Brenda Stein Dzaldov
Brenda Stein Dzaldov

My Canadian daughter, my Israeli soldier

I’m Canadian. I was born in Toronto. I grew up in a house near the intersection of Yonge and Steeles in Toronto and, when I was 18 years old, my parents chose to move with my sister and I to a house near Bathurst and Steeles in Thornhill. It was a big move for us at the time.

When I married my Israeli-born Canadian-raised husband, we moved to the other side of Bathurst and both of our families lived within walking distance of us. We felt lucky. We had our Friday night dinners at my mother-in-law’s house and our seders and other special meals with family. We joined the synagogue where we were married.

When our children were born, my husband and I made the decision to educate our daughter and two sons at Jewish Day Schools and we began our 20 year journey through Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto (AHS) and the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT- Kimel). Of course, there were also Jewish summer camps (Young Judea and Ramah) and we lived in a Jewish neighbourhood.

What did we expect would be the result of these choices? What Jewish identity were we trying to build for our family? What would be the best outcome for our kids? I can tell you that there were many highs and lows on this journey and, as one Vice-Principal told me when my youngest child started Middle School at AHS, “There will be bumps in the road and things will not always go perfectly but the result will be amazing.” I didn’t really know what she meant at that point but I felt reassured and we pressed onward.The kids learned Ivrit, Talmud, Torah, Tefillah and, eventually, Jewish ethics, the basics of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the history of the Jewish people. They studied the Holocaust and each of our children went on the March of the Living.  We visited and toured Israel as a family a number of times and connected with my husband’s wonderful cousins in Israel.   So, we did the right things, right? Things would turn out just fine. Even amazing.

Fast forward to Passover, 2017. My first born, our daughter Jenny, had been living in Israel for 3 years (she’s 22 years old). I decided on a whim 3 days before the seder to come to Israel to be with her.  She was just accepted to IDC Herziliya for Law School, had moved off her Garin Tzabar Kibbutz a couple of months earlier, her boyfriend was in Thailand and she had the Passover holidays off from her job in the army. There was a lot to do, I told myself. She needed her mom.

My daughter, you see, threw us for a loop in 2014. During her year abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she decided to “draft”; that is — she joined the Israeli army. She drafted through Garin Tzabar as a lone soldier — that means her parents don’t live in the country — and became a shooting instructor. Lots of Israelis told us that was a fantastic job and they were very impressed, but what did we really know?

Although we spoke to her almost daily, we were only getting bits and pieces of what the job was, how it would work, and what it all meant.   How would she learn all the Hebrew she needed? How does a Jewish day school educated girl from Toronto become a shooting instructor? What would happen on weekends after her 5 hour bus ride to a Kibbutz in Tiberias where she lived? Who would care for her? How would she get her laundry done? How could she be sure she would have a little food in the fridge for Shabbat? What about the weekends when she was “closed” on base and had to guard for 24 hours? How would she do? What about basic training in the field (shetach)? How would she survive that?

Needless to say, she figured it out…step by step…day by day. Yes, she called me once from her room on the Kibbutz to tell me she had a virus that sent her to the hospital. Yes, she texted from the bus that she was “running a little late” and that her bus ride home would now take 7 hours and did I think she should stop at the gas station and grab some food for Shabbat?

So, I decided since I was off for Passover, she probably needed me.

I came to Israel and found that she now speaks Hebrew fluently and, when I say that, I mean she functions 100% in Israeli society with her incredible Hebrew. She trains soldiers in the Israeli army, uses apps in Hebrew, texts in Hebrew and is prepared to study law in Hebrew beginning in October. Nothing I could do to help there.

I went to the IDC campus in Herziliya with her to organize her studies. She asked all the questions, started figuring out housing, knew about an English entrance exam she had to schedule and helped the guide translate the tour into English to explain to me how the interdisciplinary program works. I tagged along and enjoyed the walk through the campus, amazed at my daughter’s ability to handle it all.

I spent a couple of hours organizing her stuff from the Kibbutz that was now in storage in our cousin’s place in Hod Hasharon. I did her laundry. I felt great about that.

She went to a couple of government offices; one to organize her driver’s license and one to change her address. At the driver’s license office, she was number 286 in line, and then number 700 (because she was in the wrong line) but then a new clerk opened and took her immediately. Over breakfast, the main story she shared about that experience was the amazing cab driver who took her to the office who was a retired lawyer in Israel – she couldn’t believe how nice he was when he told her that her personal story had “made his day”.

She told me how she met her boyfriend at a bus stop one Sunday morning when they were both waiting for the buses that would take them back to their bases. His mom had dropped him off there. My daughter had to walk there on her own with her army bag on her back. She even showed me the bus stop.

One afternoon, I visited her base. She was excited to bring me there to meet the other shooting instructors and her officers. We found them in their little kitchen on base sitting around at 5:00 pm, some holding their guns, others holding a coffee. My daughter told me she will be working on the shooting ranges until 11:00 pm now that summer is starting and there will be night shooting.   Her officer pulled me aside to tell me that my daughter is an expert at teaching complex shooting drills to soldiers and other instructors. I just stared at my daughter and tried to process it all.

My daughter showed me her personal weapon and told me a little about how it works. I was her guest on the base where she will spend years doing her small part to contribute to the security of the people of Israel.

During the trip, I spent some money on clothes for her, and bought her some food. But mostly, she shared her favourite stores and restaurants with me and I benefitted so much from the short tour of Israel through her eyes. By the way, she now eats cabbage, shawarma, chicken legs, rice with sauce and burgers. I guess she expanded her eating repertoire after she acquired a taste for food in Israel.

On weekends, she sleeps at “home”, in our cousin’s house in their bomb shelter, and she furnished it herself. She is currently officially off our payroll as she earns her own money in the army.

And in about six months, she’s going to go to law school. I know she’ll have to figure that out on her own too. So, I guess, I can honestly say that things turned out just as we had hoped. We raised a daughter who is tied meaningfully to her Jewish identity, who knows the Hebrew language, and who cares about her history and her country.   She lives a life of significance, and she is good at what she does. Oh, and she’s happy. Pretty amazing.

But, this Sukkot, I might still end up back in Israel, to help her out a bit.

About the Author
Brenda holds a PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where she is an instructor specializing in literacy education, special education and well-being, and educational psychology. She is an educational consultant who has published many books and articles focusing on understanding and improving teacher and student achievement. You can visit her website at Her three children all grew up in Toronto and have taken different paths as they live Jewishly in the world.