For the last five months, I have been a participant on Young Judaea Year Course’s gap year program in Israel with more than 200 of my peers from around the world. Together we are a conglomerate of ebullient and idealistic youth traversing the sometimes rough, usually tranquil waters of our time in Israel, sharing laughs, memories, and experiences along the way. Next year, while I am at college living in a sheltered and cozy bubble, many of my peers will be subjected to a much harsher reality. They will be drafted to the Israeli army, handed M16’s, made to grow up quickly, and be demanded to fight for their lives, the lives of their loved ones, and for the precarious existence of the Holy Land.
About a year ago, in a time of uncertainty, I was not sure I was ready to go to college or even take a gap year. I visited a U.S. army recruitment center, spending four hours asking every question I could, learning about the many benefits I could receive by serving my country. The novelty soon wore off, mostly for a reason that my Israeli peers could not understand: as an American, there is no real necessity for me to join the military. With 7,700 nuclear warheads, we have the second largest stockpile in the world. Defense is funded by $664.84 billion dollars of the federal budget. We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and have almost 1.5 million personnel on active duty. It is fair to say no one will be messing with us anytime soon. Israel does not enjoy such security. It is surrounded by many Arab nations hell-bent on its destruction. Every last recruit is needed. But who are these recruits? They are just like me. They are the same age. They have hopes and dreams just like me, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. They are my friends.
Knowing that some of my dear friends will be putting their lives on the line while I “sit and watch” brings about a strong sense of guilt. My future is uncertain and I spend much time anxiously brooding about whether I have what it takes to succeed in life, but no matter which way I slice it, it is not nearly as harrowing as what lies ahead for the average Israeli youth. I may someday be a failed writer, but no version of my future involves my being tasked with the protection of my people and possibly even sacrificing my life for their sake.
So to all the youth getting ready to join the ranks, growing up faster than you should have to and seeing the world as it really is, in all of its rancor, filth, and wretchedness, staring death in its frosty eyes and not flinching: thank you for your service, thank you for fighting for Israel, thank you for being more of a man than I, and thank you for protecting all of us.