When we moved to Israel 20 years ago, we were full of positive hopes and dreams for the future. Israel, we believed, was an ideal place to raise Jewish kids. We looked forward to a life filled with religious inspiration, national unity, freedom, and independence for our children.
And that’s exactly what we got.
Countless times since we made the move to Israel, I’ve felt lucky that we were able to make this decision for our family. I’ve seen our kids grow up with a deep appreciation for their history and culture, in a way that I don’t think would have been possible had we stayed in the U.S. To my children, the Torah isn’t an ancient tome; it is their very own history book, and an accessible guide for their everyday actions. They are familiar with the places mentioned within- we follow the same paths walked by our forefathers 2000 years ago. My kids understand the plants and animals of the Tanach, along with the weather patterns and local topography, all relevant to a deeper understanding of our holy texts.
Whether on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) or at any other time of the year, I can see my children’s deep identification with the land of their people, their pride in our nationhood. The songs they sing are of a people that persists, a land built up, a country that belongs to them.
As far as freedom and independence goes, my children have grown up in a way that reminds me of a 1950’s television series. Despite Israel’s international reputation as a war zone, my kids have been safe to roam free, take busses to distant locations, and shop by themselves from a young age. On Shabbat afternoon, my small children entertain themselves in our traffic-free neighborhood all on their own, wandering from our backyard to the park, to one friend’s kitchen to the next without ever having to worry about crossing the street safely. As they grow, I’ve seen my kids take on responsibility that I never had as a teen, look for ways to pay their own way, and develop a love of non-materialistic pursuits. Trips to watch the sunset with a pakal (portable coffee and tea set) or dip in a local spring are the stuff of teenage life here in Israel.
When we moved here 20 years ago, our daughter and son were just 2 years and 8 months old. Army service hardly appeared on our list of concerns at that point. Instead, we hoped and prayed for peace in the future.
Twenty years later, we find ourselves sending our very own son into war.
I never imagined the strange cacophony of thoughts and emotions that could flood my brain at this moment. My skin feels prickly and my heart flutters. I am afraid. Proud. Hopeful. Even thankful. Our son has been cast into the role of our protector. This is so strange, when for the last twenty years we have always been the ones to protect him.
Still, my heart says that ensuring my kids’ safety into adulthood is about so much more than keeping them immediately, physically safe. Would I want my children to grow up imagining that they live in a world where they will always be coddled and protected? Imagining that the rest of the world will look out for the Jewish people? To me, this illusion seems like a potential cause for much danger.
We all want our little kids to feel safe. But as they mature, a necessary part of growth is to come to the adult understanding that we must protect ourselves and our loved ones. And our people. Especially as Jews, we cannot depend on anyone else to ensure our nation’s safety. The lessons we’ve learned from thousands of years of Jewish history have taught us that.
My son, the soldier, knows this.
When he entered the army, I never really imagined that he would be heading into the combat zone, in the middle of an incredibly dangerous and brutal war. I am frightened. But I am also so proud that he has stepped into the role of a defender of our people, one who sets out to protect our safety as Jews in a world of uncertainty. As scared as I am at this moment, I am completely at peace with our decision to raise our family here. I am filled with pride that my son values our nation’s long-term freedom and survival more than his immediate comfort and safety.
May all of our soldiers and loved ones return home unharmed; may they all continue to fight for the strength of the Jewish people with their acts and deeds for many years to come.