When a son makes aliyah and children join the IDF

Four of our nine children have now become Israeli citizens. The latest is our 19-year-old son Yosef who recently graduated from Yeshiva University’s MTA High School for Boys.

But Yosef is no boy. By making the decision to start a new life in Israel he has firmly demonstrated that he is a man. Enrolling in a pre-IDF military academy where his day is split between learning Torah and the hard training necessary to gain entry into a an elite combat unit, if he can make it, he is executing on his oft-repeated dream to his parents that as soon as he finished high school he would make aliyah.

As a child of divorce, being a father and keeping my family together has always been of supreme importance to me. So it’s not easy having children on the other side of the world. I miss them constantly. But their absence is more than balanced by the pride I feel in seeing them be part of the unfolding of Jewish history in our historical homeland.

Two of our children before Yosef have served in the IDF, and all of our kids have been deeply affected by the Holocaust and the annihilation of our people in my parents’ lifetime.

I’ve just completed the manuscript of my book “Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell,” which chronicles the three summers that I took our family to the dozens of the most important holocaust sites like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Lomza, and Bialystock. The impact on our children was profound. Many of them felt I had lost my mind. How could this possibly be a family vacation? But the Holocaust is so mind-boggling in its scope, and so impossible to believe in horrific numbers, that only seeing can be believing.

And the results? Anger at God, for sure, amid a deepening of our commitment to the Torah and Judaism, pain, hurt, confusion, and a firm resolve that the Jewish people will never be harmed again.

Everywhere we traveled, I took with me a small Sefer Torah that we wrote in memory of Elie Wiesel, who had died the year before our first trip. The final letters of the Torah were written by Elie’s wife, Marion, holding the scribes hand, and Elisha Wiesel, Elie’s son, who wrote the final letter at a gala dinner where he recited his last kaddish for his father.

After the Holocaust, all Jews are called upon to be warriors for our people. And while the battles I fight are mostly here in the United States and centered around media, there can be no question that the principal guarantor of Jewish survival is the Israel Defense Forces.

I never served. And I don’t believe that I can live vicariously through my children. The battles I fight for Israel, say, on the pages of the New York Times, will never equal in the slightest the sacrifices of Israel’s soldiers on the battlefield. So I obviously take great pride in my children’s service.

Having said that, I pray they never, God forbid, have to fight. Every time one of our children enters the IDF, I experience pride mixed with apprehension and anxiety. Judaism sees glory not in conquest but in peace; not on the battlefield but at the table of brotherhood; not in military victory arches but in ceremonies where former combatants come together to beat their swords into ploughshares and commit themselves to peace. In other religions the deity is portrayed as a warrior. Ancient Rome deified its emperors who subdued Rome’s enemies and expanded the borders of empire.

But in Judaism, our greatest warrior king, David, was not permitted to build God’s home on earth, the Temple in Jerusalem, because he lived by the sword, even if it was in the legitimate defense of his people. Judaism trains its soldiers and prepares its armies while every day praying for peace.

I was honored to be on the White House lawn last week for the signing of the peace accords between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, an achievement for which President Trump and his peace team, including my close friend Jason Greenblatt of Teaneck, deserve a Nobel Prize for Peace.

But it’s best for Yosef to express his love for Israel and why he made aliyah in his own words.

* * *

Yosef Boteach, My Aliyah to Israel, When My Dream become Reality.

Making aliyah has been a dream of mine for a very long time. Many nights I would lay awake thinking about how amazing Israel is and how much I yearned to be there. However, as much as I wanted to make aliyah, it didn’t seem attainable due to the number of hurdles blocking my path during the COVID-19 crisis. It was then that I reached out to the outstanding organization I had heard of called Nefesh B’ Nefesh (NbN), whose sole purpose is to assist Jews on a global level to make aliyah and to return home to Israel. Upon discovering NbN, I could hardly contain my joy. Finally, I would have the opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream of making aliyah and serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a Jewish soldier protecting my people. I would be following in the footsteps of my older sister Chana and my older brother Mendy, both of whom are IDF veterans. I was soon put into contact with Jared, a representative of the Jewish Agency, who worked tirelessly to assist me on my journey. Over a Zoom call, Jared and I discussed the documents necessary for starting the aliyah process.

Now, these documents weren’t exactly easy to obtain or even to understand. I had never heard of an apostille, the internationally recognized certificate of approval for official documents. It isn’t the most amazing sounding word, either. But nevertheless, we focused all our energy on the aliyah process. Around the same time I was introduced to Sarah Chertoff of the Jewish Agency. Sarah was appointed as my aliyah advisor. and immediately sprang into action, navigating with me all the vital procedures necessary for making aliyah. And she did so as efficiently as possible. Sarah always showed patience and took the time to ensure I would indeed fulfill my childhood dreams.

Another name that must be mentioned is Ari Shuchman, the head of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Ari understood how important making aliyah was for me and he worked his heart out to ensure my dream was to become a reality, and as quickly as was humanly possible.

These individuals, through their efforts, as well as the pivotal assistance of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, headed by my father’s former student at Oxford Ambassador Ron Dermer, have given me the ultimate gift, something not many people are as fortunate enough to obtain.

It is now five weeks that I have been an Israeli citizen, being a dual citizen with my beautiful and incredible birth-country of the United States of America. I have never been happier.

Each evening, as I watch the sunset, I get this feeling inside of me, that is like no other. The feeling that this sandy, hot, and arid land is my home.  Although I watch the sunset most evenings, it’s as though every evening the sun is setting for the very first time. It is in these moments that I know that I will do whatever I can to protect this glorious land with my heart and soul, as Israel’s value to me is incalculable. I offer thanks and gratitude to all those who assisted and supported us exiled Jews to rediscover our homeland, return to its soil, and breathe new life into our ancient home. We are all eternally in their debt.

Yosef Boteach recently graduated from Yeshiva University’s High School and had previously studied at the American Hebrew Academy in North Carolina and the Chabad High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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