Joshua Diament

What is a soldier? How being in a hesder yeshiva changed my perspective

Mordy and Akiva sit next to me in the beit midrash. They are chavrutas who are in their fifth year of hesder. They are a bit like older brothers to me, helping me with the occasional tosafot, asking how my shabbat was, and being amused by my general Americanness. When the war started, both of them were called up to serve in dangerous units in dangerous places. After several weeks, they returned to yeshiva. I had a very candid conversation with Akiva after Shacharit on his first day back. He is not the type to participate in small talk and I do not enjoy small talk, it is one of the reasons why we get along, so when I asked him how it felt to transition from being a soldier to a yeshiva bachur so quickly, he did not give me a one word answer. “This is not where I want to be.” He said frustratedly. “I don’t want to be davening. I want to be back out there, but,” he paused “I know that being here, being a normal person on a normal schedule, eating normal food, is good for me in the long term.” 

In America and most other countries, soldiers are soldiers because they choose to be. Whatever the reason is for this choice, by virtue of it being a choice, it is often a major part of one’s identity, both during their service and afterwards. 

Additionally, in American media, soldiers are often depicted as a very specific type of person: strict, regimented, tough, and scarcely talkative unless it is to unload a symphony of profanity or it is necessary to complete the task at hand. They are often portrayed wearing the same clothes, with the same haircuts and the same look in their eye. Whether accurate or not, this persistent portrayal in media certainly contributed to my expectation of what a soldier is. 

Being in a hesder yeshiva during this war has taught me that soldiers are people and people are soldiers and that here in Israel, many are both at the same time. To be able to hold both of these states simultaneously, to be able to be a courageous, organized, and focused soldier one moment, and an emotionally sensitive, kind, and articulate yeshiva bachur the next amazes me. It is a level of emotional flexibility and mental clarity which I admire. 

Later that morning, my chavruta and I were going through the sources that our Rav had given to us when I began to tune in to Mordy and Akiva’s learning. As if not a thing had changed, the two of them had picked up right where they had left off and were poring over their learning rigorously and with total focus. Listening to the sound of their learning, I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion and my eyes welled with tears.

About the Author
Josh Diament is currently a Shana Alef Talmid at Yeshivat Har Etzion. He is originally from Silver Spring, Maryland and attended Berman Hebrew Academy. He plans on studying English Literature after Yeshiva because he believes in language's ability to deepen one's understanding of others and himself.
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