My Kids are Joining the Israeli Army
My aliyah to Israel has been a work in progress, a process that is still going on after 20 years. At each new stage in my family’s life, I am confronted with new realities. I think again, “What does it mean to live in Israel and to raise a family here?” When my son, Shaked, turned 16 ½ in the 11th grade, he received his first draft notice from the Israeli army.
Expecting the envelope to come and hearing about this moment from friends who had older children – some of whom were in and even out of the army – still did not quite prepare me for the intake of breath I took as I saw the army stamp on the envelope addressed to my son. At that point I realized I was entering a new chapter, one in which the army was beginning to affect my children, and the actuality that they would be serving in it. I reminisced momentarily about the time when Shaked was a baby and Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, was Prime Minister of Israel and the momentum of peace that I – and so many others – felt. At that time, I experienced fleeting thoughts that when Shaked would one day serve in the army, we would have better relations with our neighbors and threats against Israel’s existence would be lower. Alas, that it is not the case today.
The army pervades Israeli society, and children here grow up with an innate awareness of their future military service (a minimum of three years for boys and two for girls). They take the army, and all that it means, in stride. For me, the mail that began to arrive from the army was a sign of my renewed personal connection to the military, which I had not felt so directly since my husband stopped doing miluim (reserve duty) years ago. Once again, I felt myself adapting to our routinely receiving mail, or rather orders, from the army requesting that my son – and now my daughter – report for various tests and interviews.
As my friends abroad tell me about their children taking SATs, visiting colleges, and all that is related to the process of applying and going to university, I feel anew the distinction between my life in Israel and the one I left behind upon making aliyah. In my house, I listen to conversations among my children and their friends about the army and the process leading up to enlistment. The big questions they ask each other are, “What is he doing in the army?” “What unit is she going to serve in?” "When is his draft date?” and, of course, “Where?” In Israeli high schools, thoughts of pursuing higher education, and the ins and outs of doing so, are not even on teenagers’ radar.
As I come to terms with my son’s imminent military service beginning in November, I remember some of the ideals that I considered when making aliyah. More than ever, I believe that each of us must pursue the path that fulfills our individual and communal level of responsibility for Israel and the Jewish people. I understand and accept that even though I long for peace, it is necessary for my children to serve in the army and participate in the effort to protect Israel and maintain our lives in security.