I had the unmerited privilege this week, on two different days, in two different hospitals, to sit with wounded chayalim (soldiers) and/or their families. There are not words to adequately express how I felt about it....and I am not going to try.
But I would be remiss in my responsibility as a writer and conveyor of the uniqueness that is Israel, if I did not share at least a few things from these days.
One of the things that struck me the most, and what I carry in my heart, is the brightness of the faces, the brightness in the eyes, even those in pain, of these young men. There I stood, a little shyly, not exactly sure what to say, but wanting to communicate my love and appreciation to the men and their families, and bearing gifts from many merchants in my neighborhood - and there they were, beaming at me, giving love and appreciation to me...and strength. The brightness and eagerness of their smiles conveyed inimitable strength and confidence. As if protecting me/us on the battlefield wasn't enough, here they were, still the strength and defenders of Am Yisrael.
It was not just the soldiers who conveyed this optimism and strength, but also the families of these men. Even when there were very serious injuries, and this day there were 3 such situations, the families greeted me with a calm assurance - yes, some weariness, but no sad faces, no "why me/us?" questioning, but a quiet optimism and determination and strength that was extended from the battlefield to the rooms and corridors of the hospitals.
Indeed, these hospitals are part of the battlefield. Here, I realized, is waged simply another phase of the war.
Israel's army chooses to lead in a way that is foreign to much of the world. The commanders do not send their men into battle, they take them. Follow me is the shout, as the commander leads the way, going first into the fray.
Such, I understood, was the nature of the battles in these hospital rooms. Most that I saw were not commanders, but "Follow me" echoed throughout the hospitals, as both soldiers and families led the way.
It has been said to me several times this week - when we want to give back to the chayalim who fight for us, it's not just for them - it's for us as well. For in the exchange, we are all a part of the battle; we are in it together and we each have a part. But as I have learned so many times here in Israel, when you go to strengthen someone else, you are the one who ends up encouraged and strengthened by the other.
This is the uniqueness that is Israel - we are all family, and when we go to war, we all go to war, when one is hurt, we all hurt. But the ones who lead the way are often bright eyed young men and women and their families, who give us all strength....not afraid to put their lives on the line, not afraid to love their achim (brothers - here, in arms) and not afraid to love the ones they protect.
I have many stories from this week stored in my heart. Perhaps I'll share one or two later. In the meantime, the Jerusalem Post published an article about one of these young men, Staff Sergeant Avi Cohen, 23. Please read it. His story is representative of the rest of our men and women who are out there on the battlefield and in the recovery rooms of the hospitals, leading the way.