BOSTON — Earlier this month, I traveled home to stay with family in Israel for a week or so. During my career in the Foreign Service, I’ve made many trips home. But this visit was different from the others. This was a visit full of reminders.
I come from Hadera, a city about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. Upon my arrival, I was filled with excitement. I was excited to see my friends and family and to experience the sights, smells and sounds that make home special and Israel unique.
This time, however, my excitement was compounded with a touch of uncertainty. After all, my country is under attack, as it often has been over the years.
I was reminded that this, too, is something that makes my home unique.
My husband and I were joined by our daughters, and while we have been back to Israel many times, we have never made a trip in the middle of a military operation. On one of our first nights in Hadera, rockets from Gaza reached our area – a stark contrast from living in suburban Massachusetts.
For Israelis, the procedure that follows a rocket sighting has become commonplace – sirens blare, TV and radio programs are interrupted with alerts, and everyone finds the nearest shelter or safe room. Adults have been a part of these alerts for their whole lives, and children are taught from a young age what to do in these situations.
But the commotion caught my daughters off guard, as we awoke in the middle of the night and went to our house’s safe room, a built-in feature of most Israelis’ homes. For someone, especially a young person who has spent many years living abroad, this is a serious adjustment.
I was reminded that no child, of any nationality, should have to become comfortable with constant threats of harm.
A few days later, my husband went into town to pick up some lunch. He stopped by a small falafel stand that has been a favorite of ours for years. It is owned and run by Muhammad, an Israeli Arab who is a dear friend of ours and even was a guest at our wedding. On this day, however, the line at Muhammad’s shop was all but nonexistent, a very rare sight. Everyone in Hadera eats here – Jews and Arabs, old and young, native Israelis and immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia. So when my husband asked Muhammad why business was so slow, he explained that his usual patrons stayed away from the street, fearful of the possibility of falling rockets.
I was reminded that rockets are blind to diversity. They are blind to coexistence, and they are blind to friendship.
Our eldest daughter, Omer, recently turned 16. At this age, children are excited to gain more responsibility. They learn to drive, they enter their junior year of high school, they start their first summer job.
Israeli teens experience this sense of responsibility, but on a much grander scale – this is when they are contacted by the Israel Defense Forces for the first time. Military service is compulsory for Israelis beginning at age 18, but 16-year-olds take a weeklong course to give them a taste of life in the army. They learn about drills, routines and protocols.
But this new group of recruits, training while a battle rages around them, learned something far greater. They learned what it means to truly give back to their country, and they discovered that defending your country is not an obligation. It is more than a duty. It is a privilege and an honor.
Of course, as a parent you pray that your child will serve during a time of peace. But we are confident that they have been raised with virtue and trained with precision, and that they are ready to answer if they are called upon to defend Israel.
There were about 100 trainees at Omer’s graduation ceremony. The base in Tel Aviv was full of parents, their faces beaming with pride. Full of recruits, the next generation, prepared to eventually take our country’s safety upon their shoulders. They will prevent our children from facing constant danger. They will protect us from the blind rockets that come our way.
That day in Tel Aviv, I was given the greatest reminder thus far that our children are our future. The Palestinians’ children are their future. Every day this conflict continues, the risk of losing them grows. For this reason, above all others, this crisis must come to an end as soon as possible.
— Special to the Press Herald