This one's for you, Rav Bogard :)
It's been another crazy week here at HUC. Finals are looming even closer than before, and the pressures of writing papers and studying the mass quantities of information we have to learn are giving all of us insane tension headaches. But, with the passing of finals comes the amazing pleasure of coming home and spending some good, quality time with the many friends coming to visit me, my family, Temple Israel, and the United States.
This past Wednesday, our Israel Seminar class took us to 2 different Israeli Army bases to learn a bit about how the army works and to chat with soldiers about their lives. First, we stopped at a Navy base in Ashdod, where we talked to one of the captains of a mid-level ship. We were able to learn about how the Navy protects the water borders of Israel, as they are commonly attacked by suicide bombers and terrorists (a fact I did not know until Wednesday.) We were also able to see a small ship and the incredible amount of technology upon it.
From Ashdod we drove to Ashkelon, where we visited an Army base that trains new recruits. Shai, one of the students in HUC's Israeli Rabbinic program, is a commander on the base, and arranged for us to have a beautiful lunch with the soldiers. After lunch we had a discussion with the 3 Israel Seminar professors, all of whom made aliyah (they immigrated to Israel) early enough in their lives to serve in the army. They told us about their experiences (or, in one professor's case, lack thereof) in the army, what it was like to be an immigrant in the army, and their observations of the attitudes of the Israeli soldiers. After this discussion, we broke into small groups to have discussions with current Israeli soldiers living on this base. We met with 2 female soliders who were both 20 and had been serving in the army for a year. One of them is responsible for placing new soldiers into the right units, and the other is responsible for helping the pyschological needs of wounded soldiers of the families of fallen soldiers. Both of their jobs require a huge amount of maturity and knowledge, and they both talked about how they've grown up in this last year out of pure necessity. They are excited to leave the army and begin their "real lives" (though neither of them have definite plans as of yet) but they also mentioned how being in the army is a wonderful blessing for them.
In Israel, every citizen is required to serve in the army after high school. Men serve 3 years, and women serve 2, and then most of the men are put into the reserves after that (though there are exceptions for the ultra-Orthodox and others who are unable to fight.) It is only after they've served their time in the army that they can go to college, travel, begin their "real jobs", etc.
The majority of these soliders are 18-20 years old. They carry large guns everywhere they go. They are in charge of keeping this country, and everyone who lives here or visits here, safe. I can't imagine being 18 years old and carrying the weight of that responsibility on my shoulders--knowing that any decision I make could impact the lives of my fellow soliders and my country in a life-or-death sort of way. And, many of these soliders are secular Jews, meaning that for them, living in Israel and speaking hebrew is Jewish-enough. They fight for those religious Jews who, for religious reasons, refuse to fight and yet still depend on the Israeli goverment for financial support to feed their children and pay for their Yeshiva training. There's a lot of bitterness that goes around, both inside and outside the army, but that's another story for another day.
Anyways, I am off to write my Israel Seminar paper. I'm hoping to get it completely done by this weekend so I can start on my music history paper. The fun never ends during finals at HUC! Much love to you all--can't wait to see you soon!