The Obligation to Serve

The other day, Josh and I were talking about his recent conversation with his mom. It came up that Matan is growing fast, and his mom said something to the effect of “I wish we could stop them from growing at age 16.”

When I first heard this, I was taken aback. What? Why would we wish such a thing? Of course we want each of our boys, and each of her grandchildren, to grow and flourish.

And then it struck me what she was saying – and I got it.

If they stop growing at sixteen, or if we freeze them there, then they won’t have to go into the army.

Boy, did I get it.

And my heart went out to my mother-in-law, who is already thinking of these things when Matan is only going on 11.

And my heart went out to myself, who is also thinking about these things all the time.


Matan has been growing like crazy lately, and I find myself catching my breath when I see him at times. I get a lump in my throat seeing this beautiful, capable young man who is changing so much and showing so much potential. I can see the bar mitzvah in the not-too-distance future…I can see his high school days and his very full social calendar…and then…of course, that means I can see his army service.


Of course, it’s not something I need to think about today or tomorrow. We’ve got a number of years of teenage angst and aggravation to go through first. But, I’m finding myself amazed when I catch glances of him in certain positions and at certain times. I look at Yakir, and can’t believe that I held Matan in exactly the same way. It feels like yesterday and like a million years ago.

So, while taking a walk the other day, I was trying to think about the army, and about why we’ve brought our boys to a place where they will have to serve, and about how I (and many others in my life) will deal with it when my children enter the army.

When I was sixteen, I came on a trip to Israel with a youth group for six weeks. I actually remember, at that time, thinking to myself that it didn’t seem fair. Here I was, a well-off American who clearly loved and supported Israel and who got to enjoy all of the benefits of its existence, knowing that I wouldn’t have to be responsible for its continuation. I felt that even more acutely as a 22 year old living here for a year. Why, I thought to myself, do these young boys who I see in uniform each day, have to dedicate three years of their lives to defending the country that I clearly value and love, while I get to go back to the States and live without giving this service? Why, I thought with a good amount of guilt, do their mothers have to give them over to serve in the army, and I won’t have to do the same with my boys?

Certainly, we all have to make our own decisions. We all have to decide what we are emotionally, financially, and physically able to do. For me, those thoughts, and that feeling of obligation towards the State and towards the army, was part of what propelled us to make aliyah.

Am I thrilled that, as a result of this thought process, my boys will put their lives at risk and I will sit home for at least a decade of sleepless nights wondering where they are and what they are doing?

You can answer that question.

But, do I feel that it’s absolutely the right thing for them to be doing? Do I feel that it is our obligation, as people who want to see the State of Israel continue and prosper, to send my boys off to the army?

You bet.

And so, I say to my mother-in-law that I completely and totally feel her fear and apprehension. I’d like to bottle the boys up as well and freeze time.

But I also look forward to watching the boys grow each day, and watching them learn to love the country that they will one day serve. And fulfilling the obligation for which we brought them here (or gave birth to them here) in their country – the only Jewish State in the world that remains so at the hands of boys like them.

What a complicated life we lead…

0 thoughts on “The Obligation to Serve

  1. Sigh. Of course, I feel your pain, my friend.

    I don't worry about you. We are made similarly. You will not be one of the mothers who sits wringing her hands, and frightens and weakens her soldier son when he calls with her own fears. You will tell each of them how proud you are of him, and how you sleep better at night knowing he is "on the job." And you will laugh with him when he tells the routine joke: now that he KNOWS who is guarding the country, he NEVER sleeps well.

    You will learn to compartmentalize your brain, the way Israelis do. You will keep your worries in a tiny room, visit it rarely, and LIVE fully in the rest of your brain. http://rutimizrachi.blogspot.com/2008/12/yom-chamishi-28-kislev-5769.html

    In the meantime, Avi (aka "Coach") and I were walking in your neighborhood, as your husband and several sons were playing together and separately. Avi said, "There's my team in a few years. 'I have eight men on my eight-man high school tackle football team — and they're all Sussmans.'" You have a lot more to worry about before they hit 18… 🙂

    My bracha for all our soldiers: May they grow really old, with more good than bad stories to tell their great-grandchildren.

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