Twenty five years ago, as a much younger and slightly skinnier, version of me patiently waited in line at the IDF induction center at Tel Hashomer to volunteer for a combat unit many thoughts were going through my mind. Chief of all was, “what am I doing here?”
I had arrived in Israel a year previously for my “gap year.” I had been accepted to the prestigious University College London, but chose to defer for a year in order to spend time in Israel. I spent the year working on kibbutz, studying in Yeshiva and traveling the land. It was however the informal meetings and conversations with my Israeli peers that led me to take the road very much less traveled at the end of the year, even as most of my friends returned to take up their university places.
Growing up in both South Africa and the United Kingdom, and not having Israeli parents or an Israeli passport, I was not obligated to serve in the IDF however, after meeting and talking with my Israeli peers, who were so like me in their taste and appreciation of popular youth culture, but so different and inspiring in other aspects, I decided to volunteer to serve in the IDF. Whilst my friends and I were obsessed about going to university after high school, these young Jews were focused on how best they could serve their country. In the immortal words of Naomi Shemer; “they came to give and not to take.”
I come from a family where my Mother’s side were almost totally annihilated in the Holocaust precisely because they were Jews, and there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. They were murdered, together with the other six million Jews, because we were not in charge of our own destiny and had to rely on the pity of our host nations. This was my carpe diem moment! I remember thinking UCL will always be there, but now at this stage in my life, and at this juncture in our peoples history, it is more imperative for me to have the honour of defending our people in our homeland. It is with those thoughts that I found myself a few months later in front of the Kotel as I received my rifle and Bible swearing the oath to, “devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.”