Last week during the wrap-up session of an exceptional “Extreme” (“Amazing Israel”) Birthright tour I had the privilege to lead I asked the participants to share the most moving element of their ten day odyssey.   Without exception the participants revealed that the visit to the holy ground of Mt. Herzl was what affected them the most. In addition to the moving stories of the lives cut short in defense of our State, the personal narrative of one of the soldiers in our Mifgash group struck a raw nerve.

Rather than a tale of death, Lieutenant Daniel inspired the American and Israeli participants with his story of devotion to the State and his motivation to serve our country, despite his circumstances. Lieutenant Daniel related how a week before his induction to the IDF he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer. He struggled through intense chemotherapy treatment with all of the debilitating side effects for many months, never losing sight of his ultimate goal of persevering in order to serve our country.

Initially, he told our group, the motivating reasons were more those of peer-pressure and conforming to his friends who were serving. As his personal struggle against cancer progressed his motivation to serve went through a metamorphosis. After a prolonged struggle against the scourge of cancer, which Daniel fought tenaciously, he emerged from the treatment with a clean bill of health.  Then his next struggle began: The battle to enlist in the IDF.

Daniel told our group how the army did not want him after his recovery. They told him to “get on with his life” and go to university, to travel, but that they did not require his services. That is when he realised that his desire to serve was more than just to, “be like his serving friends.” Rather, he said, he felt that he owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to our homeland for all that it had given him, for the privilege of growing up a proud Jew in an independent Jewish State.

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Lieutenant Daniel and his fellow IDF soldiers in front of our Amazing Israel” Birthright group saluting the flag during the singing of “Hatikvah” on Mt. Herzl.  Photo (c) Tuvia Book, 2014

He wryly recalled how the struggle against cancer paled in comparison to the struggle against the IDF bureaucracy.  However he persevered and ultimately triumphed in this struggle as well. Today he is a proud serving officer in an elite Intelligence unit. Daniel gives many motivational talks to Israeli youngsters about the importance of “Hakarat Hatov” (gratitude) for our State and the times we live in. In a few months he is being flown to the States to talk at a FIDF gala dinner to share his special story.

One of the Americans in our group remarked that after meeting and talking with his Israeli peers, who were so like him in their taste and appreciation of popular youth culture, but so different in other aspects, namely the desire to give the best years of their lives for the cause of serving their country, it really made him think.

He mentioned that after hearing Daniel’s story it inspired him to strive to have a purpose in his own life to give with such passion and direction to a cause so noble and important.  Whilst he and his friends obsessed about going to university after high school, these special young Jews are focused on how best they could serve our Jewish homeland. In the immortal words of Naomi Shemer: “They come to give and not to take.”

Seventeen-year old Chana Szenesh wrote a generation earlier in her diary on the eve of her Aliyah to the Land of Israel:

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned that I’ve become a Zionist. This word stands for a tremendous number of things. To me it means, in short, that I now consciously and strongly feel a Jew, and am proud of it…One needs something to believe in, something for which one has a whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one’s life has meaning. That one is needed in this world. Zionism fulfills this for me.”

  DSC_0287  “Lieutenant Daniel Salutes the Flag.”  Photo: (c) T. Book, 2014