May 16, 2014

Forget G.I. Joe

With two children serving in the IDF, the theme these days is the army. When the children were little, we talked with friends about diapers, preschools and family vacations. We then moved onto driving schools and tutors. And now, with children serving as soldiers, one  may think the conversations would focus on G.I. Joe stuff. 

Well, the talk around our dinner table on Shabbat is not exactly about guns. My son, who is finishing officers’ training school is attending seminars on nutrition, physical training and leadership. My daughter, who is in the educational division of the IDF, is on another track altogether. She is being educated to be a leader for special needs soldiers. She has courses on psychology, learning disabilities, discipline. She meets with social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

This past week, she spent time at a base observing new soldiers in the ‘Sar’ unit. There are acronyms for every noun and verb in the army, and I am not sure what this one stands for, but I know it means compassion, strength building and changing people’s lives. 

This is a part of the army that I never knew existed and am wondering if any other military in the world or the history of defense even considered having such a unit. 

Here is how it works. When a young boy is drafted, he writes tests including psychometric tests and is also interviewed personally. If he scores low on his test or the interviewee picks up on something that is ‘off,’ either mentally or socially, he is placed in a special unit for his basic training. Some of these boys may have Apsergers or mild Autism, or may just be socially different or have issues with trust and friendship. Most of them have never left home and have never had friends or the opportunity to be part of a team. 

The unit builds up these young boys by giving them confidence and support and makes them feel that they too are important and have much to contribute to society. Social workers and psychologists are there for these boys to help strengthen them.

When my daughter was there to observe, some of them were crying like babies, missing their imas and abbas, feeling confused and out of place. And she saw the dedicated care and support given by a most professional team that works for the IDF. 

The outcome? Some of these boys drop out of the army, but most of them stay on and develop a sense of purpose and self esteem they never felt before. 


Not even for one day of their troubled lives when school teachers punished them, not knowing how to deal with their aberrant behavior; and when peers bullied them and ridiculed them. Slowly, unknowingly, their lives and futures were destroyed.

This happens to young people in the schools and on the streets of every small village, town and city around the world. It leads to juvenile delinquency, crime, drug abuse, violence, depression and suffering in every country.

I am not saying that Israel does not have any of these problems. It does. But the IDF has decided to use the military to defend and also to rehabilitate. This program is costly and need not be part of the army. Yet it exists, thrives and and earns high scores. 

Many of these soldiers graduate from the course and are given solid jobs in the army. After their army service, they have the confidence and self worth to move on with their lives in meaningful, useful ways. 

And just when I thought my heart was swelling with pride, I saw this movie on youtube. 

And I cried. 

I showed it to my younger children and I cried again. Please take the time to watch this. Think about Israel and consider what is happening in the rest of the world. 

I think about those 300 Nigerian school girls who are being held hostage. And I read headlines yesterday about the Sudanese executing a pregnant woman because she will not forego Christianity for Islam. 

I shake my head. And I cry.

I also recently read that, according to a rent study by the Anti Defamation league,  there are one billion anti semites in the world, and this number is growing. It comes from baseless hatred, lies and misunderstanding. Just watch the Great in Uniform video, read this blog and learn about a nation who cares, respects and builds.

May 6, 2014

Full To The Brim

Life here in Israel is full to the brim. Perhaps brimming over.

On Sunday night, Israelis gathered in city squares and town centers across the country to remember the fallen. They stood at attention Sunday night at 8 o’clock as the siren eerily blasted from north to south, plunging us into deep contemplation and sorrow. This night, we remember those who fell in the many wars that were fought in the last 66 years, as well as those who were killed from terrorist attacks.

Each year, the names of the fallen and their ages at death are read aloud in each community. Tragedy has hit every place in this country, from the smallest kibbutz to the larger cities. Ra’anana, which is a smallish town today, was a tiny village some forty years ago. Yet during the wars of 1967 and 1972, four, five and six boys were killed daily. The announcer read their ages slowly, “Eighteen. Nineteen.”

I stood there in silence and thought of the anguish, the deep sobs, the multiple funerals that the community suffered daily; a loss that tore, ripping deep holes in hearts and never went away.

Each Yom HaZikaron, relatives of those who lost loved ones are invited to place a wreath and to tell their stories. We heard from a widow, a man who lost his brother and a mother who lost her son. These people are all from Ra’anana; I may have seen them in the grocery line or in the library. They may seem to lead a routine life, yet their existence is never the same after such a tragic loss.

For a full night and day, the entire country remembers and weeps and dives headfirst into mourning. The stories of those who were killed are broadcast on TV in countless films that illustrate beautiful, hopeful, happy lives that are cut, gashed, blunted. The cameras took us into living rooms and classrooms. We met the victims’ school teachers, their best friends, their parents. They showed us chubby baby pictures, the bar mitzvah photos, videos of happy family trips and glowing report cards. And then, the parents take us into the soldiers’ bedrooms. Enshrined. Clothes in drawers, books on shelves, as if the solider is expected to walk in the door at any minute. Yet never will.

And as the sun goes down, the country transitions from despair to joy as we gear up for Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day. It may be hard to understand how weeping can turn to dancing, sobbing to laughter. But it works because it represents the tension between tragedy and joy, between suffering and redemption. Just last week, we mourned the loss of six million Jews during Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And eight days later, we mourn those who perished in wars and terror.

Yet this must always turn to celebration because this country mourns then looks brightly to the future. We feel deep sorrow and we rebuild. Israel was built form the ashes of the Holocaust and we forge bright futures despite our continued losses. This is our beauty and our energy and our spark.

During Yom Ha’Atzmaut last night, as I strolled down Ra’anana’s main street, I passed open-air concerts, people dancing in circles and children atop soldiers’ shoulders grinning, waving flags.

The joy and pride and love people have for this country is palpable. And strong. I was mesmerized watching women dance the hora; as their feet thumped the ground in one united, determined step, I felt as if they were planting joy, optimism and a bright future that brims over. 

Nefesh b'Nefesh created this birthday video to celebrate Israel's 66th.