Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another Milestone in the Westbankfamily's Aliyah

There are many milestones that those who make aliyah pass - some more emotional than others. Opening your aliyah folder at the Jewish Agency, getting your one-way ticket to Israel, and coming off the plane and realizing that you are really here to live, are all very exciting.

Some people mark their entry into Israel by Hebraicizing their names at the Interior Ministry - a sort of reversal from what our ancestors did at Ellis Island, when the Jewish names with difficult pronunciations were Americanized. The first cycle of Jewish holidays spent in Israel are always uplifting - including the keeping of only one seder on Passover.

Other milestones down the road are less exciting, perhaps, but further deepen one's feelings of committment to the land now called home. Voting for the first time, and even the scary step of taking out an Israeli mortgage, take the oleh (new immigrant) to another level of permanence in Israel.

Last Thursday the westbankfamily passed another milestone, with the unceremonious but still incredibly important arrival of an envelope in the mail. Stamped on the upper left-hand corner of the envelope was the symbol and return address "Tzava Hagana L'Yisrael" - "Israel Defense Forces". My eldest son, a few months shy of his 17th birthday, received the forms needed to start his induction process into the army.

This is just a preliminary, mind you. He received medical forms to fill out and an appointment to show up for a battery of psychological and intelligence tests in another six weeks. In the national religious community in which we live most young men study in Yeshiva for at least a year and a half after completing high school before joining the army - and some study for longer. Given my son's desire to sit and learn, and the ambivalent feelings caused by the disengagement this past summer and the role of the IDF in it, his motivation to join the IDF is somewhat low, so I know that it will be at least three years before he goes in. Nontheless, the arrival of the envelope last week both filled me with pride - and dread, and turned me the same shade as his future uniform - light green.

This step is one we obviously thought about long before we even got off the plane in Ben Gurion Airport a bit less than 15 years ago. The decision, although frightening, wasn't difficult to make. The whole point of making aliyah, for us at least, was that we couldn't sit in our safe and prosperous neighborhood in America, no matter how pleasant, and leave our Jewish brothers in Israel to carry on without us. When asked the direct question, "How can you move to Israel and put your sons into the army?" my plain answer is, "How can you NOT?" If you feel part of Klal Yisrael (the community of Jews) than how can you sit back and let other Jews do the difficult work of protecting the one country that belongs to us, without lending a hand?

This is not to say that it is easy. It scares me, to be honest. At the same time I remember what one grieving mother said in an interview when asked about the loss of her son in one of the wars. "How can we expect to have brave sons, if we are not brave mothers?"


Blogger Regina said...

That last sentence says it all, doesn't it? Thanks, westbankmama, for this very brave post. I admire your courage and your resolve that the only way to help is to be where the help is needed the most- in Eretz Yisrael.

11:30 AM, April 02, 2006  
Blogger Jerusalemcop said...

great post WBM.

you sound excatly like my mother did when I volunteered to join the IDF 14 years ago. You'll do fine.


11:09 AM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

regina - yes, I take a lot of inspiration from that mother's words

jerusalemcop - thank you for your confidence!

6:15 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Batya said...

I survived (and my sons did too, B"H) two years when both were in the army.

11:09 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Mikha'el said...

All the best to your son before his giyyus and prayers for a safe and honorable service in TSAHAL. I am 35 years old--at the age of 18, after one semester of college, I begged my parents to allow me to "take time off" and went as a mitnadev to a kibbutz dati. I fully intended to stay there, make aliyah, and do my mandatory service. Raised in a Conservative suburban American Jewish home, I had made up my mind to make aliyah when I first heard a lecturer at my Jewish day school talk about it, when I was about 11. I can remember my mother's reaction when I told her that's what I wanted to do. "G-d forbid! You will go there and you will become cannon fodder!" I had my first trip to Israel for my bar mitzvah-and it strengthened my resolve to make aliyah, and for the first time I paid attention to the lessons on spoken ivrit. As I said, when I was 18, I was sure I was going to stay. On the kibbutz I stayed at, there was a phone on the porch of the building that was set aside for volunteers like me as living quarters, of which I was the sole occupant. Almost daily, I received phone calls from my mother about when I was going to come back and return to college. After about 7 months, I agreed to resume college, for at least another year, and then I told my mother I would be making aliyah "for real" if I didn't like school. After completing another year, I was then about 19, I announced that I wouldn't be registering for classes for my sophomore year-but I would be going to the Aliyah Center and preparing to go to Israel as a hayyal boded-my mother had a fit! She literally cried, yelled, the end I found myself being shlepped , almost by my year as my mother watched me almost like a hawk register for classes at Brooklyn College. I ended up finishing college. I told myself I would make aliyah after I got my BA. Then after grad school (never finished). In my mid-20s, I had now gotten it into my head that if i make aliyah, I need to have some decent professional qualifications first-before I go to Israel, or else I would see myself as a loser. I wound up getting married. Then divorced. When I first visited Israel again, after my 30th birthday, I was dismayed to learn that in all likelihood, 2nd intifadeh and all, I was now too old and out of shape o be considered worthy of drafting into the IDF-because of the glut of army-age recruits due to teh massive aliyah during the 1990s from the former soviet union. I am still telling myself that I want to make aliyah soon-I just need to save up some money to do it-but I will always regret that I will never be an "authentic" Israeli for having missed the opportunity to serve in TSAHAL.

10:36 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

mikhael meir - welcome to my blog. We made aliyah at the age of 30, and pappa was indeed, turned down by the IDF because he was not needed. But that doesn't mean that the country doesn't need you! Just being here, voting, paying Israeli taxes, etc. is very important and a big contribution.

8:12 AM, April 06, 2006  
Blogger Mikha'el said...

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog--and chag sameakh and mo'ed tov. Yes, of course you are right, I realise that if you are Zionist, you make aliyah, and that's it. Especially if someone goes from the fleshpot of the US, you could be seen to be "sacrificing" in a way by moving to Israel,and making a contribution by stam being a good citizen. In truth, I would most likely have made an awful soldier, kravi or no, and been more of a burden than a help to the IDF, even when I was still of draftable age. Kal ve chomer now that I am older, with bad knees and a potbelly. Nevertheless, I still am incredibly wistful at my own personal failure to do it when I was still of age. I am aware that many Israelis gripe and kvetch when they get the summons for miluim, a big part of me wants to gripe and kvetch with everybody else when I live there! Again, may your family have a joyful, safe and sweet Pesach-and may your son have a safe tour of duty in "sadir". B'ezrat ha-shem I will make aliyah before I am 40!

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