I had created the illusion for myself that I wouldn’t have to worry. My daughter is in the Education Corps of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). She’s not a combat soldier. When I listened to her tell stories about her experiences in the army thus far, it often sounded a little like staff-training week at summer camp with a bit more discipline and a lot more olive green.
Today, she completed her training course. Starting tomorrow, her new role as a “mashakit chinuch” (education commander) will be to implement educational programs for soldiers at the base she is assigned to, to plan cultural events and ceremonies, and to teach about Israeli history and the army’s ideology and values through field trips, classes, and activities. Over the last three months, she has learned how to write lesson plans, gone on field trips around the country, and explored concepts such as leadership, responsibility, and teamwork.
Last week, she recommended that I take my students to a museum she had just visited. Having worked in the field of Israel education for more than two decades, it was a wonderful moment for me to get professional advice from my child. The army has trained her well for a future job as a counselor with the gap year program I direct.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The illusion that I wouldn’t have to worry disappeared in an instant on Friday afternoon, when my daughter called home to tell me where she would be stationed for the next year or two…
“Chatmar Yehuda” she excitedly told me, minutes after receiving the assignment from her commander. Talking a mile a minute, she raved at what a great placement this is for her and started telling me about it.
But I barely heard a word, because somewhere towards the beginning of her verbal sprint she mentioned that this base is located next to Hevron (Hebron). And just like that, this is nothing like summer camp anymore.
Within Hevron is the Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial place of our forefathers and foremothers, sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Within the city live more than 200,000 Palestinians and 700 Jews, plus there are an additional 8,000 Jews living in Kiryat Arba, adjacent to the city. Other towns and villages of various sizes, where Jews and Palestinians live separately, are scattered in the area as well. So the area is, as they say, “complicated.”
The conversation with my daughter only lasted four minutes, so I didn’t have to say much as I held my breath and tried not to cry.
Hanging up the phone, I rushed over to talk to my neighbors who grew up near Hevron, seeking some kind of reassurance. It came in the form of promises that their family in nearby Kiryat Arba would make sure my daughter was looked after.
I also avoided speaking to my mother on Friday, and instead sent a vague message saying that my daughter would be somewhere south of Jerusalem (technically true, but clearly not the whole truth. Sorry, Mom). I understood I needed some time to digest the news before I dealt with anyone else’s fears. I also decided I wouldn’t share my anxieties with my daughter, not wanting to cause her any stress, and instead I chose to simply be supportive.
So much for that plan. It became clear that my neighbors’ daughter outed me shortly after I left their house when I got my daughter’s text, saying, “I heard you’re afraid for my life.”
As a Zionist who moved to this country 23 years ago and as a Jewish educator, my sense of pride has been off the charts since the day my daughter enlisted. Through her experiences, I am filling in blanks for myself as an Israeli, as I learn more about the army watching closely from the sidelines as she serves our country. But the reality is setting in now too. My daughter is a soldier and with the uniform comes inherent risk.
As I tried to process my feelings, I reminded myself that I’m not alone. Parents all over the country are feeling what I’m feeling — pride tinged with fear. Seeing our children give of themselves selflessly for the sake of all of us, full of motivation and enthusiasm, is simply inspiring and I think we use that to help us through… because my anxiety dissipated over shabbat. The pride doesn’t fade.
At the ceremony marking the successful end of the training course, the chief officer of the Education Corps encouraged the soldiers to remember that their jobs will take place, not only in their lesson plans, but also in their smiles and in the way they greet others. The energy beaming from their faces today gives me confidence that our country is in good hands.
As my daughter embarks on her new position, I pray that her light continues to outshine my fear and that she always return home safely.