Saying goodbye to reserve duty
More than anything the words of David Ben-Gurion are echoing in my head. Every Israeli is a full-time soldier on 11-month leave, said the great man...and now that I’m about to exit this stage, I’m really not sure how I feel.
IDF reserve soldiers Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
I must admit, it wasn’t what I was expecting, this feeling. Far from it.
opened my mailbox and took out the white envelope. One glance at the IDF
postmark was enough to give my heart in a familiar twist. I opened it, ready to
digest the dates of the next bout of reserve duty, or miluim, the usual thoughts
forming in my mind – how long? Where?
Only this time, it was different. In
typical IDF short and blunt terms, the letter informed me that my discharge
ceremony would be held next week. Unless there is a major war, God forbid, IDF
soldier No. 50***75, several months into his 41st year, has worn the all-green
for the last time, shot his last IDF bullet, stood his last hour of guard duty
and eaten his last can of luf (the mystery meat in emergency rations – thank God
To be sure, if there’s a war and a tzav-8 (emergency)
call-up, I’m going whether they call me or not – it already happened to me twice
– but it’s not going to be the same.
I’m done. Finished.
strange is, I’m really not sure how I feel about it. God knows a part of
me has been waiting for this day for most of the 22 years that I’ve served in
the IDF in one form or another. For years I’d dreamed of this day. How many
countless hours had I cursed my fate, standing in the freezing rain trying to
keep warm, or lying in the sand in the boiling heat trying to do the opposite?
How many stints of miluim had I looked jealously on my older army friends who
were finished, and with anger at those civilians who never lift a finger to do
their bit? (The “sucker” feeling at the fact that many other able people dodge
miluim, was always hard to stomach. Especially after eating the luf.) I had been
certain that this day would bring with it intense joy – but now that its here I
don’t feel elation.
Mixed feelings, to be sure. Confusion.
one hand, it’s good – it will be a relief not to have to regularly leave my home
for a week or a month, and to not to have to say goodbye to my wife and
children. I will not miss the night-time missions into dangerous spots or the
palpable fear when one feels the enemy close.
I will certainly be happy
to be done with that constant undercurrent of nervousness, waiting
subconsciously at every moment for the phone call, text message or email that
calls me up. (At least one thing has changed in the army. When I went in it was
a radio call up, and cell phones were still science fiction).
other hand, it’s not good – there is a feeling inside me of being put out to
pasture, of being useless and not wanted. Not seeing my army buddies any more.
Miluim friends are a unique group of people, who rarely see each other but are
all willing to fight and put their lives on the line for each other if need
be. The IDF plays such a central role in Israeli society that you feel
like an outsider when you are done.
More than anything, though, is the
feeling I can only describe as a deflated ideological balloon. I believe
in reserve duty on an idealistic level, and I always felt proud that I have – or
rather, had – the health, ability and opportunity to do what Jews couldn’t do
for centuries – defend my country and what I believe in.
Not since the ill-fated
days of Bar Kochba had there been a Jewish army, and I was privileged to serve
in it! I will never forget the words of Rabbi Sabato, of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe:
It is the biggest mitzva one can ever do.
In my capacity as a
professional tour guide, it is with immense pride that I tell my clients, no
matter whether the they are Jewish, Christian or any other religion, that I
still do reserve duty, despite my age. This is because I believe that any
visitor to our beautiful land should understand that with great things like the
miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel after the millennia comes
great responsibility, responsibility that falls on all of us.
good for me. I met good people from all walks of life I never would have
otherwise met. It was the biggest single instrument in my integration into
society, having come to Israel at age 14. Over half my life I have been a part
of this. Not too distant in the future lies the next stage in this circle – when
my children get the call-up.
But, for now, it is over.
For sure, I
can volunteer, and I may well do that; but there is a difference between being
legally obliged to serve and serving on a volunteer basis. As our rabbis put it,
“Greater is the person who is commanded to do something and does it, than one
who is not commanded to do so and does it.”
As my friend put it, all
things come to an end, even this mitzvah. You have fulfilled your duty. When
Succot is over, we leave the succa, when Yom Kippur is over, we eat. So too with
More than anything the words of David Ben-Gurion are echoing
in my head. Every Israeli is a full-time soldier on 11-month leave, said the
great man...and now that I’m about to exit this circle stage left, I’m really
not sure how I feel.
The writer is – for the moment – an IDF infantry
reserve soldier. He is a licensed Israeli tour guide and an educator at Ramah
Programs in Israel, and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.