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?"