The first time I went to Israel, I was 16 years old, and the soldiers I saw at checkpoints and on buses looked like big, intimidating men with big, intimidating guns. But something weird happened as I got older; the soldiers, mysteriously, got younger. Now when I see them, I feel like saying to them, “Tattele, did you have a good breakfast this morning? You look a little peckish.” But I don’t say that because it would be weird. But my point is that this is probably why I let the soldier into my apartment in the first place—because I am a Jewish mother and, as such, all Jewish boys are my children.
I was a babysitter at the time of this story, in charge of ten babies and with rapidly deteriorating sanity, because it turned out that while I loved babies with all my heart, I did not love spending six mornings a week with quite so many of them and their incredibly varied desires and the varied tonal quality of their cries. Babysitting, I was realizing more and more each day, was not really my calling in life, but having money to purchase groceries and pay the rent was something I was very interested in, so I soldiered on, taking care of babies in the morning and enduring residual headaches in the afternoon, and if I am to be completely honest, and apparently I am, I would sort of count the hours until pickup. Okay, the minutes.
Five minutes and 43 seconds before pickup, there was a pounding on my door. I assumed it was one of the parents, knocking loudly to be heard over the cacophony of not-so-dulcet tones of my knee-high charges, but I checked the peephole, of course, to make sure. Safety first and all that.
It was not a parent. It was a soldier, a boy, his eyes huge and frightened in his white face. As I looked at him through the peephole, I realized that I recognized him. I was pretty sure that his family lived in the apartment one flight down from mine.
Why was he knocking on my door, and why did he look so panicked and sick?
There was only one way to find out. Well, there were two ways of finding out, but yelling, “Why do you look so panicked and sick?” through the closed door was perhaps not a very nice way of finding out, so instead I opened the door.
“Hakol b’seder?” I exhausted most of my not-incredibly-vast Hebrew vocabulary on the very first sentence with which I greeted him.