In September, I'll be moving to Israel to begin the official process of joining the Israeli military, which I will begin in December for roughly 18 months before returning home for good.
Joining the IDF has been in the back of my mind since I first listened to my dad speak about the world's lone Jewish state over 10 years ago. The idea has reverberated in my head, especially in the last 4 years, when I spent a lot of time in Israel, but it was never more than a far-fetched dream, divorced from reality.
But around a month before graduation, I really started to entertain the possibility of joining. The fact that it was now or never, that once I started my career, I would be putting all of my energy into work, forced me to really reflect on the pros and cons of joining the IDF, because 10 years down the road, I didn't want to regret not having this experience.
Obviously there were a lot of negatives that initially, and for some time thereafter, kept me from making this move; sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and think that I had dreamt up this internal debate, and that it wasn't really something I was thinking about. Sometimes I woke up and thought that I was crazy and I should forget the entire idea, put on a shirt and tie, and begin my "real" life. But I never could. For some reason, I could not let this dream die. No matter how ridiculous I thought it was at times, I couldn't let the IDF go. The pull was always there. In my heart and in my soul.
It took me two months to really come to peace with what joining would mean: I would be in a foreign country for almost 2 years without any family or close friends. I would be a soldier...enduring all of the grueling training, inhospitable environments, inevitable mental and emotional breakdowns, and physical exhaustion that comes with being an infantry combat soldier. I would have to do all of this without the comfort of going home on weekends off or being able to spend off time with my family and friends. I would be doing all of this while speaking a language I have only started committing to learn this week. I would be delaying "my working life" for two years, and would be essentially postponing for 2 years my dream of working with my dad, growing our business, and helping all of my friends achieve their financial dreams.
The risk of danger, real life threatening danger, was always there; as a suburban guy, lucky in health and circumstance, sometimes it was tough to really grasp what the idea of "life-threatening war" with real enemies and real weapons would even feel like. The times that I grasped this truth, if only momentarily, stopped me in my tracks: the hair stood up on my back and my entire body grew wet with sweat. But my brothers and sisters in Israel all had to deal with this fear and this sacrifice. I could not let this idea go...
From the time I was old enough to listen to my dad speak, I understood that as Israel goes, so goes the Jewish people. I came to understood that for two thousand years, the Jews were a kicked around, abused, and vulnerable people subjected to the violent whims of the world. With no state to call our own and no people willing to stand up for us or protect us, we endured pogroms, expulsion, mass murder, and persecution. It all culminated in the Holocaust. The systematic murder of 6 million of our people. The world knowing and not doing a damn thing to stop the killing nor opening their gates to the refugees. The devastation of European Jewry had reiterated a truth that Jews honest with themselves had always known: The world could not be trusted to take care of the Jews.
Even more disheartening than any persecution we suffered from the hand of others, in my opinion, is the effect that 2,000 years of ghettoization had on the Jewish people's opinion of themselves. Some Jews internalized the hate of our enemies; they began to rationalize Anti-Semitism and tried to modify their behavior in the delusional hopes that it would put them beyond reproach. The fact that Jew-hatred is irrational and nonsensical, that Jews were hated for being both too capitalist and too socialist, too assimilationist and too particularist, too cowardly and too aggressive, was difficult to confront. If Jew-hatred wasn't based on anything real that we did, but rather revealed the hateful nature of our detractors, how could we possibly end our persecution? We could not. We can not.
As the late Menachem Begin once remarked, "The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us."
My dad would not stand for that sort of passiveness. He would be proud of his Jewishness. He would not be shy about it, apologize for it, or grow detached from it. He is not religious; It has nothing to do with religion or God, it has everything to do with a bond among people. He would do all that he could to support and stand up for our people. "Jews watch out for other Jews, because nobody else will," I've heard on more than one occasion.
