It was the summer of 2006. The Second Lebanon War had just ended, and Israel was still mourning its dead. And there they were; not grieving parents, or those tending to wounded siblings, or children struggling to comprehend the loss of a father. The others – and they were angry. Angry at the morally stained prime minister, at the chief of staff who found time to sell his stock options just as the war was starting to rage, at a defense minister so inept he couldn’t even hold binoculars properly. They wanted someone’s head, and they wanted it then and there.
It was as though they hadn’t heard of Israel’s newest heroes: Klein, who jumped on a grenade, saving his comrades; Alex, who lost a leg and still commanded a rescue operation, directing the paramedics to assist his wounded subordinates; Seadia, Benji and Gomez, who went in with his all-time favorite helicopter, right until it went down in flames.
These others had no interest in fraternity, in heroism.
These words were reserved for the lunatics, the shell-shocked, the tell tales. They didn’t understand; perhaps they couldn’t. They said that 10-year-olds who lived through the war could never be like the soldiers of 2006. Of the children who lived through the Disengagement from Gaza, they said they would turn their backs on their country. They said the newly- discharged reservists would no longer rush to Israel’s defense the same way.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Eight years passed, and Operation Brother’s Keeper became Operation Protective Edge. Those very same children fought valiantly and heroically for over a month, rivaling the bravery of their forefathers in 1948 and 1967. These children of Beersheba, Nahalal, Nirit, Gush Katif, Ramle, Kiryat Shmona, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Hebron fought with impossible courage, for us, for the country, for the people, so that no Jewish child would ever have to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of rocket fire.
And they weren’t the only ones. In the summer of 2006, Sean Carmeli was a playful 13-year-old living in Texas. Jordan Ben-Simon was the same age; he was living with his parents in Lyon, France. Max Steinberg was older; at 16, three years would pass before his first trip to Israel as part of the Birthright program. The three of them chose to leave their comfortable lives behind, to fulfill their destiny and make aliya. In their lives, they were known as lone soldiers, who left their family behind to join the IDF; in death, they were as far as possible from being alone. Their funerals were attended by over 60,000 Israelis, the vast majority of whom never knew them.
Like Sean, Jordan and Max, Adam was also born elsewhere. He grew up in Florida, and in 2006, at 19, he was already at the top of his economics class at Harvard, heading for a successful career on Wall Street. But three-and-a-half years ago, he also chose to make aliya.
I remember when he first walked through our door. It was Shabbat dinner. A skinny boy in a suit, not sure if he should put on a kippa or not, with barely a word of Hebrew, with as little knowledge about Israel as an average native of the Florida shores.
It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Adam.
We took him in, and he became part of our family, regardless of the impossibility of getting a good night’s sleep; that’s what happens when you’re sleeping on the couch in the playroom/dining room/living room, the first place the kids go into at 6:30 in the morning (shouting at the top of their tiny lungs: “Adam! Adam! Could you show us how to fly an helicopter?”) A week ago, he came home for Shabbat from the army. No longer skinny, but well-built, he exchanged the suit for a uniform, cropped hair and a nearly flawless Hebrew. He seemed tired, having spent day after day in combat operations in Gaza; but he remains adamant in his love for the country, fulfilling the dream that led him from across the sea.
And while Israel embraced the lone soldiers in death, Jerusalem will strive to also do that in life, hoping that these heroes of ours will choose to build their future in our city: 10 months ago, I shared my dream of building a home for lone soldiers in Jerusalem with Mayor Nir Barkat. After months of hard work by all of us, in a month, this home will open, hosting some 80 lone soldiers in 40 apartments.
Let all naysayers hear me: enough with this nonsense about the egoistic, selfish youth of our day. We are only growing stronger. It’s true: we love the good life, we think differently. Maybe we have more chutzpah and less manners. But ours is the generation that is going to change it all. We’re going to take responsibility. And if we can just keep in touch with our Jewish values, our State of Israel and our Jerusalem, we will go on to do great things.
The author is a Jerusalem City Council member from the Wake Up Jerusalem movement.