Tsav Rishon

by Brian on April 4, 2008

in Only in Israel

Our 16-year-old year old son Amir received his Tsav Rishon last week. That’s the letter the Israeli army sends out with the date a young man or woman must appear at the army’s induction center for physical and mental testing. This visceral coming of age notice reminded me of the tenuousness of our existence here, along with the meaning and necessity of the Israel Defense Forces.

When our kids were just born, we hoped that by the time they reached army age, peace would have swept over our region and there’d be no need for a standing army. We knew that probably wouldn’t be the case, but we prayed for it nevertheless. Now, as we move towards the closing years of the first decade of the 21st century, peace seems more elusive than ever.

A few weeks ago, I watched the movie Saving Private Ryan for the first time. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg, is not the most recent depiction of the horrors of combat, but it is well known to be one of the most realistic. Saving Private Ryan depicts World War II, with brave U.S. GI’s fighting evil Nazis. I’d like to imagine that the battle scenes are antiquated and that today’s wars are more hi-tech and less gruesome. But the truth is, running up hills, hiding out behind bombed out buildings, sniping the bad guys and tossing grenades sounds exactly like our soldiers’ experience in the Second Lebanon War. Times change, but war remains at some basic level more or less the same.

The world we live in now, of course, is no longer confronted by a single super power enemy. Terror is today’s primarily scourge and it is more random and loosely organized than anything we have experienced in the past. But as Amir prepares to enter the army, who’s to say he won’t be on the front lines fighting the Hamas army in Gaza or going house to house rooting out terrorists in the West Bank where, Condoleezza Rice’s shuttle diplomacy notwithstanding, protection by the IDF is more needed than ever.

At one point Amir said he was ready to join a combat unit to defend his country. He wouldn’t take one of those “cushy” non-fighting jobs, that was a cop-out, he declared. Who would have thought that our brainy son would have such patriotism?

More recently, though, he’s been inclined to try out for one of the computer units – maybe he could get into Talpiot or 8200 whose recruits sit behind monitors all day developing new hi-tech programs for the army. Or perhaps he could join Modi’in, the intelligence unit, which translates messages into Hebrew. His English is excellent and he took a few years of Arabic to boot.

Despite my fears, though, our imminent status change to becoming soldier parents fills me with a certain sense of pride. Isn’t that why we moved to Israel? To be in control of our own destiny as Jews and to not be at the whims of any other nation? The soldiers who defend those rights militarily allow the rest of us to benefit. Who am I to say otherwise?

And truth be told, most soldiers survive the army just fine. More people in Israel today are killed in traffic accidents than specific military action. Logic says that I shouldn’t worry…too much.

Still, I can’t imagine that the three years Amir is in active duty will be a piece of cake. I’ll be thankful every time he comes home for the weekend and anxiously wait for the next phone call home. Then, when his initial military service is over, there will only be ongoing reserve duty for the next 20 years to worry about!

These are not easy days for the State of Israel. Existential threats abound. Hamas has massed a well-trained army with hundreds of tons of smuggled explosives just around the corner, and the deceptively moderate Palestinian leadership in Ramallah seems to be perpetually teetering on the edge from this scandal or that. In Saving Private Ryan, director Spielberg may have thought he was depicting history. But reality has a way of catching up – and even surpassing – the big screen.

Let us pray that in the next year and a half until Amir is inducted, peace may still blossom and the dangers all around us will miraculously be lessened. And if not, our brave soldiers will fight to keep us safe. Including my son.

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