You were born 19 years ago, during the first months that we lived in Hoshaya; for us, you symbolize our decision to make this community our permanent home. And now you too, Ari Benartzi, our third child, are enlisting in the IDF. You will join the ranks of your sister who is serving as an officer, and your brother who has just finished his service. The smell of uniforms and military sweat has yet to dissipate from your shared bedroom, and now it’s set to make a return.
The sand and dirt will return as well. When your older brother came home from the army at the end of the week, with a bag full of laundry, prohibited from telling us how his uniform got so dirty, Ima would try to guess what he had been doing by the color and smell of the grime on his uniform, just before she stuffed it into the washing machine. It looks like she will have to keep on guessing.
The night before Ari enlisted, his brother wrote him the following note:
The thought of my little brother joining the army, makes me truly emotional. You, whom I still think of as somewhere between 8th and 9th grade. And it seems as if it was only a few days ago that we were talking about karate, high school, the Ma’ale Gilboa yeshiva, watching movies and now—suddenly—you’re trying to squeeze your feet into those black boots, running breathlessly to beat the clock. My little brother is marching with giant steps into Israel’s crucible of adulthood.
For my part, I’d like to offer you some advice, even though it’s only been a few weeks since I was in uniform:
- In the army, it is important to act with restraint. Even when your commander is wrong and it seems like everything is being run by fools. There will come a time when it is your turn to be in charge. In the meantime, watch closely, stay quiet, and learn.
- Everything passes. Even when it feels like the sun isn’t rising, grit your teeth and remember the good times, and keep on moving. Remind yourself that there is nothing that hasn’t already been done, and people weaker than you have made it through what feels at that moment, to be impossible.
- You must have already heard me say this, but you finish the army with three things: scars, friends, and experiences. Try to avoid the first as much as you can. The second you will gain in ways you cannot yet even imagine. And as for as the third, they begin as burning pains and freezing cold, but later on they become transformed into unique experiences that few people in the world can claim.
Brother, walk through the gates of your new base with your back straight and your head down, as befitting of a new recruit to the toughest unit in the IDF. I hope you enjoy every moment (including the suffering), and please don’t forget, when you get your few minutes of free time in the evening, after you have finished with your call to Ima and Abba, to phone your roommate of 18 years. I’ll be waiting.
Much love, Guy.”
Ari, the State of Israel is a miracle of modern age and almost impossible to explain in rational terms. It’s difficult to even perceive its greatness from here on the inside. To attempt to understand the period in which we have the privilege to live, it is helpful to take a step back and see it through a historical lens—from a metaphysical perspective. This way, we can begin to see the form of this marvel emerge, gleaming and shiny, from under the layers of criticism, cynicism, frustration, and exhaustion that are so characteristic of day-to-day Israeli society.
But this is a wonder that needs to be guarded, and the privilege of being part of it comes with a price tag. And now it’s your turn to protect and defend. We’re proud of you, becoming a new link in the multi-generational chain of those who bear this burden and keep our beloved country safe, and in the same breath we also want to remind you to first and foremost, keep yourself safe. May the Lord bless you and safeguard you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn His countenance to you and give you peace.
Go in Peace, and Return in Peace,
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.