To Volunteer or Not....
Much discussion has been had in Israel over the past several weeks about draft-dodging. This is a nation, like Switzerland, where all able-bodied males constitute the national army. Unlike Switzerland, women also have a service obligation, albeit almost never in combat positions. Men do (and women are able to) continue serving in the reserves for years after their initial army service.
This summer's revelation of the number of kids who DON'T serve is raising alarm bells in various quarters. Some of the numbers are suspect; some of the numbers quoted are reasonable (the IDF doesn't really want you to join and get a gun if you are mentally ill, for example). Political and religious figures have jumped on this particular bandwagon to lament that some sector of society which they don't represent is betraying the ideals of the country, is a sign of moral rot, is an indicator of protest of government policies, is an indication of the chareidi-ization of society, etc. yadda, yadda, yadda.....
Please......these are teenagers, the one segment of humanity who is both totally egocentric but capable also of heroic self-sacrifice. My father once pointed out that's why armies draft their kids at this age: if you tell an 18-year-old, "Go take that fortified hilltop with the .50 caliber machine gun nests in order to save your squad," he'll do it, or die trying. Tell that to a 45-year-old, and he'll tell you, "You first."
This is why the IDF works -- it is full of the 18-to-21 year olds, but it is also seasoned in times of crisis and reserve duty training with their fathers, uncles, older brothers and adult neighbors who hopefully lend some common sense to their younger, less experienced counterparts who are serving for the first time.
But first and foremost, the draft-age kids of Israel are teens. What do teens want? Mostly, they want to do whatever it is they want to do. Mostly they want to NOT be told what to do while receiving as many adult perks as possible. Some want to study at the London School of Economics and dodge the draft so as not to lose the slot in next year's class. Some are idealistic and feel they should follow in our founder's footsteps and give up three years of their lives to serve their country. Some are sick or physically incapacitated or mentally ill and shouldn't be required to serve in any capacity. Some are Arab-Israeli and hold a moral objection to being in a position where they might kill other Arabs: this ranges from being passionately anti-Israel and closet-Hamas to a more constructive sense of citizenship such as that of Abu Gosh , an Arab town whose men decided to don the IDF uniform as part of an excellent search and rescue team.
Others are products of a chareidi anti-State environment which holds that army service corrupts their young and exposes them to non-chareidi lifestyles and takes them away from Torah study. Of course, they have no problem with Other People's Children fighting and dying to protect their right to study and to live on the welfare stipends Other People's taxes are paying for......
Others are products of the Post-Zionist New Left Tel Aviv glitteratti, who while despising the chareidim ( and anybody else who shows an inclination to go to a synagogue), seek to emulate them in also spitting on the State that protects them, loudly proclaiming their political opposition to military service on various transparent grounds. Certainly the PZNL cafe habitue may have an issue with "the Occupation" but so do many Middle Israelis....the problem is that too many of us remember the Second Intifada and its near-daily regime of exploding buses and pizza parlors which was brought about by the IDF's withdrawal from the territories per the Oslo Accords. The PZNL-types are simply regurgitating what their parents tell them and use this insipid rhetoric as a handy excuse to get out of something unpleasant and not fun: getting their hair cut, living with rules and a curfew, wearing a uniform and following orders. In other words, they don't get the extended adolescence the rest of the western world's kids get by going off to college, smoking weed, drinking until falling-down-drunk and sneaking into your girlfriend's dorm room. But if they find a way to dodge army service, they can go on being adolescents until 22 or 23 and let Other People's Children give up three years of their lives to protect them.
I'm not overly concerned. My son reported the other day for the first step of his induction, which is a physical and filling out paperwork. The place was full of young teens, male and female, sometimes with a parent in tow but more often in the company of same-age friends who are also reporting for duty. I came because I'm one of the parents; Yossi came because he knows the system and speaks the language. The soldiers on guard duty at the front of this old and tiny building in Geula gave us a choice: ONE adult could go with Josh but not both. Yossi went, of course. I'm perfectly useless in explaining anything in Hebrew adequately. Besides, this is a guy-type of thing -- what self-respecting 17-year-old wants to be seen in a crowd of peers with his mommy in tow? The Boy was more than happy to go inside with Yossi.
They weren't inside for very long. The Boy had his medical records (short version) with him and we had already mailed the longer version of neurological, physical, and vision reports. Thanks, anyway, the IDF said, but we won't be drafting someone with CP and vision problems.....BUT after his schooling is finished and his Hebrew is better, if he wants, he can volunteer.
On the way back to the car, the Boy said he was relieved he wasn't going to get drafted (the teen response to being told what to do) but that "if he felt like it" maybe he would volunteer after school is done. I told him he had a choice of volunteering for the army or for National Service. "If I feel like it, Imma," he retorted.
"Whether or not you 'feel like it' kiddo," I said quietly. "Everyone serves except the very sick and the terminally self-centered. We didn't raise you to live for yourself alone -- so you have a choice not about whether or not you volunteer. Volunteer you must. Your choice is National Service or the military."
He digested this for a moment, then brightened up considerably. "I think I'd like to volunteer for the military," he announced. "The army had LOTS of really cute girls there today."
Spoken like a true patriot. (sigh)