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February 08, 1991 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-02-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.



It's difficult
enough to see
your kid brother
grow up,
especially when
he's manning an
IDF tank in the
Jordan Valley.


Special to The Jewish News


iscipline. Motivation.
Integrity. Profession-
These are the charac-
teristics that mold members
of Heyl Shirion, the Israeli
Defense Forces' Armored
Corps. For the past six
months, these ideals have
shaped my brother.
Robbie, now 20 years old,
is what's referred to in
Israeli military circles as a
chayal boded. Translated
literally, this means he is a
lonely soldier, one who has
no family members living in
I've often thought the IDF
(Israel Defense Forces)
should create a special sta-
tus for families like mine:
mishpachot bodedim, lonely


As a chayal boded, my
brother, now called Mati
(short for Matityahu, his
Hebrew name), is entitled to
a free trip back to the United
States and extra pay. So far,
he has rejected both.
"Israel is a poor army," he
recently reminded my
parents — Dr. George and
Marian Mehler of Pikesville,
Md., — as we sat in the
apartment our family owns
in Jerusalem. "I don't get a
long enough leave to even
use up my regular pay.
"Believe me," he said,-" I'd
rather the army use the
extra cash for more tank
We stared at him. Almost
disbelieving. And not for the
first time. Robbie has had an
interest in military affairs
for many years, but only
after he decided on making
aliyah did it become this
Gone was the carefree
youth from Pikesville, who
liked nothing better than to
hang out at the Kosher Bite
or Chapps.
In his place stood this seri-
ous soldier — still so much a
boy — with black gun oil
embedded deep in his skin,
staining his palms and
fingers. Suddenly he was
more concerned about hav-
ing enough artillery than
having extra money for
dates, clothes or even
shwarma sandwiches.
During the two weeks the
family recently spent
together, just prior to the
outbreak of the Gulf war, we
drove the length and bread-
th of Israel. We stayed at the

Plaza Hotel in Tiberias. We
luxuriated at the King
Solomon Hotel in Eilat. But
few moments so excited my
brother as the afternoon on
Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda
Street when we bought him
a new pair of army boots.
Robbie balked at the price,
about $80. But when he tried
them on, we knew he was in
heaven. He was my kid
brother, and I used to take
him shopping for sneakers.
But I'd never seen him carry
on like this. Not even when
buying a new pair of the
latest Nike high tops.
"So light," he marveled as
he pumped his legs. I could
see he was trying to include
us in his obvious enthusi-
asm. "Just feel these
treads," he gushed.

vested virtually all of its po-
litical capital in promoting a
settlement with the Palesti-
nians on the basis of mutual
trust and respect. That hope,
except among the most op-
timistic or masochistic, has
now largely dissipated.
Amos Oz, one of Israel's
leading authors and peace
activists, conceded that he
had suffered a "serious set-
back" as a result of the
PLO's endorsement of
Saddam Hussein: "I think
the endorsement is abomi-
nable and unforgivable," he
told a press conference in Tel
Aviv last week.
While continuing to ad-

vocate self-determination for
the Palestinians, he ad-
mitted that "it is a harsh
blow to the very painful at-
tempt we have been making
to change the trends in
Israeli public opinion."
He was also sharply
critical of peace activists in
the United States and
Europe who were campaign-
ing against the war with
He explained that
"whereas some members of
the peace movement in other
countries simply stand
against war, I do not stand
against war. I stand against
aggression." ❑

Robbie Mehler on the day of his induction.

Two Steps

Continued from preceding page

allies, have become the
pariahs of the West.
The latest, perhaps final,
blow came last week with
the revelation by American
intelligence sources that
Iraq had, in a secret message
to PLO headquarters in
Tunis, instructed the Pales-
tinians to launch a terror
campaign against alliance
targets throughout the
world. "We trusted them
and we fought for them,"
noted one bitter Western
diplomat in Tel Aviv last
No single group, however,
feels more betrayed than the
Israeli Left, which had in-

In July, when my brother
and hundreds of other
recruits arrived at Bakum,
the IDF's central induction
center outside Tel Aviv, they
were issued rifles and two
sets of uniforms — one for
combat and one for dress.
Everyone received a pair of
boots. The pair Robbie was
issued were the wrong size.
"You just don't walk up to
a commanding officer, on
your first day, with your gun
slung over one shoulder, and
complain that your boots
don't fit," he said.
Consequently, my brother
and others swapped or stuff-
ed their boots with layers of
heavy, woolen socks so they
would fit.
Robbie showed us the spe-
cial way soldiers are in-
structed to lace their boots.
They do it in such a way that
the laces aren't criss-crossed.
This is so medics and other
military personnel may slice
boots off more easily in case
of foot or leg wounds.
"Very often," Robbie said,
"the only thing left are a
soldiers' boots."
The thought was frighten-
ing. But so was the knowl-
edge that several flame
resistant identification tags
have been sewn into his
uniform in case the
unspeakable happens.
Somehow, my family has
accepted this. We've come to
understand the true nature
of war, and Robbie's corn-
mitment to Israel.
Before making aliyah last
February, my brother was
like other American Jewish
teenagers. After nine years

at Baltimore's Talmudical
Academy, he completed high
school at the Hebrew Acad-
emy of Greater Washington
in Silver Springs.
He was planning for col-
lege and had a dizzying so-
cial calendar. He had his
own car. But then, soon after
finishing high school, he
moved to Israel, which is
something he had been
thinking about for a few
years. Now, he mans a tank
in the Jordan Valley.
Before Shabbat, I accom-
panied Robbie to
Jerusalem's Bikkur Cholim
Hospital on Strauss Street.
He said he needed to pick up
some intravenous solution
bags, into which he would
staff supplies.
Once the edges of the bags
are sealed with a flame,
they're protected against
moisture and chemical
Robbie acted as if this was
no big deal. Every soldier
prepared in the same way,
he said.
Maybe so. But when we
left Israel, prior to the out-
break of the Gulf war, our
closest friends were ready-
ing gas masks and provi-
sions and sealing rooms with
masking tape and nylon cur-
I saw no panic in the
streets or in the faces of my
friends and brother the day I
left. As my mother noted,
neither Robbie or our friends
suffer from Rambo com-
plexes. But they do exist
with a heavy air of resigna-
tion that is part and parcel of
what, for the moment, life is
like in Israel.



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