It happened years ago when my oldest son was first in the army. Sending him to be a soldier had been quite an experience for an immigrant mother like myself. My feelings were complicated. On one hand I had hoped the army would find some minor medical problem that would disqualify him from active duty. On the other hand, I was incredibly proud of him and saw his induction as one of the final stages of my family's aliya process.
This was at a time when life was calmer and there was little violence. 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.
The story began when my son finished his six months of basic training and received a weeklong furlough. How he enjoyed that week! It was on the last night of his furlough that my involvement with the army began.
My son had been 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 up the disgusting creature. 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 catch it.
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 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 rabies shots?
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-that-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 month passed quickly and suddenly I realized that my son had not received his shots.
"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 on a regular basis.) "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 kevilla 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 officer 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 kevilla 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 kevilla 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.
Only a couple of hours had passed 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?
Aliya; literally going up, it means moving to Israel
doch kevilla: official complaint