DISCLAIMER: Before you read on, you should know that this story does not contain objective, journalistic reporting. Even so, if you’re curious to know how everyday Israelis are dealing with the biggest story in international news (at least as of the hour this story was filed), this article is worth reading.
Less than 24 hours into Operation Iron Swords, I was struck by how, in my demographic, there were significant numbers of mothers whose adult children were either already on active duty or had been called up for reserve duty.
If you live in Israel, it’s likely that you also know many mothers in the same situation. Part of the reason for that can be explained with a few numbers.
In addition to the nearly 170,000 active duty soldiers, Israel mobilized 300,000 reserve personnel within the first 48 hours of the war. That figure represents nearly 65% of its entire reserve pool.
On Monday, Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari, the head of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, acknowledged that “We have never drafted so many reservists on such a scale.”
I wanted to give a voice to mothers whose children are protecting the country during this war. Given the sensitivity of the issue and the potent feelings mothers have for their children, some mothers I asked declined to speak on the record about their family’s circumstances. Nevertheless, I found eight mothers who were willing to open a window into their lives.
I can’t claim that these interviews are representative of all mothers of Israeli soldiers. On the contrary, every one of the mothers interviewed for this story is someone I know personally.
In many cases, I know their children as well.
These mothers all made aliyah from the US between 1987 and 2017. They are all mothers of children who are in active IDF service or were called up this week for reserve duty.
And they are coping as best as they can.
Acts of kindness strengthen my soldier sons
Ruti Eastman is the mother of “a crop of sons, one of whom has been called up so far, and another who is trying to get back to his unit from the States, as he anticipates being called up.” Ruti made aliyah from Baltimore in 2007 and lives with her husband in Neveh Daniel.
This is far from the Eastman family’s first experience with military service. Both Ruti and her husband, Avi, were soldiers in the US Army.
And, as Ruti shared, “We have had four sons involved in several different operations and wars since we moved to Israel. I learned a few things that have given me strength.
“One is that we never ask them where they are, for two reasons. First of all, social media platforms are not secure, no matter what we are told to the contrary. I don’t need to give the enemy location details of our soldiers. The second reason is that I prefer not to assume that my son is in a particular operation I just heard about on the news. We let them tell us their war stories over a beer when it’s all over.
“We filter what we watch and listen to, even on the news, because the scary pictures and gruesome details don’t help us to help our soldiers and their wives and our friends.
“When we are blessed to speak with our soldiers, we always share our pride in them and our trust in their skills. We never share tears and fears. Our pride strengthens them. Our worry weakens them.
“Lastly, I rely on my ongoing conversations with God, with King David and his Tehillim (Psalms), and with family and friends around the world and in my community.”
Before sending her sons off, she shared that “We remind them that we love them and trust them and know that they are the best men for the job. We try to get a laugh out of them by saying that they are just going off to war to get out of doing some handyman task we’ve been bugging them to do. That laugh is a marvelous balm for all our souls!
“We tell them to kick the enemy’s backside and rain down on the enemy all the destruction they used to do in our home; they developed wicked good skills at destruction when they were kids!”
In her message for the rest of the world, she made several suggestions. “Pray. Put aside criticism of Israel for the time being. Speak well of us. If you write on social media, share messages of strength and trust in the IDF and God. Practice acts of kindness to each other. Even if you live across the ocean, your kindness to each other strengthens Klal Yisrael (the whole Jewish community) and therefore my soldier sons.”
We are a strong and wonderful nation
Sharon Rosenbluth is a mother of five who made aliyah from Baltimore in 2012. She and her family live in Karnei Shomron. Two of her four sons were called up this week.
How is she coping? “I’m keeping busy by baking for the soldiers and for my friends whose husbands have been called up. Tehillim and meditation help.
“I keep reminding myself that we are a strong and wonderful nation with a beautiful country that no one is going to take away from us.
“The only message I gave my sons is [to] kick tush, just be successful obliterating the bad guys, and I love you. I was honestly too numb to say anything else. It was all I could do to keep myself together.
“The rest of the world can understand that what [Israel does] is give life to others. We have produced such miracles, whether in science, medicine, technology, agriculture, or in just fulfilling and maintaining the Zionist dream. This is who we are, and this is what we do for the world.
“We must eradicate the evil that wants to snuff out our light, and provide a bright, beautiful future for our generations to come. No one is going to prevent us from doing that. We owe it to our ancestors and the kedoshim (holy ones) who died for our Torah and our Zionist dreams, and we owe it to those who will follow,” she said.
It’s good to cry
Shoshie Goldstein-Nissenbaum made aliyah on the first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in 2002 from Chicago.
Today, she lives with her family in Safed.
Of her seven children, one has already completed his IDF service, two are on active duty, and a fourth is expecting to draft this fall.
Shoshie told a moving story about her first Israeli-born son, currently serving in a tank unit. “His swearing-in ceremony was on my grandfather Alfred Menaker’s 10th yahrzeit.” As a young soldier, Menaker helped to liberate the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.
“What keeps me going,” she said, “is that I daven (pray) that, just as my grandfather merited to free captives, my son should merit to save Jewish lives… and come home safely, just as his grandfather did. That’s what keeps me going all the time.”
Since her sons are on active duty, she didn’t have the opportunity to send them off before the war started, but she does take every opportunity to tell them “how much we love them and are thinking of them. We need to send them the energy of emunah (faith) from the lashon (language) of Em (mother).”
