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Israeli mothers knew their sons would serve. But they didn’t expect war.


The six mothers had gathered recently in a Jerusalem home to prepare challah, the braided bread that Jews eat on the Sabbath. After reciting a blessing that is part of the ritual, each woman added her own prayer.

“I just want everyone to come back alive and in one piece, mentally and physically,” one of them said, her voice breaking. “May they return in peace,” said another, wiping away tears. “With this challah, I want to bless my three sons who are in the army and all the soldiers,” said Ruthie Tick, who had summoned the mothers so they could comfort each other.

Together, they had 10 sons who served in the Israeli army, either in Gaza, fighting Hamas in response to the group’s deadly incursion and rampage on October 7, or in the north, where the Hezbollah militia, supported by Iran, launched missiles at Israel from Lebanon.

The women had barely finished praying when a WhatsApp message appeared on Rebecca Haviv’s cell phone. “I will soon be without a phone,” wrote his son, Adam, a 29-year-old soldier on reserve duty. “I love you so much, Mom, and I will contact you.”

“He is entering Gaza,” Ms. Haviv said, anguished. Adam, her only son and father of her only grandson, a three-month-old boy, was beginning his second mission in Gaza. She endured 13 days of radio silence during her premiere. How long would it take this time?

“I love you too,” Ms Haviv replied, adding a heart emoji and hoping two blue checkmarks would appear to signify Adam had read the message. They did not do it.

Israel called up about 360,000 reservists after Hamas’s attack on Israeli border communities in which the attackers killed more than 1,200 people and captured some 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

The mass mobilization upended families across the country, and many Israeli mothers turned to each other for support, although they were granted some respite when a temporary ceasefire was established. last week.

The Israeli Citizen Army forms the foundation of society, and compulsory service is a rite of passage for most young Israeli men and women, although only a small number of women serve in combat units. More than a dozen mothers said in interviews that although their sons were trained for front-line roles as snipers, paratroopers and commandos, they never imagined raising warriors.

They also didn’t expect their children to face all-out war after Israel reached peace deals with several Arab countries, normalization with Saudi Arabia advanced, and Israelis were on vacation in Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The sons of the women at the Friday challah gathering had become musicians, engineers and physiotherapists since completing their military service. Some were newlyweds or had started families. Now recalled to the army, they fight alongside regular troops.

And although everyone said they were proud of their children, many expressed dismay at the idea that their children could take the lives of others.

“I don’t want my sons to kill anyone; it will hurt their hearts,” said Rakefet Yoeli, an obstetrician whose twins are in combat units.

So far, Israeli military strikes have claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Around 80 Israeli soldiers have died since the start of the ground war, according to Israeli authorities.

As the war drags on, mothers said they grapple with increasing, and sometimes debilitating, anxiety. To cope, some have turned to their faith for comfort. Others meditate. Or both. Many joined support groups.

“The war is on the shoulders of women – mothers, wives,” said Einat Roichman, who started Drafted Women, a support group with 100 participants, in the town of Binyamina. “The agony is not limited to the battlefield. »

Rakefet Yoeli’s father was a decorated air force pilot who fought in several wars. Her husband was a commander in a tank unit.

“My parents would never have believed that their children and grandchildren would have to join an army, let alone fight,” she said. “They thought that peace would now be restored. »

But now their twin grandsons are fighting in Gaza.

An obstetrician-gynecologist at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv, Dr. Yoeli, 54, gave birth to Amit and Roee, 20, after a miscarriage and fertility treatment. Five years later she had a third son, Uri.

The boys grew up with pride in their family’s military heritage and had long dreamed of serving in elite combat units.

“I wanted them to play the trombone,” Dr. Yoeli said, “but they wanted to be combat soldiers. I couldn’t stop them.

Last year, the twins attended each other’s celebrations, when Roee was inducted into the paratroopers and Amit into a commando unit.

“If no one did it, who would save us? » asked Dr. Yoeli.

On October 7, Roee’s unit was among the first to respond to the besieged border communities. Roee didn’t tell his mother anything about what he witnessed. Later, she learned that six soldiers on her team had died fighting Hamas and another was in her hospital in critical condition.

“All these years I knew my boys would go to the army, hoping there would be no conflict,” said Dr. Yoeli.

