It’s cold outside. The rain beats on the windows and thunder rumbles in the distance. Night is approaching and the warm bed beckons with the promise of a cozy embrace.
The closeness of comfort seems so utterly wrong, knowing that he is outside, alone, in the dark, setting off for a night of strenuous effort. He will be carrying one third his own body weight, in the rain and biting wind, navigating to the pre-determined point.
He will walk somewhere between 20-30 kilometers (13-18 miles). My drive from home to work every day is 22 kilometers. He will walk further than that, alone, sometimes through the hills, sometimes through villages, as it pours and the ground turns to mud that engulfs his boots, sucking him down, making his already heavy load even harder to carry.
By the end of the night he will arrive where he was directed to go. Cold, wet, hungry and exhausted.
And the next day he will do it again.
For a parent few things are as difficult as knowing that your son is alone in the dark, cold and possibly in pain and there is absolutely nothing you can do to help. The little boy you watched grow up is being put through deliberate difficulties so that when war comes (or he has to go on special missions) he will be able to survive.
The little boy who used to come home from school and show you the bruises he got playing soccer with his friends doesn’t show you the bruises he gets now. He might come home limping but he won’t mention it. He just gives you a hug hello and when you ask about his week he says: “It was fine.”
In 1955 David Ben Gurion gave a speech concluding the IDF Officer’s course with the instruction: “Every Jewish mother must know that she put her sons [lives] in the hands of officers who are worthy of that [responsibility].” This is the spirit of the IDF and for the most part it works. You have to trust the officers in charge, trust that their decisions are the best possible to protect the life of your boy. Like those who came before him and those who will come after, now it’s his turn to be in danger, your turn to worry.
But when your son is cold, wet, hungry and exhausted you want to be there. To take care of him.
There are lots of Israelis who do kind things for IDF soldiers but every once in a while there are people who go above and beyond anything you could imagine.
One little lady is known to many as “the mother of the soldiers.” Unlike others who call attention to their good deeds, because they enjoy the limelight and because being noticed helps raise funding for further activities, she shies away from any attention.
She’s a doer, not a talker.
She doesn’t lack anything. She’s not trying to fill a void or even honor someone who passed on. She simply has a heart that expanded beyond the doors of her own home, beyond the members of her family, her children, to include as many soldiers as possible, as if they too were hers.
She wants no attention, no media mentions, no photos, interviews or financial assistance. She’s not part of any organization and she’s certainly doesn’t represent any official institution.
When she heard that I am a writer she said: “Oh no! That’s very bad for me!”
All she wants is the opportunity to wrap IDF soldiers in a mother’s love – and not just individual soldiers, entire units.
In other countries military training would never be set up so that units could pause to be mothered by a civilian. Israel is different. Soldiers she once took care of become officers who bring their soldiers to her. They schedule training so that, when the area and the timing are right, they bring their unit to her, so that she can take care of them as well.
She waits for them at the break of dawn, knowing full well what they experienced in the night. As they straggle in, she watches their feet, looking to see who is limping. This isn’t the first time the soldiers have ended a training exercise with generous buffets of food but it is the first time the food wasn’t brought by one/some of their parents or funded by some organization.
It’s the first time a woman they don’t know looks up at them, declaring: “While you are here, I am your mother.” And while they eat hot food, sandwiches and cakes with coffee, tea and cold drinks, she helps them wash the mud off their boots, dries soaking uniforms so they don’t have to sit in wet clothes and puts their dirty uniforms in the laundry.
She moves between them, giving each what he needs. She sees so many soldiers she doesn’t remember all their names but she remembers their faces – the soldier who had a cold and she convinced to take medicine, the soldier who lost his phone, the soldier who asked her advice about problems he has at home and on and on.
Wanting to better care for the soldiers who come to her, she revamped part of her property so that dozens of soldiers can sleep there at a time. There are beds, clean sheets, piles of towels, new toothbrushes and mountains of fresh, new socks waiting to be used.
Soldiers always need socks.
She showed me the stock she had ready for the next group scheduled to arrive included bags and bags of neck warmers she had just purchased. “There aren’t very many coming,” she said, “only 70.”
Stunned I asked: “But how do you do it?! 70? It’s just you, how do you take care of so many?”
Smiling softly, she answered: “The same way you take care of 30” and then she proceeded to show me the extra showers and lavatory she built because what she had wasn’t enough for large groups.
“You know the soldiers love to have hot showers after long, hard training exercises. There’s nothing that pleases me more than looking out of the window and seeing steam come up from their showers.” Just like any mother, she finds comfort when the boys are clean and warm, well fed and can relax someplace safe.
And each time she mothers a soldier, she not only takes care of him but she also provides balm for the aching hearts of his worried parents.