Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sending a Child to the Army

Copy right: Goldberg 
Some Israeli soldiers - just look how young they are.

This week I helped friends of mine give a send-off party for their 18-year old son. He wasn't going to university or work in another city. No, he was off to join the Israeli army.

This was the first time for me to experience (second-hand) what nearly every Jewish family  in Israel undergoes.

Children are given birth to, tucked in safely at night, send to kinder garden, given their first bicycle, allowed to attend their first pajama party, given a bar/bat mitza party, helped to get their drivers' license and coached to finish high school with decent grades. And then...then they join the army to keep the rest of us safe.

I was touched at all the special attention everybody gave this young man. Our hostess put up balloons and posters, the menu was prepared with his tastes in mind and some of the guests brought him little gifts. And of course everybody gave advice:

"Don't volunteer for ANYTHING!"

" Always make sure that you are never first or last, always finish in the middle."

" Try and get accepted to as many courses as can."

" It is a pity that you did not tell them you want to become an officer."

"Have you ever thought of becoming a career soldier?"

" Whatever you do, don't sign to become a career soldier!"

The young man's mother kept wondering if she had packed him enough clothes and that he has everything that he needs.Apparently the camping shops here in Israel have lists of the things that a new soldier needs. (Just like baby shops keep things-that-babies-must-have lists for new parents.)

 I keep thinking about what would be on a list of essentials for a new soldier? Underwear, a towel, soap and razor and maybe some plasters? A rifle and uniform will of course be supplied by the army. (I will try and get my hands on such a list and report back!:)

Many of the guests started to tell stories of their own army service. Here in Israel, men and women have to serve in the army. Only some religious Jews, Israeli Arabs and expats such as myself have not joined in the "melting pot" of the Israeli army.

Many careers are started in the army. Friends are made for life and often contacts are made that can be very useful later in life...BUT...

The big elephant in the room that nobody talked about and everybody thought: Soldiers are killed, kidnapped or maimed. You send your child to the army and pray for his safe return, but many do not come back home. (The soldier Gilad Shalit was only returned after five long years in near solitary confinement.)

Sending a child to the army is part of life here in Israel. And it is probably the hardest part of being a parent in this country. I can only echo the posters on the wall and the only words that everybody at the party were in agreement with: תחור בשלום - Come back safely.