In 1946, the great American playwright, Arthur Miller, published one of his more well-known (and for good reason) pieces. The smoke had barely cleared on World War II; veterans were still finding their footing as they made their way back home. Those who made it home, anyway. Life was once again beginning to resemble some new version of normal. Businesses were picking back up as the workforce was flooded with hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young men. And then Miller forced the US public — the world, really — to reckon with its relationship with the soldiers. The play was called All My Sons.
For those of you unfamiliar, please allow me to give you a brief plot overview (and for those of you who are familiar, bear with me and refresh yourselves): The play, which takes place in 1946, revolves around a family, the Kellers, and the truth surrounding their soldier son, Larry, who was MIA. You see, the father, Joe Keller, was a factory owner, and during the war, he dedicated his factory to the war effort, manufacturing engines for planes for the US Air Force. Over the course of the play, what comes to light (spoiler alert, and I don’t even care) is that he had knowingly shipped off twenty one engines that were cracked—fundamentally flawed—that led to the deaths of twenty one pilots. And he allowed his business partner to take the fall for it, rationalizing throughout the entire process that it didn’t affect him, because it wasn’t his sons who were the recipients of those engines.
If that concept sits wrong with you, good. It should. It sat wrong with Larry, who learned about it when it happened, and he couldn’t believe that his father could be so callous as to view himself as immune from that responsibility. And it bothered him so much that he died, rather than be associated with such a man who could absolve himself of that measure of social responsibility. He wrote a note before he died (before undertaking what he knew would be his final mission to serve his country), and that letter eventually made its way back to his parents’ hands. It was that letter that finally made Joe Keller realize the depths of what he had done. In one of the most important lines from the play, Joe, holding the letter in his hand, says quietly, “Sure, [Larry] was my son. But I think to him [the pilots killed] were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.”
If you haven’t read the play, you should. Because it’s a good one. (Even though I just spoiled it for you. It’s still worth it.) But the reason I bring it up now is not just because it’s a good play, and not just because it explores an important theme of social responsibility. Rather, I bring it up because I’ve been getting rumblings of a strange reaction from some of you readers.
“It sounds like you’re dating someone.”
Let me make this as plain as I possibly can: If that’s what you’re getting from the pieces that I’m writing, you’ve missed the point. If you are reading into my writings and you are finding that, you have missed the basic point here. Read the words that I’m saying. Day in, day out, I cannot stop talking about my love for Israel, about my care and concern for my soldiers, about how all I want is to just be there because my heart is having trouble with being so far away from my beloved homeland that is broken and bleeding and I just want to do my part in helping to put her back together.
And I cannot help but wonder: If you’re finding more than what I’m saying, what does that say about you and your relationship to Israel? It almost definitely means that you don’t know the agony of sitting and waiting on the sidelines for your soldiers to come home, but more importantly, what does it say about you and Israel? What does it say about you and the Jewish people? Have you seen my list? It’s twelve soldiers long. It’s grown since day one. I post it at the bottom of every single one of my pieces. And it’s not that one of them is my soldier. They’re all my soldiers. As is every other member of the IDF, but, as I said before, I am human and my capacity to know about and care about people on a personal level is limited, and so these twelve soldiers—my soldiers—are my conduit through whom I can adopt and care about all of our soldiers.
What is highly ironic here is that I know about literary analysis. I’m really good at it, too. That’s my bread and butter. I’m an English teacher, for heaven’s sake. I hold a Master’s degree in the subject. I understand what it means to take apart a piece of literature and find deeper meaning within the words that are written. But here’s the thing: As I constantly tell my students, you have to be able to back up your claims with evidence from the text, and then prove it through properly developed analysis. There’s only so much that you can read into a text, because your conclusion has to be grounded within the words themselves. And if your conclusion isn’t grounded, then woe unto you because your paper is going to come back ruthlessly marked up as I point out to you, over and over, that what you are trying to prove doesn’t actually make any sense because, well, have you read the words that are actually presented to you? Or are you trying to make a narrative that you like fit with what’s not really there?
So again, let me make this really clear: They’re all my soldiers. And if you’re coming to some other conclusion, check yourself. Now. Ask yourself what that says about your relationship to the land of Israel, because to me, it says that you’re distant and disconnected. To me, it says that the phrase, “לבי במזרח, my heart is in the east,” is nothing more to you than a beautiful platitude coined hundreds of years ago that in theory you like to quote because it’s oh so meaningful but it doesn’t actually penetrate deeper than your skin, and that your heart is right here with you בסוף מערב, all the way in the west. To me, it says that you don’t have a personal connection to anyone on the front lines and that you do not understand what it means to be sitting and waiting while your guys are risking their lives for the sake of your being able to have a future in the land that you like to visit but not really anything more.
And as I’ve said before, if you don’t have a personal connection to what’s been going on, find a soldier to adopt and make him or her your own. Feel free to reach out to me and I can help you with that. I’ve got plenty to go around. Because you have to make it personal. This is not their war. This is not my war. This is our war. And they are not my soldiers. They are our soldiers. The question is, do you feel that? Because if you don’t…that’s a problem.
Check yourself. Read the words that I’m saying. Take them to heart. Because to me, they are all our soldiers. They are all our sons.
What about you?
Please continue to pray for us, and for the following soldiers, especially:
עזרא צבי יוסף בן אריאלה פנינה
יעקב זכריה בן אריאלה פנינה
אליהו סִינַי בן ביילא רבקה
נַתַּן בן דבורה אסתר
דוד אלכסנדר בן דבורה אסתר
אלכסנדר בן שרה אלישבע
ראובן אליעזר בן אביגיל אסתר
בועז כָּלֵב בן יפָה מרים
יצחק אייזיק בן פריידא
אהרן בן רחל ברכה
חובב בן דבורה אסתר
שמחה בן הינדא ברכה
כי ה׳ אלקיכם ההולך עמכם להלחם לכם עם אויביכם להושיע אתכם. ה׳ ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם