‘That’s why we built this house’

‘That’s why we built this house’

A sense of proportion: I appreciated the many calls and emails sent my way during the war from friends and family in the States. But I did not have a child in the army during this war, let alone in a combat position, and my discomfort, my concerns, my fears pale in comparison with my friends who did.

GI Joe: Growing up in America, I had no personal experience with someone serving in the military. I got my information about soldiering from movies, cartoons, and novels, and these inevitably portrayed soldiers as adult men. The fact that my own father had been in the Korean War only reinforced for me the idea that soldiers were grown ups. The extensive use of regular-army troops in this war – that is, those young men working through their three years of mandatory service – brought the age of our soldiers into painful clarity. Anyone reading the list of casualties, which included boys as young as 18, had to realize that this war was fought primarily by boys, not men. And for me, this time around, with sons who are 22 and 19, it hit me powerfully. Because I can tell you with complete and full authority that a 19-year-old boy and even a 22-year-old boy is in fact a boy.

A Commuter War: The staging area for the Gaza war was located within a two-hour commute of the vast majority of Israel’s population. Ordinary Israelis united behind the troops and brought gifts of toothpaste, deodorant, socks, underwear, flashlights, and so on. Barbers went down to give haircuts to the troops, and singers and comedians provided entertainment. And of course, there were lots of food deliveries: people with still-warm pizzas, truckloads of cookies and other snacks, barbecues set up to grill the finest cuts of meat, supervised by well-known Israeli chefs. Many of the soldiers benefiting from this largesse were in the reserves and did not cross into Gaza. But the fighters did get to enjoy the food on their breaks. Families of these soldiers would be notified and they would go down south, and in a surreal way the scene would look like an everyday scene from Israeli life – a family picnicking with their soldier son. This happens routinely, for example, on “open” days at military bases. Except for some of these families this was their last meal with their child.

Helping Southerners: Israelis looked to help the citizens of the South in various ways. Several of our friends’ daughters went down to run activities and be with children and seniors in shelters there. Arts and crafts supplies were donated. People hosted southerners in their homes – friends, family, or even strangers. In one unusual case, our friend Linda hosted a family of strangers for 10 days. The family has 15 children but only brought 11 with them during their stay in Givat Ze’ev.

Our own effort pales in comparison to Linda’s, but perhaps it’s worth sharing here. My daughter Rebecca was supposed to have spent a good amount of time in July with her 9th and 10th grade girls basketball team in Ashdod, one of Israel’s southern cities. (Rebecca is coaching the girls in August at two JCC Maccabiahs, one in Cherry Hill and one in Detroit.) Not only were almost all of the practices cancelled but so was just about everything else for these girls in Ashdod, and they spent almost all of their time at home watching TV , Facebooking, and text-messaging.

Our friends Elaine and Yaakov have a huge fantasy house that is famous in Givat Ze’ev. The house features a half-size basketball court, indoor swimming pool, movie theater, separate rooms for air hockey, ping pong, and billiards. Elaine agreed to house the girls for a night, and thus two days of basketball and fun for Rebecca’s team was born. Sarah sent out an email to our synagogue community for help with the food, and within a short time 14 people responded, including someone calling from America to arrange for delivery from the local pizzeria, and a friend who offered to sponsor a deluxe breakfast for the girls at Givat Ze’ev’s coffee shop. The others brought lasagna, salads, fish patties, soup, munchies, fruit, and even a basketball-shaped cheesecake.

Any group of active girls would love this house, let alone girls who were cooped up in their homes for a few weeks (and whose pick-up and return were bookended by missile alerts). The girls were ecstatic for two full days and told each other that they would never ever forget this experience. I liked Yaakov’s response when Sarah thanked him. He said: “That’s why we built the house.”

May there be no more wars, with Hamas or with anyone else.