At 16, I came to Israel on a teen tour. I enjoyed the six week experience, the tour of the country and the beauty of the Land. And then I went home. But something had stuck, had connected, had pulled me. I returned as a 20-year-old college student, and then for a year in a post-college program.
Each time, there were many things that struck me; stuck with me; made me choke up. But perhaps none more so than the soldiers that I saw. I remember thinking to myself — these kids are the same age that I am. And if I believe in the State of Israel — if I believe that it should exist and continue existing — then why should they be serving and I shouldn’t be? Why is that fair?
The years trickled by, or flew by, as they sometimes do, and I was raising two beautiful little boys in Maryland. As we started to think about how we wanted to raise them, who we wanted them to be, it was hard to get away from the Zionist calling.
People said, “Are you crazy? You know they are going to have to be in the army one day, right?”
I didn’t quite understand them. Yes, I would think. That’s exactly it. Why should I be raising my boys to love Israel, to respect Israel, to want an Israel to exist…but not to have to be part of that experience? To not be part of that commitment?
Of course the story ends, or begins, with our aliyah.
But now, those two beautiful boys are not so little and they have been joined by four brothers. Yes, I’ve known in the most metaphorical and theoretical sense that someday I would have to stick by that commitment, to the conviction that I had, that I would have to lend my boys to the army.
When the day comes, however, it’s no longer theoretical. The dawning of that first day came on Friday when my oldest got his Tzav Rishon (first call up to the army) in the mail. The feeling was like none that I’ve experienced before. Well, perhaps it was akin to the day we boarded the plane to make aliyah. We knew we were doing the right thing for ourselves; we were excited and enthusiastic, bright eyed and eager. And yet, there was a part of me giving pause. We were leaving everything behind and taking a leap of faith that seemed crazy — and yet natural as well. It was terrifying and exciting, gratifying and completely nerve-wracking.
The feelings of pride and anticipation didn’t erase the fear, worry and apprehension.
My son groaned when I wanted to take a picture of him with his Tzav Rishon. “Mommy,” he said while trying to check his phone and eat, “it’s just the first paperwork. It’s nothing. Everyone gets it.”
Yes, sweetheart, everyone gets it. And that, as well, is a miracle to me. I don’t believe I’ll ever stop seeing the miracle as long as I live here. It’s amazing to me that he sees it as no big deal, as just something that everyone does, as a commitment that he will obviously be making. A no-brainer.
I see it as an amazing commitment. A chance to join with his people and connect to thousands of years of history — through his body and his being. And while he takes it for granted because it’s all he knows, I never will.
My grandfather, Jerry Weinhouse, was the last person in my family to don a uniform. He fought for America in World War II, earning two purple hearts. And now, his first grandson will be putting on a uniform that didn’t exist when he was fighting the Nazis. A uniform that was just a dream, a 2,000-year-old prayer.
And that is now a reality.