How I Took on the Israeli Army and Won
By Ester Katz Silvers
From the title you probably picture me as a female truck driver or a roller derby champion. Nothing could be
further from the truth. I stand five feet tall and weigh no more than 105 pounds. I try to be sweet and soft-
spoken and when speaking Hebrew I stutter and stammer a lot. Still, as the title says, I took on the Israeli
army and I won.
Having a child enter the army here is quite an experience for an immigrant mother like myself. My feelings were
complicated. On one hand I hoped the army would find some minor medical problem that would disqualify my son from
active duty. One the other hand, I saw his induction as one of the final stages of my family's aliya process. It was at
his swearing in ceremony, as I stood in the bleachers, sang haTikva, and looked around at the other parents from as
diverse places as Tel Aviv, Russia and South Africa that I was able to say, "I really feel like an Israeli."
This all happened three years ago, before all the violence started. I was fortunate. Although no mother can send her
child to the army without worrying, my worries were about dehydration and friendly fire and problems of that sort. What I
should have worried about was CATS.
It all started when my son finished his six months of basic training and received a weeklong furlough. How he enjoyed
that week! He slept normally in a normal bed, ate home-cooked meals, saw friends, prayed with a normal minyan,
visited his yeshiva, and generally had a good time. It was on the last night of his furlough, Saturday night, that my
involvement with the army began.
My son was in the Old City with a bunch of friends when he noticed a dirty, mangy cat. For some reason, still unknown
to me, my son decided to pick the disgusting creature up. Unfortunately for him, the cat did not want to be picked up. It
turned in mid-air, took a bite out of my son's arm and then scampered away in the darkness too quickly for anyone to
Now dogs are known to bite and cats are known to scratch. When a cat bites there is the immediate suspicion of
rabies. If the cat is someone's pet or can be caught, it is locked up for ten days to check for signs of the deadly
disease. If not, then the person who was bit has to begin the series of shots. He can't wait to see if he gets sick. At that
point, when he is sick, it is too late. There is no medicine to cure rabies and he will die.
All this sounds very academic; not as if "he" was my son. But at the time that all this was going on I was home asleep,
blissfully unaware that my son was in any danger. That changed about one o'clock in the morning when he called home
from Schneller, the army base in Jerusalem that deals with sick soldiers. He apologized for not being able to have the
car home in the morning, mumbling something about a cat.
"Sorry I woke you. The ambulance that's taking me to the hospital is leaving. Sweet dreams."
Right. What kind of mother is going to have sweet dreams knowing that her son has to go through the whole series of
I shouldn't have worried so much. The shots aren't like they used to be. They still hurt, but like a normal shot. My son
was more than willing to put up with the pain in order to have another week vacation. He stayed at Schneller or visited
friends near the base. I was the one who had to field calls from his commanding officer.
The week came to the end. My son had finished the whole series of shots save for two. The powers to be decided that
he could meet his unit which was now stationed in Gaza. In another month he would be let
out to receive the last two shots. The first month passed quickly and suddenly I realized that my son had not received
"Don't worry," my son told me when I was finally able to reach him on his mobile phone, the standard gear of every
Israeli soldier. (After all, almost every Israeli soldier has a Jewish mother who wants to be able to talk to her pride and
joy.) "I'm sure I have enough of the medicine in me with all the shots I already had. Besides we're short staffed here and
it's hard for them to let me out."
"You're going to be really short staffed if you die from rabies!" I countered.
"Okay, okay," my son promised to talk to his officer.
The conversation the next day did not going any better.
"They have to send a special jeep to take me out of here. I told you they're short on manpower. I'm coming home
Shabbat. I can get the shot Sunday."
"You're already one week late!" I countered.
"You know, I got an extra week off when the cat bit me. It's not fair for me to leave again now."
All of a sudden the kid was turning noble on me.
I decided I needed some help with this matter and turned to our family doctor. She, yes we have a female doctor, might
be a good doctor, but she is first and foremost a mother and she understood me and my concerns 110%.
"This is nothing to play around with," she declared. And then she instructed me to call my son's officer and tell him I
would open a DOCH KEFILA if he did not send my son to get his shot immediately.
Well, I did it. I had the officer's mobile phone number from the week my son spent at Schneller. With heart pounding
and hands shaking I dialed the number and wasn't sure if I should hope the call would go through or not. It went through.
I politely explained my problem and the MP politely explained his problem. I was polite and understanding and he was
polite and understanding. Then I told him if he did not send my son to get his shot my doctor told me I should open a
DOCH KEFILA on him.
"Just a minute," I ran to get the slip of paper that I had written the legal term on. I said it again slowly. Even though I had
no idea what a DOCH KEFILA was the commanding officer knew.
"You know," he said and his voice was not so polite, "we have our doctors here, too"
"Yes," I agreed and my voice was not so shaky. "If one of your doctors talks to the Department of Health and they say
that it's okay for my son to wait another week, fine. But it's a mighty big responsibility for you to take on yourself."
That's how we ended the conversation. As I hung up the receiver my hands were no longer shaking. I had realized that
this officer was just another kid, a few years older than my son.
It was just a couple of hours later when my son called from Ashkelon.
"I have a twenty-four hour pass. I'm on my way to get the shot. Chaim's getting married tonight in Safed. I never thought
I'd be able to make it to the wedding. Thanks."
What more could a Jewish mother ask for?
Now that the situation has changed and our soldiers are in constant danger, I pray that all of them stay safe. May no
mother have anything more to worry about than her child being bit by a cat.
from the December 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine