Sunday, September 11, 2016

We got mail

We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.
-Winston Churchill

Snail mail in the Holy Land has become a small controversy. In the olden days, before the advent of electronic mail, chat groups, cellular phones, whattsapp etc., mail service, while not as perfect as one would like it to be, was, at least, dependable. Mostly. There were, even then, instances of mail being put in the wrong boxes, being returned because the mailperson couldn't read a foreign language, or not receiving mail at all because the mailman was doing reserve duty in the army.

Today, snail mail barely exists.
Sometimes, we get bills, but these are sent out by courier, not through the postal service. Ditto junk from the bank.
Our mailbox is packed with flyers of all sorts, but these are hand delivered by private companies.
The all-important invitation to the simcha you want people to come to, however, is best sent by email. Chances are good that the correctly addressed envelope will end up on the wrong street/city/country.

Despite this difficult situation, there is one piece of mail that does get delivered efficiently, promptly, and, despite, rain, snow or scorching heat, all too frequently.

The Brown Envelope.

I hate the Brown Envelope.

We recently received a Brown Envelope in the mail.
I was outside talking to a friend about something or other, and found the Brown Envelope in the mailbox.
I held it in my hand.
I suppose my disquiet was shown in my expression, because my friend, who happens not to be a female, said "what's the problem? It's only the army."
This friend, like me, has three sons. He knows all about Brown Envelopes. Unlike me, however, he doesn't hate them. As I stood there looking at the Brown Envelope, he began to regale me with tales of army service, either his or his sons'.

Who remembers the TV show Get Smart? The Chief says "Now listen carefully", and gives long and complicated instructions. "Did you get that?" "Not all of it", says Max. "Which part didn't you get?" "The part after 'Now listen carefully'".

Now listen carefully
That was me listening to my (male) friend.
I don't hear a word of army tales. Anyone's. Ever.

I stress that my friend was male, not because I'm a mistandrist, or a philandrist, but because the Brown Envelope is almost always addressed to males and not to females.

I've seen many males react to getting a Brown Envelope. Some of them are slightly annoyed, a few are very annoyed. Many, especially the older ones, are delighted. It's a chance to get out of the house, have a vacation, sleep in their underwear, and not shower for a week. What Fun!!

Mothers, however, are never delighted at the arrival of the Brown Envelope.

Though this particular Brown Envelope was addressed to my middle son, I opened it.

I needed to know when, for how long, and to where he was being called up, I needed to know how many cookies I would need to bake, how many pairs socks of socks he would need to take, and how many shabbatot he would be away. I needed to begin worrying strategies.

Reserve duty (miluim - מילואים) is ubiquitous in the Holy Land. All males who have served in the IDF do miluim until at least 45 - longer if they are officers. (Women officers also do miluim - at least until they become mothers. They are then exempt, but can volunteer if they wish.) Men receive call-up orders about once a year, either for training, or to relieve standing army soldiers for a period of time. This does not include emergency call-up orders in times of war.

The word 'miluim' is often one of the first words an Israeli baby can say. After Dad doesn't appear to take his kid to nursery in the morning, a kid will ask "Where's Abba?" "Abba is in miluim....".

Dad's in the army
Israel reveres its soldiers. Because the IDF is a people's army, one in which almost everyone's children serve, the soldiers are everyone's children. There are numerous organizations that offer all sorts of benefits to reserve soldiers, including discounts to hamburgers places and to movies.

When the Brown Envelope arrives, the reserve soldier puts his life - job, studies, wife, kids, mother - on hold for a day, a week, a month, whatever, and joins his unit. As mentioned above, many men take this service as a means of getting away from the day-to-day pressures and difficulties of living and see it as a semi-vacation.

Don't you need me for another week?
It's the wives and kids and - yes - mothers who pay the price.

When the husband has miluim, he goes off, thumping his chest and making gorilla noises, and the wife is left doing the shopping, making sandwiches, and explaining to the kids why dad had to go to the army even though he's old. Of course, it also means one less kid person in the house to worry about. When he returns, with a bag of laundry, tired, and as hairy and smelly as a gorilla, he's the one who gets to complain how tired he is, how hard his week/month was, and how much he deserves to be served breakfast in bed.

Having one's sons go off to play soldier, however, is a whole different ball game. They make the same gorilla noises as their father, but come back with only one pair of socks to wash because they hadn't bothered to change them for a week. Mothers insist on serving their little hairy smelly babies cookies and breakfast in bed - much to the future distress of their future wives.

Like traffic jams, and snippy bank clerks, reserve duty is an integral part of Israeli lives, something to get through. And like traffic jams, it never ends; once the husband is too old to serve, the sons take on the duty, and before you know it, it's the grandson's turn to receive that Brown Envelope.

I can only hope that by then, the mail service will be better.

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.
May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.
May He lead our enemies under our soldiers’ sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.
Now let us respond: Amen.

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