A few days after my son was drafted back in 2010, I tearfully showed our Israeli-born housekeeper the photographs I had taken at the Israeli Defense Force’s Draft Center at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill. I was crying about the fact that it had finally happened my son had been drafted! Our housekeeper, who has been with us since my son was in diapers, and who at one point in her life had four soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), gave me a hard open-palmed slap in the middle of my back and in Hebrew said: “Stop your crying, stand tall, we are the mother of the Israel Defense Force, we are not the mothers of soldiers, we are ‘Ima Chayal’ (‘Soldier Mom’). Yes, in the singular we are ‘Soldier Mom’! You are one too, from now until your son is released from the army you along with the rest of us are the mother of every single soldier of the IDF! We are here to take care of them and they are our defense!”
Then she hugged me, wiped away my tears and said:
“Ima Chayal, these are your orders:
1. To wash and iron his Israel Defense Force uniforms. Use a goodly portion of nice smelling fabric softener so that when he puts on his uniform he smells home! While ironing, pray. Pray strength, compassion, peace and good judgment into his uniform as you iron it. It’s proven G-d listens to the prayers of Ima Chayal! And when He answers “No!” at least He does it with compassion!
2. To bake. Bake cakes and cookies every week. These should always be “Kosher Parve” so that everyone in his unit whether they are religious or secular can eat them. Bake in large amounts, enough for everyone!
3. To buy energy foods every week. Buy nuts, dried fruits and energy bars. Buy enough for all of them! And no candy or potato chips, they aren’t on a school field trip they don’t need junk food, they are soldiers they need good clean energy foods!
4. To Drive. Drive him and his soldiers friends wherever they need to go. If that means that you get up at five in the morning to drive them to the Central Bus Station, the meeting point of the units’ buses or to the bases; well then get up at five in the morning and drive them! And don’t forget to pack them breakfast sandwiches, tea and coffee for the road!
5. To Write. Write him and his friends letters and put them in their ‘kitbags’ they will find the letters when they are on base and even if they don’t tell you they will be thankful for the thoughtful message. If you don’t have time to write letters then send text messages to their cellular phones. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get a single answer to your letters or text messages just know that the letters and text messages are appreciated very much.
6. To Listen. When he and his friends come home, listen with your heart. Don’t ask too many questions. In fact don’t ask any questions, you are American and Americans always ask the wrong questions about the IDF! Listen to his tired feet as they come out of his boots…and then you will know what to do to get him to tell you what he is tired from.
7. To call his commanding officer. When necessary call up his commanding officer and give him or her hell! It is your job to speak for your soldier especially at times when, if your soldier spoke for himself, it would be considered insubordination! Do not feel shy about calling, from time to time commanding officers need to be reminded that every soldier has a good Ima Chayal standing behind him!
8. To attend every single ceremony you are invited to. It doesn’t matter if it is your son’s ceremony or one of his friends’ ceremonies. Go, be proud, take plenty of pictures and remember that you are meant to bring food to every single ceremony that you attend. It doesn’t matter that the army provides lunches, you bring food from home! The soldiers like to have picnics after each and every ceremony it is a sign of home to them, it reminds them that home is what they are there to defend.
9. To go visit on base. When one of the soldiers is on base over the weekend or a holiday; go visit them and no complaining about the fact that the base is four hours away and after the last left turn at the end of the world. Go, bring food and be cheerful no crying during base visits!
10. DO NOT GIVE HIM ADVICE! You have no idea what he’s going through – DO NOT GIVE HIM ADVICE – GIVE HIM LOVE! Remember love is better for him than advice.
Ok, that should get you through his basic training, hopefully by the time he’s done with that you will have adjusted to your new assignment!” And with that our housekeeper pulled out an envelope from her purse and smiling at me added “Here’s his first letter!”