Canadian parents of Israeli soldiers like Eden Philip say ‘no news is good news’ when it comes to getting details from the front  

Eden Philip, a Canadian-Israeli who has returned to Israel to fight in the war against Hamas. (Photo supplied by family)

Canadian parents whose children are serving in the Israel Defence Forces are balancing pride and worry as they wait to hear from their sons and daughters who have volunteered to fight in the ongoing war with Hamas.

For many of them, weeks have passed since they were last in contact with their children. In most cases, they say ‘no news is good news’ as many soldiers have to leave their cell phones behind when they enter Gaza and can’t communicate with their families.

Karen, who lives in Montreal and does not want her last name used, said she only receives updates from a parent group chat from her son’s unit. The group chat has been a lifeline since nearly six weeks elapsed since she last heard from him. Her son Michael, 22, enlisted in the army as a lone soldier 18 months ago.

“I am extremely proud of him. He has taught me how to be brave, how to be courageous, and how to be selfless,” Karen told The CJN. “But I was not prepared for the feeling of helplessness and this knot that you constantly have in your stomach.”

Karen said she has had to shift her perspective as a Canadian when thinking about the war since national service is a foreign concept to her. In her mind, donating money and praying were the contributions she could make as a Canadian, leaving her surprised when her son decided to serve.

Paul Hirschson, Consul General for Israel who is based in Montreal, meets with parents regularly whose children have decided to serve or who have been drafted while living in Israel. Hirschson, whose own son is also currently serving in the IDF, said that none of the parents he’s met with thus far have expressed that they want their children to come back home.

“The overwhelming sentiment that I’ve come across is much more pride and determination,” Hirschson said. “It’s a balancing act of concern and pride.”

The soldiers from Canada knew when they chose to live in Israel it would include national service. The call up orders, however, came as a surprise for reservists, many of whom were working and going about their normal lives. Most were sent to units of highly trained soldiers in Gaza within 48 hours of being called up according to Hirschson.

“They possess incredibly high morale and determination,” said Hirschson.

Some parents have gone to Israel for brief visits with their children while others have stayed in Montreal. One couple Hirschson met with recently visited their daughter-in-law and grandchild but were adamant about not seeing their son, keen on not disturbing his mission.

“The Montreal Jewish community is hugely engaged with Israel,” said Hirschson. “In the darkness of the last two months and the horror stories we hear and the ongoing experience of the hostages, it has been a really inspiring component to meet these parents.”

Hirschson happened to be in Israel when the war began and his son who is a reservist was called up after already serving for a year and a half. He helped his son get some supplies and was back in Montreal a few days later. Hirschson highlighted the fact that national service is a very normal part of life for citizens.

“These are the people that have to do the work,” said Hirschon, referring to the young soldiers.

Galia Philip, an Israeli living in Canada for more than 20 years, has two sons serving in the army. Her eldest son, Eden, 27, decided to go to Israel immediately when the war began.

She was opposed to Eden’s decision at first since he had already served as a lone soldier, but quickly understood there was no stopping his determination to help Israel. His initial flight was canceled to her relief, but on Oct. 16 he got an emergency letter from the army on his birthday and he was on a plane the next day. A couple of days later, he met with his unit in the north on the Lebanese border where they stayed for a month and now he is in Gaza.

Philip’s youngest son, Benjamin who was born in Montreal, left on Dec. 18 to go to Israel after telling her that it was his time to serve. He expressed his desire to join an elite unit. Philip said at the moment she realized she had to let go of her fear and be as supportive as possible to her children.

“I sent my child with a blessing. It’s not that I’m not afraid, it’s not that I’m not worried,” said Philip. “But it’s a different way of being worried. It’s a different type of fear.

“If I say with my deepest belief that he’s there, he’s protected, he’s doing what he has to do, then I’m sending him with ease. I’m releasing the control of what I cannot control.”

The night before both of her sons left, Galia sat them down and helped them write their wills, realizing that anything could happen during their time away. She admitted that it was unfathomable at first but offered her a sense of relief knowing that she would respect her sons’ wishes no matter what happened and was able to show them that she supported them completely.

“My kids did it (enlisted) not because they had to but because they wanted to. To choose to go to the army, follow certain rules, being under strict conduct, takes a lot of courage. I’m proud of my two boys that that was their choice. I strongly believe that they will do their best and they will come back safe and sound.”

Galia shared a letter that her son Eden wrote to her on the sixth day of Hanukkah as he prepared to go on his next mission.

“I didn’t do anything special, I did what every Israeli chose to do on the seventh of October. I chose to pick up my iron sword and defend our country, our people, our home. We should all be making this effort whether it be with a weapon in our hand, with a pen in our desk, with the letters on our keyboards. Each of us can do more. Each of us has a part to play in the history of the Jewish people,” read an excerpt from his letter.

Yael Halevi-Wise, a McGill professor who is in Israel on sabbatical, also has a son currently serving in Gaza. Her son Ari, 20, was born in Montreal after she and her husband were hired at McGill.  

After graduating high school, Ari visited Israel for a year, and then decided he wanted to continue studying and live his life there. His national service was extended because of the war.

“I am very sad that my son has to be a soldier. I am very worried for him and all the other soldiers. I’m sad about the world that does not hold Hamas accountable,” Halevi-Wise told The CJN.

Before Rosh Hashanah her son was stationed outside of Gaza, close to where Hamas launched its massacre of 1,200 Israelis. The week of Oct. 7, her son’s unit was sent up north to the Golan to become familiar with the terrain. The move saved his life, Halevi-Wise said. All the others from the group who were there were either killed or are now hostages she said.

She has been able to see Ari for a few brief visits since the war. His only requests were fresh fruits and vegetables and a hot shower. She is amazed at her son’s commitment and high morale as he continues to serve.

Halevi-Wise plans to stay in Israel for now with her daughter who is working on her PhD and her youngest son who is studying at a yeshiva.

“Our worry is not only that our children can be killed and maimed,” said Halevi-Wise. “Already they have had to participate in something sad and unnatural. How will they come out of it?

“He has no pride and I have none either. What we have is very much a feeling of belonging and of responsibility.”