Two hours earlier my teacher's combat soldier son had called to say they were shutting off their phones, would be unreachable for a while. Nothing unremarkable about that except that he also called all his siblings and his father. She knew he'd just gone in to Gaza. We read Psalms together and dedicated our Torah learning to our soldiers at the front.
My teacher is such an inspiring women, looking at her face the concern and worry was clearly there, but so too her deep faith in God and in the justice of this cause, the need to fight the enemy so determined to destroy us.
Tonight she was a little less strained. After six days without contact with her son, days of knowing that he was with his combat unit in the thick of things in Gaza, he was finally able to call and tell her that his unit had been granted a break. He was out of Gaza for now, getting some much earned rest.
It is not easy to be a mother in Israel, especially a mother of sons in a community where the ethic of serving one's country by volunteering for combat units it's a principle value. It isn't easy being a wife either, so many husbands vanished for weeks on end, spirited away by emergency call up papers. It isn't just husbands either, some women have also been drafted, and in a rare case or two even both spouses. The Gaza front line is at most a few hours from people's homes, in most cases much closer, but in times like these, both for those now serving in the army and those left home to "hold down the fort" that distance can feel like worlds away.
Israel at war is an Israel where everyone feels the need to contribute. This is still a small country where everyone seems interconnected and with the front so close to soldiers' homes local communities are able to organise a continuous stream of care packages. Day after day community notice boards are covered in notices about which family or synagogue is collecting for which unit, what supplies are most needed by the soldiers, which stores are donating goods, which stores are offering discounts to civilians shopping for care packages and so on.
This week for example my upstairs neighbours was contacted by a relative serving in the reserves, telling her his unit has been living on battle rations for weeks. She put out a call for volunteers to cook for the soldiers, so that at least for Shabbat they could enjoy a taste of home. A steady flow of people carrying foil pans and plastic containers to her door continued late into the night, folks from around the neighbourhood bringing trays laden with kugels, rice, chicken and all manner of salads and dips, freshly baked hallot and cookies.
My neighbour joked that it was a great way to meet local residents, many of us living on the same street for the past decade or more but only now finally getting to know each other beyond a basic smile and "shalom" while passing one another in the car park or on our way to dump bottles at the recycling bins. Early Friday morning the unit sent a military truck right to our building to collect the fridge full of donations and Sunday morning grateful soldiers e-mailed photos of tired looking men with stubbled faces and dusty crumpled fatigues tucking in to the meals on Friday afternoon.
Brave civilians drive down to the Gaza border area risking Hamad mortar fire to bring food, toiletries, underwear and messages of support to weary soldiers. One man has already been killed on such a mission of kindness, struck down while handing out treats. The IDF has tried to ban civilians from endangering themselves by coming so close to Gaza, but people are still determined to find a way to get some home comforts to the frontline bases. To get an idea just how dangerous that area is, four soldiers were killed today by a mortar right in this Gaza border region.
Israeli civilians are also doing their best to support the hundreds of thousands of people living in towns and villages right near the Gaza border, people who've been living under heavy fire, in or close to their shelters. Some businesses have had to close, others have no choice, as in the case of the farmers harvesting their crops in the intervals between mortars and rockets, with nowhere to take cover out in the open fields, in recent weeks this has cost the life of a farm worker, one of several killed or injured in recent years by attacks from Gaza.
In the middle of all this people still need to somehow earn their living, care for their families, keep their children from going completely stir crazy from the long hours in the shelters and the day after day of bombardments and alerts. Volunteers have gone down to entertain the kids in the shelters, bringing with them donations of toys, books and treats from northern and central Israel.
All over Israel synagogues and social centres have organised group purchases from southern businesses, be it mass orders of hallot for Shabbat from bakeries in Sderot and Ofakim, farmers markets in support of southern farms or young couples having their wedding invitations printed by printshops in frontline communities.
And in the middle of it all, even where it seems peaceful and calm and you could pretend that we aren't a country at war, there is this quiet buzz of tension, the ever present worry, the silent prayer on everyone's lips, please God let our soldiers do their jobs, let them get the terrorists and their rockets, may our soldiers find all the terror tunnels and may they be able to do so without endangering themselves or having to take more Palestinian civilians lives, may this war restore peace to all of Israel, and most of all, please God, bring all our people home safe.