It’s time to come home: A letter from an IDF wife to herself.

Last summer, Borehamwood and Elstree shul was honoured to welcome fourteen members of Sayeret Golani (an elite unit in the IDF) and two therapists as part of the charity ‘Peace of Mind’ programme to help these soldiers process their challenging army experiences. After a full day of talking therapy, we bonded over football, trips into town, the golf range, family dinners and a few purely medicinal l’chaims. They arrived as strangers and left seven days later as family.

Over the course of the war, we have managed to have brief moments of contact with the heroes who are serving on the front line to protect us all. This week, the unit, who were called up on Oct 7, were finally released from reserve duty to recover and be with their families. Ahead of this reunion, Yuval’s wife, Alit wrote a letter to herself to recall the experience of the past 145 days.

These are Alit’s words translated from Hebrew:

It’s over and done with. Almost 5 months. So what is it to be alone for 145 days?

It’s to remember all those times he went to miluim (reserve duty) and you didn’t stop complaining, to know that this time you have no choice and it’s the order of the hour. You stay silent.

It’s constantly recreating that Black Saturday morning when you got up alone hearing the air raid sirens and pulled the kids out of bed to the safe room because he was out running. And how he called you from a military base on his running route to tell you not to worry and that everything was fine, but when he got home to the sound of another alarm he pulled the military equipment out of the cupboard. It was clear to both of you that nothing was right anymore.

It’s stacking chairs at night to block the door of the house and inventing a story for the children who wake up in the morning and don’t understand what you did.

It’s asking your neighbour to make you a plank of wood to secure the safe room from the inside and making up another story for the kids who are wondering about this new accessory.

It’s imagining that they believe all the stories you make up.

It’s unbelievable how he travelled this year with his whole unit to London to process the experiences of his service accompanied by psychologists, and you were sure that at the end of 20 years of reserve duty, we are done with the “experiences” that need to be processed. And now they are all volunteering together again.

It’s hard to understand how only 5 months earlier, the whole family stood at the ceremony to honour exemplary IDF reservists. Your heart burst with pride when his name was called and you breathed a sigh of relief that your days of worry were behind you. And then find yourself worrying and anxious again.

It’s running through all the wars and operations you went through together. The second Lebanon war where you were completely disconnected and went crazy with worry. In the Gaza ‘Tzuk Eitan’ operation, you were nine months pregnant and he was only released for the birth. Feelings that you can never explain or get used to, but to feel that this time is unlike anything else.

It’s hiding every day from the children to cry in the bathroom, in the shower, in the car. And sometimes not being able to hide.

It’s feeling gratitude every time someone asks how you are. It’s answering “surviving” and knowing from the inside that your strength has run out, but you must continue to survive.

It’s breaking down in tears when the new nursery teacher asks if she can give you a hug, when a mum from the class offers help with the laundry, or when your best friend shows up at your door with a mountain of schnitzels and rice.

It’s choking when the topic suddenly comes up in the middle of a meeting at work.

It’s trying to come to your senses, but it’s overwhelming and stronger than you and the tears flow by themselves.

It’s not sleeping at night. Or falling asleep intermittently and waking up in a panic because you imagined a knock on the door.

It’s waiting for a “we’re back” message to arrive, even if it’s at 2, 3, or 4 o’clock in the morning.

It’s crying all night because you arranged to talk, he’s not available and you’re sure something bad happened.

It’s not sharing so as not to worry anyone.

It’s receiving at 4:30 in the morning “We’re back” and then reading in the news about an encounter with a reserve force unit and knowing in your heart that it’s not coincidental but being afraid to ask. And to cry the morning after with his sister because even though everyone was fine, it was almost not.

It’s getting up with the children alone every morning and hugging them tightly every evening.

It’s being speechless when they ask when dad is coming back and hiding the tears when the little one asks what we’ll do if he doesn’t.

It’s answering very difficult questions by yourself and hoping that you somehow keep them normal.

It’s going with the child to the local shop and suddenly by chance he recognises the tiger of the elite Golani unit in the picture on the wall and is sure Dad is also in the picture. And you’re a little proud of the identification of the symbol and a little sad that he even has to recognise what it is at the age of 5.

It’s to tense up at every message that comes in the WhatsApp group “wonder women”, which was established years ago in one of the reserves rounds of duty. A group of amazing women in this unit who probably would have never met otherwise.

It’s knowing that you are so far from each other, but there are moments when only these wonder women will understand what is going on with you.

It’s crying alone in front of the evening news. every evening.

It’s to celebrate a birthday alone; Light the first candle on Hanukkah by yourself; to welcome the new year alone; Alone on Valentine’s Day; Alone on family day, on the weekends. Alone at parents’ evenings. Alone in the logistics of life.

It’s getting excited, alone, when a child’s first tooth falls out.

It’s to take care of them alone when they are sick. Then get sick yourself with a 40C fever and the kids still aren’t well.

It’s getting used to each other again when he comes home for a short break.

It’s seeing their disappointed faces when they realise he’s still not back for good.

It’s ignoring the fact that you have a huge kitbag stuck in the living room, weapons under the bed and military equipment that fills all the rooms in the house.

It’s hearing him suddenly mumbling in his sleep and not wanting to know what he dreamed about.

It’s understanding that by the time you’ve gotten used to it, he’s leaving again.

It’s the feeling that one day your life turned upside down, but you have no right to complain when so many people around you have lost everything.

It’s to be thankful every day for what is in your life and especially who you have. Family members, friends, colleagues from work, neighbors and even those you haven’t been in touch with for a really long time – who were interested, called, wrote, sent treats, invited and entertained, and also came to visit, and made you feel for a moment that in all the chaos you are not completely invisible.

It’s saying thank you every day for your parents who also ‘enlisted’ on October 8th and did everything to be there for you, all the time. It is impossible to describe everything they did so that you would not feel alone. And how they were also tired, their lives suddenly changed and nothing was the same.

It’s thanking your mother-in-law who comes to you every week with pots and tupperware, your cousin and his wife who invite you every Friday night so you won’t be alone, and your friends who come to be happy or cry with you. And the list is long and full of good people.

It’s seeing how everyone around you has long since returned to normal, but your family is still stuck on the seventh of October. It’s knowing that this whole period will someday become a memory, but that it will still take time to pick up the pieces. And remember that it won’t really end until everyone, including the abductees and the soldiers, returns home.

It’s being alone for 145 days, but feeling like there’s an entire army behind you.

It’s being proud of the heroic people in this country and knowing that they are ready to go out again if they only have to, and hope they never have to again.

#teamshuki #sayaretgolani #togetherwewillwin

Whilst we have connected with the guys, we have not had the pleasure of meeting the wonder women yet. Thank you for standing strong and being an inspiration. We look forward to welcoming you to the Borehamwood and Elstree community as soon as possible. Sending our love and Am Yisrael Chai.

Ronit and Eddie Hammerman

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