My Son, The Israeli Soldier
Special To The Jewish Week
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It began last February, when my wife, my daughter, and I went to Israel to visit my son, Max, who had been studying in a yeshiva in Jerusalem for his gap year between high school and college. It was a long-anticipated trip, for which we had planned a fun-filled week. What we hadn’t planned was the sea change in our lives that was about to ensue.

No, Max didn’t — as they say in our circles — flip. That’s the term used to refer to the extreme religious changes that some teenagers experience while studying in Israel. We were glad, however, that he did become more serious about his religious observance.

One night in our rented apartment in Jerusalem, my wife, Debbie, was talking with Max about his plans to attend McGill University next year when I noticed that Max was uncomfortable, and thought I understood why. I, too, had spent time studying in Israel, and remember how difficult it was to even think about that time coming to an end.

“There’s something I want to talk to you guys about,” he said.

Debbie and I looked at one another. Were we about to embark on the infamous shana bet discussion in which he hits us up for a second year in yeshiva? Not quite. 

“You know I’ve talked about joining the Israeli army in the past,” he continued. “Well, I want to talk about it again.”

In the past meant as far back as his first trip to Israel for his bar mitzvah. Throughout high school he had often repeated this ambition, and when it came to deciding where he would spend his gap year, he again had raised the issue. This time, however, it was different.  

I must confess that I was both proud and jealous of him — proud that he was a young man firmly committed to something bigger than himself, and jealous that I had not been so when I was his age. I was also frightened, but I found solace in knowing that Debbie would never go for it. Max had made it clear that he wouldn’t do this without our blessing.

Max expressed that this was both an existential and religious obligation, that it wasn’t right that only Israelis were required to serve in what he called the Jewish army. Debbie, on the other hand, insisted that Max’s priorities should be college and graduate school. They had come to an impasse, and the discussion was put aside.

It arose again when Max came home for Pesach, and this time I played a more active role.

Max had previously expressed to me his disappointment, as well as his understanding, in my not fully backing him when he knew what was in my heart. I explained that there were many things in my heart, not the least of which was shalom bayit, maintaining tranquility in one’s marriage and home. 

At this point I told Debbie that I can’t turn to my son, whom I sent to Zionistic schools and camps his entire life, and tell him that I didn’t really mean it, or that I didn’t really intend for him to take it so seriously. I couldn’t tell him that this was the right thing to do, but not for him, not my son. Debbie became tearful, expressing that she was never prepared for this. She was correct. Israeli parents anticipate this the moment their children are born. For us, this was a shock. It still is.

Debbie eventually came around as well. As she put it, “I realized he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t go, so I would have to figure out how to live with letting him go.”

Reactions of our friends have been telling. My fellow fathers, with rare exception, have been supportive and encouraging. Debbie’s fellow mothers, also with rare exception, have been much more apprehensive. She hasn’t been finding this helpful. She’s still struggling.

Max started basic training July 1. He scored high on his profile, and wants to be in a combat unit. I can’t remember his ever being so certain about anything. His mindset is refreshing, and scary. 

I now know how Israeli parents feel and, more importantly, how they pray.

Andrew Kane of Lawrence, L.I., is a clinical psychologist, ordained rabbi and author of two novels.         

Last Update:

08/19/2012 - 18:11

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My son, Ari, was also part of the July 1st draft. His path was similar to Max's but he managed to do Shana Bet and Gimel and then go into the Army. It is wonderful (?!?) when they listen to everything they have been taught and act on it! When friends ask, I reply "I can't ask an Israeli mother to make a sacrifice I'm not willing to make." Now I pray that none of us, mothers of soldiers (fathers too), have to sacrifice.
A group of us have started a Facebook page for the parent's of lone soldiers. Our goal is to have a place to share with and support each other, and by extension our children. It is being facilitated by the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center. They are also monitoring it to answer questions and spot potential needs of the soldiers they support. Contact the Lone Soldier Center or me,, if you want to be a part of this group.

Believe it or not, it still comes as somewhat of a shock even to those of us who made aliya and all our kids were born here. Yes, I knew the day would come when my 2 sons would have to enlist (daughters are much easier) but when it actually arrived, it was (and still is) very difficult. We also know that our sons will continue to serve in the reserves unit (as many of our husbands do) for a very long time after the initial 3 years, as your son will if he chooses to stay.Good luck.

We moved here when my oldest daughter was 15, going into 10th grade. She spoke then about going into the IDF, as opposed to sheerut leumi. After finishing ulpana and a year of seminary, she followed her dreams right into the induction center at Tel Hashomer. She is very happy with what she's doing and with the choice she made.

Do we, as her parents, worry about her? Of course we do. I pray constantly for her safety every day; but, even as we pray for her safety and the safety of all in the IDF, we are very proud of her.

We have another daughter who just received her tzav rishon (draft notice). She is planning on following her sister into the IDF, and of course, we applaud her decision.

By the way, we are obviously not "Israeli parents," but our kids' decisions were never a shock. They were bought up this way in America before we left, and of course, the atmosphere here pointed them in the right direction even more so.

I am also serving with Max in the Golani brigade as we train to be soldiers in the IDF. I wanted to express what a capable, compassionate, and overall exceptional person Max is, and to assure his parents that he is with commanders and officers who are the best at what they do and truly care for the safety and overall wellbeing of the soldiers on their command.

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