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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nosey to some... like a warm, motherly hug to others

One of the many neat things about living here in Israel is the fact that even the storied Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sometimes acts (of necessity) like a nosey Jewish mother.

Not only does every family have the cell phone number of their child's commander (presumably to yell at them if their son/daughter isn't given weekend leave often enough), but even the super-secret elite special forces which require their members to be away at undisclosed locations for extended periods of time have special liaisons whose job it is to periodically call up parents and assure them that their kids are okay (I don't remember anyone calling my parents while I was sailing around the Western Pacific for 6 months at a time!).

Aside from such mundane tasks as helping soldiers to make up unfinished high school studies, improve their language skills, prepare for college exams or even learn a useful trade before discharge... one of the important things that falls to the IDF is having commanders make periodic home visits to observe and document where their soldiers live when they are on leave.

Since the IDF has conscripts from so many segments of Israeli society, it is not uncommon for soldiers from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds to be serving together... and going 'home' to very different situations on their weekends off.  So it falls to the commanders to make sure nobody is falling through the cracks.

Based on the findings of these home visits, the commander might make a recommendation that a social worker become involved (say, if the soldier is living in an abusive situation, if a soldier's family seems to be living in poverty, or if the soldier is living on his/her own without obvious familial support).

In some cases, if it is found that soldiers are working during their off hours to support their family or helping out at a family owned small business that would struggle without them, extra time off and/or additional help to the family might be recommended.

Of particular interest to the IDF is the welfare of the 'Lone Soldiers' (soldiers serving in the IDF whose families reside abroad). 

The IDF makes an effort to pair up lone soldiers with families who will host them for their weekends off and holidays; basically giving them a 'home away from home'... a place they can call their own where they can decompress, have a soft bed, laundered clothes, home-cooked food... and as strange as it may sound, have the comfort of knowing that someone is worrying about them.

Of course, not everyone wants this kind of arrangement, and the IDF can arrange for a rented apartment if a lone soldier prefers to be 'on his/her own'.  But for a wide range of obvious reasons, having an adoptive family is usually preferable for all involved.

For the past couple of years we've been privileged to have the son of some American friends living with us while he does his IDF service.  We're used to his comings and goings, and try very hard to make sure he feels like a member of the family (i.e. that someone is, indeed, worrying about him).

But the IDF doesn't take our word for such things.

So, yesterday we got a phone call from 'our' soldier's commander saying that he was on his way over with another senior soldier, and they would like to stop by for a home visit.  We checked their driving directions and were told to expect them within the hour.

Being a Jewish mother, Zahava's first instinct was to tidy up the house and make sure there were ample refreshments on hand.  For my part, I was just concerned that a stranger looking at our home would be able to clearly see that 'our' soldier had a place that was truly his.

The visit itself was very informal (although I'm sure there will be formal paperwork filed). 

Our slightly nutty dog Lulu made sure the two visiting commanders knew who was really in charge, and that she was 'keeping an eye on them'.  The commanders themselves refused Zahava's strenuous and repeated  efforts to feed them, and only accepted cold drinks.

After 15 minutes of chit-chat in the livingroom, I asked them if they wanted to have a look around... you know, see our soldier's bedroom?  They smiled and said that it wouldn't be necessary.  They said that based on the fact that we'd known our soldier all his life... and that we didn't seem to be 'struggling', they could submit their report saying that this particular lone soldier was receiving the recommended allotment of Jewish mothering.

For all this country's problems and idiosyncracies... I love that around every corner is evidence of its nurturing Jewish soul.

Posted by David Bogner on May 17, 2012 | Permalink

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Our oldest is currently in the IDF, and her commanding officer visited several months ago. Two things struck me during the visit. One was that my daughter is 20, and her commanding officer was 22 - still a kid, in my eyes. The other thing was that it sounded like we were talking with a camp counselor - she told us what our daughter did every day, that she got along well with everyone, she was well liked, etc.

Posted by: AF | May 17, 2012 12:58:57 PM

David,

I am Fred and Elizbeth Schwartz's daughter. I just wanted to tell you that my dad had his 90th birthday last week and the rabbi of our shul will be telling his story (from your article) on Shabbat. He and my mom (now 87) are living in New York City. Hope you and yours are well.

Judy

Posted by: judy schwartz | May 17, 2012 9:35:47 PM

Judy... Please send our warmest regards to your parents. They made us feel like family when we moved into their community... and were like adopted grandparents to our children. Words can't describe how happy your note has made me.

Posted by: Treppenwitz | May 17, 2012 9:52:57 PM

what took them so long?

Posted by: roberti | May 17, 2012 10:45:19 PM

Today I discovered that Israel has a cemetery for her War Dogs. And doesn't leave their bodies behind for the enemy to desecrate.

It's so Hamish.

Posted by: chairwoman | May 18, 2012 2:51:17 PM

Thanks for taking care of my brother and giving him the familial support in Israel that he needs.

Posted by: Marni | May 18, 2012 4:47:01 PM

Mi k'amcha Yisrael!

Posted by: psachya | May 23, 2012 4:45:07 AM

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