Sunday, October 11, 2015

11 things you should never say to the parents of a combat soldier

One winter day about 16 years ago, when we were still living in Toronto and my son was four years old, he came home after a day in his Israeli nursery school and announced to me that when he was an Israeli soldier he would need boots. It seemed like a reasonable request so I immediately promised to get him boots when he became a soldier. He seemed satisfied with his negotiating skills and the promise he had managed to secure from me. He left the kitchen. I was glad that all he wanted was boots and frankly, I wasn't yet convinced there would ever be a need for them.

Fast forward .... to maybe 20 seconds later. My son, probably sensing that he was on a roll with his mother, returned to the kitchen and added: "Oh, and Ema, I am going to need a gun too."

"I am not getting you a gun, so you can forget that," I answered without taking a second to consider my response.

"Well, I am going to need it," he added in a last ditch effort to press his point.

"Over my dead body," said guess who.

Now you can really fast forward. Here we are 16 years later and guess what, my son has both the boots and the gun. Neither provided by me. And 16 years later I am still far less concerned about the boots than the gun. In other words, nothing has changed vis-a-vis the gear, but everything has changed again for the parents of soldiers.

Now, once again, it is all feeling real. Very, very real. And if it didn't seem real before (for me), it definitely does after this past week of How Many Soldiers Can We Attack In An Hour has become the recreational activity of choice of our unfriendly cousins.

Lots of my friends have already been through this -- and much, much more. I am hoping to never know the "much more".

One thing I did notice this past week is that the only people who are willing to discuss it are the usual suspects. Not a word from our co-religionists outside of Israel. Not their problem. Not a decent word from the media. Not their interest. Once again, we are left to our social circles to post and send messages back and forth on social media so that we can all "like" each other's thoughts of the day.

And then of course, I get that one stupid comment from someone who feels safe enough being peripherally Jewish thousands of miles away, that sends me though the roof. So, as the anxiety level of parents of soldiers starts to rise in Israel, here are a few tips for those of you far away who were going to say something stupid, but read this post just in the nick of time. You can thank me later.

  1. Do not group all soldiers together -- some risk their lives regularly, some do not. Soldiers who have guns are very, very different from soldiers who do not carry guns. This is not to suggest that "jobnik" soldiers are not important because some of them are doing very, very important work that I pray, in the long-term, will mean there is much less need for combat soldiers. However, in the meantime, they are inside and rarely run into angry Pals. 
  2. Do not tell us "not to worry." It is patronizing and it shows how disconnected you are from the reality of the Jewish people. If Israel goes, your life won't be worth the paper it is written on. How about, instead, you share the load and do some worrying with us. Better still, pray for the soldiers' safety. It doesn't matter if you know their names; they all count.
  3. Understand that we do not know where our soldiers are at least half the time. And that nothing makes a parent turn green faster than your kid saying: "Oh, they are moving me to Hevron (or The Golan, Gaza or the Lebanese border). We do not have the luxury of being helicopter parents. No one wants to check in with the commander more than we do -- but we can't and they aren't interested in our two-cents worth of military advice.
  4. Going to the army is not the same as sending your child away to university. Well, unless that university is in South Sudan, then maybe. It takes a lot of ignorance or narcissism to think that there is anything comparable in these two situations.
  5. And if sending your child to the army is the ONLY reason you could never live in Israel, then tell that to someone who cares. Let me simplify that for you: either call a Hareidi Jew in Mea Shearim or call someone in Timbuktu. First of all, you are misguided and second, you are lying to yourself. Oh, and third, it will be on your cheshbon with HaShem that your child was too special to protect the only state the Jews can call home. You don't have to explain it to me; work it out next Yom Kippur.
  6. And if you think we are bad parents because you would never let your child be a combat soldier, keep it to yourself. What makes you think that anything we say influences their decisions? Do you have post 18-year-old children? Do they listen to your input?
  7. Don't ask us why they are not home for the High Holidays or Shabbat because your kids always come home for important times of the year. Yes, your children all dutifully show up for all the big Jewish occasions. Ours, on the other hand, are eating crap food and protecting the country. Funny how that works.
  8. Do not ask us during wars or reasonable facsimiles of war whether or not we have heard from our kids. It's not the freakin Maccabiah Games; they are in the middle of war where we hope they are paying extreme attention and protecting themselves and their fellow soldiers. Calling home is way down on their priority lists. Rest assured we will call you when there is something to tell you.
  9. Do not ask us if we are scared. You can reasonably assume that we are scared. Why wouldn't we be scared? You're so scared that you won't even come and live here, yet you feel you have to ask if we are scared. The difference is that we believe in something bigger than ourselves and we trust in God. You, apparently, do not.
  10. Do not tell us what you think the Israeli government and the army should be doing. This isn't Monday Night Football and you are not an armchair soldier.
  11. And finally, if you do not support what Israel is doing to stay alive, then please, please, please, move to Gaza and give them a hand. They really need you there and they will be so happy for your support.
(Thank you to everyone who shared their ridiculous personal experiences so I could write this post.)