To my son, enlisting as a coronavirus-clouded soldier

Your “last hurrah” abroad ended with your grandmother’s deathwatch and shiva. Then, your two weeks of pre-IDF fun ended in Corona-quarantine.

ISRAELI SOLDIERS stand in a circle in the Golan. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAELI SOLDIERS stand in a circle in the Golan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dear A.
You’ve reached the long-anticipated day of your enlistment after a most unexpected month. Your “last hurrah” abroad ended with your grandmother’s deathwatch and shiva. Then, your two weeks of pre-IDF fun ended in Corona-quarantine. Through it all, you’ve displayed the qualities that will serve you well in the army, and beyond – your love of people and your love of life.
True, few associate either trait with soldiering. America’s legendary mean lean fighting machines– the Marines – are famous for toughness, for more spleen than heart. And soldiers are usually considered deliverers of death and destruction, especially in my academic circles.
But you know better. Two siblings and so many friends have served. Many of your equally effervescent, upbeat high school buddies have been drafted already. We’ve also hosted more than 50 American-Israeli IDF lone soldiers and veterans at our Shabbat table this year, and we’ve encountered the goodness, the sweetness, that defines great soldiers in democracies – even when camouflaged by bulging muscles, Kevlar flak jackets, and deadly weaponry.
Born in 2000, you and your peers were supposed to be children of the millennium, which also means “a period of great happiness or human perfection.” I remember the 2000 doves of peace released over Bethlehem in January 2000. When you were five, the world assured us that if Israel withdrew from Gaza, we’d have peace in the south.
Alas, by September, 2000, when you were weeks old, Yasir Arafat had led his people away from negotiations toward terrorism. Two months before your seventh birthday, Hamas’s Gaza coup guaranteed us Qassams rather doves from our Gazan neighbors.
While those betrayals have shaped your reality – and will set your agenda for the next few years, your cohort’s defining event occurred in 2014, when Hamas terrorists kidnapped three teens: Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah. We didn’t know them, but we knew their worlds. We didn’t know them, but they were your brother’s age. We didn’t know them, but they were us.
You and your friends were old enough to follow the story, pray for their safety, and cry over their bodies with the rest of us. Now, you have the zechut (privilege) , to do in their names what their murderers prevented them from doing: serve your county honorably for a short time, so you and the rest of us can live safely in Israel for a lifetime.
Beyond representing “our boys,” you’re enlisting as the first wave of coronavirus-clouded soldiers. The COVID-19 disease warns us that some enemies are invisible, unexpected. More sobering, you’re now condemned to fear that the very bonding with your comrades-in-arms which will keep you alive – could kill you too.
The upside, however, is that you’re witnessing the apolitical, nonpartisan key to the IDF’s success: Israeli society functions, even when our politicians don’t. All this speculation about the IDF stepping in, if necessary, confirms that democratic armies like ours are the country’s spine, strengthening Israel at its core, defending us however is necessary.
You know that already, which is why you prepared for this moment so intensely, slimming down, bulking up, leaping ahead existentially. Since graduating from high school in June 2018, in your adventure with Hemdat Yehuda, that extraordinary mechina, (pre-military academy), you sharpened your mind, deepened your religious observance, refined your patriotism, and expanded your soul to take root and soar. Hemdat’s philosophy Torah Poretzet L’Chaim – Torah Bursting to Life – perfectly suited your bubbling enthusiasm, your glimmering life-force.
Along the way, thanks to role models from Hemdat and Hartman High, your older siblings and your buddies, you’ve been prepared emotionally, ideologically, intellectually, spiritually, ethically, and anecdotally for what you’ll face in training and, if necessary, in battle.
We all know, however, it’s never enough.
This is life-and-death business. We know too many stricken parents to romanticize it. Every grieving family grieves forever, constantly haunted by a shadow. Each of our friends who fought in combat lives with ghosts, while appreciating how lucky they are to be alive.
You grew up with Haim and Edna Avraham as our guests in Montreal and hosts in Israel, as they crisscrossed the world seeking help to free their kidnapped-then-killed son Benny z”l –from the infamous Hezbollah abductions on October 7, 2000, when you were 57 days old. From infancy, you distracted these lovely people delightfully; today, you’re following in Benny’s footsteps heroically.
Admittedly, army work is boring, oppressive, and hard, hard, hard. I watch your officer-brother confront more headaches in a day than I did in a year when I was 22: I worried about myself; he    worries about dozens of soldiers.
Ultimately, there’s little I can tell you, beyond thank you, we’re proud of you, and good luck. Coronavirus cautions have cancelled the enlistment center sendoff. Instead, I bless you as Moses blessed Joshua, saying: Chazak V’Ematz (Be Strong and of Good Courage). Remember that the strength you will need is emotional and spiritual, not just physical. That awkward English translation “Good Courage” emphasizes that while it’s good to be courageous – it often takes great courage to remain good, too.
When you were kids, we often celebrated your birthdays by giving soldiers care packages. You gawked at these soldiers as if they were larger than life.  All four of my miracles, our kids, look larger than life to me. As you go to serve your nation, your people and the civilized world, so calmly, gracefully, naturally, despite these turbulent times, you loom ever larger.
Stay safe.
Love,
Abba
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award finalist. A distinguished scholar of North American History at McGill University in Montreal,Canada, he is the author of 10 books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.


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