He drafted days before Passover. It’s his first Yom HaZikaron in uniform. The path to this day started four years ago in 11th grade. In the days preceding his draft, he was reticent and restrained. Subdued and silent. So I thought the best way to reach him was to tell him how proud we are of him.
“Don’t be proud,” he said. “It’s my duty, its my responsibility to my country, to follow those that preceded me.” Non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici. Not for us alone are we born. Our country, our friends, have a share in us. It’s from Cicero’s philosophical work, On Duties. Appropriate for a child who seems to always have a paperback copy of some philosophical work in his pocket.
He was telling me what I already know. That service is his duty, a rite of passage, not a moment of pride.
It’s not summer camp and it is not reformatory school. Soldiers die. In training accidents and in what might seem to be “mini” rounds of conflict that have characterized the past decade. And soldiers struggle with the ethical difficulties they can be placed in.
Maybe that’s why we scrapped military parades after 1973, recognizing the reality of IDF service, realizing that it is a grave duty that ought not be celebrated with military parades – or with pride of a mother.
When we are not busy venerating IDF, most of Israeli society would admit that we’d rather be without mandatory service and, simply put, if we didn’t have to serve, we wouldn’t. It comes with a price we wish we did not have to pay.
That price is 23,928 lives we remember this Yom HaZikaron.
That number includes lone soldiers who moved to Israel without their nuclear families and serve in the IDF. If service is hard for the natives, its even harder for this group. In Judy Maltz’s Haaretz reporting, according to the IDF’s statistics, 14% of foreign-born lone soldiers drop out of their IDF service.
They courageously join the IDF as lone soldiers, yet there are often inadequate background checks. Many young recruits do not sufficiently comprehend what military life in Israel entails, some may see the army as a form of escape from difficulties and challenges they face back home, and they lack the Hebrew needed for absorption. There is evidence of errors of omission and commission on the part of some lone soldiers—those who lied about their drug use; did not report that they had emotional problems; claimed they had no medical records when there were certainly medical issues to be reported; answered “no” to a series of medical, emotional, and psychiatric questions when those problems existed; or did not report criminal records.
Data from some of our research (Figure 1) tends to show how ill-equipped lone soldiers and their parents were before they drafted. Nearly half of parents (45%) and olim (47%) disagree that they had sufficient information prior to service, and it is troubling to see that both sides, in almost equal measure, believe they lacked enough information before drafting.
We also asked lone soldiers and their parents whether their attitudes toward IDF service changed when they completed it (Figure 2). The data shows that 63% of olim agree or strongly agree that they felt differently about service after completion, compared to 52% of parents.
There is a social contract between the IDF and parents. We give them our children and they return them healthy in body, mind, and spirit. We are all painfully aware that some will pay the ultimate price we commemorate in the coming days. We are all painfully aware that some will be broken in ways we can’t always ascertain at first. And to be fair, there will be others who will have grown beyond their own or anyone else’s expectations.
But right now, we take this moment, this one 24-hour period, not to glorify IDF service but to remember the 23,928 who gave their lives to something greater than themselves. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Those who honored a social contract entered into decades ago, but who believe that this very same contract binds them today. It is their duty.
And I can be proud that my son understands the solemnity of it all.