I was in New York last year, partaking in a seminar on Israeli grand strategy. The first day there I meet an Israeli man, an officer in the IDF, with more than 20 years of service. At the first break in our lecture he came up to me and thanked me for what I do for Israel, asking what he could do to help.
That just floored me. Him, thanking me? What he could do? It made no sense to me, no sense at all. I tried to tell him that he was a hero, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I serve my country and the Jewish people, was all he said, there is no need to thank me.
My 11 year old son was having a hard time at his school. As the only Jewish kid, he had been struggling with being different, while being at an age when all you really want to do is be just like everyone else. He got into fights, he was bullied, and he came home in tears on more than one occasion. I told my friend about this, and he was there for me. As a fellow Jew, as a soldier, as a mensch. I conveyed his words of advice to my son. To take self-defense classes, to take pride in who he is and to always remember his first home - Eretz Israel.
It helped. Not only my son, but me. As a mother, you are only as happy as your least happy child. So when I saw my son’s confidence grow, I grew with him. We are never alone in what we do, nor are we alone in who we are.
My friend isn’t alone, either. Everyday men and women of the IDF take great risks to protect us all. They do so without ego. Many of their acts of bravery will never be known, their sacrifices left unsung. What they go through, so do their family and loved ones. During my last trip to Israel, I had the privilege of sharing a Shabbat meal with my friend and his beautiful wife and children. Seeing them I realized that their service is equal to his. Behind every soldier is someone who waits, who weeps and who worries. A spouse, a child or a parent who prays for their safe return. It is too easy to forget that as a diaspora Jew. We speak of the IDF as one body. We rely on them for our protection. But we sometimes forget that this is a body of individuals, each and every one of them teaching us a lesson in selflessness.
There are many threats facing the European Jews, and a lack of connection to the Land of Israel is one of them. Too many for too long have believed that distancing themselves from Israel is a way of surviving and fitting in, when the truth is an absolute opposite. When we are pushed to turn away from Israel, our response must be to stand closer, and know that Israel’s strength is our own, as is its peril. As diaspora Jews we share the responsibility of protection and preemption, and understanding that will not only strengthen the Jews of Europe, but also the state of Israel. We do not wear uniforms, but we can still be soldiers, we must always remember our duty to serve.
I know that all of you out there are not asking for my gratitude; so you deserve it, all the more. Thank you. These are insufficient words, but still, thank you.
As for my son, he told the bullies at his school that while he might look thin and weak, they would be wise not to mess with him, because he has the entire IDF behind him. They haven’t bothered him since, I might add.
My first-born now knows what I’ve known for a long time; Kol Yisreal Arevim Zeh beZeh, all Jews are responsible for one another. We are sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers. And as such, we can only ever be as happy as our least happy child.
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political adviser, writer and activist. An alumni of the Young Jewish diplomatic seminar (organized by the Mizrad Hahutz) and Tikvah seminars in NYC. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her two children. Follow her on Twitter.