Restless Beginnings

November 26, 2008

October 2020 UPDATE: In the years since my release from the IDF, with this blog as a starting point, I wrote a book about my experiences as a lone soldier. “A Line In the Sand” is now available for pre-sale by clicking this link. Like this blog, it is not a chronicle of war but rather a chronicle of love, which describes the sacrifices that must be made in the subjugation of one’s own desires in deference to something greater.  It is one thing to draw a line in the sand; it is quite another to summon the commitment and willpower to stand guard over that line. A Line In the Sand is the story of that commitment, and of my journey through the IDF. 

We’ve all been there. You wake up on a Friday morning with 5 minutes to get to class because you kept hitting the snooze button. Your head is thumping courtesy of the shots of tequila you took at the bar last night and your mouth is as dry as the Sahara. As you rise to your feet and stumble over to the closet mirror, you are not happy with what you see: your eyes are bloodshot, your hair is half up and half down. You ask yourself out loud: “What the – am I doing with my life?”

I ask myself that question a lot, and it’s not just because I have a deep-seated love of tequila. At this moment, somewhere, two people are falling in love. Somewhere somebody is stuffing their face. Every two seconds someone dies of starvation. Stop reading for 2 seconds. That’s another one. Africans are being systematically exterminated in Darfur simply because they’re black. But what can one person do anyway? Why are we here? To make a difference? To make the world a better place? Whose idea of better? To Hitler a better world was one without Jews. I’m not really trying to find an answer so much as I’m trying to find a place where I can look at myself in the mirror and say I’m not living only for myself.

I was born into a life of privilege in Scarsdale, New York, blessed with a loving family consisting of both parents, 2 sisters and a younger brother. I worked my tail off in High School, which translated into good grades and my acceptance in 2006 to the University of Pennsylvania where I am currently completing my Junior year. My experience at Penn has been amazing.  I’ve had great teachers, great friends and a great social life.  While I participate in activities that serve the greater good, they revolve around my schedule. I live with an unshakeable feeling, while arguably unfounded, that I am missing an overall sense of purpose.  Because what am I really doing with myself?

As Diaspora Jews living in America, and particularly at the University of Pennsylvania, it is understood that every step of our lives is grooming us for the “Real World.”  We work hard to get good grades and then we trade the 3.7 on our transcript for a “good job” which will earn us a high salary. From there, we make yearly donations to the IDF, attend the occasional fund raiser, and go about our business. Israel needs Jews in America to do exactly that, make no mistake about it, but I personally reject the premise that it is “good enough” to donate money to Israel at one’s convenience. I feel an obligation to the Land of Israel, my land, to do more. I don’t know where I’ll be in twenty years, but I know where I will be after college, and it’s back in Israel where I am as I write this. I’ve had a dream since I was a little kid, and that dream was to come to Israel and serve in the Israeli Army. After years of going back and forth, I made the final decision today that after college I will return to Israel to join the Israeli Army.

I believe in a world in which life, liberty, and justice supercede extremist religious doctrine. I believe in a world where women don’t have to hide their faces in public and where school children can get on a bus without having to worry about it blowing up. I believe in a world where government’s don’t wipe out their own populations. The enemy at odds with everything I believe in is radical Islam, a fight the Israeli Defense Force takes on daily. While Politicians have at times used Israel’s defense force for purposes that are more political than existential, it is indisputable that there would be no Israel today if not for the IDF. Israel has been forced to to go to war every ten years since her birth in 1948: 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1990, and 2000. Furthermore, the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in Europe is proof of a growing intolerance that, along with the apathy that sustains it, can only lead to disaster.

The struggle facing the world today is not just a physical struggle, but a struggle against ignorance; ignorance that creates blind hatred and fanatics that blow up cafes full of civilians and drive trucks of explosives into marine barracks.

I hope that there will come a day when, as it is written in the Torah, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,” but that day is not yet here, and until it comes, people must fight to defend the world from fanatics.  A Nation is not give upon a silver platter. In every generation our enemies have risen up to destroy us, and in every generation we have survived because of the sacrifices of those who put their people before themselves. Because of those who refused to give in to the Roman Empire’s demands that they cease practicing Judaism. Because of those who rose up at the Warsaw Ghetto against impossible odds. Because of the 1% of Israel’s population that died in 1948 defending Israel from the armies of 6 invading Arab countries. Because of 19 year old boys who stared down Syrian tanks that outnumbered them  10 to 1 without ammunition in order to hold the line.

Today the missiles fall on Sderot. But if action isn’t taken, how long until those missiles fall on Jerusalem? On  Tel Aviv? On London? On New York? Appeasement is not a viable strategy to cope with an enemy to whom the word cease-fire is only used to mean rearmament, and to whom the entire Western world is regarded as the enemy, a fact that many of Israel’s Western critics seem unable to grasp.

People have long told me that I am crazy for wanting to join the Israeli Army after graduating from an Ivy League institution. “Why you?” they all ask.

Why not me? I didn’t choose my IQ or more relevant to my acceptance at Penn, my work ethic, but I will choose my own fate. Israel needs soldiers…there is no question about that. Would they be fine without me? Probably.

But as much as this is for Israel, this is for me. I’d rather take the gun out of the terrorist’s hand than preach to an American audience about why the terrorist is wrong. To me, Israel is more than just a physical location because it stands for something. Israel is a sign of the persistence of the Jewish people, and our survival for 4000 years despite the attempts of our enemies to destroy us.

I recently heard from a friend of mine that while he was at a Hanukah party in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Rabbi, from whom they expected to hear a long sermon about the significance of the holiday, asked only a simple question. The question was: “What would you fight for?”

At what point do the stakes of remaining a bystander outweigh your intervening? What would you risk life and limb for? To people who have grown up in backgrounds like mine, we have had little to fight for. The High Schools we went to were safe, we didn’t have to walk home looking over our shoulder every night, and the people we hung out around didn’t treat us differently because we were Jewish. We have never really had anything that was worth fighting for and so it’s hard for us to recognize something when it comes along. But now there is a fight worth joining. That is the fight for the Jewish people. People of my generation need not look further than our parents and grandparents to know that the America we live in today is not the same one they grew up in. For our parents but especially our grandparents, they had to defend their Judaism. People at school treated them differently. Country clubs excluded them. People jeered them on the street when they wore keepot. For my generation in America, these are events of the past. But in the rest of the world those things are very much a reality. Anti-semetism is on the rise and terrorism continues to threaten the existence of the Jewish state as Hamas and Hizbullah are armed and then rearmed by Iran.  Israel is under attack.  The missiles may come and go but when their are lulls, it is only because our enemy is rearming, waiting to seize the first opportunity to strike. It is only because the enemy is planning terrorist attacks against civilian centers. It is only because the enemy is reinforcing his trenches. So I know where I draw the line…I draw it right here.

I will not stand on the sidelines while the enemies of Israel threaten the right of Israel’s citizens to live safely and exist in a Jewish state. I draw the line when bomb shelters must be built in playgrounds. I draw the line when buses must be searched for explosives before they enter the central bus station in Jerusalem. I draw the line when mothers worry about their children going to night clubs in Tel Aviv because of the threat of terror. I draw the line when schools are closed not because of incoming snow but because of incoming missiles.

Abraham Lincoln once said that in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years. When I die, I will die a man that believed in something and fought for that belief.