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July 30, 2014 | 3rd Av 5774

Last night I had the strangest dream

Galilee Diary #211
December 12, 2004

Marc Rosenstein

Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, “Who is the man who has built a new house and has not yet dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the war and another man will dedicate it. And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in war and another man will enjoy it. And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not yet married her? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in war and another man will take her…”

--Deuteronomy 20:5-7

Traveling in the US, waiting with a friend at an airport baggage claim on a low-traffic day. The large space is almost empty at the moment. An American soldier – 30-ish - in uniform comes down the escalator and there in the middle of the expanse of terrazzo and neon embraces his waiting girlfriend/wife. Our suitcase comes and we leave and they are still standing there in the middle of the floor. And while we don’t know their story, it is easy to imagine one, and to find this reunion moving.

It occurs to me that as terrible as it is that so much of our lives and our resources in Israel go into the army – the years wasted and the lives lost and the dreams dashed – and despite doubts about policies set by democratically elected leaders all of whose leadership experience was acquired in the military – still, the army is a part of life for us. Soldiers constantly move among us, crowding us on buses and trains, bringing their uniforms home to launder every weekend, The army is a universal experience, part of growing up, providing life skills and lifelong friends, challenge and adventure, giving as it takes away. I would very much like to imagine life in Israel without this constant presence; there must be a better tool for uniting and leveling society. And yet, army culture is so much a part of Israeli culture that it is hard to visualize what we would be like without it.

And when we serve, the wars we fight are close to home – and for home. Rarely does a soldier have to stay away from home more than two shabbatot in a row. Rarely are they out of cell phone range for more than a couple of days. Most of their time is spent at bases that are part of the landscape – and even our “front lines” over the years have been familiar territory – from Sinai to Lebanon – where we know the terrain and the climate, and the culture and often even the language of our adversary. In a way, the army experience is an organic part of the Israeli experience – for the soldiers and for their families – which means just about (but not quite) everybody. Those who are not part of this fellowship are those who are in some way outsiders in Israeli society – Arabs and ultra-Orthodox – and their outsiderness may be due in large part to their being outside the army experience.

And I think that as bad as we have it, we are better off than the US National Guardsmen who ship off to the other side of the world, where nothing is familiar, where you have to use a lot of imagination to see how you are fighting for your home, where everyone may be an enemy, where you don’t get to bring your dirty laundry home every Shabbat, where you don’t exactly feel part of a universal effort of the whole society. Of course it’s scary having to face army service in Israel – for yourself or your child or your father. But watching that American soldier in the airport, I realized how fortunate we are.

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