Thursday, January 29, 2009

They're Back

Last week, we learned that the war in Gaza was over, at least for the time being. This meant, to me, that our boys would be coming home. Those outside of Israel hear about the war in so many different ways than we do. To us, the war is incredibly personal. I really couldn't write while it was going on, but I spent the entire war thinking about Yonatan, Eli and El Natan. Who are they? Well, let me tell you.

Yonatan and Eli Hirshhorn and El Natan Segal are our neighbors. The Hirshhorns moved to Israel over 20 years ago and they are an amazing family. The father is a Rabbi who works at one of the Yeshivas in Jerusalem and he also teaches the class that Josh goes to every Shabbat. The wife works for the Joint, raising money for Jewish causes, and also runs a very well attended diet program in the Yishuv. They have five children, two of whom just served in Gaza. The first time that we met their third child, Yonatan, he was next to us at the pizza place. We had just made aliyah and we were cracking up as we ate our pizza. There was a group of 13-14 year old boys eating together, and then a few little kids with them. One kid, Yonatan, we dubbed the "fast talker." I've never heard anyone talk so fast - and he was doing it seamlessly in English and Hebrew. We soon realized that the little kids who were with the group were his little brother and sister. Most 13 year olds don't want to be seen with their little siblings - but not this kid or this family. He had brought them along for pizza and was happily eating with his friends and his siblings. Turns out that every Rosh Chodesh this family goes out to eat together. Since the parents weren't available that week, Yonatan brought his siblings out to eat.

We saw him, at the time, as an example of what we hoped our kids would be. He was hanging out with his friends and speaking great Hebrew while incorporating his siblings into his social life. He seemed so comfortable with himself and with both languages.

El Natan Segal comes from an Israeli family that lives across the street. The father is originally British and he has helped our children a great deal with their homework and their Torah studies. The parents are both therapists and are incredibly gentle, soothing souls. They are the type of people that make you feel relaxed as soon as you're in their presence. El Natan's unit has received great philanthropy from someone in the States, and he's come to our house a number of times to have us translate and edit thank you letters that his unit has sent overseas.

Since moving to Israel, we have gotten to know these boys and their families well. They are fantastic people. So, I spent the war thinking about them and wondering where Yonatan, Eli and El Natan were. I woke each day praying that they would return to us and went to sleep each night hoping that they were sleeping somewhere safe.

On Friday, we were getting ready for a busy Shabbat. We had an oneg to go to that night for a friend's birthday and then a kiddush and seudat shlesheet for our best friend's son's bar mitzvah. Josh came in and said that we had yet another event to attend. "Another event?" I said with trepidation. I like to be in bed really early Friday night and I almost never go anywhere. "Yep," he said with tears in his eyes. "The boys are back." That was really all that he needed to say. I knew what he meant. Yonatan and Eli's parents were having an oneg that night to welcome them home. There was nowhere else in the world that I would rather have been that evening.

When we got to the oneg, the place was bursting with people and with energy. The community was so happy to welcome them home and to say "thank you" to them for the work that they did. They had just given amazing speeches about their experiences (which we missed) and their parents looked so happy to have them back.

So, that's what the war has meant to me. Thank you Yonatan, Eli, and El Natan for putting your lives on the line for Am Yisrael and for Eretz Yisrael. Thank you for the work that you've done to keep my kids safe. Thank you for being an example to my children. And, most importantly, thank you for coming back to us.

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