Most young Jewish Canadians tend to follow a certain path. Although some decide to take a gap year before embarking on their journey of post-secondary education, most students race through high school, ready to begin university immediately, perhaps already with a strong career goal in mind.
However, not all young Jews think alike, and I would like to draw your attention toward those who boldly (and bravely) decide to spend three years defending the State of Israel. Increasingly, more young Diaspora Jews are making the decision to enlist voluntarily in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
A couple of years ago, my younger brother Eitan announced to our family that he would be making aliyah and entering the IDF. Despite being strongly Zionist, the family did not have the most positive of responses to my brother’s decision. We begged him for months to consider doing a gap year program instead, or volunteering in the army for a year-and-a-half instead of three. However, in his stubborn (Israeli) nature, my brother prevailed and is currently in the middle of training with the Golani 51st division.
And we could not be prouder.
Eitan said he wanted to join the army because he felt a connection to the land of Israel and he saw it as unfair that kids his own age in Israel were drafted into the army while he would be able to visit and enjoy the country without having to contribute to defending it himself. He also felt it would be unfair to join for a year-and-a-half and then leave his unit halfway through its service. If he was going to do this, he would do it in full. Eitan is one of 800 lone soldiers currently defending Israel, and they are all incredibly deserving of recognition.
For university students, a bad grade or a difficult professor may seem like the end of the world. We go through weeks where we are bombarded with assignments and exams, undergoing vast amounts of pressure and stress. Certainly it may be difficult, but let me bring you back down to earth for a minute.
I usually hear from my brother a few times a week. He does his best to call each family member in the short 30 minutes of free time he receives to use his phone. On one of our more recent phone calls, I had the audacity to complain to him about assignments I was dealing with and all the ‘fun’ of law school applications. To his credit, Eitan has grown into an incredibly mature 18-year-old (thank you, IDF) and always manages to listen to my ‘problems,’ offer advice and cheer me up. He then proceeds to explain to me that he is in the field for the week with very minimal shelter, warmth and food. Daily, Eitan undergoes extreme challenges and he is still only in his training. The hard reality is that it will only grow tougher, and, while there will be many good days for him in the army, there will also, undeniably, be bad ones.
We consider it to be life shattering when something goes wrong in school. We get one bad final grade and we fear our future career goals are compromised. Meanwhile, there are thousands of young adults our age dealing with a much harsher reality in the IDF, and 800 of those soldiers are there on their own accord. Some of Ottawa’s own have given a few years to the IDF, bravely and proudly defending Israel.
Despite some of the rhetoric we hear on campus, those soldiers are not fighting because they want to kill people. They are not fighting in order to occupy territory. They are fighting in the most morally responsible way within an incredibly difficult situation.
I’m not saying we should all join the IDF to do our part in defending the State of Israel. It’s definitely not for everyone, me included. However, I do encourage you to research the facts and familiarize yourselves with the realities of the situation. I am asking you to be knowledgeable so that the next time some extremist student on your campus decides to convey wrongfully ‘facts’ about the Israel Defense Forces, you will be able to correct them and present them with some actual truths.