We knew before we moved to Israel that when my son turned 18 he would be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces. There are many in the States and in our own family who questioned why we would even think of allowing such a thing.
Israel is a country worth (and in need) defending. It is the only true democracy in the Middle East.We are a tiny nation the size of New Jersey surrounded by countries that are completely dedicated to the destruction of our existence as a nation. Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, is also welcoming of people of other faiths: Christians, Arabs, Bahai, Druze, Circassian and others. We are not exclusionary. As long as you live by the rules and act in a civilized manner, you are more than welcome to be here. We are proud of our diversity, whether secular or one of the many Jewish sects; whether straight or gay; male or female; young or old. We are a nation of immigrants – a true melting pot of people from every nation and every tongue. We foster innovation, education, technology, modernity and culture even though our roots go back thousands of years to the time of the Bible. We live in a land of historical and natural treasures well worth preserving. We truly believe no one should be left behind because of race, religion, gender or physical capability. The original Zionists who came to this land in the 1800’s found a land of desert and swamp, rocky, rugged terrain that they cleared by the sweat of their brow, irrigated, planted and turned into arable, fertile, crop-producing countryside. The Israeli has made the desert bloom and the swampland teeming with malaria-ridden mosquitos fecund with orchards. Beautiful cities were established, and today it appears that there are more giant cranes building new highrises than there are people. Israel is a blessed land of much potential – and has more than a right to exist.
I came from a family who, in the U.S, was bent on seeing the continued growth of Israel and her people. I remember hearing about the 1967 war. During the Yom Kippur War, I had written a letter to Prime Minister Golda Meir asking her if I could leave my home (as a teenager) and join the Israeli Forces. (I still have the letter she wrote in response!) I had several penpals serving in the IDF in the 70’s and early 80’s. My husband, John, and I had our first interview to make Aliyah during Operation Protective Edge in July, 2014 on the day that (and in honor of) Lone Soldier, Max Steinberg of LA, was killed in action defending Israel. Our son, from a young age, wrote stacks of letters to IDF soldiers he did not know: letters of encouragement. We would find someone traveling to Israel who would deliver them to the heroes he would never meet (We did the same for U.S soldiers as well). A couple weeks before he drafted, I was going through some of our boxes and found this letter which I’d show Max the day before he enlisted.
At his summer camps in the U.S., Max was able to meet with several kids in the IDF who had come over as counselors. He continued those friendships once we moved to Israel. He learned of the different units and made up his mind exactly what he wanted to do; where he felt he would be most useful; where he wanted to be stationed; and how it could help a further career.He always was an old soul – never the “ordinary” kid – even, perhaps a bit nerdy, always tenacious. During the fall of 2013, Max grew over 6 inches, and as a result his bones just couldn’t keep up. He wound up having a slipped capital femoral epiphysis, a SKIFFIE, where the ball of his femur separated from the rest of the thigh bone, pushing the bones out of the hip socket. It meant emergency surgery, but after a few hours, everything was pinned and screwed permanently back in place. The range of motion of his joint would be forever affected. And this was his golden ticket out of military service.
Still, he insisted on attending a gap-year Mechina (see past post), and listing the day he turned 18. At the tsav rishon, first interview, he was told he didn’t have to serve in the army. He insisted, and went on to start the large battery of tests and interviews that lay before him. These included psychometric and intelligence tests, personal interviews, thorough medical examinations, and a test in Hebrew fluency. Max scored extremely well in everything, but was devastated when he received the lowest possible physical score. He pushed forward. All of his friends from Mechina had already gone through their basic training and were placed in their positions. All of my friends with sons and daughters his age had also drafted. We saw a growing number of those we know posting and sending their proud uniformed pictures. After his date of enlistment was pushed back week after week the big day finally came for him to report for basic training.
