Sometimes all we know of war half a world away is what the commanders choose to tell us. We hear of casualties and body counts. Television news videos show us exploding bombs and billowing clouds of smoke in the distance.
We hear far less about the personal anguish of those who live with fear every day because there is no escaping it — and a mother’s worries for her son’s safety on the front lines. It is a fear that an American-born Israeli, a teacher at the American International School in Even Yehuda, not far from Tel Aviv, knows intimately.
What follows is an email sent from Rebecca Kimelman to Mari Davies, a friend in Toledo, describing that emotional journey in the context of a one-day furlough of her army son, a 20-year-old sergeant, from this month’s fighting at the Gaza front. It is printed with both women’s permission:
Hi loved ones,
I brought Eden back to his base yesterday after his 24-hour furlough. It was an important 24 hours for all.
For Eden, these 24 hours were an opportunity to refuel his batteries. We fed him well, relaxed together poolside, and had lots of quality conversations. None of his friends were home, which meant he didn’t have to try to run from place to place or split his time, leaving him a clean opportunity to unwind and sleep in.
While he desperately wants to hook up with his peers, I think their absence was, in this circumstance, a blessing in disguise. Unfortunately, many of his friends will be home this weekend, and he isn’t allowed to come home. That truly is a huge bummer for him!
For the family, these 24 hours allowed us to learn about his reality while in Gaza and on the border, check his emotional status, and simply be grateful that he returned from Gaza safe and whole.
Eden shared many stories and fielded our “touchy feely” questions with patience, insight, and honesty. I think the “downloading” he did was as healthy a process for him as it was for us. And the hugs we bestowed on Eden were mutually therapeutic.
For me, Jesus! I am still processing what he has been through, and I have to admit, I am still shaking. The most powerful part of his 24 hours for me was the drive back to his base, just him and me, during which he was my captive “prisoner.”
I started the drive by telling him that I was going to be selfish the entire drive by asking the same questions we’d already asked, but wanting the answers in English (he garbles his words so much that I struggle greatly to understand what he’s saying in Hebrew). He indulged me patiently, repeating as necessary, and I feel the conversation was a true balm for me.
What stood out most to me in our conversation was his expression of fear and his lack of expression of discomfort (which was great, but he is not a complainer). He told us that he was proud to be able to do his share on the Gaza front, but shared that among the lowest moments for him were the two times he thought his team would have to go back in.
I asked him if he had any regrets that he had left his former unit, which had no involvement in the Gaza situation. “None at all,” he said. “This [Gaza experience] is why I joined the Israeli Army.” But he added, “When I leave the army in another year, I don’t want to ever hold a gun again!” That did my soul good.
No one knows what the future will bring here in Israel, but the recent resurgence of terrorist attacks are the bread and butter of Eden’s unit. He approaches his army job in the usual Eden way: calmly, confidently, and without complaining.
And until he finishes his service, I will return to the status I assumed prior to Gaza: Head buried in the sand. What makes this experience bearable is that I can find him on his phone and enjoy a frequent exchange of goofy text messages (I love his sense of humor!).
Moving on. The uniforms in the laundry Eden brought home were spanking new. I assume the army garb he wore in Gaza has been burned, and that’s fine with me. I have a new appreciation of safety and life, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Recognizing the many gifts I’ve been given now helps stop the shaking.
One final full-volume thank you for your support throughout this nightmare. May this be my absolute last chapter in this Operation Protective Edge saga.
With all my love, Reb
Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His feature, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org