May 28, 2024
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Parents’ Day at Elie’s Base

We recently participated in Parents’ Day at the paratrooper base where our son Elie is training. Parents are ordinarily prohibited from visiting their children at this base; this is due not just to security concerns, but “in order to blur differences and emphasize unity” (i.e., allowing visits would create a situation where some soldiers are visited much more often than others). As not every military base even has a Parents’ Day, Sarah and I were especially happy for the opportunity.

Elie’s base is located about an hour and a half south of our home. The day’s program started with “live fire” demonstrations. As we waited in the stands with several hundred other visitors, Sarah and I shifted uneasily. In the foreground of the staging area were three cement houses, each with a Palestinian flag flying atop it.

The demonstrations began with sharpshooting. Two camouflaged sharpshooters popped balloons tied in place in the middle of a hill at a distance of about half a mile away. Then we were shown how paratroopers capture a hill (through a series of “charges”). Those cement Arab houses were now put to use. Teams of soldiers surrounded each house. We heard over the loudspeaker a holed-up suspect being told in Arabic to come out with his hands up. The suspect instead shot at the troops, who then returned fire and were able to capture him alive with the help of a dog biting into his leg. (Interesting side point about army dogs: once their jaws have clamped down upon a suspect, there is no verbal command in the world that will cause the dogs to release their hold; only their trainer through a tactile prompt will cause them to open their jaws.) Sarah and I were sitting there a bit stunned. All around us it seemed that we were in a version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. There was tremendous excitement in the air, and kids as well as adults stood right by the front of the staging area to get better views. But we were thinking: Heck, this is dangerous stuff.

The demonstrations ended with parachute instructors performing freestyle glides down to our viewing area. (Several weeks later, Elie earned his parachuting badge through several “regular” jumps, both during the day and at night.) Parents’ Day continued with addresses by the base commander and by Elie’s unit commander, and then finally we got to see Elie in his barracks. I guess Elie, who still sleeps at our house with a big guy in a bunk bed (his brother Ezra), felt right at home—only here there were 16 big guys in eight bunk beds in his room.

Elie’s base is known throughout the Israel Defense Forces for its relatively luxurious facilities. Indeed, the base reminded us of a sprawling, attractive college campus. And the boys—new recruits as well as their commanders—are college-aged. Yet, every time you visit a college campus, whether for orientation, graduation or reunion, and you see large numbers of youngsters, you feel only good things: pride, youthful energy, hope for the future, etc. Here at Parents’ Day, Sarah and I had very mixed feelings. Of course we were proud of Elie and his comrades, but these young people were brought together in order to learn exactly what to do should their country ask them to put their lives at risk. So amid the pride, there was plenty of anxiety, fear and worry for Sarah and me. However, we did not sense this among the native Israeli parents. Perhaps they also felt this way but were better able to hide it?

While Sarah and I are never going to learn how to support Elie without betraying any anxiety, I assume that our children will be much better at this with our grandchildren. Yes, we can hope and work toward a more peaceful status quo with the Palestinians and with our other neighbors in the Middle East, but Israel is going to need an army for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, we have the IDF.

By Teddy Weinberger

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