wounded soldier soroka 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Paratrooper Bar Halpert, 19, did not use the word "Gaza" 12 days ago when he sent his parents and his two sisters a three-word SMS - "I love you."
Still, when his mother Michal opened his cryptic message on her phone that Saturday morning in her Tel Aviv apartment, she knew immediately that he had gone in with the ground troops.
"I started to cry," the tall, thin woman with short gray hair recalled.
The Halpert siblings are triplets, and all of them are in the army. But Bar was the only one who had been at risk of being sent to Gaza.
The family heard nothing from Bar until Wednesday morning, when he called his father Roni to tell him that he was on his way to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
Bar was one of seven soldiers wounded in Gaza, six of whom were taken to Barzilai.
"When I heard his voice I understood he was wounded," said Roni. But he was immediately comforted by the fact that Bar was well enough to talk on the phone.
"I thought, 'Thank God he is conscious and can speak,'" said Roni as as he sat with his former wife Michal in the hospital lobby.
Though divorced, Bar's parents are on good terms. They came down to Ashkelon together upon hearing from Bar, ignoring his comment that since he was lightly wounded, he might be returned to Gaza before they arrived.
When she saw her son, Michal said, she gave him a long, tight hug. "It was a relief," she said.
Even though he had a shrapnel wound in his hip and would likely need surgery, she said, she was glad that he was safe in the hospital and no longer in Gaza.
His sister Dean initially panicked when she heard Bar had been hurt. She started to shake and cry.
But she calmed down after seeing for herself that Bar was fine. She sat with her mother on a bench in the hospital lobby, still in her uniform.
After she received Bar's SMS 12 days ago, she asked her commander if she could be sent down to a community near the Gaza border to help out.
As she was working in Netivot, she felt closer to her brother "and that calmed me," she said.
Now, she said, "it is good to know that [Bar] is here and to see him."
The complete silence for nearly two weeks had been hard. Three days ago, they did hear from the army that he was fine and were given an address if they wanted to write to him.
Still, the uncertainty and the overall lack of information was nerve-racking, said Michal. She worried all the time.
"You wake up with it and you go to bed with it," she said.
It helped to go to her work as an administrator. Afterwards she was glued to the television news, hoping to catch a glance of Bar in the video shots of the soldiers.
"I looked for red shoes [of the paratroopers]. I wanted to know where he was" and to understand more of what he was experiencing, she said.
Then before heading to bed, "I drank a glass of wine or brandy to knock myself out. It was only in this way that I could sleep," she said.
The outpouring of support for the soldiers and for the military action in Gaza was helpful.
"It's amazing the way the people in Israel pull together in these moments," she said, adding that she hoped all the soldiers would return home in peace.
Down the hallway, two women from Ashkelon walked into the rooms of those wounded in Gaza to see what the young men needed. When one of the soldiers said that he wanted pizza, they ordered him one, with extra cheese and olives.
But soon they were reminded of the dangers they still face, even away from the battlefield.
As night fell, a warning siren rang out in Ashkelon that sent the nurses in the hospital and the wounded who could walk racing for the safe room.