When I was little I would constantly talk about what I wanted to be when I grew up. One day I envisioned myself being a ballet teacher; the next day, a lawyer. Never once, however, despite my deep love for my country, did I say that I wanted to join the military – maybe it’s my natural resistance to authority, or my lifelong hatred of waking up early. Perhaps because of that, I have tremendous respect for the young Israelis who enter military service at age 18 instead of going to college like the average American just out of high school.
Certainly, there are many Americans who serve their country bravely and selflessly in the armed forces. They deserve our respect and admiration. But, at this point in history, military service isn’t compulsory in the U.S. like it is in Israel. So for many of us it’s difficult to understand what it’s like to draft people into the armed forces because of an ongoing threat to our nation – a threat that Israelis face every day.
It’s amazing how the nation of Israel supports their young people who are serving. Back when I first arrived in Israel and went on a tour with Keren, a Fellowship staff member, we passed by soldiers in full military gear. Keren explained that people sometimes hand out food and drinks to soldiers as they drive by, so that soldiers don’t have to bother buying food. Abe, another Fellowship staffer, told me that when he was in the IDF, all soldiers at his base would have to do was stand outside the base and a family would come by and pick them up, take them home, and feed them. This may not be typical for all soldiers, but it shows how much Israelis care for their men and women in uniform.
All this was on my mind when, earlier this week, I was at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv with Fellowship staff to welcome new immigrants from Ukraine making aliyah (immigrating to Israel). There I met Gabe, a young Jewish man from New Jersey. He stood out from the crowd in his IDF uniform, and anxiously watched the gate for another flight as new arrivals flooded through it. I asked him who he was waiting for, and – his eyes continually on the gate – he explained he was waiting to surprise his dad, who was arriving from the U.S. Gabe hadn’t seen him in over a year.
Gabe told me that after he graduated from college in the U.S. he decided that, instead of joining many of his friends to pursue a career, he would come to Israel by himself and join the IDF. He was Jewish, loved the Jewish state, and wanted to serve it. Gabe said it had not been easy – he didn’t speak a word of Hebrew when he arrived – but a year later he now proudly serves in tanks and seems to love it.
I had to leave before Gabe met his dad. But I can only imagine the joy and tears that reunion brought. How amazing that Israel can inspire such patriotism and dedication! Gabe did not grow up in Israel, and he may not decide to spend the rest of his life here, but he still wants to do his part to protect the land of his forefathers. And that is the kind of patriotism that I truly find inspirational.
- Claire Nance