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Rabbi Nir Barkin Relates His Experience as the Father of a Soldier

‏יום חמישי ‏31 ‏יולי ‏2014

 

 

An unbelievably surreal situation….
Shabbat. Anat and I are relaxing in lounge chairs in the small backyard of our home We call it the "Nachlaot garden"
– as the foliage that we've cultivated for the last dozen years well as the wood and pine and Jerusalem shutters give it
the feel of that Jerusalem neighborhood known for its old-style housing and hidden courtyards. As a former
Jerusalemite, it was important to me to imprint something of the flavor of my Jerusalem Kimchi family home - which
had been in Nachlaot since the mid-19th century.
Omri, our middle child, 19 years and two months old, a "mommy's and daddy's boy" – or at least that's how we
viewed him until yesterday or the day before.
Omri – who just yesterday would finger his "smichi" – an old work shirt of mine – trailing it behind him like a cape
pretending to be Popeye's son Swee'Ppea.
Omri – a house "kitten" who overnight has become a panther.
Omri is a combat soldier in one of Israel's elite units and is fighting on the front in Gaza. We haven't heard from him
in six days and the worry and anxiety are eating away at our souls. For most of the day, we manage to avoid the
nightmares, but the nights….the nights. But I'll return to the nights later.
The weekend newspapers lay strewn around us in piles, as in homes everywhere – here in Israel and abroad. This
weekend everything – the news items, endless interpretations, assessments, speculations of "what if" and "maybe",
opinion columns and feature articles – deals with Operation Protective Edge (Tzuk Eitan) which began 19 days ago
and shows no signs of ending.
I think to myself "I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel". I don't share my thoughts with Anat who is trying to
pass these difficult and suspenseful hours by flipping back and forth between TV news channels and internet sites.
She has created a Whatsapp group for the parents of Omri's unit – a collective therapy support group of parents
equally as helpless as we are.
The exposure of the threatening Hamas tunnels, the discovery of huge stores of ammunition directed at Israeli
settlements as well as the continued firing of rockets at Israeli targets all leave me with the feeling that this is a just
and unavoidable war – even given all the evil and horror that war general – and this one in particular – brings.
I choke when I hear the phrases "A war for our home" and "An unavoidable war" – not because I have the slightest
doubt that these statements are true, but because this is the first war in which Anat and I are parents of a combat
soldier at the front.
During the Six-Day War I was eight months old. From that war, my father returned injured to the Ezrat Nashim
hospital in Givat Shaul… and later, my parents separated. During the War of Attrition in the late sixties and early
seventies, we were already living in the North – and we were constantly bombarded with Katyusha attacks as were
the rest of the Northern communities. Terrorists from Lebanon attacked the towns around us: Shamir, Misgav Am,
Kiryat Shemona, Ma'alot and more. The face of evil that I saw as a young child shook the peace and basic fortitude
that every child needs to grow. The Yom Kippur war forced us – second-graders on Neot Mordechai – to spend
weeks in a dank, dark bomb shelter – sleeping on basic wood plank beds surrounded by the smell of the chemical
toilets. Our horror was exacerbated when we left the shelter to learn of the deaths of three beloved Kibbutz
members: Haim, Shimson and Ilan.
In 1982, I was in the eleventh grade when I found in my brother's closet - my brother who fought as a paratrooper in
the first Lebanon War – the envelope of the farewell note that he left us "To Be Opened if I Don't Return". Happily,
that envelope was never opened. And yet, once again, I repressed my feelings and put up yet another defensive wall
in my inner bunker in order to survive.
And then there were more terrorist attacks and the Intifadas. And more military operations whose names I've
repressed.
We have been fighting daily for our very survival for more years than we have had a State. A war for our home. An
unavoidable war. Truly there is no other option. Those who study history know this to be true. A hand extended in
peace (and mine is extended despite everything) is no substitute for a watchful eye and eternal caution. Any peaceful
solution or resolution will be greeted by me with wary caution. I am suspicious of international friendships – not
surprising given the complicated and conflicted neighborhood in which I was raised.
It's one thing for Anat and I to have been in a lifelong, continuous struggle to maintain our sanity – as children,
adolescents and adults in this country. It's quite another to have a son fighting at the front.
It's one thing to be a six-year old child planning your escape from a terrorist who has infiltrated the children's home on
your kibbutz. It's quite another to think about our son navigating the dark and evil alleys and mazes in Gaza.
We somehow get through the days… but the nights. The nightmares cross decades of traumas. They leave us with
black circles under our eyes, with a perpetual feeling that it's difficult to breathe and with a terrible fear – a fear of an
unexpected knock on the door, of a Red Code siren, of a telephone call notifying us that…..
We are so impatient to hear the phone ringing with the special ringtone we've set for Omri's calls. So impatient to hear
his beloved voice in real time saying "Hi Abba….I'm okay" – tired and battered but whole in body and soul. We are so
impatient to learn that the traumas of war that have accompanied us have not been imprinted on his flesh.
With all the modern communications networks, isn't there a way for us to see Omri here in our "Nachlaot" garden in
our home, lighting the end of the tunnel with a inextinguishable light of hope?
Nir Barkin