Tomorrow, February 27th, 2014, I will be enlisting as a volunteer soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.
My dream of serving in the IDF has long existed in my mind, as far back as I can remember, but it never truly became a reality until I moved to Israel from the United States. I have always viewed myself as between those two worlds. But even after making Aliyah, the goal I sought to achieve was elusive, slipping in and out of possibility like sunlight shifting in clouded skies. In my first blog post for The Times of Israel, I described how I spoke with my friend and hero Michael Levin mere weeks before he was killed in action in the Second Lebanon War. It was his encouragement that propelled me to actively pursue this dream of serving in the IDF, especially after he fell in battle, and even more so after my own personal obstacles took shape.
At the age of 19, after an amazing though challenging year living and volunteering in Israel on the Nativ college leadership program, I returned to the U.S. and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an incurable and chronic illness. Though I could be treated and learn to live with my condition, my dream of serving would have to be put on hold indefinitely. As such the Consulate of Israel issued me a medical exemption releasing me of any future duty of service to the State of Israel in its armed forces. After an already difficult year for my health, the exemption was a personal blow of defeat for any prospect I had of serving.
Yet Michael’s inspiring words of encouragement never left me. I channeled what passion and strength I had for serving Israel into my activism on and off my college campus. I considered myself the unofficial spokesman for anything and everything Israel, for better or for worse (depending on who you ask). As president of the largest pro-Israel group on campus, I defended this country against anti-Israel professors, anti-Israel student groups, even anti-Israel Israelis. My suit became my uniform. My written and spoken advocacy became my weapons of defense.
Still, I must be honest. I originally had a very different story to tell, given a different ending than the one with which I am currently blessed. There were moments of darkness, corners of anger and frustration where I thought no hope existed. Times when I believed I was stuck in quicksand attempting to move forward and upward, only to see myself unable to move and sinking slowly downward against my will. Everyone in Israel has experienced the bureaucracy here to some degree. It’s both a charm and curse of living in the society constructed here, but at the end of the day, we endure. We endure because it is what Israelis do. Israelis persevere, through trial and tribulation, because perseverance ultimately breeds success. And more than anything, Israel is the story of success.
I petitioned the IDF to overturn my exemption, traveling to two different bases to meet with army doctors. It took the better part of a year for that evaluation to complete only after I proved to them I was healthy enough to serve. I also spent that time working on a Master’s Degree at the IDC in Herzliya, another factor that I hoped would help with my enlistment. The official process began after I finally received my Tzav Rishon (First Order of Appearance) over a year after making Aliyah. I conducted tests and interviews, but it was only after my profile was finished did I realize that the real work would begin. Some call it influence, others call it connections, most call it protectsia. Without it I don’t believe I’d be sharing my story with you today. My information was put in front of the right person, at the right time, and after years of building, of waiting, of dreaming, my day has finally arrived.
Yet I cannot help but think on those who are not as fortunate to have the support mechanisms I had, or who simply don’t know what support exists for them. I know I am not alone. I may be a “unique” case, but there are certainly other “unique” individuals struggling in similar ways to fulfill this same dream. At a time when so many people here in Israel try to get out of the army, there are those of us who strive to get in. People who come here daring to dream, daring to challenge themselves socially, professionally, and personally to serve this country and her people in whatever way they can. It is they who need and deserve the influence and the connections — the protectsia — for the opportunity to give of themselves, especially so when it is not required of them.
Ultimately, I am thankful. I am blessed to have had the help and support of organizations such as the Friends of the IDF (FIDF), Nefesh B’Nefesh, and of course from the organization bearing Michael’s legacy, the Lone Soldier Center. More than anything, I have endured and I have persevered because of friends and family, without whom I would surely still be wading through waters of uncertainty and dejection.
Michael Levin once wrote, “You can’t fulfil your dreams unless you dare to risk it all.”
I dared to dream. For those of you reading this who have ever felt or been through similar circumstances, who desire to fulfill your own dreams and aspirations in spite of the challenges you constantly face, I dare you to do the same.