Friday, November 20, 2009

Who Will Take Care of My Fruit Trees?

Recently, I started looking for a new gardener, someone to cut my small lawn and maintain the flowers and shrubs we have, but mostly someone who will care for the six beautiful fruit trees and grape vine that we have in our yard. Before moving to Israel I had a small garden, growing tomatoes and herbs mostly. But in Israel there is something unique about planting trees in general, and fruit trees in particular. These are a point of great pride and pleasure to be able to harvest and enjoy fruits that are grown in the land of Israel. As I was looking for a gardener, among the several referrals, I got one from someone whose yard is particularly beautiful whose gardener is in miluiim (military reserves) until the end of the month. This made me wonder that if I hired him, there could be extended periods during which nobody would take care of my garden, and mostly the fruit trees, for a full month. This also made me realize that we have been immune to military service and the need to do reserve duty in my own family; but it won’t be that long before this changes. Most immediately, a good friend and former neighbor who is like an older daughter, Rachel, made aliyah recently. She is getting married next month. We’re all excited for the wedding and that it will be in Jerusalem, meaning one less simcha among dear friends that we’ll miss in the old country. We look forward to dancing and celebrating with her and her soon to be husband, Moshe. Rachel will be initiated very early into a side aliyah that we don’t know because her husband is called to miluiim regularly. For a newlywed, much less a new immigrant, this can and will be trying and stressful. We also have good friends and new neighbors who are native Israelis and also leave their families periodically for 2-4 weeks at a time to do their required miluiim, and their sons, and sometimes daughters, who do mandatory military service for two to three years and sometimes more. We can see that this disrupts the family, that kids need their fathers, and siblings miss their big brothers and sisters. But as stressful and out of sorts as this may be, for people who were born here, or long time veterans, it is the normal pace of life. That does not make it any less stressful I am sure, but the stress is probably different because it is expected. It’s what they know. When we moved to Israel, I was too old to serve in the army, so we’ll never have the inconvenience of me being out of the house like that. But eventually my children will. My daughters will grow up, get married and raise families knowing that it’s the norm that for a month or so every year their husbands will be called into the army for miluiim, and with the awareness that at any point that they could be called into actual battle. My sons will grow up, get married and from time to time leave their families as they are called into miluiim. This will be their norm. It will be stressful and inconvenient at best. But it will be their norm. Another incident that made this hit home was that my 5th grade son’s teacher was called up into miluiim recently, just for a week. But this took place toward the beginning of the school year, just as my son was bonding with this teacher, and learning himself how best to learn with and from this teacher. Not that the substitute teacher was bad by any stretch, but it upsets the pace of life, the continuity of living. But here it’s the norm. We put a lot of trust and faith in the teachers who spend most of our kids’ waking days with them, that they will teach them, set a positive example, help mold them, and enable them to blossom and flourish. Of course it’s much more important that the teachers have a positive impact on the kids than the gardener who takes care of our lawns, shrubs and fruit trees. Yet, the fruit trees, especially in Israel, are vastly important. And the fruit tree is an appropriate metaphor for our children. I have six fruit trees, and I have six children. Children and fruit trees both need constant attention, nourishment, care and a guiding hand. If left alone without these, a tree will deteriorate and die. Entrusting a gardener to maintain these is very important. How much more so this is the case with a teacher. And even more so with a parent. Parents teach their kids many things by example, however in moving to Israel at the age and stage of life that I did, military service was not required. One might even say that the army didn’t want me, leading me to the relief, paraphrasing Groucho Marx, that “I wouldn’t want to be a member of an army that would have me as a member”, anyway. But my kids will only know of the imposition and hardships of military service from their friends, future spouses and others who have gone through this. Of course there is, and should be, pride in serving to defend our country, our home, as much as there is a hope that one day we won’t have to do so. Military service and miluiim are not something that’s part of our life now, but will be part of my fruit, as they grow up and yield their own fruit. Whether relating to a gardener, teacher or future spouse, I can’t help wondering that when military service and miluiim comes to my kids’ lives, who will take care of my fruit trees?