September 25, 2018

Letter to a Brave daughter

My very dear Ariella,

I haven’t seen you since August 2014 and, with all hyperbole aside, it really does seem like forever. You made the decision to join the Israel Defense Forces and, despite my initial reservations, you persevered and followed your dream.  You excelled in basic training and got your first choice unit, Caracal, the IDF’s pioneer coed combat battalion. Now you are in training that will prepare you to patrol the border with Egypt, and I do what comes naturally to all Jewish mothers — worry.

You are my beautiful baby, my only girl, whose first word was “happy.” While it may be a cliché, I truly don’t know where the years have gone. I held your hand as you took your first steps. Now, you go on miles-long treks through the hot desert carrying an inordinate amount of heavy equipment, including a gun that looks quite intimidating. You wear camouflage paint on your face and you navigate complicated obstacle courses; scaling massive walls and going up and down precarious towers of logs. You shoot the lid off of a jar of jam from more than 160 feet away — a feat that both impressed and scared your brothers!

You have made so many friends, Israelis as well as those who, like you, left their families and came from around the world to join, as you refer to it, the “Jewish People’s army.” It certainly hasn’t been easy. You’ve had your challenges. It’s frustrating to not be able to express yourself in Hebrew as eloquently as you would like. It’s stressful when you don’t understand exactly what your officers are saying they want you to do.

The holidays can be hard. On Pesach, you volunteered to “close Shabbat,” i.e., stay on base so that others could go home to their families but, at the same time, you missed not being with your own family. Yet despite these challenges and more, I hear your voice on the phone, and your enthusiasm and happiness, sense of fulfillment and purpose ring clear.

A week before you graduated from basic training and ulpan, you and your fellow soldiers were taken to Yad Vashem. Your description of the experience was both moving and revealing.

You wrote, “We’ve reached the ‘Extermination’ room of the museum.

I stare into the glass case in front of me.

There hangs the striped blue and grey uniform of the Jewish people, circa 1941-1945.

I stare at the reflection in the glass box in front of me.

There stands a soldier dressed in the olive green uniform of the Jewish people, circa 1948-present. 

I stare at the picture of a Jewish prisoner’s tattooed arm.

That was his identification.

I feel the thump of my dog tag hit my chest as I turn to leave the room.

That’s my identification.” 

While we have always celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, this year the day takes on a new meaning for your father and me. You are, as the prayer goes, one of the “fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.” You are our lone soldier in the Jewish People’s army and Daddy and I couldn’t be more proud!

Cheryl Azair is a Los Angeles-based writer and communications consultant. She is one of the co-authors of “The Powers in the Middle East: The Ultimate Strategic Arena.”