Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the eve of Rosh Ha'Shana, IDF Conscripts 'Sworn in' at Latrun

Yesterday, hundreds of young Israeli recruits were officially inducted into the IDF or Israeli Defense Forces, at the Latrun Armoured Corps Museum (Latrun was the site of three major battles in failed attempts by the Haganah and fledgling IDF to secure Jerusalem in the 1948 War of Independence). My wife and two young sons arrived in mid-afternoon, and were greeted by baby-faced recruits (boys and girls), sporting their Galil assault rifles and full IDF regalia. Despite standing guard under a blazing afternoon sun, they were friendly and helpful. They explained that a number of Platoons had just completed basic training or special training courses. There would be a swearing in ceremony at 5 o'clock. Hundreds of young soldiers and their families were roaming the grounds, but we were welcome to tour the museum and enjoy the festivities later if we so desired.

Today in the West, it is generally deemed politically very incorrect to celebrate such displays of martial prowess. But of course, in the dangerous neighborhood that Israel finds itself in the Middle East, the luxury of pacifism is not an existential option. At least not if one wants to survive. I once had an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing--a modality in psychotherapy) instructor who told the class of a visualization she would do, imagining a giant Magnet-Man with his enormous metallic arms spread across the sky, sucking up all the weapons in the Middle East through magnetic force. And thus peace could come to all who inhabit those lands. I hated to burst her bubble, but I couldn't help but point out that removing the weapons wouldn't take away the hatred, fanaticism and unwillingness of too many in this neck of the woods to embrace the reality of 5 1/2 million Jews in their midst. That powerlessness has not been a very successful strategy for the Jewish people. That if therapy teaches us anything, it's that external, cosmetic changes do little to affect real and lasting transformation, which can only occur after profound work is done in one's internal world (At least that's what I would've said if I weren't interested in finishing the course).

So here I was in Latrun, watching my sons, aged 10 and 7, fascinated with the collection of tanks on display; captured antiques from Syria and Egypt, Merkava modern Israeli tanks, and other relics of the armoured corps. It seemed perfectly natural for young boys to be captivated by the tools of war, climbing up on the massive metal machines, standing atop the barrels, hatches and turrets. My wife, who has done her own few years of service in the IDF (she joined the Nachal, which includes at least six months of agricultural, kibbutz training/education), told the boys she only wished we didn't need all this militarism; that war is something to avoid at almost any cost; that we need to work to make the world a better place. She pointed out that the songs of her youth and still today are songs of peace. She told us that one of the songs includes the line, "Prachim ba'Kaneh," or flowers in the barrel. Seems like throughout our history we've always sung and prayed for such things, as early as Isiah's pronouncement of 'beating swords into plowshares.' Perhaps we need to do a better job, but we certainly shouldn't be accused of not trying.

I was left pondering how I felt about all this. And what I came away with was an enormous sense of pride and respect. Pride and respect because despite the neighborhood Israel live in, where threats of annihilation from her enemies are commonplace (just listen to Ahmadinejad or read the Hamas Charter), her sons and daughters are still taught songs of peace and love. Because the mettle of the families I saw said that despite the corruption in government, despite the errors and miscalculations in last summer's war, despite the horrific Qassam attacks from Gaza (courtesy of Islamic Jihad, but celebrated widely by all in Gaza--Hamas called it "a victory from God") just yesterday at an army base in the Negev wounding 69 young recruits; despite all that, most everyone still sends their sons and daughters proudly into service, because they understand that until our enemies change their ways, we have little choice but to have a strong military if we wish to survive.
I explained to my young sons that if we ever manage to to make Aliya [literally ascension, used to connote emigrating/moving (upward) to Israel as part of the Jewish 'Right of Return' laws], I will proudly come and watch them be sworn in when their time comes (my wife may have something to say about all this, but that's how I feel).
We went on to the Miniature Israel Museum up the road and from the distance could hear the music and salutes and the oaths taking place. We thought it only appropriate to then travel on to the center of it all, Jerusalem. And thus began our Rosh Ha'Shana eve.
Shana Tovah u'Metukah to all
David Brumer
Holon, Israel

1 comment:

Lao Qiao said...

A beautiful essay, David. Shana tova, or as we say in Chinese, xin nian kuai le (new year fast happiness).