My Son’s Speech: Israel is there for us
It is a longer than a usual blog but I urge all of you to read it the entire speech given by my son Zach, who made aliyah and serves in the IDF.
Rabbi Marcus, Dr. Bielory and fellow congregants:
Thank for the opportunity to speak to you on Yom Kippur, the solemn day when Jews around the world come together as one to yearn and pray for redemption, prosperity and the well-being of the Jewish nation.
Ladies and gentleman, I will make no attempt to sugar coat anything here: Dark days lay ahead for Israel and millions of our Jewish brethren. To the north Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, which rivals that of many other nation states, is ready to do Syria’s bidding and attack Israel a last ditch attempt to stay in power. In Gaza we have Hamas, Iran’s surrogate, who takes it’s marching orders from the Ayatollah’s in Tehran. Hamas is continuously being armed to the teeth with advanced weaponry provided by hundreds of millions of dollars of Iranian aid, and from of thousands of missiles from terrorist offshoots in Libya.
These two major threats are buttressed by our Islamist albeit ‘moderate’ and ‘peace loving friends in Egypt who most recently ransacked the Israeli embassy, called for the abrogation of the Camp David Accords, and who are slowly pushing into power a party whose spokesman was quoted as saying “Every night when I go to bed, I pray to wake up the next day to see Israel is wiped off the map.”
I however didn’t come here to give a defense and strategic studies lecture on Israel’s security situation. Rather I’m here to underscore one enduring and simple fact: Since it’s founding, whatever the threat, wherever it exists:
Israel is always there for us Jews, and we Jews must always be there for Israel.
As ironic as it may sound, it took me quite some time to comprehend this existential connection. For most of life I never gave it much thought even when I decided potentially sacrifice my own life and join the IDF in 2007.
See, I like many of you, I traveled almost every year to one of the Israeli resorts in Herzliya during Pesach. I looked forward to basking in the sun on the beach, enjoying the Mediterranean food and culture, as well as escaping two seders and three day yom tovs.
I went to Yeshiva all of my life. But I never really felt the connection nor shed tears upon arriving to Eretez Yisrael.
For me, Israel was ‘nice’, a great place to unwind and clear my head a bit, but nothing more than that.
In High School, I was determined to proceed straight my dream college, George Washington University where I wanted to pursue a degree in government, and serve the country I then considered my true home: the United States.
As senior year drew to a close most of my friends began receiving acceptance letters to the various Israeli yeshiva’s they had applied to. They way they described it, it would be a a year off to relax and learn before entering the stress and turmoil of ‘the real world.’
So I decided to go to Israel for the year too through a program called Year Course. But what began as a year of ‘hanging out’ turned into one of the most meaningful years of my life. I not only discovered a lot about myself. I had discovered what I had missed out on my entire life: my love of the Jewish people and it’s eternal bond with the land of Israel.
The year I spent in Israel volunteering in an Israeli high school, meeting Israelis from all sectors of society who treated me like family of their own — rather than the interloper I thought I would be —– led me to leave behind my scholarship and my college plans in America.
Instead in November 2007, after four months on a kibbutz in the Southern Negev, I join the IDF in November 2007.
Even then, I still did not fully realize what I would learn what serving the State of Israel truly means. Upon being drafted as an infantry-man in Battalion 932 of the Nachal Combat Division, I met my fellow platoon comrades. They all asked the same question over and over and particularly on those cold agonizing nights of guard duty in the dead of winter: “What the heck are you doing here??
Or as an Israeli would say it, ‘What did you leave here?’
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question at the time. And finding an answer proved only more difficult as I sunk deeper into the miseries of daily life as a Chayal. Whether it was endless nights of forced marches in the unforgivably cold nights of the Negev or picking the gauntlet of thorns I would extract from my tuchus after a long day of crawling and rolling in the field the answer eluded me.
Nor did I find it during the Battalion-Wide week long exercises which pushed me to the point of exhaustion: Instead of answers, I was hallucinating and talking to stones.
The appeal of the IDF was fading fast. Yeah sure, serving Israel was important, but instead of barging into buildings ‘Rambo-style’ with two machine guns in hand blasting my enemies to smithereens, I was doing kitchen duty for 18 hours a day. All I wanted to do was cry all the way back to Mama in America.
A number of my fellow lone foreign volunteers began expressing the same feelings. A few of them even made a run for it, went AWOL, and subsequently hopped on the first plane out of Tel Aviv without even looking back.
I remember one despondent phone conversation I had with my dad as I waiting for the bus to take me back to base for another 21 day grind. He heard the depression in my voice. And told me I could always come home too.
That wasn’t me however. I couldn’t allow myself to be like the others. I knew I hadn’t really for Hollywood theatrics; I came to fulfill a sense of purpose.
What that purpose was however didn’t crystallize in my mind until one cold winter day in the Golan Heights.
This however wasn’t your ordinary soldierly-like day of sitting around in static guard duty posts, smoking cigarettes and drinking chocolate milk.
Several days earlier I had received the shock of my life when I returned to our outpost in the Chermon mountains from a weekend leave, to find all our equipment and weapons sprawled out on blankets in the center of the base. I quickly joined other soldiers who were actively preparing check lists, counting bullets, and cleaning machine guns.
“What’s going on?” I asked my officer. “Listen Zach we don’t have much time, the reservists are coming to replace us in a few hours and we’re heading down to a staging area in preparation for battle.”
Operation Cast Lead had begun. And we were being told to gear up for war.
I was supposed to be discharged from the army in just two days. But that would have to wait.
I immediately filled out a form extending my service for another month, and went to prepare my ammunition and equipment for my M-240 machine gun.
