Tuvia Book
Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

My Personal ‘Lech-Lecha Moment,’ and the IDF service that Followed

This week we read the Torah portion in which Abraham and Sarah are given the first commandment of the Jewish people, “Lech Lecha,” which literally means, “You go!”  The fact that this first commandment to the first Jews is a call to action is indicative of the emphasis of Judaism itself, where actions speak louder than words.  If one feels strongly about the right course of action to take, it’s not enough to “talk the talk” one has to, “walk the walk.”

During my last year of high school in the UK, I was interviewed at the prestigious University College London (UCL) for an undergraduate spot.  The interviewer asked me if I was taking a gap year and if so, where I was intending to go and what I wanted to do there.  I explained that I was intending to go to Israel and explore my connection to my religion and my Jewish homeland.  Despite having been raised traditionally observant and having visited Israel previously, I was always in a framework.  Now I was interested to go on a personal odyssey of self-discovery.   I wanted to fulfill that first “Lech Lecha” commandment.

A year later, as I was patiently waiting in line at the IDF induction center at Tel Hashomer to volunteer, as a Lone Soldier with no family in Israel,  for the Givati Brigade combat unit.  Many thoughts were going through my mind.  Chief of all was, “what am I doing here?”

Me at the age of 19 training in the Golan Heights in preparation for a rotation inside Lebanon. Photo (c) T. Book, 2021

I had arrived in Israel a year previously for my “gap year.”  I had been accepted to UCL, but chose to defer for a year in order to spend time in Israel.  I spent the year working on kibbutz, studying in Yeshiva and traveling the land.  It was however the informal meetings and conversations with my Israeli peers that led me to take the road very much less traveled at the end of the year, even as most of my friends returned to take up their university places.

Growing up in both South Africa and the United Kingdom, and not having Israeli parents or an Israeli passport, I was not obligated to serve in the IDF however, after meeting and talking with my Israeli peers, who were so like me in their taste and appreciation of popular youth culture, but so different and inspiring in other aspects, I decided to volunteer to serve in the IDF.  Whilst my friends and I were obsessed about going to university after high school, these young Jews were focused on how best they could serve their country.  In the immortal words of Naomi Shemer; “They came to give and not to take.”

I come from a family where my Mother’s side were almost totally annihilated in the Holocaust precisely because they were Jews, and there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.  They were murdered, together with the other six million Jews, because we were not in charge of our own destiny and had to rely on the pity of our host nations.  This was my carpe diem moment!

I remember thinking the ivory tower of UCL will always be there, but now at this stage in my life, and at this juncture in our peoples history, it is more imperative for me to have the honour of defending our people in our homeland.  The future of the Jewish people will play out in Israel, and I wanted to be very much part of that.  It is with those thoughts that I found myself a few months later in front of the Kotel as I received my rifle and Bible swearing the oath to,

Devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.

 This was my profound moment in my Jewish life.  This was my Lech Lecha moment!

IDF Soldiers from the Givati Brigade. Photo (c) T. Book, 2021

 Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Fifth edition, Koren, 2017).   His forthcoming book on the Second Temple Period, “ Jewish Journeys”  will be published by Koren this year.  He is also a Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide, Jewish educator and a Judaica artist.  www.tuviabook.com 

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order: https://korenpub.com/products/jewish-journeys
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