I’m Not a “Combat Mom” for Nothing!

This week we are featuring a guest post by Deena Sattler, who writes:

I was privileged to participate in the AACI’s 6 week creative non-fiction writing course for over 60’s entitled “Ethical Legacy Writing Workshop” given by the young and very talented Miriam Wasser, a guest lecturer and writing teacher. She managed to pull out of each student in the class of six the most amazing stories we didn’t know we had in us.

Here is an excerpt from the last story I wrote for the class. I had been meaning to write it and submit it to AACI for years, but it only happened now, as a result of the workshop. So thank you.

I’m Not a “Combat Mom” for Nothing!

by Deena Sattler

This story begins innocently enough on a Friday afternoon at the end of April in 1999. With two sons doing officers’ training courses, I had no idea what was waiting for me except the dirty laundry. I was looking forward to having both boys home for Shabbat and had started my preparations early in the week so I could spend Friday afternoon doing their laundry. Separate loads for separate units.

Now, being a seasoned army mom and because my oldest son, Yehuda, had done the first officers’ training course already — the one Aryeh, from Golani, was doing now — I asked if they knew when the end of the course ceremonies were to be taking place. I’d need to mark two dates down on my calendar and make sure everyone would be able to come.

Yehuda told me the 7th of the Seventh Month, July, in Latrun and Aryeh told me, the same date, the 7th of the Seventh, in Bislach, which is somewhere after Dimona.

“NO WAY,” I shouted. “Can’t be,” I insisted. “I refuse to accept this!”  They must have seen the smoke coming out of my ears!

Ema, Mom, calm down. We’ll check again on Sunday, “ they both said. “And if this is the date, then ain ma la asot, there’s nothing to be done about it.”

I was seething. I was furious. I couldn’t believe it. But I had two months. So I tried not to dwell on this too much during Shabbat. But with two soldiers at home and two younger brothers of high school age, the talk always reverted back to army talk, in abbreviations and army slang, in very fast Hebrew, like ping pong. Aryeh was doing the Kours Makim, drill sergeant’s course, that Yehuda had done last year and there were lots of things to talk about. Yehuda was doing the Kours Mem-mem, group commander’s course, and had lots of stories to tell. Even little Yaakov was engrossed as his four older brothers and their father discussed the army.

And me? Seven of seven! Couldn’t get it out of my mind. One of the things Yehuda did mention was that they had had a lecture by the Kol Yisrael radio army correspondent Carmella Menashe. Many times when a problem in the army crops up she actually tries to get it solved before it goes public. Yehuda thought that maybe I should speak to her.

Sunday saw the soldiers leave with their clean laundry and packages of goodies and the other kids leave for their various schools. Now I could get down to business. Contrary to my family’s advice, I wasn’t going to let this go without a fight. I just don’t buy Kacha zeh b’aretz … that’s how it is in Israel. I hadn’t been a dues-paying member of the “Mothers of Sons in Combat Units” support group for nothing. So I pulled out my list of emergency telephone numbers and called Katzin Ha’ir, the army liaison in town for questions and problems. I very politely asked if they could check the dates of the final ceremonies of the two courses, makim and mem-mem. Maybe there was a mistake in the date after all. A few hours later I received a call confirming the worst:  both were to be on Wednesday the 7th of July. Too bad.

I looked up Kol Yisrael in the phone book and called to ask for Carmella Menashe’s number. I called Carmella and spilled out my story. She told me I was 1000% right, but she didn’t think there wasn’t much that could be done. I asked her where to start, at the bottom or at the top, and she told me to call the ramatkal, the commander in chief, General Shaul Mofaz, and gave me his office number. I called and spoke to a young sounding secretary who stopped me mid-sentence and said to send a fax. Now I had to sit down and write a letter in Hebrew. I could do that. Not great Hebrew but they would understand. I wrote and faxed it. A few days later I received a fax from the office of General Mofaz saying “Kol hakavod! Well done!Two sons in officers’ training courses, terrific! What more could a mother want? Sorry but we can’t help you. It has already been decided. Good luck and G-d bless.” Or something like that, in Hebrew.

Darn! I immediately sent my same fax to the army ombudsman, the army complaints department, and of course a few days later, received the same “no can do” answer.  Resigning myself to the fact that I would only be at one ceremony, I began dreaming about this and thinking up wacko ideas like trying to hitch a ride with General Mofaz when (or if?) he went from one ceremony to the other or hiring a helicopter to fly me from Latrun in the center to Bislach in the Negev. We talked about videotaping both ceremonies. We talked about which kids would drive with which parent to which ceremony. I had resigned myself to my fate. I had tried.

And then my husband suggested that I write to the president of Israel, Mr. Ezer Weizmann. And so I did. I wrote that a mother really doesn’t get much nachat, satisfaction, from the army and now, when I could and should be having so much nachat from two sons, I had to choose between them and only go to see one ceremony. I really shmaltzed it up, giving it all I had. I mailed the letter but didn’t give it much of a chance.

A few days later I received a phone call from the President’s office, calling to tell me that the president had received my letter, had spoken to a few people and that the army would be calling me.  I thanked them, thanked the president, put down the phone and leaped for joy. YES!

A day or so later the army called and said “Giveret, at to’ah!”  Madam, you are mistaken! The two ceremonies are NOT on the same day. Yes, one is on the 7th of Seven, but the other is on the 8th of Seven. And we expect you will be able to attend both.” “Oh,” I demurely answered, “I’m sorry. Could you perhaps fax me what you just said? (I really wanted this in writing.) Thank you so much.” It took them about a week but I received the fax and put it together with all my correspondence concerning the 7th of Seven. This I was going to keep.

Yes, my family was very surprised. My sons were impressed. I found myself telling this story over and over, even in Hebrew. I even called Carmella and she congratulated me.

I am the first to admit that this happened only because Ezer Weizmann was the president. He had been an air force man, and a rebel, a maverick, and maybe he could understand a mother’s dilemma or he saw that this was such a trivial thing that he felt he could tell the army what to do. It wasn’t as if I was asking them to leave Lebanon or something.

We all drove down on a hot Wednesday, the 7th of 7, to Latrun to the ceremony. There I saw Mr. Ezer Weizmann, with bodyguards, but accessible. I’d love to be able to write that I went up to him and introduced myself and thanked him in person. But I didn’t. I didn’t have the nerve. But I wish I had.

Then the next day, an even hotter Thursday, we shlepped all the way down to Bislach, basis something lechimah something (base to train for fighting and warfare … everything a mother wants to know!), and we saw the second ceremony. Again I told the story of how I got the date changed. Again, people were impressed.

What was it that drove me to do this? Probably my American upbringing. My refusal to accept that “that’s how we do things in Israel and there’s nothing to be done about it.” My inability to accept something as trivial as a conflict of events, even from the army, that made me feel I should try and get it changed. And with the right person at the top, I succeeded.

And now I have a war story of my own that I can tell.

Editor’s note:  Do you have an Israeli Army story — or other personal story of life in Israel — that you would like to share with us? We are always interested in stories that will inform, uplift and inspire our readers. Of course, we reserve the sole right to publish or not, and to edit before publishing. Please submit your story, preferably including (non-copyright) photos as well, to bjacobson@aaci.org.il. Looking forward to hearing from you!

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)
Talpiot, Jerusalem
MAP
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop  at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

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