Returning home from my community’s Yom Hazikaron memorial ceremony last night, a cacophony of thoughts flashed through my head like a Times Square ticker board. My reflections slowly settled on my little brother. Third out of us four boys, Yehuda was never one to color in the lines. After a stint in yeshiva in Israel, against the anxious, insistent begging of Mom and Dad, Yehuda enlisted as a chayal boded in the Israeli Defense Forces. Literally a lone soldier, a chayal boded is much more than merely a young man or women without familial support. The badge adorns over six thousand brave soldiers who are not native Israelis and who have enlisted voluntarily, many in a country foreign to them. A chayal boded is someone to whom nationalistic pride has a whole new level of meaning. He or she is someone who forgoes the comforts of Starbucks, family and Monday night football to live life as a warrior, marching for miles and miles, surviving for weeks on rations of canned tuna.
To the Israeli public, a chayal boded is a symbol of chest-swelling pride; the international Jewish community’s investment in the Jewish state. A plethora of subsidies and programs are offered to assist these brave volunteers, many who don’t speak Hebrew fluently. These heroes embody the spirit of Am Yisrael, serving as an example to wide-eyed children worldwide with their selfless contribution to our nation.
While I was at the service last night, Yehuda was boarding a plane back to Israel. He had somehow convinced his commander to allow him to take his 30-day vacation- another accommodation offered exclusively for lone soldiers- during the holiday of Passover, and he had surprised my parents by returning home for the Chag. I had never seen my mother cry like she did the moment Yehuda walked in. She had long ago removed the mask of opposition, and was now reveling in intense pride over his courageous choice. For a brief period, Yehuda was one of us. To our family’s delight, he dominated the conversations over the Chag with his captivating tales from the front lines, teased the little children, and resumed being an annoying little brother. But now, his vacation over, Yehuda returns to duty. He slips out of his jeans and t-shirt and dons his green uniform, marking him as an unmistakable hero to the Jewish people. His remote guard shack on the Lebanon boarder awaits.
Yes, Yehuda is a hero. And as I remain behind in America, the question haunts me, why not me?
What am I doing for Am Yisrael?
I don’t presume I would have the fortitude to achieve what he did. And so, I ask myself, why not? It’s an uncomfortable question. Deep down, I remind (convince?) myself that my destined place is here, that I am also a fighter. I wage war on assimilation on behalf of Am Yisrael, right here in Texas, by teaching Torah. And yet, life is so cozy here. It makes me uneasy that thousands of young men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the last 69 years, and they did it for me.
What would I be willing to give up for this great nation?