Local high school graduate Rebecca Richman reflects on the gravity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as she readies to join the Israel Defense Forces through a program for new immigrants.
As a general rule, I try not to rely on my Facebook newsfeed for information about current events and world affairs. When I woke up last week, however, posts concerning my new homeland dominated my page.
“When you hear reports later today about Israel attacking Gaza and killing the head of Hamas,” read one popular post, “keep in mind that 12,000 rockets were launched from Gaza at civilian towns in Israel since Israel withdrew from Gaza a few years ago, including about 1,000 rockets this year alone. You will not see this on TV. Please share the truth, and keep Israel in your thoughts and prayers.”
These posts were not interspersed with the usual “Baking cookies <3” or “Go Eagles!” but instead with, “Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel” and “Am Yisrael Chai — the nation of Israel lives on!”
Even more impressive were the countless wall posts and private messages from my friends and family flooding notifications. Though many people from my community travel to Israel, spend a year abroad here and even move here, I am in the minority of those who make aliyah straight out of high school and join the Israel Defense Forces. When the people I left behind hear about the turmoil in the Middle East, they are quick to offer kind words. “Stay safe!” their messages read. “We love you!”
Though I was grateful for the support, it seemed rather silly to me at first. Of course, I’m safe. I thought, I live in a country where uniformed soldiers guard the corner of every major street and there’s airport-level security at the entrance to every shopping mall.
It wasn’t until my group leader called all 16 of us in for an update that I realized the weight of the situation. He spoke of Amud Annan — the operation in Gaza — and military units and rockets and reserves, but that’s not what stuck in my mind. “Eli and Josh were sent down south,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.
Garin Tzabar — the program I have been on since August — is set up so that every year, kibbutzim around the country house a group of olim chadashim, new immigrants like myself, and prepare them for the army. My group leader had just found out that two boys from his previous group were called down to the border to protect our country. And all of a sudden, I realized what was actually going on.
When you’re sitting on a bus from Jerusalem, when you’re walking in the marketplace before Shabbat, when you’re standing in the midst of a hustling and bustling city, it’s easy to forget that anything is happening. In fact, if security lines weren’t taking a bit longer than usual, or if people weren’t whispering certain words from behind their newspapers, I might even think that everything was back to normal.
But then a quiet sense of worry pervades the air, and I remember that there is something going on. I remember that it involves all the soldiers of Israel, that it involves all my friends, whose draft dates are rapidly approaching, and that it involves me, as I prepare to sign my life away to the IDF for two years.
I’m lucky to live on a kibbutz far from the falling rockets, but when busloads of people come up north and spend the weekend here so that they can celebrate Shabbat in safety, their fears and their worries dispel any illusion of calm.
Sure, there are facts and figures and politically correct terms, but what it comes down to is that I want everyone I love and care about to be safe. I want this to be over so that I can stop worrying, and I want it to end in a way that assures me I won’t have to send my future children to war one day.
In the larger picture, I have full faith that the nation of Israel will pull through. After all, the Jewish people have withstood threats far worse than this. But I am concerned about the young men and women — myself included — who have families waiting for them back at home. I’m concerned for the people whose lives have been flipped upside down, and I wait for the day when everything will go back to normal, when Facebook posts can go back to talking about baked goods and sports teams.
Rebecca Richman graduated Barrack Hebrew Academy in the spring and made aliyah as a “lone soldier” in August.