This past week, she and her husband and younger children visited five IDF bases. “We went and passed out toiletries and food to soldiers in the North, and we hope people are doing the same thing in the South [where her sons are stationed].”
She reported that in her community, there are “Tehillim non-stop and [inspiring] speakers nonstop.”
Even so, she advised, “It’s good to cry.”
A strong and simple faith
Devra Ariel made aliyah 36 years ago and currently lives in Ma’ale Chever, south of Hebron. She has five children, three of whom are married. Both of her sons and her son-in-law have been called up.
Devra has a three-pronged approach to dealing with the pressure. “I’m coping by trying to focus on my job, which I can do from home. I also have a strong and simple faith that whatever Hashem does is for the best, even if we don’t understand or feel it. I’m also eating emotionally, which is not a good thing.”
She sent her sons off with a message of faith. “I told our boys to be careful, to take care of themselves. I also hope they know that we expect them to do their best, to serve God by defending Israel, and to accept whatever happens.”
She asks others to combine prayer with “support [for] the home front, especially the women and children or, in some cases, men and children that are home, waiting for their loved ones to return safely.”
She asks that others “contact them, to let them know they are not forgotten; and if you have the means, to send them practical help such as food, games for the kids, or anything else that will lighten the burden of each person.”
Working on behalf of the survival of the Jewish people
An olah (immigrant) from New Jersey, Tara Brafman has lived in Efrat since 2006. Three of her four children are currently serving. “One is doing his regular service in the Air Force, and the other two, in their mid-20s, were called up in the first two days of the war.”
She didn’t have much time to say goodbye to the son who left in the midst of Simchat Torah. “It was such a rush. It was chag (holiday). We didn’t expect it, so I didn’t have the chance to tell our sons what I would have liked to tell them.
“I just quickly threw food into a big bag [with] socks and underwear and they were running out the door, so that wasn’t the ideal goodbye. The one that left [the next day], we had a little more prep time, so I was able to tell him what I wanted to.
“What I said, and what I WhatsApped to the other two was ‘Stay strong. Do what you were trained to do, to protect Am Yisrael. You are working on behalf of the survival of the Jewish people,’ which is what they’re doing.
“And I blessed them and told them to keep their morale high – that they are doing holy work and that we love them and please try to be in touch whenever they have a spare moment to let us know they are okay.”
She asks “People of the world to please pray on behalf of Israel. I believe in the power of Tehillim. I ask that people recite Psalms on behalf of our soldiers, to keep them safe and that they should be successful. I really feel the strongest weapon we have is prayer first and our military second. That’s what I really believe,” she concluded.
My daughter loves this country
Julie Weinmann made aliyah to Ma’ale Adumim from Atlanta in 2017. She and her husband have one child, a 26-year-old daughter who was called up on the first day of the war.
Julie said, “I feel that I am living outside of myself and my surroundings, if that makes sense. I know we are at war, but that doesn’t seem right, either.
“Thankfully, my husband and I often talk about [our daughter], and we are attached to our phones in case she or our son-in-law calls. When she was a lone soldier and we were still in the States, I had no idea what was happening, and I think perhaps that was easier.”
Her faith helps her cope. “I have a strong belief in Hashem and know that my daughter loves this country and would [God forbid] give her life for it.
“We have also received messages from non-Jewish friends in the States who are concerned about us, and that support is also much appreciated,” she added.
She didn’t connect with her daughter “until she was already at her first stop where they spent the night. As a close-knit family of three, we’ve never kept feelings [and] emotions inside, so she knows how much she’s loved.”
She asks that the rest of the world “pray for our country and all those who are fighting to keep us safe. And to spread the word that Israel is not the bad guy. We just want to live in this beautiful country in peace.”
We are one family united in this war
Efrat resident Sandra Orman made aliyah from Baltimore in 2009. The Ormans have three children in Israel and two in the States. One of their sons has been called up.
Sandra shared the strategies she uses to cope.
“First and foremost, I believe in Hashem. I do lots of Tehillim, and I speak to Hashem ceaselessly.
“I talk to other mothers in the same situation, [and] I talk to my husband and other family members. I feel a part of the family of Am Yisrael, and I embrace that, and then I don’t feel alone or as frightened.
“We are one family united in this war. And I have faith that we will defeat our enemies united.”
Support is flowing in
Ramat Beit Shemesh resident Chana Staiman made aliyah from Baltimore in 2010. Her younger son, who works as an Israeli tour guide and is the father of three, was called up on the first day of the war, information Chana didn’t have until after the end of last Shabbat.
Her son’s unit is charged with the horrific task of collecting bodies, body parts, and spilled blood, sometimes in the midst of battle.
It took her some time to find her balance. “The first day, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I decided to go to work as usual to force myself into motion. I work in the medical field and shared the fact that my son had been called up to the Gaza Belt with some of my patients, some of whom were older gentlemen who had served in previous wars.
“They were extremely supportive and proud to hear that their tradition of sacrifice and dedication was being carried on by this generation. That gave me a lot of strength and helped shake me out of my paralysis.
“Support is flowing in from family members and my daughter-in-law, who is on her own with three kids and has been a tower of strength for me.”
When Chana and her husband were finally able to speak to their son, they shared a message of love and support. They told him to try to take care of himself as best as possible despite the nightmarish surroundings and that they could not be more proud of him.
Chana reported that “He’s feeling very loved and taken care of by the citizens of Israel who bring to his base all kinds of things, from fresh underwear to pizza.
“Of course,” she added, “the most important thing is sustained support for Israel’s battle against terror.” ■