I sit here at my desk staring at the photograph of our eldest granddaughter, Shoval. She is wearing army fatigues, canteen dangling at her side, standing on a sandy dune, smiling under azure blue skies, with a Star of David on her military cap. How did all of this happen? She was born, reared and schooled in the United States to our daughter, Cindy Smukler Dorani, and her Israeli-born husband. How and why did she come to be a soldier in the Israeli army?
It must have been in her plans for some time, but my wife, Connie, and I did not expect it until about six months ago, in the middle of her senior year at Barrack Hebrew Academy. She was traveling to meetings of a group called Garin Tzabar, founded and run by the Friends of Israeli Scouts with support of the Ministry of Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel and MASA. The meetings, we learned, were for Jewish Americans living in the Diaspora who were planning to move to Israel and serve in the Israel Defense Force.
During this past summer she started to live on an Israeli kibbutz, which became her home for some three months. We kept in touch by photos, e-mail and telephone. During the three-month absorption stage, she underwent intense educational programming and took biweekly trips around Israel. Also during that time, she had the right to voluntarily leave the program for any reason. She chose not to. On Nov. 17, she was sworn in to the IDF.
As a poet once said, "As you sow so shall you reap." And so it was with Shoval. She traveled through Israel with us several times. Once, at her younger brother's Bar Mitzvah in the synagogue at Latrun, at the memorial to the Israeli Tank Corps, in which her father served, we saw her joyously sitting atop the turret of a massive disabled tank. We should have then comprehended her dream of serving in the IDF. Her mother traveled with her to Israel on numerous other occasions. She often visited her father's parents, who live there. She always attended Jewish day schools. So now she is a soldier.
I keep thinking that when I was her age, there was no Israel. It was still a dream. I remember listening to the radio the day the United Nations voted in favor of a Jewish state. I remember scanning the newspapers and listening to the radio during those seemingly interminable wars and intifadas that filled the news in the years that followed.
Connie and I chanced to be in Israel when we heard of the Entebbe rescue and sat on the slopes of Masada when Israeli soldiers buried the bones of the martyrs found at that sacred place. We were with former Prime Minister Menachem Begin just days before Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem on his peace mission, and cheered with thousands as his limousine, bearing Egyptian and Israeli flags, passed us on King David Street in Jerusalem.
We were there when the Israeli newspapers announced that the one-millionth Soviet Jew made aliyah to Israel, and when Natan Sharansky was thunderously welcomed upon his release from the Soviet Gulag. So many memories, all culminating in this moment.
Our granddaughter looks out at us from her photograph, smiling and happy. From shtetl to America to Israel in four generations. May she and Israel be kept from harm.
Joseph Smukler is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a member of its board of directors. He and his wife, Constance, will be honored by Federation during a special performance of "The Thomashefskys" on Feb. 15 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. For information, call 215-832-0930.