Being a good person is not the most important thing. What is important is to make the world a better place for good people to thrive.
My journey to Israel began when I enlisted in the army; all my childhood I dreamed of becoming a soldier, a man, like all boys. My grandmother used to tell me those epic war stories about her father, who fought against the Ottomans in 1915 for the French Republic, but also for his “ancestral homeland of Israel”, and about her brother, who died in 1944 liberating Paris from the German invader. Joining the Israel Defense Forces was a shared guilty dream to feel something and a sense of duty towards my people.
However, my military service was nothing like what I had expected. I did not fight the Ottomans, nor did I liberate Jerusalem from the Germans. Instead, I was a NCO in Unit 610 of the Education Corps. The glossy reflections on the screen of my brand-new computer matched my mandatory perfectly polished boots but did not match the stories of my Nonna at all.
In my service, I saw an excellent comradeship between the brothers and sisters of my unit. We were as close as ever, and though we were all quite animated by some ordeal, something was missing.
One day I asked my lieutenant: “What are we doing here? What is our purpose? My commander had gone through the same rigorous French high school education as I had, and usually was understanding me perfectly.
She answered my question with another:
– “Tell me, what do you do in the office?”
– “Military Design,” I replied.
– “No, we are part of a bigger system, we explain to our soldiers and to the whole of Israel who they are and why they are here”.
Along with Japan, Tsahal, the IDF, is the only army in the world to have an Education Corps. The purpose of my unit was not pointless, as I thought. We gave our soldiers a purpose by teaching them about the past.
My aunt is a teacher in an Israeli high school. I studied in one for a year. Compared to my country, the level is not low, it is catastrophic. Students can no longer read complete books. People are obsessed with tiny aspects of society, and in the general discourse everything is becoming simpler. This frightens me.
I have always been amazed by books because, as my grandmother would say, they are the timeless keepers of the stories we need to pass on to our children.
People today are afraid of leaving behind an earth devastated by pollution and plastic. I understand and agree. But what I fear most is leaving my people in the dark, in a place so tenebrous that thinkers will be a thing of the past.
In Israel, I feel squeezed between the traditionalists, who believe that everything must be found in the past, and the secularists, who want to reject their identity.
I am a Jew, and I am one who grew up with the ideas of the Enlightenment. And I believe that we must restore the values of justice, brotherhood, harmony and goodwill that are the values of our people.
Serving in the IDF made me understand that being a good person is not the most important thing. It showed me that what was important was to make the world a better place for good people to thrive. Israel has shaped me in ways I am not sure I will ever fully understand, but it has allowed me to see Israel through a realistic prism, without the love we all have for it.