As the end of the year approaches, I had the pleasure of attending the wonderful Shlichut (Israel Emissary) appreciation yearly reception, hosted by the UJA-Federation of New York.
There we, the Shlichim, were recognized for our hard and sacred work of strengthening the connection between our US Jewish communities and Israel.
What especially touched me that night was the group of Shinshinim, which in Heberw stands for Shnat Sherut — a year of service. Israeli teenagers volunteer for this service, right after high school and before their army IDF service. These are few special handpicked individuals within the Israeli society who do a year of voluntary community service abroad, representing Israel in Jewish communities around the world.
It struck me that among eight young, cheery, naïve and wide-eyed kids, at least four will be enlisted into combat units in the coming months once they return to Israel.
This army service will build them, mature them, teach them much about life and how to survive in it. However, their naivety and youth will quickly fade away.
When I think about their wonderful smiling, happy and cheerful young souls I know that the army will change them.
It will make them tougher, and more competent to live in our world. It will make them uniquely competitive in the Western world where most teenagers grow and mature in their own time — through college, relationships, family, sports, etc. Whereas, Israelis do that growing up in the IDF, among brothers, sisters, officers and commanders.
I believe that this process of growing through strong brotherhood of the IDF, hard work, courage, sacrifice and Zionist/nationalistic ideology, is good and creates a society which is grateful for what they have in life. It forces one to achieve all that they can as best as they can in as little time as possible. This contributes to what makes the Israeli society so efficient in certain areas, such as, cutting edge in technology, medicine and agriculture while being warm and appreciative of every moment.
However, at the same time, it saddens me that these pure, eager and energetic kids will, in less than a year, have more responsibility than a first time father at times. Being tasked to protect their entire team of thirty of their comrades from harm. They will think in ways that sometimes only a parent would – putting others before yourself and sacrificing yourself to save your team mate, or giving up your own life for your country.
It is a crazy notion to think about, but this is our reality.
So behatzlachah, good luck, to all the seventeen going eighteen year olds in Israel.
Your journey to adulthood awaits…