It’s really hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since you came into our lives and that your army service has come to an end.
I still remember the first time we met you. It was Erev Sukkot, and you came for the first days of chag to test the waters and see if our family was a good match for you. And vice versa. You came with your little swagger and spiked-up bangs, with that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look in your eyes. And my kids, especially the younger two, were all over you like newborn puppies. I still remember Rafi climbing up and settling in your lap, saying, “I love you,” those first few moments, not being able to put into words how completely excited he was that, you, a real Israeli soldier, was there in our home. And that took you by surprise. That this little kid whom you didn’t know could just meet you and say those words so quickly. And we drilled you, in our Snukal-esque kind of way, asking you our style of questions like, “What’s your favorite this,” and “If you could meet anyone dead or alive who would it be.” And my husband, Hershey, asked you deep questions about God and what your favorite zemirot were. And Kobi grilled you about the different types of guns in the army. And you thought we were crazy and overwhelming. And you were right.
And I misread you, in those early months, and thought your were aloof. I completely mistook your shyness and discomfort in our home, as well as other things. And it was our older children, Ezra and then Shami (and then Kobi) who saw through all that. They kept telling me and reassuring me that you just needed time. And more time. And maybe even more time. And that not everyone operates the same way we do.
And so I listened to our intuitive and optimistic children and rode out those initial uncomfortable months, with much-needed support from our close friends and my patient husband. And it was very uncomfortable at times, I am sure for both you and us. Where there was more silence and less words than I am used to. And more words and less silence than you had needed. But there were omelet sandwiches, and quick thank-yous as you rushed out the door. Your spiked bangs gone, now replaced by a shaved head and army fatigues and little smiles.
But then, with the gift of time, things slowly started to shift. Walls started to crumble slowly, and little smiles became, well, bigger. You started to share your crazy army stories with us at the Shabbat table and our kids drank it all in and hung onto your every word. You took Kobi under your wing and guided him with his workouts and interest in personal training. And you joined the boys and their friends in their Shabbat board game marathons, many times lasting all afternoon.You sat patiently through many a Shabbat meal when Shami and Ezra turned the conversation for hours to politics, which clearly didn’t interest you. And you brought Rafi and Kobi your Lego helicopter from when you were a kid, because you knew they would be over the moon. And they were.
And when our eldest, Ezra, started his army service you were there for him in your own way. Letting him know what to expect and keeping everything calm and clear. Showing him how to shave and mold his new army beret. And how many socks and underwear to bring when he went to base for the first time for two weeks, rolling your eyes at our naivete. And we would push back, playfully reminding you of when you were new and green. And then you would laugh and soften and offer Ezra golden advice.
And you kept me calm in those first army weeks, when my baby-turned-man left for base for the first time. And you helped pull my mom brain back, from the Land-of-Crazy-and-Worry, and to that there is not enough thank-yous.
And as the walls really starting breaking and crumbling and the uncomfortable gracefully started to shift to comfortable, you and I started connecting.
And we would stay up sometimes on a Friday night when I wasn’t hypnotized by a new book, and sit in my cozy reading nook. You always sat on the left chair and me on the right. And we talked about big stuff, like God and future career plans, and what you might want to look for in a wife, and my trying to give you advice with everything else in between.
And we all started to do the word scramble together gathered around the JPost (although you won’t admit it, but you know that I’m the fastest). And you were quick and determined and competitive.
And I would tell you, just as I would tell my other children, that you are so bright. And to never underestimate yourself. And that our early childhood school experiences don’t define us or our intellect. And you heard me.
And it was in those moments over time, those Fridays nights in my reading nook, gazillions of very real WhatsApp conversations spanning almost three years, catching up on army life and laughing in the kitchen as I cooked and you raided the fridge and cupboards to find something to eat, that you, Raanan, really became like a son to me.
And I have loved how every Friday night when it was time to bless our four sons, Hershey blessed you too, from the first awkward Shabbat until now, all this time later. And I saw how you became like a son to him as well.
And now, almost three years later, you are sitting cross-legged on your bed upstairs, looking at pictures of apartments in Jerusalem, getting ready to spread your wings and fly off to your next life adventure. And so I need you to know these things before you leave. I need you to know that we are so grateful to Hashem for bringing you into our family. I am so grateful that I listened to my very wise children and husband and waited things out. We are so completely inspired by the true selflessness and bravery that it took for you to leave your wonderful, loving and supportive family in New Jersey and become an elite soldier in the IDF. Hershey and I are so moved by the incredible bond you have with all four of our sons, your new brothers.
We hope we made life easier for you. That all the difficult obstacles that you faced, the intense physical and mental hardships, the grueling army conditions, the homesickness, was considerably lessened by having us around you and on your team. Even if it meant taking us, in all our loud, crazy, wacky glory.
Raanan, may Hashem bless you in your next stages of life. May you keep Hashem close to your heart and your soul. May you follow your dreams, and may you dream big. May you continue to pay it forward to the next lone soldier stumbling and finding their way. And may you always know the road that leads back home.
By Esti Rosen Snukal
Esti Rosen Snukal made aliya with her husband and four sons six years ago from Teaneck. Esti currently resides in Chashmonaim and is a volunteer fundraiser for The Lone Soldier Center in Jerusalem that helps support the needs of over 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving from around the world. Esti is a contributor to The Jewish Link, documenting life as a new olah.
Esti can be reached on Facebook and at [email protected]