In the last 24 hours, we've been to the Kotel (Western Wall) to watch our adoptive soldier-son, Jeff, be sworn into the army and we've watched our first grade son, Yehuda, sing a portion of Beresheit by heart in Hevron at Maarat HaMachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs where Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, Sara, Rivka and Leah are buried). Only 12 kilometers from our home in one direction, and only 23 kilometers from our home in the other direction we have access to the two most holy and most significant Jewish sites in the world. Could our great-grandparents possibly have imagined a time when we could watch these two events, in these two places in one 24 hour period?
Last night, Jeff was officially initiated into his unit. He is part of Tzanchanim (Paratroopers), an elite unit in the Israeli military. The ceremony took place at the Kotel Plaza.
There were thousands of people there, all waiting to see their loved ones come to this point in their lives. It was really - and I mean really - squishy and we spent the ceremony being pushed and swayed with everyone around us to catch a glimpse of our soldier. Josh put Matan on his shoulders the entire time, and I kept hoisting Yehuda up over the many heads in front of us to see the soldiers in formation. Each soldier was called up in turn to receive his gun (to defend the country) and his Tanach-Bible (to know what he is defending). Then, with all of the soldiers standing at attention, they played Hatikva and everyone sang in boisterous and celebratory voices. I truly can't convey what it felt like to watch these young, energetic and eager soldiers standing in front of the Kotel in their uniforms, singing Israel's national anthem.
Prior to the presenation of the Tanach and gun, the Chief Rabbi of the Tzanchanim (himself a Paratrooper) recited various lines from the Tanach. The most significant being lines from the Book of Joshua regarding defending the Land, etc. Matan's class just began learning the Book of Joshua two weeks ago. He immediatly recognized the text and excitedly said, 'Hey, this is exactly what I learned this week'. Just another example of our kids living what they learn. It is really amazing to witness these 'light bulb' moments, when it suddenly hits one of them that they are living in the cradle of Jewish existence.
After the ceremony, everyone started to try to find their soldier. While we were searching (for a long, long time!) we watched all of these families come together. In typical Israeli fashion, many of them had brought full meals with them to celebrate with their soldiers immediately after the ceremony, right there in the Kotel Plaza. There was one family that Josh and I wanted to take a picture of, but it certainly wouldn't have been appropriate. There was an old Ethiopian grandmother in traditional Ethiopian clothing standing next to her young, army-clad soldier grandson. The entire family had come to celebrate and you could see the generational changes and the absorption that this family had undergone in this country. There were other similarly striking families, and it was amazing to listen to the French, English, Amharit, Russian, Hebrew and more around us.
During the ceremony, one family crossed my mind. Three years ago Ann and Mordechai Goodman lost their son in a terrible parachuting training accident. Yosef was an incredible hero. He sacrificed his life while saving the life of his commanding officer after their parachutes had become entangled. During the ceremony, I was thinking about them, their sacrifice, and their pain. And then, of course, who did I see at the ceremony? Ann and Mordechai. It took my breath away - they must have come for another child who was starting out in Tzanhanim. When you've lost a child in the army, your future army-aged children have to get your permission to enter a combat unit. This is certainly a heart-wrenching decision for any parents. And there were Ann and Mordechai, sitting through the ceremony that must have flooded them with painful memories, watching their next son take his pledge to a similar unit that Yosef had been in. The Goodman's have 7 sons (to go along with two daughters); this is the second son to have entered a combat unit after Yosef's death. Yet, there they were celebrating their next son's important step in helping to defend Israel while honoring the memory of his lost brother. Simply amazing.
After delicious sushi and a very late night with Jeff, we came home to get a few hours of rest. And then...this morning it was time to head down to Hevron to Maarat HaMachpela. Yehuda and the 1st grade finished learning all of the first book from the Torah - Beresheit - and the party was in their honor for this amazing accomplishment. This, the location where Avraham buried Sara and where so many of our forefathers and foremothers are buried, was the site of our son's party. Most end-of-the-year parties take place at the school, in a social hall, in a home - but not in a place that is mentioned in the Torah and that has stood for thousands of years! Yehuda's class had memorized a decent amount of the lines from Beresheit and they recited this while standing in the Maara. They did a dance for us, and the Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hevron talked to us about the future of the Jewish people - as embodied in these amazing children.
It was quite a 24 hour period.
May Jeff continue to serve his country with honor and dignity and continue to represent the oleh spirit of devotion and commitment through his army service.
May Yehuda continue to grow in his commitment to learning, to Torah, to the Land of Israel and to the Jewish people.
And may we continue to see the magic in our lives each day in this incredible land where we are privileged to live and to raise children.