My wife Sharon and I were privileged to attend the recent solidarity gathering of the Westchester and Connecticut Chapter of Friends of the IDF, one of the many organizations directly supporting our soldiers in Israel. The organization has raised approximately $60 million to purchase needed supplies for the IDF, and is “in the trenches” when it comes to the war in Gaza, providing important updates on what is happening on the ground and making sure that supplies are going to meet the most immediate and critical needs of our soldiers in Israel.
One of the most memorable parts of the evening, at least for me, was a long table in front of the ballroom. On the table were the names and photos of several dozen young men and women who grew up in Westchester and Connecticut – and who were now serving in the IDF. Almost all of them were in their early 20s … young, many just out of high school, all with a bright future ahead of them but all who have chosen to give their time to serve in the IDF right now.
It was a very inspiring display. Perhaps what was most inspiring to me is that I noticed three Stamford families who had not one but two children currently serving in the IDF.
Mark and Vered Links have two sons serving in the IDF; Ilan and Lenore Fogel have a son and daughter serving in the IDF; and Dan and Rachel Haron have two sons serving in the IDF.
I had a chance to speak to both Rachel Haron and Vered Links about their children serving in the IDF, and they were eager to share some of their feelings right now, given the precarious situation in Israel.
Rachel told me that her eldest son decided very early in his life that he wanted to serve in the IDF – it was after an eighth-grade class to trip to Israel that he announced to his parents that this was his desire. His younger brother decided during his gap year in Israel to follow in his older brother’s footsteps, and began his service in the Israeli army after that. Rachel told me that she and her husband were proud and supportive throughout the process.
Vered told me that her eldest son celebrated his bar mitzvah in Israel at the Kotel during the summer of 2014, at the time of the Tzuk Eitan Operation. They experienced the stresses of rocket fire, and some of their relatives were serving on the front lines. It solidified his conviction to follow in his grandfather, his uncle’s, and his cousin’s footsteps and join the IDF. His view was that why should he enjoy his bar mitzvah in the lap of luxury when members of his family were fighting to protect him. His brother, two years younger, decided as a junior to join immediately after high school, too.
Some American students begin their service immediately after high school; other choose to go to college first and serve in the army after college. Vered recommends that anyone interested in serving in the IDF enroll immediately after high school and then attend college in Israel, which would be free or highly subsidized for most combat lone soldiers. Given the current situation on college campuses in the United States, Vered feels it is much safer for her kids to study in Israel. The education they will receive in Israel is excellent, and it can be completed in three years as opposed to four. They won’t be saddled with decades of debt and won’t have to face the challenges of antisemitic professors trying to indoctrinate them to support the Palestinian cause.
Rachel felt that there are many roles in the IDF and many ways to have a personally meaningful service, whether one chooses to start serving immediately after high school or after college.
Neither Vered nor Rachel tried to discourage their children from serving in the army. Vered told her kids that they had to come to this decision on their own. When they made the decision, she told them how proud she was of them, since they were following in the footsteps of their grandfather, who also served in the IDF. Vered said that her husband was far more reticent, but he also knew that their children would not be easily dissuaded.
I asked both Vered and Rachel what advice they would give other parents whose children have expressed interest in serving in the IDF. Vered said that parents should explain to their children that they will learn just as much, if not more, by serving in the IDF than on any college campus in America. She believes that there are many career paths for men and women to serve in whatever capacity they choose. There are hundreds of job opportunities for both men and women, for those who want combat and those who don’t, for those who are religious and those who are secular, for fluent Hebrew speakers and beginners, and even for those who want meaningful work experience that may set them on the path to full integration into the workplace. She believes that youngsters will come out with leadership skills, values, and life skills that cannot be taught anywhere else.
Rachel encouraged parents to take the time to explore what it truly means to serve in the IDF, meet with other families to hear their individual stories, challenges, and successes, and focus actively on gaining a strong command of Hebrew.