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They are worried that we are worried


With two sons who have spent a good part of the last month fighting Hamas in Gaza, another bouncing between battling Hezbollah in the North and preparing to enter Gaza in the South, and a daughter whose husband is doing all of the above, you learn a lot about your kids in times of war.

First, you learn that they have strength, reserves and resilience — both emotional and physical — that you never gave them enough credit for. Parents, in general, always view their children as kids and rarely picture them in heroic roles, especially kids with whom you had to battle to clean up their rooms. When they do slip into valiant roles, therefore, it is both eye-opening and gratifying.

Second, you realize that you probably should have eased up on them when they were younger. Facing what they are now facing — my sons militarily and my daughter with two little kids alone, as her husband is in reserves for two months — did it really matter back then if they did their homework, ate their greens or came home on time?

Third, you learn that you should have gone on more vacations with them abroad when you had the chance because after the war — given the attitude of the world toward Israel and the Jewish people — who wants to travel now with the extended family to Ireland or Morocco?

Finally, you realize that the kids are as worried about you as you are worried about them. They are worried that The Wife and I are worried, which is completely true. They are worried that we are not sleeping, which is partly true. And they are worried that we are not eating, which is not true at all.

To relieve our worry, they try to assure us that there is really nothing to worry about, which takes not a small amount of creativity and linguistic acrobatics.

Like tens of thousands of other parents communicating with their children in the army, The Wife and I talk to our sons on the phone mainly in code. Everyone realizes you can’t say too much on the cellphone because the enemy might be listening in. My boys never say precisely where they are but give approximations based on areas where we vacationed years ago.

“I’m going where it’s very cold,” the Lad said in the early stages of the war. “Very cold. We were there once. Very cold.”

Honestly, I had no idea what he meant and just said, “Oh, OK, son. Right. Be careful. Take your ear muffs.”

Then when they are about to go into Gaza or lie in ambush along the Lebanese border, they don’t say they are going into Gaza or are lying in ambush along the border; instead, they say they have to turn off their phone for a few days.

That sounds a lot gentler and less threatening.

“Abba, I’ll be without my phone for a while” is easier to digest emotionally than “Abba, I’ll be in Gaza for a while.”

That’s just one way they try to cushion the blow.

Another way is to try to convince us that even though they are going into Gaza in the middle of a war, there isn’t really that much to be concerned about.

One of my sons, whose unit is very much in the thick of the action, reassures us that his team has specific tasks to perform and is not at the front of the pack.

“They just call us when they need us to do our job,” he told us. “We’re OK.”

That sounds crazy, partly because the job he is trained to do is plenty dangerous on its own. My reaction should have been, “Who are you kidding, Junior?”

But, actually, that knowledge does provide some comfort. At times like these, the mind grabs onto any comforting crumbs that come its way.

Another son, who now travels regularly into and out of Gaza, said before one of his forays that we shouldn’t worry because although he was going into Gaza, it was not the dangerous part of Gaza. “No need to fret,” he reassured us.

“Think about how crazy that sounds,” I replied. “You’re going into Gaza, but not the dangerous part? Is there such a part? How come I never heard of that part? It doesn’t seem that way from the outside.”

All of that consideration for our feelings and concerns occurs when the boys are out there — in the action. When they come home for a furlough of a few hours or a couple of days, and we are actually able to see them, touch them and talk to them for more than five minutes on the phone, they are more open.

Which increases the level of worry. Obviously, they don’t want to worry us, but they also are going through quite a bit and need to talk. So they talk. And when they talk among themselves, they are even more open.
Last Shabbat, two of our sons got out for 48 hours and spent the Shabbat with us.

That Shabbat made The Wife and me feel young. Not because we had two of our kids around the Shabbat table together, just like old times, but because of the conversation. It was the type of table talk we had 10 to 15 years ago when they were in regular army service.

The entire conversation, for both meals and between the meals, revolved around the army. There was bluster and competition and talk about weapons and abundant use of military abbreviations.

And there were war stories.

Some of the talk we understood. At some of the talk, we nodded our heads as if we understood, though we didn’t really have a clue.

Some of it was rather harrowing, things we didn’t need to hear and that slipped into the “Too Much Information for the Parents” category.

But it was also in those moments and through those conversations that we learned things about our children’s emotional and physical strength that only a war can bring out.

Reprinted with the permission of the Jerusalem Post

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Herb Keinon, a Denver native, interned at the IJN before going on to a career at the Jerusalem Post, where he is a senior contributing editor.

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