Every Friday night at the Shabbat table, Jewish men display their hakarat hatov for their particular “woman of valor”, by singing an ode to her that describes in great detail her many meritorious attributes and activities.
In the State of Israel, the deeds, achievements and mesirat nefesh of a particular segment of the population are also recognized, praised and appreciated – not just on erev Shabbat, but 24/7. But unlike the women of valor, these individuals are not adults. Rather they are the nation’s collective children of valor – teenagers who have bravely embraced their destiny of defending their ancestral home. They are the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
These altruistic youngsters put their personal lives on hold as they report to their bases, ready to do what is asked of them, even though both they and their parents -the biological ones and their ideological ones, for each soldier is EVERYONE”s son and daughter – know all to well that their young lives, and all their dreams, plans and hopes for the future, may be violently aborted, ripped by an enemy’s bullet, bomb or grenade.
It is the ultimate nightmare for a parent – that the natural order of life be cruelly reversed, turned around and inverted, and that they will bury and mourn their offspring and their unlived lives; rather than have that child say kaddish for them.
At a gathering earlier this month in New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hosted by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), attendees were enveloped by a mother’s grief as she described the loss of her beloved son at the age of 21- a young, vibrant man; his parents’ “kaddishel”; his younger sisters’ protective brother. This boy could have led a carefree, safe life in the Europe of his cousins, but he knew it was not enough to “talk the talk”; as an Israeli he also had to “walk the walk.” He put his life on the line for his fellow citizens so they could safely live theirs.
Mir and Yossi Hadassi, lost their beloved son Yonatan z”l in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War. He served in the Maglan, a special forces unit renowned for its covert missions in enemy territory. Its mission that day was to take out enemy rocket launchers that were injuring and killing Israelis.
In his attempt to save Israeli lives, Yonatan and paramedic Yotam Gilboa, 21, lost theirs.
While addressing the audience, Mir, at times stoic, at times tearful, shared that her family was Dutch and that when she was 16, her parents and siblings converted and made aliyah. Eventually, her parents and some siblings moved back to Holland. She and a couple of others did not. For her and Israel it was love at first sight – a love that was absorbed by her sabra soldier child.
He may have been old enough to be in combat, but he was, like all soldiers, a child. Mir recounted how she spoke with him on the phone right before he left on his mission. She wanted to know if he had eaten a good breakfast, and if he had slept enough. When he was silent in answer to her declaration that she loved him, she laughingly rebuked him, asking if he was embarrassed to say he loved her in front of his friends. His, “I love you too, Ema” were the last words he was ever to utter to her.
Tragically, this bereft mother belongs to a “club” that has too many members – a club that no parent willingly joins.
Every Israeli soldier, most of who are in their late teens or early twenties are – in the eyes of their parents and grandparents – babies in uniform. As such, many need help adjusting to the physical and mental trauma of being in combat; of being away from their parents and siblings and all the comforts of home; of having to deal with the loss of their friends and their own injuries and wounds, both physical and psychological.
Friends of the IDF was established over 30 years ago by a group of Holocaust survivors who realized that young Israeli soldiers needed all kinds of support. Subsequently, over the last three decades, they have created educational, recreational, medical, social and cultural programs to enhance and improve the physical and emotional well being of the young men and women of the IDF.
One such program provides full four-year scholarships to former combat soldiers whose dream of a higher education is out of reach because they do not have the financial means to obtain one. (In lieu of this help, each scholarship recipient must complete 130 hours of community service each year.)
Monies raised by the FIDF are used to build, renovate and run recreation and sports centers, shuls, and “soldier homes” where soldiers can recharge their batteries and relax, exercise, read, etc. The FIDF also provides funding for medical and rehabilitation services to help injured soldiers. These include physiotherapy centers, dental clinics and psychiatric facilities.