It’s obvious that Israel is in a time of transition – that we are experiencing growing pains, deep divides, and complicated issues. And while I’m well aware of the news reports and current events, I’ve decided to focus my energy on another side of Israel.
Two weeks ago, my second son earned his army beret. Our first son received his beret during the COVID pandemic, so this was the first experience we had of being invited to participate.
As the date neared, I worried, as an olah and first-timer, that I was going to miss some detail – that I wasn’t going to know what we were supposed to do. I grudgingly got myself added to the unit’s WhatsApp group for parents, knowing that it was going to be noisy and overwhelming, but important.
Getting your beret: An important landmark in IDF service
The ceremony, as I understood it, was taking place at Golani junction, a two- to three-hour drive from our house. And from what we could understand, we were supposed to be there sometime between 1 to 4 in the morning (what??), and then wander around in the wilderness looking for our sons as they completed their 50-km. hike. As olim, this all seemed murky to us, but appeared to be perfectly normal to the rest of the parents chatting on WhatsApp.
We actually (and blessedly) took an Airbnb right by Golani junction so that we wouldn’t have to drive through the night. And I kept an eye on the WhatsApp group, trying to figure out when we really needed to get up in the morning and get over there. I deduced at some point that we would be fine arriving at 5 a.m., and that was our target. When we started driving towards the junction at 5, it was like nothing I had ever seen.
There were thousands upon thousands of people pouring in and trying to find parking. That mom wasn’t kidding when she said she was arriving at 1 a.m. to get parking! We threw the car somewhere and started walking towards the path we understood the soldiers would come through. And as we walked, we were joined by thousands of other people, families of every size and culture, religious persuasion, and age.
Everyone was draped in Israeli flags, wearing family T-shirts in support of their soldiers (kudos to me for doing that one right!), and dressed in the colors of the unit. Some of us walked a few kilometers and stopped in the (already blazing heat at 6 a.m.) forest to wait for the soldiers. Others, like my husband and a few of our sons, carried on and were determined to find the marching soldiers and accompany them for those last eight to 10 km.
The unit WhatsApp group was on fire, as was our family one. “I found them!” yelled one mom in glee, as she posted a picture of her son.
“I’ve got the boy!” declared our family WhatsApp, and we soon saw a picture of our son carrying a stretcher, with my husband carrying the other side.
My heart melted. And the tears came.
When the unit finally got to me, I could hear them far, far away before seeing them. Brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents were walking alongside the exhausted soldiers with drums, songs, and inspirational words. And then we, thousands of family members and friends, accompanied these gorgeous, exhausted soldiers for the last few kilometers of their hike.
We were all together, one nation, supporting the next generation of leaders and helping them to reach the next step of their service. While many of us walked alongside the soldiers and even helped with the burden of the stretchers, other families were lined wall-to-wall along the forest path to cheer as we passed. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences we have had in our 19 years in Israel.
On the heels of this event, my oldest son finished his three-year army service in an elite unit. I well remember the day that we waved goodbye at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem as he walked away from us to his future. My husband and I both found ourselves crying our way through the entire day. They were tears of unspeakable pride, of the culmination of our aliyah dreams, and of the hope for a good service for our first son, our little boy.
I can’t put into words what he’s been through these years, as it’s his story to tell, and the army’s story to protect. Not a day has gone by in these three years when I haven’t felt overwhelming pride for the service he has given, and nail-biting worry for the actions he was taking.
This is my Israel.
And I will continue to stand by these images, these moments of incredible Zionism, love of land, and desire to serve. This is the Israel that I’m holding onto, as my tears of pride and fear mingle and I look to a future filled with these incredibly devoted soldiers standing up for their country, our country, right now.
The writer is an olah originally from Los Angeles and the mother of six sons. She frequently writes about her experience raising children in Israel.