A couple of weeks ago, a small, unassuming notice arrived in the mail heralding a
drastic change in my life and that of my family’s.
Lying there innocently
among a pile of bills and magazines was an official communication from the IDF,
formally requesting that my eldest son be so kind as to please make an
appearance at the local draft office next month for a round of preliminary
Well, it wasn’t worded exactly like that, but you get the
Yet even the terseness of the Hebrew military text could not
conceal the momentous meaning of this impersonal, computer-generated
My firstborn child, the son whom my wife and I brought on
aliya as a toddler, will soon be donning an olive-green uniform and taking up
arms to defend the Jewish people and its land.
Fortunately for me, the
chair I was sitting in had a solid wooden frame and was firmly planted on the
floor. Otherwise, I might very well have toppled over from shock.
DOWN, of course, I always knew this day would come. When we made the choice to
live in the Jewish state, it entailed taking upon ourselves certain
responsibilities and obligations, such as cleaning up after careless workmen,
getting yelled at by clueless clerks and overpaying for a decent
Military service was always a clear part of the package. I
just never thought it would come so quickly.
And so, like Tevye the
milkman and his wife Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, I couldn’t help but look at
my son and whisper quietly to myself: “I don’t remember growing older. When did
they?” After all, my hair is still naturally brown, even if it does continue to
recede almost as rapidly as President Barack Obama’s approval ratings. And I can
still see my toes, with no paunch blocking the view, despite the copious amounts
of pizza I occasionally consume.
But the very idea that I have a son who
is old enough to be drafted left me wondering if the space-time continuum is
still operating at a uniform pace. Physicists of the world, check your
instruments! Needless to say, my son’s reaction was far more animated. After
weeks of watching his friends receive their notices, he was gratified, even
elated, that the much-awaited letter had at last arrived. As he opened it, a
smile emerged on his face, as though he recognized that this was the
bureaucratic equivalent of a bar mitzva, a ceremonial passage into manhood, a
Zionist coming of age.
Naturally, he scurried off to share the good news
with his buddies, leaving me to ponder what this all means.
years of living in this country, I suddenly felt very, exceedingly and
especially Israeli, as if I had just been inducted into a special club, with my
son’s draft notice serving as a kind of membership card.
I may still
prefer baseball to that sport they play here where they chase a black-and-white
spotted orb that is always going out of bounds, and I will always love pastrami
more than that awful, smelly thing known by the appropriately unappealing name
of shwarma. But like it or not, I will soon be the parent of a young, and very
gung-ho, IDF soldier.
In fact, ever since the arrival of that little
envelope, I’ve noticed how certain things in life have mysteriously come more
sharply into focus. Like the prayer said every Shabbat in the synagogue for the
safety of our soldiers. Or the greater appreciation that I have for the
sacrifices that were made which enable us to unfurl that blue-and-white national
banner of ours.
And after getting over the initial jolt, I felt a surge
of patriotic pride not all that different from the sensation of downing a bottle
or two of Red Bull, only without the calories.
BUT THERE was also a
somewhat darker, more exasperated feeling that I detected, one that has been
growing in intensity in recent weeks. It may be base, but I can’t help but feel
a mounting sense of anger at those young people from all walks of life who abuse
the system and dodge the draft, leaving it to others to do the “dirty work” of
securing and defending the state.
For all the excuses that they offer, I
have no doubt that each and every one of them will have a lot of explaining to
do when they eventually go before the heavenly court.
The Middle East is
a dangerous place, and like any lousy neighborhood, it requires taking measures
to keep the bad guys at bay. How people can justify hiding in the wings, while
others risk their lives to protect them, is simply infuriating.
the end of the day, I prefer to focus on the positive, keeping in mind that
however others may conduct themselves, all I can do is try to live up to the
ideals that I so firmly believe in and which I taught to my
Nonetheless, when I asked my son recently why he wants to go to
the army, I half expected to get a Rambo-like answer with all the profundity of
a video game. But without a trace of bravado in his voice, he said to me softly
and simply: “Dad, I want to protect the country.”
Like any parent, I
guess I have always wondered if I raised my child right. At that moment, perhaps
more than any other, I was sure that I did.