Breakfast and war

Watching as two families send their children off to battle.

August 8, 2006 00:28
4 minute read.


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Every morning, after early minyan in Jerusalem, I go to a bagel place in Jerusalem's German Colony for breakfast well before they're even officially open. The bagels aren't ready yet and the place is very quiet, but it all contributes to a pleasant beginning to my day. But Monday morning was different. Traveling down Emek Refaim Street, I saw a bus loading up reservists who had been activated for the current round of war in Lebanon. It's a scene that cannot help but pull at one's heartstrings. At the cafe itself were two Anglo couples, each of whom was there with a son in uniform having a last breakfast together before the young men went off to war. One couple stood at the counter and ordered coffee and croissants with their son standing between them. Tall, confident-looking, his head covered, ritual fringes outside his pants, beard... he looked as if he was ready and willing to answer the call of his parents' adopted country. But his parents were another story. His mother could not stop holding onto her son, who would shortly be going away from her in the defense of our people. As mothers do, she ran her hand up and down his back and occasionally caressed his neck. What thoughts could have been going through her mind at that moment? That she might never see him alive again? That he might return severely injured, or missing a limb? That even if he returned whole in body, perhaps his mind would be severely affected by the trauma he might witness? That she regretted making the move here and, by doing so, exposing her children to the risk of death? IN THE other family, the soldier son was also Orthodox and even sported the peyot of the haredi world. Blond, blue-eyed, less well-tailored than his compatriot, he was still a formidable military presence. While his father remained seated, waiting for his mother to arrive, this young man left the cafe for a few minutes to visit the supermarket across the street to buy some additional items for his tour of duty. What thoughts went through the father's mind? Perhaps how it seemed just yesterday that the family celebrated the young man's bar mitzva? That he was now linked with a young woman - and would that wedding ever take place? Had he raised this young man to be sent off to battle an enemy bent on destroying the Jewish people, perhaps risking his life in that effort? Or was it total pride in knowing that, unlike 65 years ago, we Jews now have a land of our own which we can defend against those who seek to eradicate us? I couldn't finish my breakfast and, frankly, did not know what to say to these people to let them know that while I could not possibly imagine their feelings, they needed to know that those watching this saga unfolding also suffer. I GOT UP and went over to the father sitting by himself. I told him that I could not even begin to imagine what thoughts were going through his head just then - but that I wanted him to know that I cared about the future of his son and was grateful for the sacrifice of people like him all over the north and in Lebanon. He smiled, took my hand and thanked me even as a small tear began to run down his right cheek. I then signaled to Motti, the manager, not to take money from either of these families, knowing that the least I could do was extend a random act of kindness to people whose sacrifices were greater than mine. Having lost a teenage child myself, I knew something about their anxiety and hoped both families would be spared that pain. I stepped out into the street and watched Jerusalem traffic begin picking up, people beginning their journeys to work and drivers screaming at each other when one did not yield the right of way to another. How unimportant all that seemed in the light of the pressures my two anonymous families were facing. But how good it made me feel to have shared my concern for their children's welfare with two families whose names I will never know. May He who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, bless the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. May God strike down before them our enemies who rise up against us. May the Holy One save and spare our soldiers from all forms of woe and distress, of affliction and illness, and may He invest their every action with blessing and success. May he vanquish by their means those who hate us, and may He adorn them with a crown of deliverance and a mantle of victory. Thus may the verse be fulfilled: "For it is the Lord your God who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory." The writer is an economic development consultant, President of Atid-EDI Ltd., and a former National President of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

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