She said she never cried in front of her sons. But as she spoke at home, tears welled up in her eyes as she shared her concerns with them.

Dr. Yoeli said she was used to her boys’ curt responses and few displays of affection. “Yes or no; I’m hungry,” she said.

Before the war, “no one ever told me that I love you,” she remembers. “Now it’s totally different.”

On October 29, Roee texted his parents: “I’m giving up my phone,” he said, and she knew he was going to Gaza. “I love you very much. It’s going to be okay.”

Amit sent a similar text, sealed with a heart.

Air raid sirens sounded across Israel early on October 7, shattering the calm that normally prevails on the Sabbath.

In Jerusalem, Ruthie Tick, her husband, Drew, and their youngest son, Eli, 21, a soldier for the weekend, went to the safe in the basement of their apartment building. Later, as they watched television in their apartment, the scale of Hamas’s attacks became clear.

Eli’s phone rang. A few minutes later, he put on his uniform, grabbed his gun and said goodbye to his parents. He was days away from completing his military service.

The next day, their eldest son, Lev, 30, who works in the technology sector, was called up for reserve duty. And the next day, the second eldest, Sassoon, 27, a television technician, was summoned. Only Mrs. Tick’s son, 25 years old and living in Florida, was spared.

“I’m very, very proud of my children,” she said. “They didn’t ask any questions. They didn’t question it.

But Ms Tick, 59, was in a daze.

“It felt like my children were being taken away, one by one, every day, until there was no one left,” recalls Ms. Tick, who works as a therapist.

Days after Israeli attacks and strikes began on Gaza, she and her husband rushed to meet Sassoon, stationed in the north, who had little time to see them.

The three were at a restaurant when Ms. Tick learned from another son, Lev, that he was turning off his phone. She knew what that meant: Gaza.

“I just wanted to throw up,” she recalls. The following week, Mrs. Tick and her husband prepared to visit Eli near Gaza and bring dinner to 30 of his comrades. She managed to reach Lev, who had returned to his base from Gaza, and he promised to meet them as well. He asked her: Could she bring meals for eight people?

Frantic, Mrs. Tick prepared dinner for about forty soldiers in her kitchen: breaded chicken tenders, or schnitzel, and rice and peas for Eli and his team; for Lev, minced meat with hummus. She made challah rolls for both of them.

Near Gaza, parents delivered food, took photos, hugged their sons and, a few minutes later, were driving home. Later, they learn that Lev had returned to Gaza before enjoying his mother’s cooking.

Some days, Ms. Tick said, her stomach is in a “knot of anxiety.”

When this happens, she says a special blessing for her sons, she says, imagining them in the future, celebrating joyful occasions, like weddings and the birth of children. “I put a halo on them and they are safe,” she said.

Miriam Atun wasn’t having it. She draped herself in front of the front door to prevent her son, Yaakov, with his military backpack on his back, from leaving.

“Over my dead body,” she remembers screaming at him. “You are not going back to the army.”

He wasn’t fighting a war, she told him. He had previously been on the front lines as a medic for an elite combat unit during an operation in Gaza in 2014.

“For 50 days, I lived in torment,” said Ms. Atun, a 53-year-old teacher. “My face burst. I couldn’t eat.

Yaakov, a 29-year-old drummer who lives in Tel Aviv, was visiting his parents in a nearby town when Hamas struck and was called into reserve.

Ms. Atun knew two soldiers who died on October 7, a relative’s son and a neighbor’s son. No more, she thought – especially not her only son.

“I told him, ‘Tell them your mother is in the hospital. Tell them she’s institutionalized. I don’t care what you tell them, you’re not going anywhere,’” she recalls.

As Ms. Atun grew increasingly agitated, one of her daughters called her brother’s commander and told him that their mother was depressed. Yaakov was relieved of his duties.

Days passed and Yaakov repeatedly told his mother that it was not right for him to stay at home while his friends served.

“Are you afraid that I will die?” Ms. Atun remembers his question. She did not answer.

When it became clear that his unit was unlikely to enter Gaza, Yaakov persuaded his mother to let him go. She agreed, on the condition that he text regularly and answer her calls. He promised he would.

“I know there are mothers who say: ‘Go for it. Fight,’” Ms. Atun said. “I see it differently.”

Gal Koplewitz And Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.



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