Why the IDF? Reflections from a New Immigrant
By Meir L
“Why? Why do you want to go to the army?” The little girl with soft brown eyes asks me. Those same eyes, typically full of laughter and smiles, are so full of worry at this moment.
Copyright © Photo by Liz Cohen www.lizrealupdate.com
“Do you really want to put mud on your face? You want to kill Arabs?”
The questions turn to attempts at dissuasion. I brush off the questions with a curt, “When you are older you’ll understand”.
The answer doesn’t satisfy me, much as it definitely doesn’t satisfy her. The questions keep coming; often merely repetitions of the same questions that I’d failed to answer in the first place - “Why do you want to join the [Israeli] army?”.
Of course the questions are more powerful than any answer I could give. Life decisions are an intricate and complicated embroidery with many layers and facets. There are royal blues of the altruistic and beautiful mixed with drab grays and mud colored browns of the clichéd and boring. The hues and colors make for intense discovery and discussion, each in their own right and beauty. But the question encompasses all those and more.
As my draft date draws ever nearer, I find myself staring down the barrel of a promise I made to myself to address the question in writing. Not to answer it - even I couldn’t reach every single thread that makes this embroidery - but to address it in some manner.
In some ways my answer is easier than others. As I’ve made aliyah and become an Israeli citizen, I’m now required by law to serve. Such an answer is an obvious dodge of the question though.
While it certainly will suffice to brush off the unspoken criticism of those who ask sneeringly “Why would anyone serve in the army of a country that isn’t their own?” it so obviously doesn’t answer the plaintive question of that little girl.
Yet, still there is a truth there. It’s something I must do. The reasons are just more extensive than my simple requirement by law to serve.
However, in this discussion three threads seem to be more salient to me than most others. Perhaps following them will direct the questions in the proper manner. Then, together with time and input from others, more of the embroidery will come to light.
The three threads are: Honor, Unity, and Fun.
Even if one could argue that the State of Israel isn’t my country, it truly is impossible to deny that its people are my people. As Jews, together we are persecuted. Together we are praised. Together we stand. Willingly or unwillingly, our fates are intertwined. This summer made this fact stand out so clearly. Thus, the honor is in serving to protect my people.
The history of army service goes well back in our collective memory. Our first patriarch, Abraham, joined battle with four kings bent on world domination when informed that his nephew, Lot, was taken captive. Together with a few men he rode to battle, severely outnumbered, and singlehandedly brought the war to its close.
How fascinating it is that even the first battle in Jewish history, war was not used to increase our dominion, but to protect our own.
Traveling down the timeline finds us having similar stories.
- A Jewish daughter is taken captive and her two brothers take down a city to get her back.
- Traveling through the desert, the small nation, recently escaped from slavery, is attacked on the way back to its homeland - men women and children are attacked first - and the nation of Israel barely triumphs.
- The Grecian army fights to wrest away the cultural and religious history of the tiny Jewish nation - the tinier force of Jews triumphs against the mighty Greek Army.
All these stories are merely one long thread that makes up our history as an army seeking to protect our people.
And then there is the underdog factor. When the State of Israel and its people are constantly vilified even though its population is less than 0.09% and its landmass is less than 0.02% of the world’s, it is an honor to stand with this nation. It is the brave and proper action to stand in front and declare “I stand with Israel.” Indeed, it is an honor.
It is an honor to stand up for morality when the world has so clearly lost its sight of morality. It is an honor to take a stand against the hypocrites and haters. Most of all, it is an honor to stand to protect my people even…no…especially as the world condemns the Jews for not dying.
Yes, it is a tremendous honor.
The glue that holds and binds Jews together is without question the army.
Jews of all stripes - despite all the catcalls and slime that is thrown with regard to army service - stand with the army when the time comes.
How could it be any different?
The army provides the nation’s freedom and security. The soldier standing in the front lines is taking the bullets meant for our children, our elderly, our intellectuals, our doctors, and our street workers.
In the soldier and the glorious mechanized shield of the army is the basis for the very fabric of our society. The army is the foundation, the strength, the pride of our people around the world.
As the billboards and bumper stickers shouted in unison this summer: “!כל הכבוד לצה"ל – Kol HaKavod L'Tzahal - All of the Honor/Respect to the IDF!”
I’m just going to say it right off. “Fun” is the wrong word. Instead the word most appropriate is the Israeli “כיף” which is used in the manner of "איזה כיף" as in “what fun” and in "בכיף" the “of course” when doing a favor for someone. For the fun meant over here has multiple meanings.
One need only look at soldiers who have served to see the tremendous enjoyment. “It’s hard, but I’m so happy I’m doing it” are the words out of their mouths during service. And after their service “the greatest time of my life.” The point is that yeah, the army is tough, hard, frustrating, boring, but it is so satisfying.
The stories from army service are irreplaceable; a reflection of the experiences there. It is in the Israeli army where, ironically, peoples’ true humanity comes to life. It is those men on the border who greet refugees running for miles to Israel’s security with water, a smile, and emergency care. It is those men who put themselves in deaths way to protect the innocent. It is those men who take in those surreal moments not found anywhere else.
Then, for those like me who are volunteering, there is the added satisfaction of sticking it to Israel’s critics.
- To the trash who scream “baby killers”, “terrorists”, and “genocide” at soldiers who are only doing their duty
- To the moral midgets whose hypocrisy allows them to see shades of gray for dictatorships and true murderers but none for the army that goes above and beyond its responsibility to protect non-combatants
- To the mental dwarfs who stand shoulder to shoulder with their mortal enemies as they call for the genocide of my people
To all these, my service serves as my declaration - “I am proud to be everything you despise.” And indeed, the pride swells within me at that very thought.
Naturally, these thoughts are not all encompassing. Even within their own sections they fall far too short in describing all factors of the individual aspects that lend itself to this great life decision. But there is yet one more thought I’d like to add.
Army service and all the factors that lead to this significant choice are truly all the above and more. But the original question, “Why” also has an underlying statement that a direct answer does not address.
From the friends and relatives the question is meant to inform the listener, the draftee, of the tremendous worry that questioner now holds.
I cannot assuage the fear appropriately and no promises can suffice. Instead, I can only say that I hold and I cherish the love that forces the question, and I will do so until my service ends...
Soon, I’ll be home.
I’ll be back soon.
Do not worry.