The creation of Israel was nothing less and nothing more than the culmination of a 2,000 year old dream to be a free people in our own land. Through sheer force of will, necessity, and desperation...the Jews reclaimed a destitute land, revived a biblical language, and recreated their national culture. Zionism failed, however, in its attempt to quell Anti-Semetism: the idea that Israel's creation would finally normalize the Jewish people, and that Israel would exist as a “nation like any other” was flawed from the start. Instead, the creation of a Jewish state merely allowed Anti-Semites to masquerade their hatred in terms more palatable to the world: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Israel rhetoric. Listen to any "Anti-Zionist" speak for long enough, and you will see the root of their hatred.
But Zionism succeeded in its more reasonable, and ultimately, more important goal.
Never again. Never again would Jews be persecuted with no where to go. No longer would a Jew have to feel inferior or weak or deserving of hate because they were a Jew. Suddenly, the Jewish people had an army capable and eager to defend our people's right to live free and proudly Jewish anywhere in the world. With the establishment of the Jewish state, the Jewish people would never go quietly to their graves again. Anti-Semitism would not be defeated, but rather than turn the other cheek or bow their heads, Jews would stand up straight, stare you in the eyes, and tell you to go f-ck yourself. We would control our own destiny.
The men and women of the IDF have always been heroes of mine because they changed my perceptions of what we could be and how we could live. We would no longer be victims; we would be defenders and fighters. When the world hit us, we would hit back. Harder. We would let the world know that we are no longer the wandering Jew. We have a homeland. We have a state. We have an army. We will live.
After making Israeli friends over the past 4 years and spending about 6 months there during that span, I have come to love and appreciate the State of Israel even more completely and intimately. I am a part of Israel. I feel a personal responsibility to do my part in defending and protecting the Jewish people. While not normally sentimental, pictures and experiences related to Israel and the Jewish people cut to the core of my being: I've cried with joy at the sight of an M16 with a Jewish star, and I tear up everytime I watch something about the horrors of the Holocaust. My soul yearns for me to do my part to ensure that the Jewish people will never again have to return to the hopelessness of the past. I know that the men and women of the IDF are not just protecting their families and their country, they are defending my right to be a Jew, my right to be free and practice my faith in any way that I choose.
They are my brothers and sisters, and they are defending my family. I would like to return the favor.
...The Gaza conflict has strengthened my certainty in the importance of what I will be doing. The media's coverage of this conflict is the failed litmus test in the world's inability to treat the Jewish state fairly, equally, and humanely.
As I look around the world and I see how the world responds to Israel's defending its citizens against Hamas, I am reminded, yet again, what it means that Israel is a Jewish state. It means that Israel is not allowed to respond to an onslaught of rockets that threaten over 3 million of its citizens in the same way that other states would. It means that despite facing a genocidal terrorist organization that hides behind its civilians and encourages them to die to score PR victories; Israel is blamed for casualties.
It means that despite transferring hundreds of tons of food and medicinal supplies to the people of Gaza and providing hospital care for injured Palestinians, and targeting only Hamas strongholds, Israel is accused of indiscriminate murder. It means that throwing pamphlets, making phone calls, and warning enemy civilians of attacks to come, which no other army on Earth does, and which is a risk to its own soldiers, is not enough. It means that Hamas can stockpiles rockets in schools and mosques, launch rockets from hospitals and houses, create bomb shelters only for Hamas operatives, and order civilians to ignore IDF calls to flee to safety. It means that, to the outside world, Israel cannot win.
There is no moral equivalence here; there are not two sides to this story. Being impartial, fair, and honest means supporting Israel against a terrorist organization that calls for her annihilation and that uses its own people as human shields. Being impartial means equating Hamas with Al-Quaida and understanding that it is better for all-Jews and Arabs alike- for them to be eliminated. This conflict is a matter of right and wrong; victim and aggressor; cause and effect. Hamas wants as many dead Israelis and Palestinians as possible. Israel wants to defend its country from rockets with as few casualties as possible and go home. It is that simple.
It is more important now than ever to support the Jewish state of Israel against evil. I am proud to be a Jew. I am proud to be an American. I am proud that I will soon be a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. I am proud that I get the privilege to defend my people's right to life.