A Special Milestone: My Daughter’s Choice to Serve

Life is full of milestones – so many special moments. The last few years have seemed especially filled with them: moving to Israel, surviving a pulmonary embolism, having children graduate from school and college, and, most recently, having the last member of our immediate family join us in the homeland.

This week I experienced another milestone, and like most such moments, it was bittersweet. Bitter because I was seeing my baby – Dafna fly the parental nest. Sweet because she was making such a special life choice that fills me pride.

On Monday, I took Dafna to begin the start of her National Service. For my non-Israeli readers, let me explain that it is mandatory for both young men and women to provide a full year of military service to the State of Israel upon reaching the age of 18. Having reached that age, Dafna was eligible for an exemption from service on the grounds of her religious beliefs or she could elect to serve voluntarily in either the military or National Service.1st Day Apartment

After lengthy deliberation on what course of action to take after high school, Dafna decided upon Sherut Leumi (National Service) over the Army. Once this decision was made, hundreds more hours were spent in deliberation about the program in which she could provide the most impact. In the end, she opted to work with children with special needs, feeling that she could best serve her country in this way.  She will do her service at Beit Issie Shapiro in Raanana. This service organization provides therapeutic services to over 30,000 children with disabilities and their families each year. It has even been granted a “Special Consultative Status” by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Her decision seems inevitable in retrospect – Dafna is an unbelievably caring person (Who, me? Biased?) with a keen interest in children, especially those with special needs. It seems to come naturally to her. In the past, she has volunteered in the Bnei Akiva youth movement as a counselor. She has worked in camps, both mainstream and special needs, and seems universally loved by the kids and their parents alike. “Her” kids stay in contact with long after she has served as their counselor.

The process from decision making to planning to the arrival of the big day took almost a full year. Perhaps this period gave me time to adjust to the idea of my daughter leaving home and living on her own. She will live in an apartment during the week, but will be home every Shabbat – a fact that will make letting go a bit easier.

It feels like my entire life was planned around this first day of Dafna’s new life. I guarded it against changes in my professional travel schedule and any other unforeseen events. I was not going to miss this “First Day.” Nothing was going to stop me.

And so we departed early Monday morning. When we arrived at Beit Izzy Shapiro, we parked and I turned off the car. Our conversation proceeded as follows:

  • Dafna:   What are you doing?
  • Me:        Parking.
  • Dafna:   (Shocked) You’re not going in with me?
  • Me:        Of course I am.
  • Dafna:   Abba!!
  • Me:        Let’s go.
  • Dafna:   No, you’re joking (really believing I was).
  • Me:        Not at all (as I open the car door).

1st Day SherutFatherhood has its privileges. So I walked her to the building and then let her go begin the next stage of her life.

Carol has posted on her Facebook page, “Beit Issie Shapiro is lucky to have Dafna.” I couldn’t agree more, but I am certain that it will be a multi-way street. Dafna will gain a tremendous amount from this experience with her colleagues, both professional and volunteer. She will also gain from the children with whom she will have unique opportunities. But perhaps most importantly, she along with hundreds of thousands of others will be part of the volunteer service corps that makes Israel such a unique and great country. A country of giving – of people not only taking, but contributing to society.

Dafna, Mommy and I (and I’m sure thousands of others) are so proud of you. We send you not only our love but the very best of luck for the coming year and beyond.

About the Author
Stuart Katz was born in Panama and grew up in San Diego. He served as National Bnei Akiva Director, is highly educated (for whatever that's worth); managed an airline; made aliyah; traveled to over 80 countries; passionate about reducing mental health stigma in Israel and around the world...he's an entrepreneur and is involved in almost any volunteer project which comes his way
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