My daughter Dani’s fascination with the princesses of Disney are legendary in our family.  As a small child, there was hardly a day she did not flit about the house, dancing and singing the entire score of every Disney princess movie ever produced; nor a night which I came home from work that she wasn’t snuggled in my bed, wearing yet another Disney princess gown, her eyes heavy with sleep as she drifted into the Disney story unfolding on the television screen. Needless to say, any visit to Disney World was for her a spiritual pilgrimage.

Today, almost 21 years later, my daughter is still enamored by these fictional beauties and their fairy tales.  And it was only today that I finally understood why.

About 12 years ago, before our Aliyah, our family came on a summer trip to Israel.  While walking through the national park at Beit Guvrin, we came upon a father sitting with his uniform-clad daughter and a box of pizza.  He explained that her base was nearby and that on Fridays he took the opportunity to come see her and bring her lunch (which they, of course, gladly offered to share with us).  I was struck by how beautiful and strong this young lady looked in her uniform, her hair in a pony-tail, her beret tucked under her epaulet, her gun slung across her lap, her sunglasses resting on her head in just that way that only Israelis make look cool.  And I will always, always remember just how visibly proud her father was of her.

Of course, my imagination went straight to work, leapfrogging 12 years of my own daughter’s life, dreaming of sharing a pizza with her in her uniform in some park in Israel.  My heart burst with a pride born solely from anticipation. My willingness to fast forward through all the moments we would share together in the years leading up to her service, just to experience the pride of seeing my own daughter in uniform left me both guilt ridden and unabashedly impatient.

Thankfully, however, life moves at its own pace, and for this I am eternally grateful.  My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching each of our three children grow and mature; we have marveled at their resilience and acclimation to their new home in Israel; we have celebrated their milestones, commiserated with their challenges, and have been rewarded with the nachat of their achievements and their incredible maturity.

Dani, as the oldest, has been a true inspiration for us and her brothers.  Despite being an Olah Chadasha, she graduated at the top of high school class.  She navigated the IDF system on her own and earned a position in the prestigious Unit 8200 of the Intelligence Corps.  Her transformation from the doe-eyed, innocent little girl of her youth to the eagle-eyed, determined warrior of today is the stuff that makes a parent’s heart burst with pride.  For two years, Dani worked incredibly hard, and served proudly and faithfully in the service of her country.

Twelve years have passed since our encounter in Beit Guvrin. And today, on her last day as a soldier, a dream of mine finally came true: I went to the park for lunch, with a pizza box in one hand, and my uniformed, spectacularly beautiful and courageous daughter in my other.

After some hugs and selfies, I asked my daughter how she felt now that her service was coming to an end.  She said she felt so proud to have served her country; that she was proud of herself for having achieved so much; and how she had no fear of her future because of how confident she felt of her capabilities; and how thankful she was that we made the decision to make Aliyah.

When I asked her whether she felt more Zionistic, she answered with a grace far beyond her years – “Dad, Zionism is something you have to earn.  It’s something you have to do, not just feel.  You and mommy decided to move to Israel, not us.  So, you earned your Zionism when you made Aliya; I earned my Zionism when I put on the uniform.”  I could only think: Ashrei Yisrael, She’Kaelu Banav.

Then, Dani reflected on her life – which of course brought us back to Disney.  I asked her if the princesses were her heroes, to which she replied “yes, but only two – Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Mulan.  I used to see myself as the studious, independent Belle.  But now I can’t believe that I have become Mulan, the brave warrior!”

And then she said something that will be forever etched on my heart and my soul – “and I also see myself in them, because both of them fought to defend their fathers”.  There are no words a father could ever muster to describe the pride and humility I felt at that moment.

Dani, you are right; you are both Belle and Mulan.  You are beautiful, and strong, and capable, and brave.  You have always tried so hard to honor mommy and me, your brothers and your family, and you have never disappointed.

You are my princess, my hero.  As Mulan’s father said, “the greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter.”  On behalf of our whole family – Kol hakavod to you and to all our nation’s brave youth, and thank you, thank you, thank you all for your selfless service on behalf of Medinat Yisrael.