In other countries, 11th grade boys are playing sports, goofing off, studying for tests and learning how to drive. Only in Israel are they doing all that and also hugging, comforting and supporting their grieving friends. Only in Israel, is crying at funerals an unfortunate built-in part of a teenager’s coming of age.
At one such funeral this past Wednesday night, Sammy Jackman, a British oleh, eulogized his beloved son, Efraim, who was killed in battle in Gaza. He described his ambition and drive, his studious nature, his Torah learning, his love for family, his musical talent, his affinity for hiking, his high standards, his unwillingness to compromise and the way he gave his all for the army, his country and his people. At some point he said: “Only in Israel can you raise children like this.”
And it’s true. Though it is not always easy.
Kids here are raised to be tough. And that experience can be rough.
In kindergarten, even when we tried to shield our kids from news of terror attacks, we were often dismayed that their teacher would share it with the class. In first grade, when learning how to read Hebrew, there was an assignment that played on the word Shalom and its different meanings of hello, goodbye and peace. It read “Shalom, Abba (father). My abba is a soldier. Abba is going to the army. Shalom, Abba. There is no shalom.” On the playground, kids are encouraged to defend themselves and not just tell an adult. In elementary school, they stay out too late on Friday nights. In high school, they hike the country on their own and organize Shabbatot for themselves away in other communities.
What came as a surprise to us is how this toughness translates as these kids get older.
They have real opinions about politics and feel passionately about what is going on in the country. They go out to demonstrations and protests. They travel distances to make their voices heard. They are educated to give of themselves to society at large. This spirit of volunteerism pushes them to serve as counselors in youth movements, to run camps for the physically disabled, to visit the elderly, and to organize all kinds of group activities to help their communities. The kids who work the hardest are often the most respected and it is considered cool to have a job waitering or even cleaning houses. I know plenty of kids who don’t need to work for money but who applied for minimum wage jobs just because they wanted the experience.
This tough spirit fosters independence and idealism. That’s what happens when you give 18-year-olds guns and tell them they are responsible for each other’s lives. The so-called “Tik-Tok generation” in Israel was able to put down their screens in a matter of moments and get out there to protect their people and their country. They have shown little sign of the entitlement, coddling, or failure to take responsibility that plague many of their counterparts in other countries. And they are so connected. Connected to themselves and their inner worlds, connected to each other, connected to their land, to their God, to their nation.
Only in Israel do kids give to and feel connected to their country and their country feels just as connected to them.
The morning I heard about Efraim’s death, I got a call from the Meuhedet health care system about a payment. As she opened my file she said: “I happen to see here that you have an older son in the army. Is he in reserves?” “No”, I answered, “he is in his regular service, non-combat.” “Well,” she responded, “God should just watch over him and over all of our soldiers and keep them safe.”
I started to cry. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Not really,” I said. “My son in high school just heard about yet another friend who lost a brother in Gaza.” “Wow. So so tough,” she said, choking up. “Stay strong. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be good.”
Only in Israel do people care about other people’s kids as if they are their own.
This morning, my youngest son called me on the way to school, upset that his phone had run out of data. I quickly called our provider. “The account is under your husband’s name, so we will need his permission to approve the sale,” I was told. “But he’s at work right now and I can’t get him on the phone. What should I do?” The impatient Golan Telecom saleswoman put me on hold. Two minutes later, she returned. “We added the data for free,” she said warmly. “He should just be safe and get to where he needs to go without worries.”
Only in Israel do adults put the kids first and the kids put the country first.
Yosef Jackman, in a radio interview just prior to his brother’s funeral, drove this point home as he fought back tears:
“This will sound not clear and will be a little hard to hear. But to some degree, I believe that my family is also privileged in a way. To be privileged does not always have to mean something 100% good. It can also be something with a lot of difficulty. But we are privileged to be here in the land of Israel and not in the Diaspora. We are privileged that my beloved brother, who I so long for and miss, was not burnt and did not die in a gas chamber. Rather, he died while fighting, in the midst of a charge against the enemy. This is totally different! We are privileged! Our great-great-grandfather and all past generations would have done anything to come to Israel to be buried, let alone to live. They would have been willing to live here even in poverty. We are privileged to live here normally with regular routines. And therefore, in a certain way we are privileged. It is really hard. Don’t think I am not hurting. I am in deep pain. But the gift of daily life here is what strengthens me.”
Yosef Jackman is in 11th grade. He is an embodiment of his father’s words.
Only in Israel can you raise kids like this.
And with kids like this, we are indeed privileged.