I’ve lived in Israel for 23 years. I speak polished Hebrew, live in an Israeli
neighborhood with very few Anglos, work for several major national institutions,
write a regular diplomatic column in two Israeli newspapers, and have held a
senior position in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Five of my six kids were
born in Israel, and I have an Israeli-born son-in-law who is an officer in IDF
But it wasn’t until this month that I became a
Two weeks ago, I drove my eldest son, Dovi, to Bakum, the
IDF’s main enlistment center at Tel Hashomer, where he was inducted into an
elite infantry unit for mandatory military service.
I cried a lot. Now I
am an Israeli. Call it the Bakum initiation.
It is amazing how the oldest
clichés sometimes turn out to be true. That the core difference between being an
Israeli Jew and a Diaspora Jew is that Israeli Jews put their lives on the line
for the State of Israel.
Or that that the difference between Israeli Jews
who serve in the army and those who don’t is Madad Ima – the “concerned mother
This index contrasts mothers (and fathers) with sons in the IDF
who lie awake at night wondering where their sons are, what they are doing, what
danger they are in, and when and whether they will be coming home; with mothers
whose sleep is undisturbed by such existential worries.
I can tell you
that my wife hasn’t slept much, and Dovi is just starting out on his first tour
of duty! Dovi and I had a private talk the day before we drove to the Bakum, in
which he asked me if I had any pre-draft advice. Since my military career is
gloriously close to non-existent (I served in the IDF for a grand total of one
week!), there wasn’t a lot of practical advice I could give him, except to take
care of himself physically, guard himself spiritually and religiously, protect
his platoon buddies and the country to the best of his abilities, and try to
call home every day.
I also told him that when in doubt and in direct
personal danger from apparent enemy combatants, shoot first and ask questions
later. He should worry more about his own safety and that of the country than
Human Rights Watch or Amnesty investigations. If necessary, I’ll get him a good
But mainly Dovi and I had an extensive conversation about Jewish
identity, destiny, mission and responsibility. He didn’t really need the talk,
but I did.
To Dovi, the task resting on his shoulders was and is clear:
To defend his family and the country, to do so in the most moral way possible,
and in the process to bring about Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of Gd’s name
in the world. Also, he said: To rectify thousands of years of Jewish
defenselessness and victimhood.
My need for the conversation was
primitive. I needed to refortify and remind myself why it was that I was sending
my son off into danger; why I was propelling him into a playground filled with
Tavor automatic rifles and sniper scopes; and why I ought to be proud that he’ll
be spending the coming years lying in ambush on the Syrian or Sinai borders
instead of studying medicine in university or Torah in yeshiva.
course, is so strange, because I’m the one constantly lecturing people on the
grand historical drama of the Jewish return to Zion and the unique privilege
that our generation has to rebuild the People of Israel in the Land of Israel in
accordance with the Torah of Israel.
I’m the guy always hectoring my
haredi relatives about the nobility and religious obligation involved in
I’m the speaker at pro-aliya events explaining to
prospective immigrants how their children and Jewish history will thank them for
making the move to Israel. And yet, here I was searching for reaffirmation to
assuage my fears and doubts.
But then I reminded myself of the day my
wife and I came on aliya, during the first days of the First Gulf War. At the
airport, they handed us our Israeli identity cards and a set of gas masks, and
welcomed us to Israel. So it’s not like I didn’t know from the get-go what I was
getting myself into by moving to Israel.
Then I remembered my time in
yeshiva during the First Lebanon War, when my Israeli roommate was called-up for
active military service in the middle of the night and ran off to the payphone
to call his mother, while I, then a golus Jew, went back to sleep. So it’s not
like I didn’t know from the get-go what I was getting myself into by moving
On that emotional morning, Dovi and his friends danced together in
the IDF induction courtyard, singing “Am Yisrael Chai” (the People of Israel
lives) and “Am Hanetzach lo mefached” (The Eternal People is not afraid of a
long and arduous journey).
Then I gave him the traditional priestly
blessing, and he boarded a bus headed for a tent base on the Egyptian
The Bakum is a raw test of Zionist ideology and
I’m sure that Dovi is up to the test. I hope that I am too.