I’ve recited these words every day for as long as I can remember, even as a little Jewish girl in Los Angeles:
.שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד
Now, I sit every day in an olive green Israel Defense Forces uniform in the synagogue on my base in Northern Israel and recite this every single day at 5 a.m. I look down at my pink siddur that’s always by my side and at my uniform with ‘צבא’ (Army) written across my chest.
Some Jewish girls make their mother happy by staying in the city where their parents live and making a lot of Jewish babies. I chose to move 7,600 miles away from my family and be drafted into the Israeli army to protect a country where I have no family.
As much as most would think I’d rather fulfill the much lived up to stereotype of being a Jewish girl from Los Angeles, serving in the first Jewish army in 2,000 years was much more important to me.
While living in the United States, it always broke my heart to meet so many Jewish people that were afraid to admit they’re Jewish or stand up for Israel. Although admitting you’re Jewish today makes you an automatic advocate for Israel due to the unavoidable amount of erroneous media attention. It often steers Jews away from embracing their traditions, identity or roots in the hope of avoiding any negativity in their life.
How do you explain to someone that your people are the most persecuted in the world? Persisting through genocide, pogroms, and then years of poverty, degradation and refugee status after being kicked out of their homes and countries leaves you no other choice but to defend yourself against terrorist groups like Hamas and ISIS just to simply survive your day to day life.
I’m sorry, Mom, but it’s because of you that I feel so strongly about my people. I could no longer wait on the sidelines knowing that Jews were dying every day in Israel. I could no longer wait on the sidelines knowing that every Jewish citizen must serve when they turn 18 knowing that I was living freely without that responsibility. I could no longer wait on the sidelines knowing my homeland needs me to do my part, however small it might be.
After 6 million Jews were murdered in the last generation, as so many were in other generations, I choose to serve a country where Jews are at last able to protect themselves from all the outside hatred, a place where all Jews who are discriminated against in their home country can come to and know they are being protected by their own.
Mom, I want you to know that moving to Israel is not in spite of you or to upset it’s because of the strength you’ve given me growing up as a woman and as a Jew. I am so grateful for the upbringing you provided me and the Judaism you instilled in my heart and soul.
You are always the inspiration behind every decision I make. You taught me to push through and not let anything stop me, and I want to continue pushing and forcing myself to grow knowing my own strength that you’ve shown me that you yourself have exemplified.
Even though right now we might not be proximally close, I feel very close to you in our Homeland, embracing the religion, people and history you taught me to love and be proud of.
And don’t worry; I’ll see you when I have a baby.