When Your Brother Becomes a Soldier

Every year during Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut I attempt to reflect on the meanings of the day. Coming out of Yom Hashoah, the pain and enormity of our losses both personal and national linger with me. I usually spend the next week with the notes of stories I heard on replay in my ear. I can’t help but take a hard look not just at our past but also the future of our people. I scan the news for proof of what I already know, that the world is a dangerous place for Jews to live in. That the echoes of the past still ring true because we are still living the reverberations. Not just of the Shoah, but of the ancient hatred that has shaped the trajectories of our exiles. So this week come the days where we celebrate the re-establishment of our indigenous Jewish homeland and the day where we commemorate the sacrifices that were made to create and maintain it. God Willing, the days where Jews have been unarmed and led to the slaughter that the world demanded are over.

Therefore during Yom Hazikaron, as American Jew, I do my best to participate in feeling gratitude for the sacrifices made. I hurt for the blood spilled by those who would wish to push the nation of Israel into the sea. Then when day turns into night, as someone who understands how far we come, and how essential the existence of the State of Israel to our future, I join Jews all over the world in rejoicing the life that blooms in the desert.

But as I don’t currently live in Israel, and never served in the IDF myself, my participation has always felt stunted. Wearing blue and white and eating falafel didn’t make me feel like I could be fully integrated into the Israeli experience. I never participated by lending my time, or loved ones to the cause that protects my future, and the future of my children. Perhaps I felt like a free-rider, an outsider, and in this way maybe I felt that I was more American than Jew.

This year is different for me for the holy land has seeped into my family circle in a profound way. She’s been calling us for many years, creeping into our hearts and dreams, and this year She has succeeded. After 20 years of a Zionist education and values imbued by our parents and institutional frameworks, my youngest brother has enlisted in the IDF, and made his permanent home in Israel. With hearts swelling with pride and brains calculating fear we bid him Tzeitchem L’shalom.

When he was three, my brother told us he would join the Israeli Army and we smiled over the sweetness of a three year old exhibiting passion. Then he grew and we watched him learn to take on responsibility, to lead, and to uphold all the values we believed in. A young man who brings joy and hilarity into every room, a constant support to his family and friends. A man whose life is governed by principle, ethics and God. He drafted in to the Golani Brigade, and has begun his training as a platoon leader, and will lead a group of other soldiers. He recently said, “No one does the army because they want to. You do it because you feel it is a responsibility. It’s hard but meaningful. Tiring, but invigorating. Dangerous, but safe.”

These days feel different when your brother is a soldier. Israel is no longer just my homeland, a dream to aspire to or memories that replay in my nostalgia. She takes an active role in my every minute. Her current events are heart quickening for me thousands of miles away. Though I have tried for many years sitting in exile to attain that level of immediacy, sharing my brother with her has brought me closer than ever.

So on this Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut, my participation has evolved, for when my brother enlisted he took a piece of me with him. I close my eyes and feel the pounding of his new boots on training grounds, the trigger of the gun against the pads of my finger tips, the weight of responsibility against my shoulders.

My family and I join the community who share their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters with history. He carries a piece of us with him, because he fights for all of us, and the potential of our future.

May Hashem continue to protect the nation of Israel and those who defend them.

About the Author
Shira Lankin Sheps is a writer, photographer, and clinically trained therapist. She is the creator and publisher of The Layers Project Magazine, an online magazine that explores in-depth insights into the challenges and triumphs of the lives of Jewish women. She is passionate about creating spaces for stories that need to be told and changing the dialogue around stigmatized topics. Her first book is "Layers: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Resilience, and Growth From Jewish Women," published by Toby Press in 2021. Shira lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children.