My brother Max was inducted into the Paratrooper Brigade of the IDF as a “lone soldier” less than two months ago. Originally honored with selection for additional training in Sergeant School, he was sent to Gaza at the outbreak of the war against Hamas. The Netanyahu brothers spent their high school years in our neighborhood outside of Philadelphia because of their father’s career; Michael Levin, the famed “lone soldier” Paratrooper who fell in the Second Lebanon War, was a personal inspiration to us growing up at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. It was no great shock for Max to make the decision to join the IDF after building an Israeli and Jewish identity based on this lineage.

 

The following letter was sent to a few of my close friends on Monday, July 21st. It is reproduced below with only minor grammatical edits. I have a simple goal for exposing this slice of my family’s experience: for people to better understand the tremendous pride and searing fear of having a younger sibling pressed into battle halfway across the globe. I have heard from Max once since sending this letter. His voice sounded different. It filled me with more warmth than ever before, but reveals a level of maturity that no 20 year old should be forced to attain.

 

At the time of publication, Max has returned to Gaza in order to defend the country and community that he loves.

 

(Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 2:21 PM):

I figured it is now time to send a little update around to my various circles of friends on the same wavelength. The past few days have been a nightmare, let’s spare the formalities. Max gave us “the call” on Friday, the call I never really believed I would get. “We are going in tonight, we have our mission, we are ready for this, I love you and it will all be ok,” he said. It was only yesterday that we played make-believe battles in the backyard with sticks. It is still hard to believe the battles are now real, that they are taking place in the streets and tunnels of Gaza, and that I am not at his side.

 

And now we wait. My heart stops every time my phone buzzes or I check the news. Relief at no new bloodshed cedes to my heart shattering into a million pieces each time I hear about more fallen soldiers. Someone else’s little brother. Someone’s daddy.

 

Even so, my family is strong and resolute. In times of crisis, things seem to slow down, with an eerie sense of calm. And life continues on. I guess this is what it means to be Israeli.

 

Politics, strategic questions, and personal processing will come later. For now, I just wait for my first “happy” tears in a while when I hear Max’s voice on the other end of the phone.

 

Instead of obsessing over each piece of news, I urge you call your family, call those you know in Israel, and start planning your next trip. Now is the time to book it. It is the strongest statement of solidarity we can make.

 

My wish is for us all to be sitting on the beach in Tel Aviv in a month, wondering how this war came and went so quickly. To be thankful for the return of quiet.

 

In the meantime, let us hold our heads high. The best of our men and women are working tirelessly with moral conviction and superior military means to make this hope of peace a reality once more.

 

-J