Shawn Ruby

A letter to my daughter as she joins the IDF

Internalize the military culture of excellence and service and, when possible, resist the warrior creed

Dear Eliana,

My baby girl enlisted in the IDF this morning, and I am a bit choked up. There are a lot of feelings welling up in me as I write this. Parental love and concern, patriotism and Zionism, and also deep ambivalence about the military and what it represents. I want to share and record some of this in a letter. I hope it will carry you through this next phase in your life, and help you navigate the challenges you will face.

First of all, I am very proud of you. You are a remarkable young woman. You are smart, fun, hard-working, passionate, caring and responsible. You are a good friend and a good judge of people. The IDF, and the State of Israel, will depend on you in years to come to provide leadership. It is a big responsibility.

As a parent, it is a hard thing to watch your child grow up. You are going off on your own, leaving the nest, no longer needing us day to day. You are following your own path, and I hope we have given you the tools to find your own way in the adult world you are about to join. It is up to you now, but we are always there for you, for anything you need.

I am also overwhelmed by the fact that you are joining the defense forces of the first Jewish state in over 2,000 years. You are born into the fourth generation of that state, yet it is still too young to take for granted. It is an historical privilege to wear the uniform of a country that has risen from the ashes of the Holocaust, not only to guarantee the physical safety of Jews everywhere, but also to create a place for our people and culture to flourish and grow. In under 70 years, we have created a democracy that is diverse, free and prosperous. It is also far from perfect, as are all human endeavours, but it is important to acknowledge that the country you are enlisting to defend is one to be proud of, even as we all fight to improve it.

So, it is mostly with happiness and pride, touched with a bit of concern for your well-being as your father, that I contemplate tomorrow – and the coming years. However, as you know, for me, this is never simple. The Zionist decision that Jews must take the reins of power comes at a cost – one we must pay, but one we must also acknowledge. The IDF is there in service of the Zionist dream – it is not the Zionist dream that we should have an IDF.

One of my heroes, Albert Einstein, was a pacifist in the wake of the First World War. The rise of the Nazis convinced him that pacifism was not realistic in the world we live in, but I believe that it is a healthy inclination to wish we could be pacifists even when we know we cannot. It is a selfish position to insist on one’s own moral purity when it is necessary to “get your hands dirty” to protect the innocent and powerless. However, it is also right and important to long for a world where the taking up of arms is not necessary.

As you dedicate the next phase of your life to the defense of Jewish sovereignty, and the physical safety of the citizens of Israel, remember also that in the hierarchy of Jewish and human values, the military is בדיעבד, a necessary evil in the face of evil in the world, not a value in its own right. A certain amount of military culture may be necessary for troop cohesion and morale, but a step back from military hero worship is the Jewish approach, and I believe the human one. What a person does in their early adult years can come to define them. I hope you will accept and internalize the IDF’s culture of excellence and service. When possible, resist the warrior creed, even as you sometimes will need to flow with it.

You are also born into the third generation of the IDF as a force of occupation of a civilian population, as a major part of its duties. In the clash of values and reality, this is the most difficult knot to untangle. Our occupation of the Palestinians, regardless of its justification, is a poison in our culture, and a moral stain. It is impossible to separate the debatable necessity of occupation until we reach peace, from the damage it does to our souls in the meantime — and more importantly, from the injustice it perpetrates on the Palestinians.

Your role will unlikely take you deep into the territories, but you will be part of a system that is implicated in whole by what is done there, even more than was the case when you were as a civilian. I believe that Israel is one of the most, if not the most, benign occupier of a hostile population in the history of the world, and that nevertheless the occupation — the day to day denial of liberty to innocent people – is a cancer that must end. While you are in the IDF, you will of necessity be part of that. Keep it in my mind. Do what you can do uphold the dignity of all people, within the system. When you get out, if it is still in place, fight to end it. You are being trained to become a leader of our people – we will depend on you, and your generation, to lead us.

This morning, when we left you at the Bakum induction center, I was too choked up to say any of this. We hugged you, and blessed you, and cried. My words were inadequate for the occasion, so I am writing my blessings and prayers for you here.

May you find happiness, and the strength to be sad when life inevitably brings you sadness.

May you find love in your life, and be unafraid to love in the face of risking a broken heart. And when your heart does break, may you always be strong enough to love again.

May you always love learning, and be ever in awe of the beauty of God’s universe, from the distant stars to the miracle of human consciousness.

May you always see the image of God in every human you encounter.

May you be unafraid of failure, so that the fear of failure is never an obstacle to success, however you choose to define it.

May God bless you and protect you.

May the light of God’s face shine upon you and give you grace.

May God’s face be upon you and give you peace.

God who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace to the people of Israel and the world.

God, our daughter is going into uniform. We really could use that peace now.



About the Author
Shawn Ruby is a recent refugee from Israeli hi-tech, launching a new career in Rabbinics and education. He is a veteran immigrant to Israel from Canada, via the US. He is married with 3 children. Older blog posts at
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