I noticed first the striking red shawl wrapping her, identical to the one my husband had presented me from his trip to Russia. Almost simultaneously we exited our respective cabs; immediately my eyes were drawn to the shawl and my ears were drawn to the sound. Her voice was louder than the shawl, and it took a moment before I realized she was berating not me, but the man emerging from the cab after her: kak tzebye nye stidna? (Loosely: “aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” or “have you no shame?”) And because we had the same destination, the entire walk from the street to the Kotel (Western Wall) was to the sound of their arguing—Russian to Hebrew and back again. Speaking neither, and understanding very little of both, I could divine only that she cared about her son’s welfare and that she didn’t want to be here.

I turned right, to the ramp leading down to that holiest of places; they turned left . . .

It takes great effort to exit the emotional universe of the Western Wall, taking some steps backward and then at some point turning and walking forward, upward . . . how often we need to do that little reversal in our life. And now I see many clusters of soldiers, many individual soldiers, hurrying towards the north side of the plaza. Without realizing it was happening, I’m now in a crush of soldiers and, apparently, their families. And then the sound of trumpets and drums fills the entire space with the Israeli national anthem. Some ceremony must be taking place.

And then, there they were again—she of the red Russian shawl still berating the man dwarfing her. Still gesticulating, still voices raised. The plaza is filled with noise—usually a place so still, now there are the drums and trumpets, lots of people talking very loudly, a celebratory vibe in the air . . . and suddenly it goes still.

I’m looking now, not at swirls of soldiers, but at a neat, orderly block of perhaps a hundred boys in uniform. Some with kippot; I notice tzitzit among the crowd. All stand quietly and respectfully. Mindful of the time, however, I hurry up the many stairs to the Jewish Quarter, where I’m to meet a friend, but halfway up I’m compelled to stop and watch them. Sounds waft up . . . speeches . . . and it’s clear that this is the swearing-in ceremony concluding basic training for these boys. I was across the ocean when my own son received his beret and Bible; I can’t bring myself to leave now.

And as my eyes mist over with tears, I’m assaulted again by her loud voice. Here, on this landing above the Kotel’s plaza, I’ve not escaped them, and they are ascending the stairs towards me. Stopping beside me, seeing what I’m seeing, she is quiet. There they stand, and they are quiet. And then, as only happens in Israel, she turns to me and, as if we’d been childhood friends, begins to pour out her heart.

It’s her son down there.

Against her express wishes, he'd enlisted six months ago. Against her express wishes, he enlisted. She feels betrayed. She is deeply frightened.And here her husband stands proudly watching—how can he be so callous? And I hear her story; she’s crying freely and wiping her tears with the edge of her shawl. For a week, day and night, I’d been in the embrace of its identical twin as it shielded and warmed me. Her hand holds its edge, and she tells me of her father killed in action while defending his country, of her mother left a young widow. She describes the terror of her siblings as their sons went into battle, and her resolute stance that her son would do anything to avoid his army service. And then, his betrayal! And, more than that, her husband’s complicity—he’d signed the papers! And now he drags her here, to this ceremony?!

She is angry. She feels betrayed. She is deeply frightened. And she’s adamant that she will not stay for the ceremony; he tricked her into coming, and she has nothing to say to her son! All of this in broken English, with Russian and Hebrew interspersed.

Her husband had gone off, and now he returns with two hot cups of tea and hands me one. “To warm your insides,” he tells me. His English, strongly accented, is impeccable as only one who learned it as a second language can speak. Russian-educated, he is a teacher of English literature in an Israeli high school. His wife refuses the cup, and hugs herself as she turns her back on the scene below. He stands next to me, leaning forward the better to see.

The fringes of the red shawl brush my shoulder, and the connection is there. And now I’m speaking to her as if we’d known each other forever. I find my voice pleading. I tell her that I would do anything to have been able to be here to see my son take his place as his name was called.

I tell her also of our own struggle, my husband’s discouragement of our own son’s desire to join the IDF. Nevertheless, my husband told my son the decision was his own. Discouraging him, but allowing him that freedom. On the very first day of basic training he called our son, showering upon him all the blessings a father can confer. Speaking of his pride in him. Encouraging him, blessing him, reminding him that this role he now assumed was a holy one.

And I’m crying as I tell her all of this. “Go down,” I tell her, “go back down to the plaza and be there to hug him and kiss him with great pride and joy.

“I know your fear,” I say, “but he needs your support and your confidence. And your pride in him. Don’t deprive him of that.”

I don’t know if she understands everything I say, but I believe that her heart must sense the words from my heart even if she doesn’t know them. But her husband understands. And now I see him move to her side and say, in a strong voice now, “Come.”

She’s quiet. Doesn’t move. Again he says, “Come,” and gives her a gentle tug. And suddenly she turns and embraces me tightly. The red Russian shawl envelopes me in her embrace . . . and they are gone. I watch them walk down the stairs; I don’t wait to see them greet her son.