The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Jewish Observer

A Letter from Stuart and Debby Wiston

From Stuart and Debby Wiston: 

At the end of August, Debby and I sent our 18-year-old son off to Jerusalem for Aardvark, a gap year program. We were excited and nervous, as any parent sending their kid away probably is. Two years ago, our friend's son went on the same program, but his year was impacted by COVID. Who would have guessed that just two months after Leo’s departure I would be jealous of lockdowns. 

When I first heard the news of the attack, I was with my daughter, touring the University of Florida. Because of our schedule, and because of the drip, drip nature of news, I only heard some of the facts, but it was enough. I was alternatively filled with tears of sadness and horror and screams of rage. At that point, I wasn't that concerned for my son. After all, he was in Jerusalem and Hamas only has rockets - which are not very accurate. Hezbollah would make me nervous, I told my mom, but in Jerusalem, he should be safe. 

But as we all know, Judaism doesn't give any of us six degrees of separation. Three of the counselors from the program were called up for reserve duty. The kids in Tel Aviv were under daily bomb alerts, even if the kids in Jerusalem weren't. The news didn't help. The story of horrors from the attack kept coming, the fear of impending missiles from Lebanon, the thought that the West Bank could erupt into a full-fledged intifada - all made American Jewish parents understandably scared for their kids. It soon became evident that many of the kids would be leaving. 

My mother was truly upset. Watching the news, she was worried for her grandson. She offered to send him on vacation to Cyprus, to Spain, to Greece, to anywhere, as long as he would leave for a while. 

But Leo didn’t want to leave. He felt that he was safe in Jerusalem ,and he wanted to stay. As threeadults, we discussed it and agreed that, unless the situation changes dramatically, he will stay. 

Since then, he has been amazing. Some of the people from his group waited more than six hours to donate blood. Aardvark opened a day care for the parents who have nothing to do with their kids - schools were canceled for days for security reasons. And the program has made sure they have activities, from Zoom Hebrew classes to Master Chef Cooking Competitions to yoga. They have made a mental health professional available to the kids at all times, as well. 

And, when asked, both Debby and I answer honestly that we are okay. The silver lining is that he calls us every day and so we are up on him and how he is doing. But the other part of the story is that we are not. We have a child in a war zone. We both watch the news incessantly and try not to panic when the Red Alert flashes that a rocket attack targeted Jerusalem or that Hezbollah killed two more Israelis on the northern border. We have both noticed that we are tired all the time as the stress wears on us. 

But we are both lovers of Israel and we are proud of our son - what he is doing and the choices he is making. And we are - for now - still good with him staying. 

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Leo Wiston, son of Stuart and Debby Wiston, is living in Israel on a gap year program. He is spending his time volunteering and studying.

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