It was supposed to have been a father-son getaway, a long-awaited retreat of five days of golf and bonding. While many would guess Myrtle Beach, in coastal South Carolina, or the more-exotic Scotland, our destination was actually Israel. As unusual as that may sound, it is because my son Max currently lives there and serves as a platoon sergeant in the IDF’s Golani Brigade.
Now, I am a golf enthusiast, though my wife has used other, less flattering terms to describe this passion. While she has always labeled Israel a “golf-free zone,” this trip was actually her idea, a few days for Max and me on what is truly a beautiful course in Caesarea.
So there I was last week, ready to depart for JFK with my golf travel bag and carry-on when Max called to say that I should probably cancel my plans. He was leaving his station up north in the Hermon mountains for the Gaza border. It was the week following the horrific murders of four young men, three Israelis and one Palestinian. Riots were popping up, and rockets were flying from Gaza, but I was selfishly hoping against hope that I would still see my boy, that nothing would interfere with our time together. It may seem a bizarre or insensitive plan at a time like this, but my intention was to inject a semblance of normalcy into an otherwise sea of insanity in which we were finding ourselves. So magically thinking that if I just went everything would calm down and be OK, I got on the plane.
I arrived in Tel Aviv on a Wednesday to the news that things had only gotten worse. Max was trying to arrange to see me for even a brief visit if I could manage to get down to the Gaza border, but the soonest possibility would be Sunday, the day before I was scheduled to leave.
So there I was, alone, in a small boutique hotel in Tel Aviv with my golf clubs. There were calls from friends inviting me to stay with them, but I was too depressed for any of that. There was also the shelter in the hotel basement, with which I became intimately acquainted over my five days. The frequency of air raid sirens brought all the guests together, and some of us started getting to know one another. The manager of the hotel is my new BFF.
The shower in my third-floor room was too loud for me to hear the sirens, so I took the quickest showers imaginable, then ran soaking wet from the bathroom to the window to see if people were mulling about on the street. Having nothing else to do with my time, and in need of some serious therapy, I decided to drive up to Caesarea for some golf. There’s nothing like an air raid siren while playing golf — gives a whole new meaning to hearing “Fore!”
Sunday came and as I left the hotel my new BFF gave me instructions what to do should I hear a siren while driving down to the border to see Max, who was getting a two-hour leave to spend with me. I stopped in Sderot, a town that has been besieged by missiles for many years, to pick up some food for the soldiers. Max had suggested baked goods for about 90 soldiers, so I found a bakery and told the owner what I needed. He quickly got one of his workers to help him fill up my car with boxes of fresh cakes and cookies that looked like enough for 500 soldiers. When I asked what I owed, the man looked at the car, hesitated, then said, “200 shekels,” which is about $60. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised.
I saw Max for two hours, and leaving him on that border was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. As I write this, he is fighting in Gaza, and his company, Golani 13, has had many casualties. I have no words to express my feelings for those families, or for having a son in combat while hearing about other fallen soldiers. It is hard to even find the words for prayer. This morning, Debbie had a brief text from Max that he was OK, our first direct communication in four days. Earlier, I was in synagogue, trying to say something to God about bringing an end to all this turmoil, hatred, and destruction. And then I had a very selfish prayer, asking Him if He would be magnanimous enough to arrange for a mulligan for that golf trip with my son.