It happened again. Every once in a while I meet up with it, and this week, again.
Many years ago I wrote an article about a young soldier serving in Hebron. I think it was during the ‘Oslo War’ – aka the 2nd Intifada. Arabs were shooting at us day and night. And this guy, just out of high school wasn’t even an Israeli yet. And to top it off, his next stop, in uniform, was Lebanon.
Ari Abramowitz successfully finished his army service, graduated from university in the US, and came back to Israel to continue serving Israel in various important positions, including, after founding ‘thelandofisrael.com,’ hosting a fabulously popular international TV show with Jeremy Gimpel, about life in Israel. Today he continues his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people with Keren HaYesod.
Well, I may have met another Ari. Only this fella’s name is, well, let’s call him Pinny. I met him, where else, on Facebook. I don’t remember exactly how, but I saw something about a soldier in Hebron from New Jersey. Well, that’s where I grew up. So I sent him a message, we ‘chatted’ and I invited him for Shabbat. He was able to free himself and came over. For me it was an uplifting experience.
Here again, a man not yet twenty. Finishes high school, from a not particularly religious family, but leaning in the direction of observant Judaism. Leaves the US to Israel ‘for a year’ to study in Yeshiva. After a year in an ‘American yeshiva’, he notifies his parents that he wants to stay another year before ‘returning home’ to ‘start university.’
But this next year is spent, not in an all English-speaking yeshiva, rather in an Israeli, high level Torah Academy, located in the Southern Hebron Hills. Why? Well, Pinny is already seriously considering Aliyah, becoming a full-fledged Israeli citizen. Therefore he chooses to attend a yeshiva where they speak Hebrew. His own Hebrew isn’t very good, but that’s the point. To learn. To get prepared for the rest of his life.
Now, that’s not easy. I know. I did the same thing. It can be very frustrating. The classes are difficult to understand, especially trying to comprehend pages of the Talmud, many of which are in Aramaic. But, when you are really determined, and you have a real, idealistically-motivated goal, anything is possible.
This particular yeshiva is one of the “Hesder” variety, that is, the students, after a year and a half of Torah study, begin active military service for about a year and a half. Pinny calls home again to tell his folks that now he’s going into the army.
Pinny makes his way to the army draft base and tells them, “I’m here, I want to go into the army.”
Many Israelis, (and I’m not talking about the so-called ‘Haredi religious population), try to avoid the IDF, finding excuses here and there why they cannot serve. And here pops in an ‘American’ who, they quickly determine, doesn’t even know enough Hebrew to start the elementary Ulpan, Hebrew language instruction program for ‘new immigrants’. But he stands his ground – ‘I want to be drafted.’
So, in he goes. I would compare it to throwing a three year old into the pool and saying ‘swim!’
When the group of young combat trainees begins target shooting practice, the commander screams out ‘Aish.’ Meaning ‘shoot.’ Pinny doesn’t shoot, because he’s not familiar with the word. The commander comes over, looks at Pinny, repeating, ‘Aish’ When Pinny just looks at him, the commander calmly utters, ‘Fire’. “ In English.
‘Fire? Oh, ‘Aish’ is fire my gun.’ Finally – boom boom boom.
I’ve heard of commanders who have almost literally tortured such ‘new immigrants.’ But Pinny fell into good hands. His commanding officers and other members of his battalion were patient and considerate, realizing the precious treasure they had in their company. After all, not every day do such ‘Americans’ volunteer to be drafted and participate in serving the state of Israel.
Pinny completed his basic training and moved out, with the rest of his crew, to Hebron. Here he is fulfilling most of his service, before heading back to the Yeshiva for another year of Torah study.
After dinner, I invited Pinny back for lunch the next day. He was due to begin ‘guard duty’ for a few hours, and then have a nine hour break until the next round of duty. However, that wouldn’t have allowed him to dine with us, as his guard duty would have begun just as we were beginning to eat. So rather than take a nine-hour break, he began guarding only six hours later, (which meant he had less time to sleep), but allowing him to finish and come over to us, just in time for the meal. Why? ‘Because it makes it a better Shabbat for me.’
Of course, not too long after he left us, he had to start again.
It’s not easy to be a soldier in Hebron. There is a degree of tension, with ‘security alerts’ a constant. The orders they receive aren’t always easy to implement. And sometimes the opposite: not being able to do what you think you should do. There can be frequent confrontations. But here’s a young man from New Jersey, on the brink of the beginning of his adult life, putting his life on the line for the Jewish people, for the state of Israel.
It never ceases to amaze me. And to instill me with hope and optimism. I firmly believe that within the coming decades many more Americans and Europeans will be coming to Israel. Some of them, if not most, probably because they will realize that the US and Europe aren’t the havens they thought they were. But there will be others, like Pinny, who come to Israel, not because the US is bad for the Jews, but because Israel is good for the Jews, because this is our home, this is where we should be, this is where we belong.
I’m not a prophet or a soothsayer, but if asked to make a prediction, I can easily foresee a brilliant future for Pinny. Because a person with such dedication, to his people, to his country, to his religion, will undoubtedly continue on a path of success. I look forward to Pinny’s continued achievements, on behalf of his family, his people, his state. And thank him for making my day yesterday. There’s very little that makes me happier than witnessing the Pinnys of the Jewish people, in Israel.
This is authentic Zionism – alive and kicking, in Israel, in Hebron.
This article does not necessarily represent the views of the Hebron Jewish Community