By Sagi Melamed
Our son Guy was released from the IDF in May. My wife, Betsy Winnick Melamed, wrote this dedication for the occasion. She made aliyah in 1991, and, as she says, having children in the IDF is what finally made her a real Israeli.
Mazel tov on being released from the IDF.
When you were born, Abba promised us that by the time you turned 18 you would not have to serve in the army, but if you had to, it would be a different kind of army; that the mission of the soldier would be like countries that don’t have enemies on its borders. We dreamed of a better world and that the service of a soldier would be something else.
But here we are today with the same reality that you were born into and your father was born into and your grandfather was born into and your great-grandfather, who came to settle Israel by the sweat of his brow and also with dreams of peace, was also born into. So now my beloved Guy, here we are on the day of your release from the army, alternative dreams fulfilled and a job well done, more gray hairs and wrinkles, more cuts, scratches and scars. Four and a half years, starting in the winter of 2013, ending in the spring of 2018. A time for new beginnings.
Having never served in the army, I was told by Abba that your army service is about you, and he was right. You worked hard to pass not just one, but two tryouts for two different elite units. But the smile on your face that Friday in November 2013 when you learned that you made it into 669, the IDF Heliborne Combat Search and Rescue unit, said it all. It reminded me of the smile that you have when you are really happy, like the one that you wore after your first jet ski ride in Thailand.
During basic training, you dedicated yourself to the highest degree to making the cut, even undergoing an operation on your legs so that you could stay in the unit. Your weekly stories about basic training were tough to hear, test after test after test. But also the things that you were doing sounded amazing … parachuting, scuba diving, navigating, rappelling, lifesaving and survival (except for that one, it didn’t sound so amazing).
The induction ceremony into 669 was no less impressive. We were crying from the release of tension and pride of having seen you through basic training and, as for you, you celebrated the moment. You passed that impossible year and a half of testing with endurance, skill, awareness, suffering and uncertainty. Hallelujah!
And while you were working hard at being a soldier, I was working hard on being a soldier’s mom. Each day I swallowed hard and kept moving forward, waiting for the Sabbaths when you were able to come home.
So here are a few thoughts I would like to share with you on your discharge from the army. In one of the commentaries on Kohelet, it is written, “To add knowledge is to add pain.” Indeed, entering into the army meant eating from the Tree of Knowledge, opening your eyes and your ears, and placing yourself in danger and in situations you would rather not find yourself in and at the end of it all, this price of knowing was a surrender of your innocence.
This is a hard position to be in and, truthfully there were moments that were almost unbearable for me to see you in this role. But, at the same time, your desire to do good and the right thing filled me with humility. That with your surrender, you had chosen responsibility, to be a paramedic and to be a warrior.
You are a man who takes responsibility for his own fate and for those of others in partnership with God. It is a choice that has a lot of merit: to learn to ask questions, to be curious and creative, to evaluate, all in order to acquire knowledge, to expand your ability to first know yourself, and to know how to work so that each encounter with humankind will be productive and have a happy ending.
Today is a milestone for you; you are now back in civilian life. We welcome you home with open arms and Ben & Jerry’s and your place on the living room beanbag. Just so you know, being your mother is not only a responsibility and a challenge, it is also a great privilege. So at this moment, I am wishing you a life of meaning and fulfillment.
And just one last thing: If you miss having the pressure of the army on your shoulders, I can always provide you with a list of things to do.
Sagi Melamed is vice president of external relations and development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley. College and president of the Harvard Club of Israel. He is the author of Son of My Land and Fundraising.