One important reason for choosing this to be the year I live in Israel is that my older daughter (OD) made Aliyah this summer, and in December she was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces.
Monday, Jan. 12, was the “tekes” (ceremony) for OD’s graduation from basic training. For a month OD has been on a base way up in the north of Israel, learning to drill, to shoot, to wake up when someone tells you to, and to live in oh, shall we say, less than glamorous conditions.
Now, OD is the very last person in my family anyone ever imagined would be joining the IDF. We were all kind of shocked (but proud, nonetheless) when she informed us that she had decided not to come back to the States after her year of living in Israel after high school, and then, shortly thereafter, that she was going to try and join the IDF.
The night before the tekes I was at the party for a bar mitzvah boy on the block where I live. During the party I had received a text from OD, telling me she wanted me to be at the tekes the next day, but she couldn’t quite tell me exactly where it was. One woman was standing outside her home as I walked back to my house at the end of the evening. When I asked her if she knew where Mikhveh Allon is, she laughed, because that is her daughter’s base. I had heard it was in the middle of nowhere and I was worried about driving there.
She looked straight at me and said, “you have to go.” Not “you should try,” or “it is important,” no, there was no equivocation. Yes, it’s hard to drive that far if you don’t know where you are going, yes, it’s a long trip and you might get lost, but you have to go. Period.
So on Monday I, my younger daughter and OD’s boyfriend, drove for hours way up into the hills of northern Israel.
Suddenly we came up to a flight of broad stone steps, leading to a large flat stadium area. As I crested the flight I heard HaTikvah playing. It was the warmup for the ceremony, but I was already in tears.
There were 342 soldiers graduating from basic training at this base on Monday, representing 38 countries.
During the speech congratulating the troops on the completion of this phase of their training, the presiding officer reminded them there was much more they had to learn, including, for the so many who came from different countries to serve and protect the Jewish homeland, the presiding officer paused.
He paused to tell the many, many French Jews who were there that all of Israel stands with the people of France, following the tragic events of the past week. He thanked all of them for joining up; “this is your home,” he told them.
As we found our seats before the ceremony started, I registered the great many French speakers amongst the parents and the new soldiers. There were many American English speakers also, but the number speaking French was enough to register.
My younger daughter inhaled sharply when she saw that what each “graduating” soldier received, when they were called individually to their unit’s leaders: a gun and a Tanach. Very moving. And we were so proud. So proud of all these brave, committed young people, black, brown, white, Hebrew-speaking, English-speaking, French-speaking, Jewish.