Until When

Photo: Kobi Gideon/Israel Government Press Office

Until my first son was drafted, I didn’t know what it felt like to have a gun in my house; to have a gun in my bedroom, in the walk-in closet where it could be safely locked behind two doors, the clunky black rifle lying on the floor, where I stepped over it when I went in to choose a Shabbos dress before candle-lighting, the metal magazine—filled with bullets, I supposed—stuck on the shelf among my sweaters.

Until my son came back after the first weeks in the army base, I didn’t know how smelly a bag of laundry could be, the green army fatigues, pre-worn and patched, now full of my son’s sweat from long days of grueling physical exertion. My muscles ached just thinking about it.

Until my son was drafted, I didn’t quite grasp how the army is so not summer camp, that his commanding officers created distance, not camaraderie, demanded blind obedience, not participation. And I didn’t anticipate that my son, so recently a smart-alecky teenager with a strong aversion to authority, could so quickly turn into that soldier, eager to dutifully obey and determined to excel.

Until my son was in the army, I couldn’t have guessed how happy he could be to come home and sleep in his bed, and how much pleasure it would give me to pamper him with his favorite meals. I could not have imagined how I would savor a few extra minutes with him when it meant waking up at the crack of dawn on Sunday mornings to drive him to the bus station with his large duffel bag, my freshly baked brownies tucked inside.

I hadn’t quite understood, until my son was a soldier that he was entering a world that I would barely be able to fathom, with its own rules and terminology, and that after the extensive training, he would be carrying out operations he could never share with those outside his army unit, the unit that became, for a time, his new family. 

I never thought to appreciate how my son’s warmth and charm would serve him in the army, enabling him to easily form close bonds with his fellow soldiers, bonds so essential, as these brothers would be called upon to support and protect one another, possibly with their very lives.

Until my son was drafted, I didn’t realize how proud I would feel to see him in that uniform, with that gun and the big black boots, giving over his whole being to a job nobody’s son should have to do.

When my son was a soldier, I didn’t know that more than a decade later, with all those anxious, sleepless nights so far in the past, I would once again be praying for his safety as he fights to protect Am Yisrael. But this time my worry is for his family as well—his wife and their little boys—as he does a job nobody’s father should have to do. 


Nomi (Cycowicz) Gutenmacher made aliyah from Boro Park, Brooklyn and raised her family in Jerusalem.

This article was featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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