May 30, 2024
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Elie Is Honorably Discharged

Lieutenant Elie Weinberger returned to civilian life on December 12. The process involved filling out some forms, returning equipment and cutting up his hoger (army identification card). For Elie’s parents, the conclusion of his four years in the military can be summed up with one word: relief.

Many religious solders begin their return to civilian life with a return to full-time Torah study, and this is what Elie plans to do for the next year or so. Now I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it time for Elie, 24, to think about how he will earn his livelihood? You agree that Torah study is important, but you know that it’s a life-long endeavor, and since Elie dedicated two-and-a-half years to full-time Torah study before his enlistment, you opine that the time has come for him to “get on with his life”—especially since Elie and Hadar are expecting their first child in April.

Here’s the thing: Elie (and Hadar, too) feels that it is crucial for him to dedicate at least a year to Torah study in order to decompress from army life. (Truth be told: Israeli society encourages such decompression, though it usually takes the form of lengthy treks to exotic places such as New Zealand, India and South America.) Still, having grown up in America, having all my nieces and nephews in America, I know that by the age of 24 not only has every respectable Jewish person earned a first academic degree, but they are often well on their way to completing a second. The following personal letter to Elie that I wrote while I was on an extended stay in New York is thus very much on my mind these days:

Dear Elie,

I have now been here in America for six weeks and the differences between Jewish life in America and Jewish life in Israel have never been clearer to me. Jewish life in America is Jewish religious life—and it can be quite a good, fulfilling, and meaningful life. Jewish life in Israel is the life of the Jewish people in its totality. Perhaps nothing symbolizes that totality as the Israel Defense Forces. Only in Israel can the Jewish people defend itself militarily. Over the past year and a half in your combat course you have learned exactly how to do this, how to defend Israel.

As our family’s one and only combat soldier you alone among your siblings may be called upon to endanger your life in military combat. I hope and pray that you are not tested, even though I know you probably will be. Of course the truth is, since you are in a secret unit, I will never know exactly when and how you are tested. I do know that you will perform admirably and honorably in any such test.

Until the army, you had not had the opportunity to mix with boys from different backgrounds other than your own. I congratulate you on the way you have become a full part of your unit, being deeply connected to all while remaining true to your faith convictions.

Every now and then a soldier does something that they should not have done and people start questioning whether the IDF is a moral army. I think of you and know that it would be inconceivable for you to violate the ethical code of the IDF. Your commitment to the Torah and to halachah is a beautiful guide for you, and in critical situations I am absolutely certain that you would do exactly what you are supposed to do—and much much more.

Elie, the boys here your age [then, 22] are finishing college and thinking about their careers. In Israel we are in a different system. We cannot, as Jews do in America, let the “goyim” of the country defend us. Jews in Israel, including committed religious Jews, defend their country. This opportunity of self-defense was denied Jews for many centuries. You are part of the return of Jews to normal life, which includes the right to bear arms. It’s tricky to combine intense commitment to Judaism with being a combat soldier, but you have succeeded in doing this incredibly well.

I am super proud of you and super proud to be your father. Love, Abba

By Teddy Weinberger

 

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