When planning our aliyah from London nearly 11 years ago, one of the most significant issues that I had to confront with my wife related to our two young sons. When coming to live in the State of Israel, a parent automatically commits his or her children to the defence of Israel by virtue of the military training that each and every child is obliged to undertake. In the case of boys, the service in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) lasts a period of almost three years, and invariably involves the boy taking up a position in a unit which can bring him into harm’s way. Girls are equally required to serve for a period currently almost two years in length.
My wife was particularly concerned about this parental commitment that she was making. I, ever the optimist, expressed hope that the peace process would progress sufficiently in the 12 years that we had until our elder son would be called up, such that serving the Israeli army would not be as much of a threat as it had been in the past. I had reason to feel optimistic at that time. The Oslo process was in full swing and relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians were cordial, and allowed for a great deal of economic and political cooperation. This contributed to some positive views being expressed on each side regarding the prospects for relations between the parties in the future. I sincerely hoped and wanted to believe that, by the time my son would be called upon to serve, the conflict with the Palestinians would be an historical detail.
Now, 11 of those 12 years have passed, and my elder son has begun the process of being recruited to the IDF. It is astonishing that the positive feeling and optimism that was felt 11 years ago has not only evaporated completely, but has been replaced by a feeling of pessimism for the future. During the intervening period, we have experienced two wars and numerous acts of terror that can force even the most optimistic person to realise that prospects for the future do not look good. It could be argued that the prospects for peace in the future look as bleak now as at any time over the past 61 years. And yet, I have reached the conclusion that I want my son to serve in the IDF despite the obvious dangers that this presents. Of course, I would not like for him to be in harm’s way – no parent wants this. I still feel, however, that I want him to serve.
In this time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, I hold the view that the holocaust could have been avoided if a Jewish army had existed at the time of the Second World War. The difference between living and dying for 6 million Jews was the lack of a Jewish army. Conversely, the fact that we now have a Jewish army can ensure that a similar horrific event will be avoided as long as this army continues in existence. Believing passionately in this theory as I do, is one thing. Making it happen is quite something different. This has been made easier for our generation by the monumental work by those who established the IDF at the time of the founding of the state, and by those who have maintained and improved it over the years. For me, and others like me, the commitment to continue to support this impressive army is fairly simple – keep it staffed with the required soldiers.
During the period of my 11 years in Israel, the country and its citizens has been subject to many random attacks of terror as well as organised wars on our borders. My fellow Israelis, many of them known to me, have not hesitated in sending their sons to war in the protection of me and my family. Doubts have continued in my mind about my son’s safety in serving in the IDF. It was even suggested to me at one time that I may wish to consider sending my son abroad at the time that he would be required to serve, in order to extricate him from this responsibility. With the unselfish acts of my fellow Israelis, how can I shirk my responsibility to return the “favour” that they have shown me? And how can I continue to believe in the concept of a Jewish army preventing a holocaust if I am not prepared to make my contribution to keeping this army a reality? Imagine what sort of a Jewish army we would have if many other Jews tried to shirk their responsibility, and ensured that their sons would not be soldiers in the IDF. It would be a much less effective force, if at all.
So, with a great deal of trepidation but an enormous sense of pride, my son will serve in the IDF. He and his friends feel extremely patriotic in being committed, both to the Jewish State and to the Jews around the world and look forward to their service. We can all be proud of these young warriors, and can be thankful that we have them to ensure the future of Jewish existence.
There can be no doubt that Jewish continuity will be threatened as soon as these young men and women decide that the defence of the Jewish nation is not sufficiently important to them, and they lose their drive and patriotism to proudly serve in the IDF. The threat to Jewish existence will equally be threatened by parents like me if they decide that their children should not serve. Let us hope that this day never comes.