Waiting for Peace

Orli Gold-Haklay Image
Orli Gold-Haklay
on November 4, 2016

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The summer of 2014. That’s when I became a social activist. I had always prayed for peace in synagogue, and once in awhile I attended a political rally. But as a mother of four, living in Meitar, a small suburb twenty minutes south of Beer-Sheva, juggling a job and raising a family, while trying to find time for Pilates, my life was consumed by everyday concerns.

When Operation Protective Edge broke out my friends and I suddenly became terrified. My kids weren’t so young anymore – my daughter was in the army and my son, Guy, was about to be drafted. My two younger kids were terrified by the constant rocket attacks close to home. Our next door neighbor said we should collect things for the soldiers. All the neighborhood women started bringing over anything they could think of that would help the soldiers at the front – underwear, grey socks, chocolate bars, shampoo. We lined up the cardboard boxes along the driveway and before sealing each one, dropped in a colorful children’s drawing, expressing their hope that our brave soldiers return safely. It made me feel like I was helping, in some small way.

My daughter Yuval was put on “funeral duty” at her army base – she had to go to soldier’s funerals and lay the official wreaths at the ceremony, then stand at attention. She had explicit instructions about that: “We’re not allowed to wear sunglasses, Mom”, she explained to me, “and we’re not allowed to cry.”

When the terrible news came that two soldiers from our tiny town had been killed in combat, I found myself standing in the tiny cemetery – twice in one week – next to the same women who had just collected underwear with me, staring in shock at the fresh graves. One of the boys killed, Noam, attended elementary school with my eldest daughter. I remember him as a little boy in first grade, the one with a mischievous look in his eyes. And curly brown hair.  

I think that was the breaking point for me, standing there in the cemetery. I started thinking, why? Why do we have to accept this reality, of war and war and more war? Why can’t we, as women, and as mothers, make a change? And maybe we can bond together and channel our energy not only to send packages to the front lines, but to work toward a better future for our children, to do something to help make sure they grow up to live past eighteen!

A friend and I held a parlor meeting for Women Wage Peace in my living room, and to our surprise over fifty women showed up. We decided to form our local Women Wage Peace chapter in the south, which has been rapidly growing ever since. My involvement in the movement has helped me deal with the painful reality of my son, Guy, serving in a combat unit. And the fear for his safety that I feel every single day. Guy was drafted in the the army on August 15, 2015. We drove him to the induction center, which was full of families and their sons with huge backpacks on their shoulders. Suddenly they all looked so painfully young. Guy was excited to see his friends who were being drafted with him to the Nahal unit, after doing a year of national service together through their youth movement. The kids looked excited, but not the mothers. They just looked sad. And worried. We tried not to look each other in the eye. I kept up a good front, but when I saw Guy’s name flashing in red on the big screen, announcing that it was time for us to say goodbye and for him to climb aboard the bus that would drive him to the barracks so he could get his uniform, the blood drained from my face. I felt like I was going to faint.

Waving goodbye to him and watching him climb on the bus was one of the hardest moments of my life. I realized that I still had a commitment to him as a mother. And that all the cornflakes I served for breakfast and the sneakers bought and the parent-teachers meetings attended were not in any way the end of my parental responsibility. I owe it to Guy, to my two daughters Yuval and Naamah and to my second son, Assaf, who will be drafted next summer, to make sure they have a future in this country. To make sure they have a future, period. The minute we got back home from the induction center, I got on the bus to Jerusalem and went straight to the fasting tent of Women Wage Peace, to fast with my friends and demand that our leaders reach a political agreement to end the cycle of violence. It was either that or get under the bed and cry.

My involvement in Women Wage peace continues to give me strength and encouragement, working together with a group of strong and determined women who inspire me because they simply refuse to give up.  Marching with tens of thousands of them in Jerusalem on the March of Hope, it did give me hope. And nobody can live without hope.

Every Friday morning, I stand with my friends at the local junction on the highway right outside Meitar. We tie turquoise ribbons on our wrists and hold up our Women Wage Peace signs. Some drivers going by honk to express their solidarity with us. There are others that yell: Why don’t you girls just go for coffee instead? And I think to myself – that’s really all I want: A good cup of coffee. The day we have normal lives here in Israel, I promise to put down my sign, untie my turquoise ribbon, and spend all my Friday mornings from here on going for coffee (a chai latte, please).