I am at the ceremony commemorating the conclusion of my eldest son’s basic training in a combat unit of the IDF. My son’s name is called as the outstanding soldier in his unit. My wife and I beam with pride. As Olim, it’s part of the great Israeli dream to see your children integrating and assuming leadership roles in Israeli society. No more than a minute later the name of the outstanding soldier in another unit is announced, and I recognize it as belonging to the child of a family who we were friendly with in our pre-aliyah days, in Cleveland, Ohio. I turn around and I am surprised to see the mother and father of this young soldier beaming with the same pride felt by my wife and me. I approach this couple, wish them mazal tov and tell them that I had no idea that they made aliya. The dad replies in a simple way, “We didn’t make aliya, at least not yet, but our son wanted to do the army and it’s the right thing to do.”
This ceremony occurred seventeen years ago. Since then my five other children have all done either IDF or national service, but the simple phrase of my unassuming friend, “it’s the right thing to do” has been echoing in my mind all these years.
The most difficult challenge connected with being an Israeli is the need to have your children devote years of their life to serve their country, sometimes in life threatening situations. Along with the pride and deep connection to the destiny of the Jewish people, military and national service is one of scariest and anxiety producing experiences for parents. We all have a natural parental instinct to protect our children. However, when they are called to serve we give up all control and ability to protect them from a myriad of life threatening dangers. A few summers back, my son was serving in special forces and spent several weeks of his summer in Gaza. I was petrified, helpless, unable to communicate with him and unable to offer any form of help. It was pretty terrible. Thank God, my son returned safely. Some of his friends did not.
Any Jew, anywhere who considers himself a Zionist needs to educate his children to serve either as a soldier or in the National Service of the State of Israel. It’s a moral and religious imperative. Western morality bases itself on Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. Simply put, Kant’s categorical imperative consists of two components:
A. Act so the manner in which you act may be universalized.
B. Do not treat other humans as means to an end, but as ends unto themselves.
When a Zionist, wherever he or she happens to live, does not educate and encourage his or her children to serve the State of Israel, he is acting in a manner, that if universalized, would result in the immediate destruction of the state. What is the moral basis that can justify a disequilibrium, where my children serve and yours do not? Yet if I also take the decision not to educate my children to serve, and if every other Israeli does the same, the State and practical Zionism cease to exist.
Secondly, when those of you who are deeply committed and in love with Israel, remain on the sidelines, and leave us with the burden of defending our homeland, all of us Israelis are being used as means of maintaining your personal Zionist ideals and fantasies. This is probably the root and kernel of resentment felt by many Israelis towards Jews of the Diaspora.
For those Zionists, who base their behavior on the edicts of the Torah,, the quagmire experienced by the tribes Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe provides a clear moral compass for the relationship between Jews inside and outside the boundaries of Israel. When these two and a half tribes express their desire to remain on the East bank of the Jordan in order to maintain their wealth as represented by their flocks, Moshe provides them with a clear moral imperative. He states that it is unthinkable that their brothers fight for the land, while they remain with their families and wealth across the Jordan. The dispensation for not living in the land is conditional upon these tribes serving as a strike force that leads the military expedition with the goal of conquering the land.
The moral call of the clarion is clear. If aliyah is not in the cards, this does not free your kids from the responsibility of military or national service. Today, there are even several programs that provide an experience that allows Jews from the Diaspora to train for the military and to integrate into Israeli society before doing their service. The moral imperative is clear. The religious imperative is clear. All that remains is simply to “do the right thing”.