Deborah and Yaron Degani, parents of Shira Degani, El Salvador
Shira is our eldest daughter (we have three). She was raised in El Salvador by an American mother and an Israeli father so she is the original “U N child.”
We moved here in 1992 just as the peace treaty was being signed after a long and bloody civil war.
Shira faced a lot of resentment towards foreigners and A LOT of antisemitism throughout her childhood here in Central America. At times it was very heartbreaking as a parent to watch the process of her being ostracized and criticized at school but Shira is a survivor and a real tough kid.
As parents we always taught her to stand up and do what is correct in the face of adversity, never be ashamed of who she is, and to follow her passions in life and she will have success. Shira listened well so when she decided to enter the army, and do it on her terms, it was no surprise to us and we are quite proud of her for doing so.
I am not sure if the Israeli army is aware of who Shira is or the force that they are dealing with but I am sure that she will bring it to their attention. In short, Mom and Dad are very proud of her and miss her terribly, Dad melts when he sees her in her uniform , and that is saying a lot for a hardened Sabra that started his service 6 weeks before the 73 war, and Mom would like nothing more than to be able to pack her lunch box every morning before she “leaves for the army.”
Jami Gan, mother of Max Gan, AZ, Paratrooper
When my son finished his sophomore year in High School, he sat me down one day and told me that he planned to make Aliyah and serve in the IDF once he finished High School. I knew he meant it. I cried. (He knew I would) I cried because my baby would be across the ocean from me. I cried because I would have to share him with his other “home” and I cried because I knew he may come to be in harm’s way. He explained that he wished he could do this for himself without doing it to me as well, but he told me that because he felt obligated to serve for his birthright, that I, too, am obligated, just as all of the Israeli mothers are, whose children have to serve. Even though I understood his reasons, and even related to them, his brother and sister, his father and I spent the next couple of years trying to talk him out of it-and if we couldn’t, then we wanted to make sure that he had given great thought to this great decision.
We always knew we would give our blessing, but we didn’t want to make his decision an easy one. Did he think about having to pull Jews from their homes? Did he think about living with the fact that he might, one day, have to take a life (G-D forbid)? Did he think about the possibility of dying or being hurt in a horrific way? Did he think about the possibility of finding the IDF to be an imperfect institution? We colored his rose-colored glasses with chaos and gloom-but he did not waiver. And so we sent him off with blessings, prayers, promises and the comfort of knowing that he was doing what he REALLY wanted and needed to do. He got some great advice (from another mom of a soldier) that he, thank G-D, took to heart. She told him, that to make it easier for me, that it would help to make me a part of it, as best as he could. Tell me what is going on- keep me posted about the latest training drills, give me the gory details about the blisters he got during his gibbush, tell me about the dumb jokes his fellow soldiers make…. And she was right. Hearing the conviction, the fatigue, the pride, the excitement, the frustration-it all connects us in some small way.
I have connected with other parents of Lone Soldiers. This has helped too. Without ever meeting, we relate-being members of the same club. There is comfort in venting to one who feels and lives with what you feel and live with.
The way I see it is, I could make it harder for him and myself or I could make it easier. Why would I ever want to make it harder? So I go with the flow….and pray more often. When my babies were born, I learned to be a parent of newborns. When my babies grew to toddlers, I learned to be a parent of toddlers…then adolescents, then teens, then adults. And now I will learn how to be a parent of a soldier. And I hope that I will make my son as proud as he has made me.
Stephanie Ivler, mother of Paratrooper
Like many of you reading this piece, I was invited to share my experiences on this website. I was a “Lone Mom.” By that I mean, a single mother living in California whose son served as a Lone Soldier.
Two moments in our lives live vividly in my mind. In the first, he is 7 years old. He is about to depart for a sleepover weekend away. He did not play army games and military service was never a topic of conversation in our Southern California home. For some reason, though, my brother had given him a small, used army surplus duffel bag and he had chosen to pack his weekend clothing and toys in it.
That morning, I stood on our front patio waiting for him to emerge from the house. As he crossed the threshold of our front door, he slung the duffel onto his shoulder and in one nanosecond I saw the IDF soldier. I tucked the image into my heart, telling no one…and carried it there with quiet certitude for the next 11 years.
Fast forward. He was soon to graduate from high school – never having been “spoiled” but certainly having enjoyed the California sun and the surf. We sat together one afternoon on our back patio talking of his future. At a moment seared to this day in my memory, he looked directly into my eyes and asked “Mom, how would you feel were I to serve in the IDF instead of going directly to college?” Flashback…the duffel bag…and the words rushed from my mouth even before I consciously formed them: “Son, I would be so very proud.”
He served with the Tzanchanim. It was difficult to be so far away and so completely disconnected from his reality. The IDF did not communicate with me. Together with his younger sister we attended his graduation from advanced training and were with him when he received his base assignment. But my sole connection from distant California was the cell phone…and those times when I could not reach him or he did not return my calls were not easy. In addition to that sense of constant unease, I struggled with a mother’s guilt that I was not there to wash his uniforms, feed him well and send him off protesting my kisses when he was granted short leaves!
For 14 months (I counted them), I began and ended each day with that worrisome weight in my stomach…and then something shifted. I realized that it was within my power to assume that he was just fine unless and until I was informed otherwise…and this made the remaining months of his service so much less worrisome!
Looking back on our experience, it would have been so very helpful to me and to his sister to have heard from the IDF periodically and been embraced within its family, and to have had families of other Lone Soldiers with whom to share both our pride and our concerns. As it was, I found a common language with parents of American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan…because the mother of a soldier is the mother of a soldier!
So for those of you whose son or daughter is participating in a garin, I probably need not suggest that you stay in contact with each other. You have already formed a support network. And for those of you whose child is entering the IDF on his or her own, please utilize this website, which will include a blog, and hopefully other parents will reach out to you.
For seven years now, I have worn a bracelet that was at one time distributed by The Soldiers’ Welfare Association, Agudat L’Maayan HaChayal. It says in Hebrew: “We Salute You!” I wear the bracelet because the moment that my son donned the IDF uniform, every young man and woman wearing that uniform became my child. This feeling has never changed and it is perpetuated in experiencing the love and solidarity our Lone Soldiers show for each other. His “Band of Brothers” remain closely connected and are living lives of ongoing dedication to Am Israel and the State of Israel. They are our future.
Marlene and Bill Abraham, parents of David Abraham, AZ, Commander, Tanks
When our son David first told us that he wanted to join the Israeli army, we were quite taken aback but not surprised. On the one hand we were very proud of him for feeling so passionately about Israel and displaying his passion for Zionism. This is a huge commitment on the part of any young man and woman. One of our concerns were whether or not he truly understood this type of commitment. It is not like attending a summer camp or training for a marathon. Whether it is a 2 or 3-year commitment, this is intense, both physically and mentally. Also, not having family members nearby when you have time off is a challenge compared to Israeli soldiers that can go home on their free weekends and receive TLC from their families, someone doing their laundry, giving them homemade food, a comfortable bed to sleep in, etc. These were some of the concerns that we had when David decided to join. Also, of course, being safe. Being part of any country’s army is dangerous, and we are always worrying about his safety.