My son is on the battlefield in Gaza. So many scenes play through my head as I search for meaning in this horror; what do I have to console myself with but my own imagination?
It’s Summer, 2021…
After a surprise win in my age category in the Gush Etzion 5K race, I want more. My son will compete in the flatter Kiryat Gat race in two weeks’ time, so I decide to join him. I hadn’t pushed very hard in Gush Etzion, but the Kiryat Gat race will be more competitive. Professionals from around the country will be there – I will have to give it my all.
On a warm and overcast afternoon, we gather at the start line. The race begins, and we take off like lightning. My son outpaces me, of course – at 18 years old and with serious skills, he’s way ahead. Trying hard to keep up, I sprint too hard, and by the last kilometer, I feel like I’m dying. I literally can’t run any faster, although I really want to. It feels like I’m moving in slow-motion. My body just won’t go.
And then, my son appears, having completed the course many minutes earlier. He runs towards me with a big smile on his face, flushed, sweaty, and clearly tired. But he comes back anyway, running next to me, cheering me along.
“Come on, Ima! You can do it.”
“I actually…c-aaan’t!” I manage to pant out, with a distressed half-smile.
“Come on, Ima. Just push a little harder. You’re almost there!”
I want to be strong for him. For my son, I can push harder, at least a little bit. And so, I push forward, completing the race in my own record time. The minute I reach the finish line I promptly throw up.
Two Years Later…
During army training, my son suffers through multi-day exercises in a Puma, a type of armored vehicle. When he comes home, we ask for us a blow-by-blow of his time in the army. We want to hear it all.
He reports on how crummy conditions in the Puma are, compared to the fancier armored vehicle, the Namer (leopard). In the Puma, they have no a/c (although the driver does have a small fan). During their exercises, they huddle inside for days, barely able to move. The soldiers in the back each take a turn to stretch out their legs, everyone else squooshing up into balls so that one gets a little relief. They sleep sitting up, sweat in the blistering heat, do without showers or changes of clothes. And yes, they even have to relieve themselves into their helmets.
This training is brutal. My son has a dismal look on his face on that Saturday night, going back to five more awful days in a Puma. I feel so bad for him. Together, we try to think of any way to make it better. We send him off with a radio, some small games, candy, anything to relieve the pain and boredom we know he’s going to suffer.
The next day, while we sit around in the comfort of home missing our son, the other children express their frustration, “Why are they making him do this?! It’s actual torture!” exclaims my fourteen-year-old daughter, accompanied by murmurs of assent from her siblings.
We try to explain to the kids – these soldiers have to be prepared if they ever actually have to sit inside a Puma for days at a time, in wartime for example. And while we explain this, we think that of course, this is really a very hypothetical situation. There won’t be a war. And if there ever was one, they wouldn’t be going into the battlefield in those “inferior” Pumas.
And here we are, back in reality…
of November 1st, 2023, 5 days since my son entered the war zone. There’s radio silence, except for what we read on the internet. This morning, we wake up to the news of nine soldiers killed in battle. Nine, beautiful souls, 19 and 20 year old men, the best of the best, in the prime of their lives, who died fighting for their people. Nine mothers and fathers whose worlds have completely fallen apart.
These soldiers met their end when an anti-tank missile hit their armored vehicle…the coveted Namer.
I know that I have to be strong right now, but it’s so hard not to crumble. I think about what my son said to me the last time I saw him in person, “Ima, just remember, the odds are with me. Even if soldiers die, the chance that it will be me is really, really small. Don’t worry too much.”
Remembering the probabilities does make me feel a tiny bit better. But not much. It hurts so deeply to hear that anyone’s soldier sons have died in battle. We all need to keep functioning; we can’t truly internalize everyone’s pain. But the closer it is to our own reality, the more it hits home.
I reluctantly get out of bed, feeling so weak, but going through the motions anyway– that’s what we have to do. I say morning prayers, drink coffee, prepare the kids lunches, moving at a snail’s pace all the while. I change into exercise clothes and begin the day’s workout: Upper Body Two. This set is always brutal, but today it feels absolutely impossible.
And yet, life must go on. Be strong, my inner voice says, you can do this.
Nine dips in, I actually feel like my arms are going to explode. Nine soldiers. I feel like I can’t go on.
I close my eyes, searching for the inner strength to get through this metaphorical misery.
And then, my son appears, in my mind’s eye, running alongside me in my pain, sending forth his own strength to support me in my weakness, “You can do this, Ima. Keep going.”
Where is my son in reality? Perhaps huddling in his Puma somewhere in Gaza, body aching, the dirt of days upon his skin, in so much discomfort. But if I know my son, he’s also full of strength, commitment, and the will to fight until only the good guys are left standing.
10 dips…11 dips…12 dips.
For my son, I can be strong, I can do this.
For our soldiers, we can all do this, our people united as one, in pain and strength, faith and determination.