Once A Mother


A few weeks ago, I traveled to Italy for a vacation. In the midst of my trip, I found myself glued to the television. CNN showed a young Israeli soldier, captured by a terrorist organization and threatened with imminent death. I did not think about the beautiful surroundings of Venice. Instead, I prayed for the boy's life. And I watched his pleading mother. I thought of my own two children and my young grandson, and of my own ties to the state of Israel. I hated the individuals responsible for this act of terrorism. At the same time, I thought of my own unique connection with an Arab woman and her son.

First, I must explain my connection with Israel. When I was young, I had the privilege of living in Israel for several years. During that period, I served the obligatory two years in the army. More than 30 years have passed since that time, but I am still connected with Israel, through family, friends, and spirit. Each war in the Middle East, each young casualty, saddens me. I think of my Israel friends and relatives whose children are soldiers and endanger their lives daily. I am angry at the Arab nations; they are the enemies.

Several years ago, my husband, a professional engineer, needed a young, bright student to help out in his Manhattan office. He placed a request at one of the local colleges, and the school referred an eager student to him. The interview went well; both parties happily reached an agreement. The young man, who attended school at night, became a part of the office. His name was Said. He came from the enemy camp -Egypt. Somehow, this never became an issue. Said was respectful, well mannered, and enthusiastic -a model employee. My husband and he were equally happy with the arrangement. My husband devoted extra time to teaching Said the fine points of the profession. Said absorbed the information eagerly. And so they worked in total harmony for many months.

One day, Said came to work visibly disturbed. His mother, a widow who lived in Cairo, had informed Said it was time for him to marry. According to tradition, she chose a bride from a proper family. She summoned Said to his home in Egypt so that he might fulfill his obligation.

Said, 25 years old at the time, did not object. While living in America, he had discovered that there are different ways to find a bride. Still, it never occurred to him to oppose his mother's plan. And so, he asked my husband for a three-week vacation in order to travel to Egypt and meet his bride. The couple needed only three weeks to meet, get acquainted, and marry. Said purchased gifts, a plane ticket, and made his plans.

One day before Said's scheduled departure, I received an alarming call from my husband. Said was sick. He could not eat; he had developed pain, experienced difficulty breathing, and had other symptoms. My immediate thought was: Said is somebody's son in a strange country, and he needs help. I prepared a thermos of all-healing chicken soup and other goodies and delivered them to Said.

I also made a few telephone calls, and convinced a physician friend to see Said, without compensation, and to give him medication. The physician diagnosed Said with neuralgia, due to anxiety. Clearly, Said was torn. He wanted to fulfill his duties and please his mother, yet he was terrified of marrying an unknown girl.

Naturally, Said's trip, and his marriage, did not take place. It was not meant to be. Instead, his mother visited her son in the United States. She arrived in New York with many gifts for us - jewelry, embroidered kaftans, silver trays, candlesticks, and many beautiful ornamental trinkets from the far east. Said confided in us that his mother apologized for her inability to speak English. But her actions spoke volumes. I accepted her gifts gratefully; I knew that this was her thank-you note. Eventually, Said graduated. He progressed professionally, left the office, and married a young physician from Egypt.

Still vacationing in Venice, I watched in horror as the news of the Israeli soldier's murder unfolded. I cried as I watched his funeral, weeping for his young life, for his mother's pain, and for the many other victims of the past and those still to come. Yet a strange thought occurred to me: Under different circumstances, Said could have been shooting at my son. I reflected on Said and on my brief experience of knowing him and helping him through a rough period in his life. Would I do the same today? Would I extend my hand to an ailing Arab? I know that I would. Once a mother, always a mother.