Before disembarking the base and leaving for our staging area, the commander of our Battalion called the troops together: There was solid intelligence that Hezbollah would stir up violence along the northern border as well as launch missiles at our outpost to alleviate the growing military pressure on Hamas.
We had to pack up quick, as we anticipated mortar barrages raining down on us within the hour. Geared up in flak jackets and helmets, we anxiously packed up our trucks and moved down to our temporary base at Elforan in the Golan.
Upon unpacking all our gear, our Company Captain told us that given the word, we have 30 minutes to be either on Black-Hawk Helicopters en route to Gaza, or loaded up in APC’s to fend off any threat to the northern border.
It’s weird, because as a soldier you go through all the training and motions of preparing yourself for combat, yet never expect it ever coming to fruition. Only then did our unit feel the suspense in anticipation of war.
After two days of preparatory exercises the anxiety began to fade and we soon began to doubt whether we would ever get that ‘call’ to gear up.
We went back to being restless and bored; laying on our mattresses reading books, listening to music, and playing sheish-beish to pass the time until we had to head back to the Chermon.
I was outside in the middle of fixing myself a chocolate spread sandwich when I saw our Vice-Captain striding through the camp in full gear. He was yelling “Hakpatzah! Hakpatzah! Everyone in full gear to the APC’s!”
We were told there was shooting directed at Israeli settlements along the Golan from either the Syrian or Lebanese border. The entire company woke up from its slumber and raced in every direction to fetch equipment and prepare ammunition.
Our captain took me and several other soldiers to one of the ammo dumps where we quickly began divvying out fragmentation grenades.
This was now the ‘real deal.
Within minutes we were assembled next to our APC’s waiting to move out.
“Ellie, do I have time to grab a book of tehilim from the shul?” My friend Baruch asked our officer. “You have sixty seconds! Hurry!” Baruch quickly took off in direction of the synagogue while the rest of us positioned ourselves on the backbreaking metal benches of the APC.
I was heavy machine gunner of our unit. I was carrying 70 pounds of ammo and artillery and I barely fit inside the carrier.
I was so nervous I began to stutter. “If I get hit I’m going to be stuck out there. I can barely walk with all this stuff as it is.”
My friend Yogev responded: “Achee, don’t you worry now. I will come down there myself and throw you over my shoulders and get you out of there.”
It was only then after Yogev spoke, when the APC doors finally closed and we slowly moved out did it hit me why I decided to join the IDF.
It all began to make sense as I looked around the cluttered benches. To my right was the sharpshooter, an Ethiopian by the name of Redit Mullah. His parents were thrown onto Israeli chartered planes and saved from rife political instability and war in the 1991 Solomon Operation, when Israel rescued and integrated thousands of Ethiopian Jews into its growing populace.
To my left was my friend Avichai Galilee, of Yemenite descent, whose grandparents were similarly rescued from persecution and vehement Arab violence by a massive and unprecedented Air-Evac operation known as ‘Operation Magic Carpet’ in 1950.
In back of me were two soldiers, of Russian and Iraqi descent. They both shared the same legacy of being rescued and welcomed by the Jewish state when they had no place else to live as Jews. It did not matter that the Israeli economy was anemic at the time and that we had few resources to spare. We did it anyways.
It then finally made sense to me: The state of Israel is there for us, and so should we be there for the state of Israel. Riding away in our APC’s it was us who was thanking Israel and paying a debt of gratitude for all it had done for us.
Unlike some “States” who leave their refugee populations in impoverishment as a ruse in advancing their own ideological interests, the State of Israel has always been there for every Jew. It is important that the distinction between Jew and Israeli not be drawn, because we in Israel do not recognize such a dividing line.
We take the plight of the Jews around the world as our own and work to safeguard their lives and carry out justice when needed.
Nothing underscores this notion more than the 1976 Entebbe Rescue operation where after separating hostages between ‘Jews’ and ‘Non-Jews’, Palestinian terrorists released all the non-Jews and threatened to execute all the Jews unless their demands were met. It did not matter that many of those on board that plane did not carry Israeli Citizenship, they were Jews none the less who lives were at stake. By pulling off one the most renowned and daring Commando raids in history, Israel proved to the world that if you mess with the Jew’s, you mess with Israel.
Such a trend continued in 2008 when Israel assassinated Imad Mugniyeh, a top Hezbollah leader and mastermind of the 1994 Argentinean Jewish Center bombing which killed 85 people, serving justice to those that think Jewish blood comes cheap.
Ladies and Gentleman, I’m not expecting or demanding any of you to make the same difficult decision I made and pick up a rifle and fight. That however in no way absolves each and every one of us from the responsibility we have to safeguard and protect the Jewish state whether its through Israel advocacy campaigns, letter’s to congressman, or investments and the purchase of Israeli bonds.
In doing so, you are not only safeguarding Israel, you’re safeguarding yourself and taking collective responsibility for the Jewish people as a whole.
Now I could talk for another 15 minutes about the economic incentives and benefits of investing in Israel. How Israel’s economy is vibrant and growing. Or how Israel’s credit rating was just raised higher than America’s.
This however pales in importance to what I ask all of us to invest in now and forever. A vision of Israel conceived at Sinai and secured by us all. It is a promise set forth by Menachem Begin following the 1976 Entebbe Raid:
“We are no empire. We are but a small nation… but after all that has befallen our nation throughout all the generations-and not least the generation of the holocaust- we declare that if there be anyone anywhere who is persecuted, or humiliated, or threatened or abducted or is in any way endangered simply because he or she is a Jew, then let the whole world know that we, Israel, The Jewish state, shall marshal all our strength to come to their aid and bring them to the safe haven of our homeland.”
Today I ask you to marshal your strength, to stand together , so that the safe haven I discovered and defends will endure forever.
Am Yisroel Chai!