Geoff Winston

United We Stand

The President of Israel, the Chief of Staff and I had the pleasure of witnessing the graduation of 430 new officers in the IDF last week at the esteemed Bahad Echad Officer Training Base. (Full disclosure: there were another some 2,000 people there. Including my wife. And I am not sure that the President or Chief of Staff noticed I was there, since they have no idea who I am. But I transgress)

My oldest son has already been an officer for the last two-and-a-half years, but being that it was his birthday and he is now a commander in charge of training new officers, my wife and I made the five-hour round trip to witness the graduation.

As anyone knows reading from reading the news or simply living in Israel, the citizens of Israel are going through a time in which politics is dividing us (to use the term lightly). Attending this ceremony was a breath of fresh air.

Sitting one row in front of me was an ultra-Orthodox man – complete with long black jacket, black hat and long beard. The “type who get exemptions from serving”. There he was beaming as his son received his rank, recalling for us how “nothing has changed” since he received his officer rank at a ceremony 40 years ago.

Sitting in one of the front rows was a man in his long robe and the fancy keffiyeh (Arab head dress) of a noble Bedouin. But I shouldn’t have strained my eyes to get a good look at him, as just to my left was a Muslim Israeli family; the woman’s hijab gave that away.

And, of course, the majority of attendees were Jewish Israelis, secular and religious, right-wing and left-wing, and immigrants and natives, and everything in between.

And we were all there together celebrating the same purpose: the induction of our daughters and sons to the ranks of IDF officers.

Both the President and the Chief of Staff addressed the new officers with beautiful speeches – stating that the army is an entity separate from the strife of the current political situation, tasked with the job of protecting all of its citizens everywhere within the country and beyond.

The most moving of all moments for me at the end of these military ceremonies is the singing of the Hatikvah, led by the National Military Marching Band. And as most of us joined in singing the words – “…being a free People in our homeland” – I couldn’t help but glance at the Muslim family adjacent to me.  I would completely understand their inability to identify with the words of this very Jewish anthem, and they earned my respect by simply standing there to honor the country. Yet as the song came to an end, they – and the ultra-Orthodox man – were seen cheering and clapping together with everyone else in sight.

The defenders of the State of Israel and their families and friends all brought together to celebrate the occasion, leaving politics and religion behind. And giving me hope that we have a chance to unite again, despite our differences.

About the Author
Geoff has been living in Israel for over 30 years. He is the Programs Director at Keshet Educational Journeys and is a licensed tour guide through the Ministry of Tourism. Previously, Geoff was a founding staff member of the Keshet (no relation) Democratic School for secular and religious students in his home town of Zichron Yaakov and before that an educator at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. He is a husband and father of five.
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