Soldiers at Itamar settlement 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
This week, my daughter will embark on a new stage in her life, that of a typical
18-year old. As my oldest child, it’s one of those milestones for our
whole family which we approach as a learning experience, one for which we have
supposedly been preparing. It’s a milestone I celebrate with pride at her
maturity and achievement, and with a little trepidation, wondering whether I’ve
done a good enough job preparing her.
Though my daughter was born in the
US and looks forward to being able to vote like a typical 18-yearold, in doing
what’s normal for her life now, her path will take her in an entirely different
direction from her peers in the US. Most of them are on their way to college, or
a gap-year program giving them some outside world experience.
will be moving out of the house where we have cared for and nurtured her, and
enter a home with a young couple she doesn’t know, helping take care of children
who are neither her siblings, nor her own. In essence, my daughter will become a
surrogate parent to children she has not even met.
She’ll be living with
troubled children from homes that cannot care for them – an interesting
juxtaposition for the relationships she’s had with her siblings. Typical,
but where the “problems” they allege about one another, and about which they
bicker, will pale by comparison.
What’s normal for my daughter, her
friends, and the vast majority of young Israeli men and women is not to graduate
high school and go off to college, but to first serve their country for one to
three years. Her male friends will either begin compulsory military
service, or attend a post high school religious program where they’ll prepare
for the military. This is something they do with pride, and unlike other
segments of Israeli society, without hesitation.
Typically, young Israeli
women also serve in the army, though for reasons of religious sensitivity, some
go to an array of National Service programs such as that which my daughter will
Other friends will do their National Service in programs for children
with cancer, in schools with a large portion of underprivileged kids, in
community programs bridging differences between religious and secular Israelis,
and working in communities on the periphery to add quality of life, just to name
a few. These National Service jobs are every bit as competitive as the most
elite military units, and play no less an important role in Israeli
It’s a special point of pride that all my daughter’s friends run
to participate, and compete to get assignments that will have the most
In recent years, there’s been a growing number of young Israeli
men and women trying to get out of national service. There’s been a parallel
effort to catch those who skip out. The saddest part is that these people don’t
have anything close to the sense of pride for, or responsibility to, their
country as my daughter and her friends have.
Another trend is the
increasing number of people joining special military units and National Service
assignments from sectors of society that have been largely exempt: ultra
Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs. Quietly, and for a multitude of reasons,
members of these large minority communities have slowly been choosing to
These trends are not without their detractors, and some of
the most strident objections come from the Arab members of Israel’s parliament.
The irony is that though there’s no greater affirmation of Israeli democracy and
equality than having Arab members of parliament, the loudest voices protesting
Arab participation in National Service come from Arab
At her graduation ceremony, one of my daughter’s
teachers spoke movingly about the 30 young women who were about to enter a new
relationship with their country, and that Israel will be better off for
it. This is certain, and our pride overflows.
While my daughter is
about to become a role model for at-risk youth who need a helping hand, for too
many Israeli Arabs their role models teach them not
to serve, not
to work to make their communities and country a better place, not
to offer a
helping hand, but to expect a handout.
Rather than teaching a sense of
responsibility, they are looking for all the rights of citizenship with none of
the reciprocal commitment. That they expect all the benefits of a democracy
which provides their leaders the parliamentary platform to separate from their
country rather than build it, is a great loss.
I have no doubt that my
daughter and her friends will rise to the new challenges and opportunities that
await them. I am proud that she embraces a sense of responsibility to her
If nothing else, at least as her father, I can take credit for
helping do one thing right.The writer immigrated to Israel in 2004. He
blogs on jonathanfeldstein.blogspot.com