By Amian Kelemer (as read at Baltimore’s Gathering for Solidarity on July 21, 2014)
I am a lot of things.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother.
Teacher, colleague, friend…
The one thing I am that has changed me at my core more than almost anything else is being a soldier mom. And once you are a soldier mom, you are always a soldier mom.
Being the mother of a combat soldier means transformation.
It means losing your breath every time you hear about an incident in Israel. It means unexpected tears flowing from your eyes every time the prayer for the soldiers is recited in synagogue. It means sleeplessness, restlessness, bleary-eyed watching the clock for missions to finish. It means heart racing when the phone rings.
When our oldest daughter enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat soldier in the Karakal unit, it changed me forever.
When a soldier finishes basic training and is ready to start active duty, she receives a TaNaCH (Bible) and a gun. I had the privilege of surprising my daughter by attending this special swearing in ceremony. My daughter accepted her gun and her TaNaCH wearing my father (Alav HaShalom’s) marine corps insignia. Like every marine, he fought for our home, and like every Israeli soldier, she protects our homeland.
In Risa’s ceremony, just like in every other swearing in ceremony for every unit, the energized crowd listens as an Army Rabbi recites from the book of Joshua:
“Chazak V’Amatz! Be strong and courageous for it is you who will cause this people to inherit the land that I have sworn to their fathers to give them. … Behold I have commanded you: ‘Be strong and courageous.’ Do not fear and do not lose resolve for the Lord Your G-d is with you wherever you will go.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, each soldier shouts “Ani Nishba’at” (“I swear”). That moment is full of tingling feelings and transformation. Our teenagers transform into soldiers and our mothers transform to soldier moms.
Not many American moms see their daughters swear allegiance on a Bible and a gun, let alone, lug grenade launchers that are bigger than they are. I have the honor and the sheer terror of being a soldier mom. When our daughter described looking down and seeing that she had the infrared light of a sniper’s rifle locked on her chest or told us about being alone in the middle of the night and guarding a munitions depot, my heart stopped. But soldier moms continue on. They pray and encourage – and they do not say, “Stop what you are doing and come home right now.” Even though you know that your child may never come home.
Our daughter lives her ideals and her ideals belong to each of us. She wants us to know that wherever your home may be, Israel is your homeland. She wants to ensure that she has done her part in securing our Jewish future.
She is taking this responsibility for all of us and we are all responsible for all of the young adults who have taken on this task.
I once learned this lesson from a young soldier. My friend invited me to pray at her synagogue in a potentially dangerous area. While she and her children walked there every Shabbat, I was scared and we requested a livui. A soldier guards from the front and a soldier brings up the rear. My friend’s children skipped ahead because the way was familiar to them and they usually walked without guards. The soldier called to me and said, “Your children must not walk past the guard in the front.” My reply was, “They are not my children.” And, what he responded will echo in me forever: “They are all our children.”
And indeed they are. We are all forever changed because we are all the parents of all of these children who have all become soldiers.
We are also soldiers in our own way – giving with every ounce of strength we have. We are the Jewish community and we support each other – we are all the parents of all of our children.
I am a soldier mom. But I know you are too. I know you are hoping and praying for the long life and success of each of our children. I am transformed and so are you. Every positive thought you have in the direction of a soldier brings down more good and strength in the world. Please keep those good thoughts coming.
In America and even in Israel, it is probable that not every one of the children we raise will be an actual combat soldier. In fact, when he was asked if he wanted to follow in his sister’s footsteps and enlist one day, my 6-year-old told me that he wants to be a speech therapist because it is a lot safer! But today, all of our children need to fight for their ideals. In the streets of America, on the college campuses and around the world, we may all need to be a little more brave and stand up for ourselves a little more.
Every Shabbat as I would close my eyes to light Shabbat candles, I would feel the air get sucked out of my lungs. Panic would well up in me. I was meant to usher in the calm of Shabbat, yet I could not find a bit of serenity inside me. I feel the same when I read the names of the boys who have been killed in action or the names of the boys who have been wounded. And when you see their photographs, many are just boys. To catch my breath, I silently sing to my daughter the refrain from the song parents have been singing for too many wars:
Ani Mavtiach lach, Yaldah sheli ktana, she zot tehiyey hamilchama haachrona—
I promise you, my little girl. That this will be the last war.
While we may not be able to fulfill that promise, we can swear “Ani Nishbaat” – I swear and you swear together with my daughter and me that we will always keep the soldiers in our hearts and prayers. Our hearts forever transformed.