Some idea of the burden that is imposed on families who live in a free society but whose nation is surrounded by deadly enemies can be garnered from this article by Anat Hoffman of the Leftist Israeli Religious Action Centre (IRAC).
For those who do not know, IRAC works to fight for, amongst other things, the rights of non-Orthodox Jews who live in Israel. When the State of Israel was re-created in 1948, the Orthodox religious establishment was given a special place at the heart of the state, a little like how the Church of England is the Established Church in England and how the Roman Catholic church was given a special place in the Republic of Ireland. This state approved Orthodoxy has been said by some to be detrimental to Israeli Reform and Liberal Jews. IRAC have campaigned for non-Orthodox Rabbonim to be paid by the State as are their Orthodox colleagues are, and have fought against instances of gender segregation in the public sphere where such segregation has been imposed by those with a more fundamentalist view of Orthodox Judaism. IRAC are the voice of those who believe in a pluralist conception of Judaism and that has brought them into conflict with some of the Orthodox establishment in Israel.
There are many who may not agree with all that Ms Hoffman or IRAC are involved in (I have an issue with some of their naivety in security matters and I question the probity of some of the organisations, funders and individuals who are associated with IRAC). This piece shows what every Israeli mother and every father, no matter what their political view and no matter what their level of religious observance, go through when their child, if not exempt, reaches the age where they are conscripted into the military.
Here is Ms Hoffman writing in a mail-out to IRAC supporters, on her fears at the time of her youngest son being called up.
“I’ve been staring at my son’s recruitment notice on my fridge for a year now, “Personal message: in accordance with section 7 of the Security Services Law of 1986 (henceforth: the Law), the medical committee that examined you declares you are fit to serve. By the powers vested in me, under Section 13 of the Law, I, Head of Recruitment Lieutenant Colonel Amir Chai, summon you for a period of 36 months to National Military Service, starting August 6th 2014. You are to report at 7:30am on Ammunition Hill to begin your service.”
Like every Israeli mother, hopeful against all reason that there will be a different reality by the time her child reaches conscription age, I can’t believe this day has come: my youngest son, Yoel, is being drafted into the Israel Defense Forces. Tomorrow morning he leaves for basic training. As required, he will be bringing three pairs of underwear, one pair of high boots, one razor, and a conscience.
I’m experiencing conflicting emotions of pride and concern. My beautiful smart boy, who believes in pluralism, tolerance, and civic equality, will be exposed to the complex, politically charged, evolving reality of an IDF soldier. I wonder; has his upbringing inoculated him enough to cope with these pressures? Will his values withstand the test of reality?
As my 18-year-old prepares to join the air force, I can only hope that he will pass this test with body and soul intact. May we all pass these challenging days to find that the universal Jewish values on which this state was founded can withstand the reality of the Middle East today.
I agree with Ms Hoffman, it would be much better if there was no need for Israelis to have to conscript their young people in order to defend their nation from the genocidal maniacs that surround them. I also wish there was a true peace. Sadly, what we fervently wish for and what we get, are often two very different things.
If the Arabs could make peace, then there would be no need for young men and young women to be conscripted like this, but the Arabs have proved time and time again that they do not desire peace, therefore Israel has to conscript its young in order to defend the land and its people from those who would destroy them.
I wish young Yoel well with his period of military service and like Ms Hoffman, hope that he will come out if it as unscathed as possible. However, I think that he is in for a rude awakening about the true nature of the enemy that Israel faces, and he may realise that the values of pluralism, open debate and equality that have been instilled in him by his mother, do not defend themselves, someone wearing a uniform has to do it. Unlike some other Israeli Leftists I’ve come across, Ms Hoffman does at least admit that there is a disconnect between the world she and her family would like to see, and the reality on the ground, which is that Israel is surrounded by those whose most fervent desire is to see Israel destroyed and every Jew on the planet murdered.
Until the Arabs call for peace or common sense prevails there will be the constant need for Israelis to be vigilant in the defence of their nation, and also to have to take the heartrending step of risking their own sons and daughters for the defence of Israel.