We had absolutely no idea what to expect. In the weeks previous, we had received a small list of what he would need to take, as well as a very long list from friends in the know with what was truly needed. Regulation underwear, short and long sleeved tees, black pullover cap, headlamp, sleeping bag, linens, sweats, socks, tennis shoes, laundry bag, etc. We sent him off well-supplied, but wondering how those parents who were less fortunate could afford to send their children. John and I took him to Tiberius very early that Sunday morning in early February. We were checked in and stood in line with myriad other kids and their parents as a mix of very sentimental patriotic songs (many I recognized) from the day and popular tunes of today blared from the loudspeaker. Families were taking pictures, and names were called. I thought for sure, they’d issue uniforms and we’d get to see Max all decked out before he went to base. Base??? Where? Which base? That was something else we had not been told. The young men and women were separated from each other – and from us. Before the families were allowed to leave, our kids had been assigned to their busses and shipped out. I must say, it was quite disappointing.
We got our first call from Max at about 1am. After hours of processing, paperwork, lectures, and issuing of uniforms, the new recruits were taken to the various bases. After they were settled, each kid was instructed to make one 10 minute call home. We would receive a call every night at 9:40 from Max. It was great. Things were swell. Making lots of friends. Made official timekeeper for the platoon. Got our gun. Having a great time. Shooting 10/10 short and long range, day and night (I guess the firearms training he took in LA paid off!!). Food not that bad. Some funny stories about the kids or his accent. Kinda like summer camp on steroids. He sure knew how to put our minds at ease. Later we were told that during basic at least the first week, the commanders make sure each kid calls home every night. After all, the IDF is backed by an army of Jewish Mothers!!!
The following Friday morning as I was getting ready to head out to morning errands, my husband opened the door to an unannounced surprise. Our son was home on Shabbat leave, and had kept the visit a surprise. It took almost 5 hours to travel by bus from his base back home. He had until 5:45 Sunday morning. I can’t begin to tell you the emotions that welled up inside me to see my son, now a man, in his uniform.
It was the most wonderful weekend: lots of food; lots of stories, lots of laughter. The phone calls continued every 2 or three evenings after he returned. Obstacle courses he elected to do despite having a waiver, guard duty, more friends made, he’d not gotten docked for anything yet. We wouldn’t see Max for three more weeks, but he came home for Shabbat, bringing home a mild fever and terrible cold. His tent had a slight leak…he returned Sunday armed with ibuprofen, cough medicine, and antihistamines. Being the dutiful soldier he stuck through the rest of basic fully participating despite the illness. More phone calls: he’s been asked to shadow the platoon commander for the day, then the base commanders. Unknown as to why, but he gets a few extra duties, and free snacks and sodas. Having just lots of fun making the rounds of the different area of the base. More weapons training. A boy’s dream.
I had been looking forward to his tekes kumta, swearing-in ceremony for soooo long, but a couple days before, we were informed that it would be a closed service. The base was located near Gaza, and with the recent rocket fire, it was just too much of a risk Khaval!!!! (Pity!!!) I felt like I was missing one of my kids’ graduations of weddings….Still, we were quite surprised and elated when we got the call from Max. He had been awarded the top soldier in the entire company! What a feat!!! And he was on his was to Barzilai Hospital for bronchial pneumonia. Oy vey!! Max!!! So he spent the night in the hospital and was back at base the next day to help close out.
Max spent the next few days leave at home in bed on antibiotics before he left to take the train to Tel Aviv for two days of interview for his commission/assignment/. After a day of waiting, he heard from the commander in Tel Aviv, and then his new base commander, that he had received the placement he had worked so hard to achieve, We had been praying for months that G-d would put him exactly where he belonged, but this was even beyond his expectations. Because it involves a security clearance, we are not at liberty to tell exactly where he is or what he is doing, and have to swallow the fact there there will be times when he is not allowed to tell us things he will be involved in. But, he is extremely happy, and we are happy for him: the proud parents of an IDF soldier. We do enlist your prayers for both his safety and for the safety of all the troops. In my upcoming posts, I’ll be able to tell you more of what life is like for me, the mom of a soldier. We pray that he will have a safe and peaceful enlistment – and many thanks to all our friends and family who signed cards and wrote letters of encouragement to him. Keep them coming. He was really touched when we produced a nice stack for him to read the day before he went in. Much shalom and may G-d bless us all!