My shift with my baby daughter, Ye-ela, started every day at 2:30 PM. Ima (mom) and I had decided that we would raise her without the help of babysitters until she was old enough to talk. The daily passing of the flags was simple: “She just woke up. She nursed an hour ago. I changed her just before you came. I love you”, a goodbye kiss and she would be out the door. I would strap the carry-cot on to my chest. Ye-ela would begin waving her arms and legs vigorously expressing herself with her entire body. I would slide her facing forward into a snug position and set out to walk the streets of Jerusalem. We would walk together for hours. I could feel every twitch of her body; hear every sound she uttered. I would let her teeth on my knuckles a good way to find out about new teeth. Every now and then she would smile at a passerby, which would melt into the sidewalk at the sight of a joyful baby carrying an adult on her back
She was four and independent. We had lost sight of her when we passed a bend in the trail. We headed back to see what she was up to. She was sitting in the middle of the narrow trail, her legs tucked under her like the mermaid of Copenhagen. She smelled the cassias, enjoying the beauty of the dark yellow flowers, just inches away from their prickly thorns. She was so much like these arid-climate plants: taking just what they needed from their surrounding, driving their roots deep but not wide, living off a harsh land while sharing it with others. How deep these roots penetrated we would find out over the course of the years.
A steady stream of marching bands came down Steven’s Creak Road. Cheerleaders were holding up plaques with silver letters “H-O-M-E-S-T-E-A-D”, comfortable in the knowledge that the name would remain correctly spelled as long as they maintained their positions As the band came closer we could see Ye-ela playing her flute, positioned with military precision in her row and column. Her marching perfect like the others, legs moving as one, heads held high, eyes facing forward, the plumes on their hats aligned like pawns before the opening move of chess. “YE-ELA” Ima shouted to her, as always stating that expressing love had nothing to do with proper conduct. People moved uneasily as the barbarian display of emotion threatened to disturb the surgical precision of the march. Ye-ela’s response was just as horrendous; she winked! Such a blatant physical disturbance, surely the judges would penalize the entire cohort. I stood there blessing their expressiveness wondering to myself how many other parents wished they had it in them to do the same.
“Hi Dad, we’re on the bus to Haifa but the traffic has slowed down to a crawl”. This was two months after she had gone back to Israel by herself. “I see smoke and fire up ahead” I knew she was headed towards the site of a suicide bombing on another bus, which was being reported on CNN as we spoke. “The bus is burning, Dad, and there are people in it, there are bodies on the ground around it, ambulances, police, the wounded are”. Who needs CNN when one has an eighteen year old child with a cell phone on the front lines reporting live about death? As her voice trembled, I could see her breaking into tears. I switched to my normal silent-mode “uh-huh-ing” and “go-on-ing”, lest Ima connect the TV and the phone conversation. There will be weeks and months to tell the story a few minutes from now. “The woman sitting next to me is comforting me, Dad I’ll call you back”.
Her living quarters in the Kibbutz were the size of a gloried cubicle. She had brought very few material belongings and a trove of sentiment in the form of Prince Teddy the teddy bear she received from her late grandmother when she was a baby. Over the years Prince Teddy was elevated to the stature of Bedroom Monarch. She and she alone could touch or move him. PT’s treasure chest of memories made any “place” a “home”. “The first eighteen years are the hardest” I smiled to myself. “If PT had made it this far, he was well on his way to becoming a family heirloom”. When it was time for me to go she walked me quietly to the gate. She rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel her sobbing quietly. I rested my cheek on her soft hair cherishing the moment. As I drove south I could see her in the rear view mirror, silhouetted against the mountains where the boarders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria met. She was looking down the Northern border, determined to do her share.