While Ilan and his wife prepared for the Sabbath on Friday in their Petah Tikva home, their son Haim, 23, an IDF officer, was engaged in a shoot-out with terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
It had been almost a month since they last saw him, although they had spoken with him intermittently since he entered Gaza with the ground forces.
“The food was on the plata [electric warmer], the table was set, my wife was about to light candles when the phone rang,” Ilan told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
It was an unidentified number.
He answered it anyway and almost didn’t recognize his son’s voice as Haim uttered one of the sentences Ilan dreaded most when worrying about worstcase scenarios that could occur in Gaza.
“I’m wounded and in Soroka [University Medical Center],” Haim told his father.
Before total panic could set in, a doctor got on the phone and explained that the wounds were not serious and his son would recover.
“I asked about Haim’s face,” Ilan recalled in his son’s hospital room. “He [the doctor] said that his face was fine.”
Once Ilan hung up the phone he remained calm as he and his wife quickly sent four of their six children to neighbors. Since it was Shabbat, the army arranged for a taxi with a non-Jewish driver to bring them to Beersheba.
They took one of their daughters with them. They left so quickly that they brought only the clothes they were wearing.
Ilan, a rabbi, said he didn’t even pause to take a prayer book and shawl, assuming that the hospital would have such items.
Ilan said he and his wife had been nervous from the moment Haim entered Gaza.
“My wife is a mother with a mother’s heart,” he said. “She was glued to the news day and night. She slept with difficulty.”
He himself attempted to go about his normal routine. “I tried to only think positive thoughts,” he said. “In my heart I was very worried.”
They remained fearful in the taxi despite the doctor’s calming words because they were not sure what they would find when they arrived at the hospital.
“My wife was more frightened,” he said. She was worried that the situation had been downplayed to make them feel better.
Ilan added that he had envisioned the moment when the war would end and Haim walked back through the door of their home. “I imagined we would hug him,” he said. But that never happened.
“He didn’t come home to us. We came to him.”
They finally arrived and saw that on the outside their son looked the same. The moment was emotional, but calming, Ilan said.
“The situation could have been much worse,” he added.
“Only when we got to the hospital did we understand the depth of the miracle.”
Initially, Ilan imagined that Haim had sustained shrapnel wounds while helping to blow up the concrete tunnels Hamas had built in Gaza. Now he understands that his son was shot by terrorists standing three meters away. The soldier next to him was killed.
Haim fell to the ground, got back on his feet and continued shooting, and fell again, Ilan told the Post. He was able to back away to a point safe enough for his evacuation.
Ilan said that his son, who is in a hesder program that combines army service with yeshiva study, is both a gentle person and a brave one with the ability to fight “like a lion.”
The family is now focusing on the extent of the shrapnel wounds to Haim’s shoulder and chest. They are debating whether he can come home or needs to spend time in a rehabilitation center.
Haim slept, a hospital blanket covering him loosely, as the family attempted to organize packages of food that strangers – youth groups, musicians, celebrities and soldiers from all over the country – brought as gifts.
Ilan said they were strengthened by these gestures, which gave him hope for the future of the Jewish people.
Some 2,000 years ago, at just about this time in the Hebrew month of Av, the Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred Jews had one for another, said Ilan. Now, with the growing understanding of how dangerous Hamas had become, the nation was uniting.
He is also grateful that God looked out for his son in Gaza.
He added that the events of the past week had given new meaning to his son’s name, which means life, and to his middle name, Eliezer, which means God helped.
“God helped and gave him life,” Ilan said. “Our life is in God’s hands.”