My 20 year old niece Yonina is an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. Since she made aliyah, returning to the country of her youth, and especially upon entering the IDF (soon after Lebanon 2), I have begun to view Israeli and Mideastern politics through a different lense. No longer was it theoretical. No longer were hawkish or liberal positions interesting polemics. Everything affected or could affect the life of my beloved niece Yonina. I have never quite been able to clearly articulate these concerns.
Gershom Gorenberg, whose writing I came to appreciate when he wrote for The Jerusalem Report, has written a poignant piece about the intersection between his son’s service in the Israeli Defense Forces and his own responsibility for political activism.
A friend has volunteered to drive. He’ll drop us off in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, near the entrance of the Israel Defense Forces induction center. My son and I will talk, with our eyes on our watches, and I’ll hug him, and he will swing his duffel bag over his shoulder and walk in. I’m writing beforehand. You are reading this after the event. For my son, as he has described his feelings, that gate marks the precise physical location of the end of childhood. For me, it marks the end of the countdown that began with his birth. It is the line between one type of anxiety and another, shaded in a deeper gray.
But the kicker is found in the final paragraphs where Gorenberg illuminates why politics is so personal in Israel:
So I will take my son to the induction center. I have to hope that his task will be made up of what is essential, not what is objectionable. I also know that the relative balance will be determined not by him, or even his commander, but by those who sit around the Cabinet table. This will not allow me to relax. The outgoing government, under the supposedly centrist Ehud Olmert, set loose the furies in Gaza. The new government will be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose rhetoric is built from fear and the fantasy that the military can solve all problems — and in relative terms, Netanyahu will be the moderate in the coalition of aggressive rightists he is putting together. In the interregnum between the two governments, my son is getting his uniform — receiving his chance to serve and his burning sliver of responsibility. The burden of political activism he leaves to me, to his mother, to our friends, to the failed parties of the Israeli left. Never has the need for political change seemed to me so personal, so demanding, so out of reach, and so immediately necessary.