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Thank You, My Soldier!

Thank You, My Soldier!

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I wasn't sure I was in the right place. The Guest House in Bayit V'gan, Jerusalem, was the address for the Nefesh Israel Conference, but stepping out of the cab I thought I'd entered a military base—hundreds of soldiers gathered in the lobby, dining rooms, and the grounds outside. There for a few days of rest and recreation before continuing their service, they were a striking contrast to the participants of the conference for mental health professionals I had come to attend.

Preparing to enter the session on positive psychology, I got into conversation with Uri, Avi and their friends...always there was someone whose English was by far superior to my Hebrew. Lots of kidding, lots of in-jokes lost on me, lots of ribbing each other—all a cover up for their inner tension.

Just over two weeks since the war in Gaza officially began, All hardly old enough to vote, they'd already experienced the pain of loss, of fear, of a future no longer secure. they'd already experienced the pain of loss, of fear, of a future no longer secure. Avi was making arrangements to visit his cousin who was gravely wounded; Uri, his childhood friend killed, wouldn't go home because he so disliked his mother's new husband. Another spoke of his neighbor whom he'd heard was critically injured; that one feared for his uncle; another joked about joining a brother living in Japan. All, all, hardly old enough to vote; each of them was committed to ensuring the safety of their nation.

The lecture was over; the room emptying of psychologists and social workers, and soldiers come streaming in, sitting in the chairs just vacated by professionals, awaiting their own lecture by their own commander. A friend and I loitered, discussing the conference.

Some foreign impulse overtook me – a combination of sleep deprivation and jet lag helps to lower inhibitions – an overwhelming feeling of love for these boys who wear the uniform of the IDF, each of who wears the face of my son. The compulsion to hug each one. Impulsively, I ask the commander if I may address his class. Sixty or seventy young men – boys – sitting silently, and I speak to them words that are formed not in the rationale of the brain, but in the passion of the heart.

My voice is low, there is absolute silence in the room. I tell them how, having a son who'd served in the IDF several years ago, I see his face before me seventy times over. I speak to them of our prayers, all the mothers of Israel, of our prayers for their safety, and for their compromised childhood. I speak of my fears – they have none! – of hopes and dreams, of historical promises made to us...

Most of all I speak of my love for them. Today, I don't remember the words...I remember just the feeling in that room...I remember the eyes, the smiles, the silence—so respectful they were! I remember the overflow in my heart of maternal instinct to protect...the knot of fear in my gut.

Once, waiting for a delayed flight, I speak to them of our prayers, all the mothers of Israel, for their safety, and for their compromised childhood. I was kept company by a young Israeli businessman. He'd told me then of his uncle: at 19 Roni had lost his left leg in Lebanon, and for years became increasingly reclusive and depressed. On a family trip to New York, he'd gone to see the Rebbe, and upon hearing his story the Rebbe shook his hand, and said, "Thank you."

And here I was, rows and rows of soldiers before me, and I found myself in front of one, looking into his eyes, the words from my heart. "Thank you." And then next to him another pair of eyes. "Thank you." "Thank you." I move from one to the next. "Thank you." One soldier stands up as I approach him. "Thank you." He grins and says, loudly, "You're welcome."

And the next, "Thank you."

"For what?" he asks.

I hesitate for a moment... "For the uniform you wear," I say. "Thank you. Thank you."

I catch their commander watching me from the opposite wall, and suddenly I wonder what I'm doing here, taking all this time from their schedule... "Is it okay?" I ask him. "Please," he says, motioning with his hand... "Please...take your time."

Before me are three small kipot clustered... "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

The sweetest smile on his face... I say, "Thank you," and he says to me, "No, Madame, we thank you."

And for the next... How long was it? Ten minutes? fifteen? How long would it take to stop sixty to seventy times, to kiss with my eyes each pair of eyes and say thank you? And all that time there's not a sound in the room. I don't realize this until later—how astounding this is. Scores of young boys in a room and they are silent...

At last, I reach the end of the last row. "Thank you," I say to him... and turn to leave.

The commander is standing at the door. He invites me to stay, and join them for dinner. I feel I've intruded too much, and now feel self-conscious. And in a seeming single movement they are all standing and applauding as I walk out. "Thank you," I hear behind me.

