By Jennifer Schrutt
Today is Enlistment Day. We have spoken about this day forever, and now it is here, and I must “walk the walk” that Israeli mothers have walked for almost 75 years.
My oldest child and only son will put on a green uniform with a Star of David emblem to join the Israel Defense Forces. His protection, welfare and fate will no longer be in my hands.
How do you spend 19 years caring for every injury, kissing away tears, ensuring safety from proper car-seat installations to endless coats of sunscreen to obsessing over nutrition decisions, racing to every hockey game, searching desperately for Hebrew tutors, driving teachers, bagrut exams, graduation … and now just let go? This was not in the Nefesh B’Nefesh brochure when they generously assisted us with our aliyah seven years ago.
It’s astounding to me that this carefree, laid-back child of mine, who made me a mother, now becomes the target of so much hate simply because he puts on this uniform and fulfills his duty as an Israeli citizen to protect the Jewish people.
And it’s a duty that my son at the tender age of 18 years old fully understands. Earlier this year, he participated in a school trip to Poland, along with two other schools, and allowed me the privilege of accompanying his grade. In total, there were more than 120 boys.
I think back to my senior year of high school growing up in South Florida, and the contrast in maturity and outlook could not be greater. Toward the end of the trip, the boys talked about how they had always known that they had to serve in the Israeli army after graduation. What they didn’t know until then was why it was so crucial to serve. I was blown away by their insight. It was in Poland that these teenage boys internalized and understood that the survival of the Jewish people depends on the strength of the Israeli army to protect it.
When we decided as a family to return to the Jewish homeland, it was just after “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. Like so many other wars in Israel before it, that military effort, which came on the heels of the tragic kidnapping and murder of three innocent Israeli yeshivah boys, shone a light on the totally opposing attitudes Israel and Hamas have toward the value of human life.
Respect for life is a cornerstone of Jewish values and Israel’s national character, while Hamas and other terrorist organizations glorify death and martyrdom, as evidenced by decades of suicide attacks, and using innocent civilians and children as human shields. How can you make peace with a people that names streets and public squares after terrorists who slaughter innocent women, children and the elderly in cold blood? As if the brutality of violence weren’t enough, Israel — the one and only bastion of democracy in the Middle East — is held to an unattainable and totally unfair double standard that is inevitable in the aftermath of any casualties.
The words of Nitza Shmueli, the mother of 21-year-old Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli (of blessed memory), reverberate through my head at 2 a.m.: “My son is fighting for his life, his blood, his breath, for nothing,” as her son fought until his heartbreaking last breath last August during massive riots along the Gaza border. In this case, our troops were “unprepared” for the massive rush toward the security fence that separates the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. The IDF soldiers did not open fire at the crowds that suddenly attacked the fence out of concern that they might hit civilians also in the area. What about concern for Israeli soldiers first? As the Torah states, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him.”
Jews value life over death. This is what differentiates us from our enemies. In this case, a juvenile terrorist who was following orders of his people shoots our innocent soldier point blank in the head in cold blood. Yet our soldiers hesitated to respond preemptively as thousands mobbed the border and left our soldiers vulnerable. Why not? The court of public opinion has chosen sides and made up its mind about the Jewish state long ago. Jewish blood is cheap. Still, why should we care anymore what the world thinks when we are the most moral army in the world? What would America, Germany, Canada or Britain do if mobs of Molotov cocktail-throwing violent terrorists attacked their border to infiltrate and kidnap or kill their citizens?
We should learn from history, using the brilliant words of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who taught us: “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression.”
“Why did they send my son? Why? I want an answer.” It was a legitimate question from bereaved mother Nitza that anyone with a heart can understand. Unfortunately, the answer was given when Barel first switched his soccer clothes for the green uniform on Enlistment Day when she handed her son over to the IDF. I beg God that Barel’s death was not in vain and that the IDF has learned from this tragedy so that others may be spared. Israel needs to untie the hands of our protectors, prioritize the safety and well-being of our sons and daughters, and allow force to be a deterrent to terrorism.
To quote the first female Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir: “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.” Until that day, may the IDF find the courage and the strength to use whatever means possible to protect our nation’s most precious gift: our children. They selflessly and courageously protect Israel to allow every Jew around the world to have a safe refuge so “never again” does not just become an empty slogan.
While my son’s American Jewish counterparts begin their university adventures, I have changed the trajectory of my firstborn’s path, and now he must spend the next two years and eight months defending the only Jewish state on the planet as part of an army that has been reborn after 2,000 years of exile. He is living my dream — the dream of our ancestors, the dream of the 6 million who perished in the Shoah — and I alone will have to live with that decision, whatever his fate may be.
Meanwhile, I will have his favorite foods ready for his return, our dog will keep his bed warm, and I will anxiously wait for his nightly text to reassure me that he is safe and well-fed. After all, although the Israeli army is one of the mightiest in the world, its commanders still instruct their soldiers to “call their moms first.” God bless the IDF.
Jennifer Schrutt is the director of development at JNS.org.