Our son Yaakov received his army induction notice yesterday. In just under a month, he will leave his yeshiva and join the Israel Defense Forces.
We knew it was coming. In fact, his original date for joining the army was supposed to be around today, but the war pushed things off. Which was a relief, truthfully… but it only delayed it a month. A month has passed and now it’s time.
I’m experiencing both profound pride and intense fear, trepidation and honor, expectation that he will be part of the glorious chain of those who, for the past 75 years, have protected Jewish lives in the Jewish state, and just maybe a small, quiet, yet admittedly persistent hope that he won’t pass his physical. (Fat chance of that happening; the kid is built.)
The way we found out would have been anticlimactic, except that we had pushed this reality out of our minds for the past 30 days and weren’t expecting anything at all. Yesterday evening, just after 6:00 p.m., Yaakov forwarded a five-line text message he had received, saying that he was going to be deployed as a fighter in the Givati Brigade, that he would be officially drafted on December 4th, and to stay tuned for details about the place and time.
Simple. And life-changing.
Our son-in-law finished his army service over a year ago, but he was called up again on October 7th and now is incommunicado. We have no details; he has not had a phone for over 10 days, so we have no idea where he is or what he’s doing, other than that he is somewhere inside Gaza. His presence in a war zone has been harrowing. The idea that Yaakov may soon join him there adds to our anxiety.
When I am able to ignore the anxiety for a few moments, however, I experience a sense of wonder that God has allowed our family to live at this point in history. Maybe what I experience is even a type of joy.
For 2,000 years, Jews were powerless, living in non-Jewish societies, which, at best, tolerated their continued presence. Often, they were oppressed. Occasionally, they were expelled. More than once, they were slaughtered en masse.
What did they do? They prayed to God to end the endless exile, and bring them home to the land of Israel and to the city of Jerusalem. They expressed their undying belief in the final redemption, saying that while the messiah may tarry, they would continue to wait for him every day. They dreamed of the faraway land that was their birthright, a land that, without its children living in its borders, was every bit as much in exile as they were. Jerusalem was barren, sorrowfully waiting for them to finally return; their bond could never be broken.
Console, Hashem our God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem and the city that mourns, that is destroyed, scorned, and desolate… She sits with a covered head, like a barren woman who has not given birth… Therefore Zion cries bitterly, and Jerusalem raises her voice.
Although they had been forcibly separated, the people of Israel and the land of Israel remained forever faithful. Israel never forgot their mother, Jerusalem, just as Jerusalem could never forget her children. And every Passover, as the seder came to a close, the city’s children sang to God, “Shomrim hafked l’ircha kol hayom v’chol halayla” — Appoint guards for Your city, all day and all night. Composed in the sixth century in a ruined land of Israel, I imagine the poet writing that line and saying, “Should we truly ask for protection for a place from which the Jews have been expelled? Yet how can we not? For Jerusalem, no matter how she looks on the outside, is always our mother.”
I imagine generations of Jews reciting this line far from the land of Israel, century after century after century, and praying to God to send His angels to guard the city that sat “mournful without its children, its dwelling places destroyed, scorned without its honor, desolate with no inhabitants.” And as believers who were the children of believers, they were sure that God had fulfilled their request, and that angelic guardians were watching over Jerusalem.
I imagine my great-great-grandparents, somewhere in Europe, singing this prayer, knowing that God was listening, and also knowing that the Prophet Elijah had not yet come, had not yet announced that it was time to return. Still they prayed and sang and knew that one day, the fantasy would become real.
Yes, they knew that God heard their prayer; but did it occur to them that, very soon, their prayer would be answered in a way that was unimaginable?
Did it occur to them that, very soon, the city would no longer be desolate? That the city would be filled with Jews from across the world who had come home into its welcoming arms?
Did it occur to them that, very soon, the land would bloom, that Israel would be prosperous and happy and filled with Jews, all of whom heard its subconscious, irresistible call?
And perhaps most unbelievable of all, did it occur to them that, very soon, God would again appoint guards for His city, who would protect it all day and all night… and that these guards would not only be angels, but the city’s own children?
Did it occur to them that among these guards of the city and the land would be their own great-great-great-grandchild?
When I can put the anxiety aside, and permit myself to try to envision a larger picture, I think of the angels who faithfully guarded Israel and Jerusalem for 2,000 years, now stepping aside to allow the true children of Israel and Jerusalem to finally perform the role they had eagerly awaited for so long.
And with that image in my mind, I bless Yaakov that God help him, our son-in-law, and all of our brave soldiers to protect the people, the land, and the city, in health and in safety, armed with the knowledge that in spite of the terrible pain, our prayers are being answered, and our dreams are coming true.