Mrs. Bronya Shaffer is a noted globetrotting lecturer on Jewish women's issues, and serves as a personal counselor and mentor for women, couples and adolescents. Mrs. Shaffer, a responder for Chabad.org’s Ask the Rabbi service, lives with her ten children in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
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Discussion (21)
February 17, 2009
Its YOU Bronya
Dear Bronya,
Its you we need to thank. For out of all the mental health proffessionals that were there that day ( me included ) YOU were the one who did not take these soldiers for ganted and who took the time to go and say thank you. It is that courage and Guts of yours that makes So much difference in peoples lives.
THANK YOU Bronya.
Love
Hinda Schryber
jerusalem, israel
chabadmaritimes.com
February 17, 2009
the soliders..
THANK YOU....
I MEAN IT.
SUE FREEDMAN
JEUSALEM, ISRAEL
chabadmaritimes.com
February 16, 2009
Bronya, do it again
You have a way of touching hearts. This time I am certain, hearts and souls. Thank you for your (literally) tear provoking words.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Rus Devorah Wallen
Brooklyn, NY
chabadmaritimes.com
February 12, 2009
I was there!
I too was at that conference in bayit vegan.I too wonder why I didn't have the inspiration to share my feelings with them. How instructive that at a mental health professionals conference we could have been so oblivious of what was around us. THank you Bronya Shaffer for opening my eyes to what I should have seen. The entire conference now takes on a much greater meaning for me. Thank you!
Melech S.
TelAviv, Israel
February 12, 2009
Thank YOU
Thank you, Mrs. Shaffer, for sharing this poignant experience with us. I felt as though I was there with you. You humanized to these soldiers what for many of them must be a dehumanizing experience. And in sharing those feelings you helped me to empathize with soldiers and understand better the infinite love mothers have for their children, and indeed, how we, the Jewish people, are one heart.

I relate very deeply to this experience you shared, not as a mother, but as a brother. I wrote about a similar experience I had with those who were homeless after being expelled from Gush Katif. I, too, was inspired by a "thank you" from the Rebbe, this one extended to a solder who lost both his legs from a landmine while patrolling the Syrian border.

Search "Cabiliv" in Chabad.org's search engine for the story of the Rebbe's "thank you."
Saadya Notik
Brooklyn, NY
February 12, 2009
you are my role model
Since I first met you I was amazed at your wisdom and charm. This is one of the most moving pieces I ever read on this site. It doesn't su rprise me at all that you took the time to stop and pay your respects to those soldiers. I also am privileged to be in your lectures and had some time to speak with you. You are a true role model of a woman imbued with Torah learning and sensitivity. May you continue to inspire and touch people's hearts.
Mirale
New York, USA
February 12, 2009
Bronya Shaffer's thank you
I was at the same conference as Bronya was but it didn't occur to me to talk with the ubiquitous soldiers and reach their hearts. During the Gaza war there were many miracles, when soldiers averted death by turning left instead of right, entering the third house instead of the second. The intuitive right choices were attributed to our matriarch Rachel guiding them. Rachel Immainu must have sent you to the Guest House, Bronya.
Ilana Attia
Jerusalem
February 11, 2009
thank you, Bronya
Years ago, you and your family hosted me for Shabbat in Crown Heights. I left your home with a new found faith. I am never surprised to hear how you have a positive impact on so many people, no matter where in the world you are. I sincerely hope thar our paths will cross again someday.
Lyn Miller Payne
Plattsburgh, NY
February 11, 2009
Mrs. Schaffer was my teacher in high school. I can just see her in this story looking with her warm eyes into each soldier. This is a beautiful story!
C.S.
LosAngeles, USA
February 11, 2009
I was one lucky enough to hear a live lecture with Bronya Shaffer. Reading this reminds me how she was speaking about gratitude, to a group of ladies who all have some tragedy in their life. I lived with tragedy for years and her words at the lecture helped me. Her words entered into my heart then and now reading this again her words enter my heart. Bronya Shaffer, thank you ! I am sure that every single chayal who you touched will remember this incident for his whole l ife!
Thank you from your readers for telling us this marvelous story!
Please continue to instruct and inspire us!
Anonymous
Rehovot, Israel
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