army, Army mom, Israel at war

From Soldier to Civilian

Recently, my oldest son finished his army service. I remember the piece that I wrote over seven years ago, the day that we got his Tzav Rishon, his first call to the army. I wrote, at that time, about the Zionist dream and the Zionist obligation; how we made aliyah to be part of the story of our people; and how that story involves the obligation and the privilege to defend.

I finished my post by writing, “My grandfather, Jerry Weinhouse, was the last person in my family to don a uniform. He fought for America in World War II, earning two purple hearts. And now, his first grandson will be putting on a uniform that didn’t exist when he was fighting the Nazis. A uniform that was just a dream, a 2,000-year-old prayer. And that is now a reality.”

For close to four years, my son has been putting that uniform on day and night, and risking his life every single day. He’s been in one of those “how-do-you-possibly-sleep?” units, and we’ve been bursting with pride and fear since he started. Not once did we ever hear him complain about the merciless basic training, the sleepless nights, the challenging missions or the endless demands. We watched him, in awe, for all of these years as he trained and performed, listened and acted.

And now it’s “over”, or as over as he can feel knowing that he’s been told to be prepared for a miluim call-up soon.

Had he finished when his original unit did in August, I believe we would have been left with immense pride and great relief. With the changing landscape since October 7, we are left with those emotions; but, we are also left with his inevitable return, anxiety for those still held captive, mourning for those who have been lost, grief for the stories of those who have survived, and worry for those still displaced.

I marvel at the length of his service, at the commitment that he has shown to our country; his service was long enough for a child born when he started to now be in 4-year-old nursery school; for an 18-year-old at the time who started college in America to be about to graduate.

What has he seen? And experienced? Those questions concerned me before October 7, but have only intensified since. He has buried childhood friends, high school friends, army friends; he has searched for captives and bodies in hospitals in Gaza, fought alongside those who were injured and those who were killed and worked to save lives on the battlefield. He has seen and heard things he can speak about, and those that are still resting in his soul and about which he can’t, yet, share.

Before October 7, this day would have meant a sense of freedom, a chance to travel far and wide, an ability to think about the next steps and to sit for the psychometry exam for university. Since October 7, this day means a bit of breathing room, a chance to travel for a short trip, and the need to wait until he is called back to miluim. There is no planning for the future yet, just a fragile and hopeful sense of respite. A chance to try to feel like a civilian again, if only for a little while.

The moment of release from the army, of cutting the choger (military card), is such a strange one. There is no ceremony for doing so, no specific demarcation from life as a soldier to life as a civilian. I reached out to a few role models in my life to ask for guidance. Are there brachot (blessings) that we can say or that our son can say? Is there something specific that we can do beyond benching gomel (which he’s done already)? They suggested saying shechiyanu, and reciting either Tehillim 100 or Tehillim 106. We also made a donation in his honor to his unit and to a few other locations.

And what will he do? As is typical for this stoic, Zionistic, brave son of mine, he will simply cut the card, walk off into the short-lived sunset and briefly start to think about the rest of his life.

Until he is called back, again.

This was first published at Times of Israel.

1 thought on “From Soldier to Civilian

  1. I well recall your writing seven years ago and can’t believe that this much time has elapsed. May he sleep more easily and spend time with family and friends. You, and we, are so proud of this committed
    zionist and hope his future will be brighter.

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