By Jill Schachter Levy
Last summer I got caught in Operation Protective Edge, first when Delta halted planes from Tel Aviv, then when I became too glued to leave before my kids were safe. Two kids, double jeopardy. I graduated from Chappaqua Mom to Lone Soldier Mom. Times two.
My son and daughter entered Roaring Brook in an age of innocence, and walked out of Greeley into a post 9/11 world. Marched, as it turned out. After Greeley they flew off to learn Hebrew and serve in Israel, America’s ally and beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
Perhaps I could have seen it coming on 9/11/01 when my daughter called me from a play date with “just one question–they did it on purpose, didn’t they?” Even the spectacular 9/11 Memorial Museum somehow displays aftermath as if New York’s police and firefighters faced a natural disaster, but such attacks are man-made all the way, and my kids wanted to do their part to defend democracy.
My Greeley grads are not unique; others of Chappaqua’s ‘finest’ chose Annapolis, West Point and the Israel Defense Force. It was funny to read IDF next to my daughter’s name on the college acceptances list; my fashionista is more FIT than army boots. AYSO and Greeley track won her the position of combat fitness instructor: light Air Force khakis by night, Lulu Lemon leggings by day, she keeps pilots fit by leading Pilates and Spinning on an air force base near Syria. As a fluke, in July, her base scheduled her for turbinate surgery; the army paid, I flew, and the post-op recovery bled into Operation Protective Edge, bringing me and war up close. When Delta cancelled my flight from Ben Gurion Airport, I stayed in Tel Aviv with ringside seats and skin in the game.
Israel usually sounds like Chappaqua discussing the future of the Readers Digest property, but for 50 days last summer you could hear a pin drop. Well, aside from warplanes. And red alerts announcing stray rockets, as a rocket sent over a major city should only be called ‘stray.’ There we stood in Tel Aviv, three million people, looking high up at blue sky where rockets were streaking by, two, three, five, each kissed midair by an Iron Dome interceptor. My Delta flight was banned because a rocket landed near the airport – but only one. Iron Dome was our hero, like Iron Man but real. Surreal. No surprise that this technology is a hot new seller on the world military market.
Iron Dome worked in Tel Aviv, but a hundred miles down the Mediterranean Sea, closer to Gaza, rocket launchers were so close folks had 15 seconds until impact. They had no warning of Hamas terrorists popping out of tunnels. Costing three million dollars each to dig, some had electricity, some were wide enough for motorcycles, all were stealthily camouflaged to facilitate surprise attacks and/or kidnappings of Israeli farmers and their families living two miles from Gazan farmers and their families. People who used to work together and share cafes. Until Hamas. Now it was warplanes versus rockets. Now uniformed soldiers entered Gaza to dismantle terror tubes that ended under the cool, tiled floors of kibbutz living rooms. These tunnels were Hamas’ war surprise.
My war surprise was that the ground incursion included my son, one of the IDF’s boots on the ground. I knew he was going in when he called to say he wouldn’t have his phone for a while. Once he became a commander he had his phone all the time, a tool and a privilege. No phone meant one thing. Training exercise. Okay, one more thing. War. Unbelievable as it seemed. He spoke to me, then his sister, then asked to speak to me again for a final I love you. Just in case, we understood. So we’d both know he’d told me.
I became an instant news junkie. Did they go in? How far? For how long? Is my son’s unit in? Gossip abounded. Ignorance was bliss, and yet the worst part was no word. I lived on clues from my recovering daughter’s vast network of soldier friends and the occasional call from an unknown cellphone my son grabbed as he rolled out of Gaza to refuel. My own phone was glued to me. I answered every number just in case Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva called to report an injury.
When I heard from the cell phone company welcoming me as a new customer, American style, I went cold as I realized the army didn’t know my number. How would they contact me? Death is a personal visit. “Don’t worry,” my sang-froid combat fitness instructor daughter cautioned, “Mossad nails harder tasks than locating you.”
My son entered Gaza with the first group, and left with the last. He had a birthday in Gaza. No stray bullet got him. No friendly fire. No tunnel booby trap. By year-end, both kids will have ended a service during which, despite the odds, they caught a war, providing them common ground with their own grandparents, the great generation who fought a worldwide enemy as power-hungry and as ruthless as Hamas, ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, and Iran combined.
At first, I was incensed that kids were being asked to risk their lives for mine. The moment I gave birth I shifted generations and became a parent, a caregiver. This summer I shifted again when I saw my infantryman’s heaviest burden was not fear, though he was terrified, but the deep worry he was forcibly causing his dad and me.
My son knows what it means to lead troops and a family, and I realize the baton has passed, though I would appreciate a few years of me-time before sliding into that last and best phase, grandparent.
We moved to Chappaqua in an age of innocence and I didn’t see this coming, but, by 2001, I should have. After all, 9/11 shook us all–adults and children. That my Chappaqua-raised children grew to soldier in today’s defensive, global war still shakes me. But, there is a silver lining; being on the front line forged in my kids and in my family an extra unbreakable bond. An Iron Bond. And, for that, I am grateful.
Jill Schachter Levy moved to Chappaqua in 1992 and lived here for 17 years. She worked in finance in NYC until the draw of the Chappaqua PTA became too strong. When her kids grew up she started blogging – about her kids, of course, and the world they and we live in.