Today my heart was filled with conflicting emotions, pride mixed with concern. A young man we know, 24 years old, today completed 5 years of service with the IDF, most of those years as an Officer. He saw combat during these times and most likely was inside Gaza last summer during Operation Protective Edge, although he never told us where he was at that time. He effectively led a unit of even younger soldiers, teaching them to be strong, smart and brave – and what better example than himself.

During these 5 years we never heard him complain nor say anything negative about his army service. We never heard him wish he could have a more care-free life with his friends. Instead what we did heard from him was his immense pride and love for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. He was aware of world events and hoped that the IDF would send him and his men to some trauma-ridden location in the world, either because of a tsunami, earthquake or other disaster. We saw him last night, excited with the anticipation of new adventures, while also noting that he will serve yearly in the IDF Miluim (Reserves) until the age of 40. We spoke to him this afternoon, after he was released, wearing civilian clothes, happily changing his Facebook status, with relief in his voice.

The other young man, 19 years old, is our cousin whom we’ve known practically since the day he was born. He spent the last year in a “mechina” preparatory program, working and living in a community, creating and providing after school programs for children who are in need of this supervision and support. The IDF allows and even encourages young people to delay their army induction by one year, in order to develop and strengthen leadership skills as well as the ability to communicate and work in a variety of settings. The rationale is that young people who experience these mechina programs will ultimately become elite soldiers. Last week we celebrated with our cousin and his family and friends the fact that he would be drafted into the IDF this morning. While we munched on delicious food and watched him mingle with a large smile on his handsome face, we could see that his army service will cause some sleepless nights for his family. Yet his excitement was contagious. His father delivered a meaningful Dvar Torah, relating the simultaneous emotions of fear and pride for his son and the hope that his army service will quickly pass.

Two young men, filled with pride and commitment. About one we say “job well done, Kol Hakavod!” And to the younger soldier, we say be careful, be safe and thank you for protecting us.