruction striking innocent and not-so-innocent without reason or regard. I didn’t demand that he pray. I could not coerce his belief. However, I did ask him to keep it with him and occasionally look for a meaningful phrase or passage. I also told him to be sure to bring it back to me when he does return.

When he was finally released in February, he brought it back. The pages were well-worn.


Rabbi Sid Slivko, who made aliyah in 1997, is community relations coordinator for Olim Paveway, which personally assists olim as they navigate through the klitah [absorption] maze and remain by their side as they settle in their new Israeli homes, offering advice and providing moral support and more. He is currently meeting with olim in America to help them prepare for challenges they will face as they make their new home in Israel. In addition to Eitan and Yoni, he has a son and daughter living in Fort Lee and Port Washington, New York respectively.

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