Last night a neighbor held a modest open house in honor of her mother and sister, visiting from the US. It was a fairly typical Shorashim social evening, a couple of dozen 40- and 50- somethings who see each other often, standing around the display of home made cakes, discussing all the usual topics - one of which is always, "so, how is ___ doing?" [fill in the name of a post high-school child]. Here is a sampling of last night's answers:
R. was active in the Masorti youth movement in high school, and after graduation in June joined the movement's gar'in - a group of kids who go through a year of pre-army service and study together, then remain involved in movement projects as they do their army service; it used to be that a gar'in like this would go on to found a new settlement (gar'in means "seed"), but those days are pretty much over. R.'s group is at Kibbutz Keturah, near Eilat, a kibbutz founded by a gar'in from Young Judea. Apparently the social dynamics in the gar'in are not great at this point in time, and it is not clear whether all the kids will stay in it when they are drafted in the summer.
G. graduated high school in June, and was in training for the Sayeret Matkal, the most elite and hard-to-get-into unit in the army (the folks who brought you the Entebbe rescue), but was cut last week (only half of those who pass the initial, very grueling, tryouts actually make it through training), and is sitting at home nursing his ego and awaiting a new assignment.
A. also graduated in June, and decided he was a conscientious objector. He requested alternative service. His request was denied after a hearing last week, and he was given a new draft date. He is determined not to go in, so he seems headed for jail. A kid from a neighboring community went the same route last year. He has now served 168 days in jail; they draft him, he refuses, they jail him, they release him, they draft him again, he refuses again, they jail him again, and so on.
O., another June graduate, took an army truck-driving course. He is now finding the reality of the service in this role extremely hard to take; long hours of travel to a base far from home, where he sits for days at a time waiting for an assignment; there doesn't seem to be much of a team spirit among the drivers, who drive, after all, alone, and he finds it lonely and depressing.
L. has served 32 of his 36 months, and has reached the point of counting the remaining weeks instead of months. He has had the good fortune (as he sees it) to serve in an elite combat unit without seeing any combat. He is hoping that his present role as squad leader training a group of new recruits will keep him busy until his discharge.
Y. finished her service almost a year ago, and waitressed before departing a couple of months ago with her boyfriend to work and travel in the US (she has US citizenship). After a month working for an Israeli pushcart contractor in a Texas shopping mall, they moved to New York, found an apartment and jobs, are enjoying the experience until further notice.
B. finished the army six months ago, is now traveling in South America with a friend. Communication has been minimal enough to keep his parents worried, but sufficient to keep the worry at a reasonable level. It is not clear if they made it all the way to Tiera del Fuego before heading back north to Brazil, but there were penguins among the snapshots they sent back.
I. just finished first-semester exams at Ben Gurion University, which she loves. This report always elicits the response, "Yes, everyone loves it there." It seems that BGU is different from the other Israeli universities in that it is in a relatively small town, and most of the students are not commuters; hence there is a strong sense of campus identity and an active student community.
When I compare the kids here to their middle class Jewish peers from North America, I am struck by how different their experiences are, especially during the years of 18-23. It's not just the army, but all that goes with it, before and after. I think perhaps Israeli kids grow up faster, but I'm not sure what that means, or whether it is a good thing or not.