I will never forget the day I joined the Israel Defense Forces. It was five years ago, and I remember 18-year-old me, kissing you and Dad goodbye and boarding the bus that would take me to a month-long boot camp. You hugged me close and shed a tear, and I remember thinking you were weird. I could not understand why you were getting all emotional when you’d probably see me that very same weekend, or in the worst case, the weekend after that. I had no idea why you made such a big deal out of me starting my mandatory IDF service, all the more due to the nature of my service, which had me sleeping at home almost every day.
Now, Mother, I understand.
My little brother is now an IDF warrior, and I finally see what hid behind that tear. I saw it the day he went on that bus to boot camp to start his mandatory service — the helplessness that you and all the other mothers who kissed their children goodbye felt. Not because you won’t see your baby boy for two weeks, but because that day you were forced to let go of your natural grip of your child. A mother-child bond is something too strong to write in words. No matter how old we are, where we are and what we’ve been through, we will always feel that bond, and it will always be a part of us. Even in 2013, a mother, every mother, will always feel the urge to take care of her son or daughter, in all ages and at all times.
The Israeli mother, therefore, experiences something unnatural, against the norms of the world, when she kisses her child goodbye on the day of his or her enrollment in the IDF. She doesn’t only say goodbye to the daily presence of her child in her life, but also to the grip she has on her child and her natural role as a mother. When the child goes on that bus, he is no longer under her responsibility, but for two or three years, he or she is under the full control of the army.
Mom, sometimes I feel your heart racing when my brother tells you he is not happy and you cannot hug him. I can feel your stomach clench when he tells you he caught a cold and you know you can’t go there, to his base, and take him home to rest. I know how much you want to make him his favorite food, to talk to him whenever you like, to listen to him play his guitar every evening. I see how much you crave your motherly role, and I know you know that you can’t.
Much like every Israeli mother, you are a hero. Every time you turn over your children to the army for their mandatory service, you do the impossible — and to me it is an act of heroism. And you know you will let go again when your next child turns 18. You, and all other Israeli mothers, are heroes, because you manage to take a major step back, to go against the rules of human nature, for your country. You are willing to let go, so that the collective can sleep quietly at night, knowing your child, and many other children, are on the lookout, keeping us all safe.
But you, mother, are unlike any other Israeli mother, because you are my mother. You helped me become the person I am. You taught me to always believe in myself, to be close to my brothers, to find the bright side of everything, to know you are always behind me, rooting and cheering. You, mother, taught me to always remember that there are times in life when I need to take a step back, and not put myself first. Do something for the greater good, even at the cost of something important to me, because sometimes, others matter more.
I admire you, mom, and thank you for being mine and for me being yours.
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Originally posted on The Jewish Daily Forward at forward.com.