It was my first time and it was very emotional. Last week I attended the swearing-in ceremony of my grandson Eyal Schwartz into the Israel Defense Forces.
Eyal is a Hesder soldier, having spent the past year and a half learning in Otniel, a yeshiva in the South Hebron hills. Six weeks ago it was time for these young men to start the army portion of their service. With basic training over they were now to be formally inducted into the IDF.
Because Eyal will serve in the Tanks division, the ceremony took place in Latrun, known for its Armored Corps Museum.
The night before the ceremony, Israel was hit by a major thunderstorm with torrential rains, a rarity for May. The skies still looked ominous as I arrived for the special event, which was to be held outdoors. I found a seat in the huge amphitheater together with members of our family and the families of the other soldiers.
Eyal came over to say hello, tall and handsome in his green army uniform, and the sun suddenly burst forth above the clouds. This was not the first time I was seeing Eyal in his uniform, and my mind took me back a few days to Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers. As I did last year, I once again joined my son Dovid and his children on their yearly pilgrimage to Mt. Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery. This time Eyal came along with us.
I was familiar with the route Dovid takes at the cemetery. The first stop is always the grave of Shlomo Aumann, his beloved 8th grade teacher who was killed in the First Lebanon War. We spend considerable time there as Dovid talks to his children and anyone within earshot about his teacher. Then it is on to his classmate Gadi Shemesh and his wife, who were killed in a terrorist attack. Afterward we went to Roi Klein, who fell on a grenade and thereby saved his unit in the Second Lebanon War. Michael Levin, a lone soldier from Philadelphia, was also killed in that war and since his family lives in the U.S., Dovid always stops there.
The list continued, and at each stop my granddaughter Elisheva played her violin with appropriate songs as people from all over came closer and sang along. I watched Eyal, my soldier grandson, as he read each stone, rows and rows of stones, and noted the ages of the fallen: 18, 19, 20…
When it was time for the ceremony to begin, Eyal left us to join his unit. In they marched, all 475 of them, so young, but already men. An officer addressed the assemblage. He told the soldiers they would soon be receiving their guns and a Tanach. In the Tanach they would find the “deed” to the land of Israel. It is all in there, he said.
Quoting from the Vehi She’amdah we recite at the Seder, he reminded us that in every generation enemies have tried annihilate us. Pharaoh tried, the Romans tried, the Crusaders tried, the Nazis tried and nearly succeeded – but Hashem saved us every time. By defending Israel, the soldiers are agents of the Almighty. It is a sacred task of which they should be very proud. In fact, he added, the parents of these young men should also be proud of the education they gave their children to bring them to this point. It is an honor to defend the land and people of Israel and he was sure they would all do so with distinction.
I was crying as I looked out at the young soldiers and listened to the officer’s words. And then I looked over at my son and saw that he too was crying.