When people who live outside of Israel think of the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, they think of a strong army which protects the country from its many adversaries – and this is true. However, as many residents of Israel know, the army is so much more than that.
The army serves many purposes in Israel. It provides education, social services, helps immigrants and brings together people from many diverse communities who would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet or work together.
I myself served in the army in the capacity of casualty identification. In addition, I served in the reserves for many years either guarding bases and settlements or practicing for my role if a conflict broke out. Many of the soldiers in my unit were Ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredi in Israel. Had I not served with these people I probably would not have had the opportunity to work with members of their community.
Not all the roles people have in the army are even connected to warfare. I can proudly say that all four of my children, both my two daughters and two sons, have served in the IDF. One was a teacher’s assistant helping Ethiopian immigrant children acclimate to the Israeli school system. Another taught Hebrew to immigrant soldiers who needed to raise their level of Hebrew comprehension. One oversaw an air force lab which made sure missiles were kept in working order. And my eldest son’s job, well to this day I still don’t know what he did in the army, and its probably better that way.
My wife and I also have the privilege of being the “adoptive” family of a lone soldier. Many young people immigrate to Israel through a program called Garin Tzabar where they go directly into the army upon immigration. Since these soldiers don’t have parents in Israel they are adopted by families near where they live. The families have the soldiers over for home cooked meals and are generally there for them if needed.
One of the activities which the adoptive parents take part in is attending their soldier’s ceremonies. We recently had the honor of attending our soldier’s induction ceremony, which took place after finishing basic training. Many soldiers from the Druse community also finished their basic training at this base and their families could easily be seen taking part in the festivities.
A lot of Russian, French, English and Arabic was heard amongst the soldiers and the guests. Of course, the ceremony was held in the language which unites us all – Hebrew. It was enough to make any parent, even a lone soldier’s adoptive parent, proud!