My Five-Year-Old Chayal

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My five-year-old son is currently wearing his army uniform costume we bought him for Purim nearly three months ago.

Since then, he has taken every opportunity given to him to wear it. Little religious boys wear their suits on Shabbat.

Not my son.

He wears his chayal (soldier) costume. He even wore it last week on Yom Ha’aztmaut when most of the country wore blue and white to symbolise the colours of our flag.

And whilst that makes me proud of him, as well as understanding that this is his way of processing everything that’s going on, it still scares me.

It reminds me that my kids are growing up in a world very different to how I did. I have never seen a British soldier walking down the street, buying groceries, or grabbing a quick bite at a cafe. I have no idea how the British army is structured, and certainly have never seen a British army tank or car driving down the highway. We never had songs about how strong Britain is, or about unity. Multiple bright lights in the sky meant fireworks, not the iron dome intercepting rockets.

War, rockets, running for shelter, praying for our army, suddenly school/camp/activities being cancelled the night before, and everything that comes with war has become a normal part of my kids’ everyday lives. This is their norm.

Their lives are not stories of what our grandparents told us of the wars that they’ve been through, or what my parents told me about life in Iraq before moving to London, but their very own current reality.

And despite all this, I would never want to bring them up anywhere else.

My kids have learnt the meaning of unity, resilience, and vehavta lere’acha kamocha* in practical terms. Driving home after school, they are tired and hungry, but we see a chayal in the street – of course, we offer them a ride, even if it means going slightly out of our way!  Making a yummy dinner for a family whose father is in the army? They fight over who peels what, and are perfectly happy with cereal for dinner. Signing up again to make cookies for Shabbat for a battalion? Don’t even need to ask them! My kids know how to cry for people they have never met, and probably never will. They each have the name of a hostage they picked themselves to say tehilim** for every Shabbat.

So as I sit here typing this on my laptop, I look at my five-year-old in his chayal costume happily eating dinner and watching Paw Patrol, and the only thing I can think of is how on earth am I going to convince him to take it off and change into his pyjamas for bed?

*Love your neighbour as yourself.


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