From Boys to Men: A Mother’s Reflections

As usual, there was a traffic jam as families of combat soldiers who had taken the commander’s course streamed toward Latrun. This is the site of a huge battle in 1948, at the entrance to the Ayalon Valley. Whoever controlled that site controlled the access to Jerusalem. It is now the home of the Armored Tank Corps. It is also where the ceremony would be held, and we waited, impatiently, for the traffic to begin to move.

As the car crept forward, my daughter became increasingly agitated wondering if we would miss the ceremony altogether.

“Why do this in the middle of the day?” she lamented.

“If they had done it later, we would also have rush hour to deal with,” I said reasonably. Slowly, slowly, the car inched forward.

Finally, we parked illegally and walked. We met our other children, who had taken a train from Tel Aviv and we all waited happily and excitedly.

“Do you see him? Do you see him? There he is!”

I began to wave and jump, although in the sea of soldiers, all standing on the stage, I couldn’t make out an individual. I found out later, that he had seen me!

We sat, or some of us did. People behind us asked others to move and sit so that they could see. One particularly nervous woman began yelling at another.

“You don’t behave as though you are the family of a commander!” she huffed.

This is quite a big deal, to be a commander in a Special Forces unit.

I sat, as the speech began.

These boys are those among the very committed. No one has to join a Special Forces unit. It takes dedication, perseverance and a desire to have one’s service count. The physical and psychological demands are above those of a regular soldier, and those demands are high.

To be a commander is one step beyond. My boy has also become a medic. He is taking his service very seriously.

As we sat in this significant and even sacred spot, which is also the spot where Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, I shared a bond and deep sense of sacredness and comraderie with all of Israel. A woman smiled at me.

“Exciting and full of feeling, right?” she said.

“Very much so,” I agreed. “He is my baby.”

“Also mine,” she said. “He is my youngest, too.”

Soon we stood to sing the haunting and familiar, hopeful and bittersweet refrain of HaTikva. The soldiers threw their caps in the air and began to dance and hug each other and embrace in circles.

The families rushed up to the stage. The strap of my bag got caught and a man gently helped remove it. Everyone was one family. They were all our sons. We were very proud.

My husband ran to us panting, having missed the ceremony while looking for a place to park, and we all gathered to take pictures and to go to a restaurant to eat hamburgers.

He came home for a few days with the usual mud encrusted clothing and took a long, hot shower. Within hours, he was out with friends, some of whom he had met in the course.

A slice of Israeli life. A slice of joy and bittersweet longing.

And I pray my usual prayer. “Be safe. Don’t hurt or get hurt. Come home.”

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion, April 1, 2016.