There’s an unspoken possibility about something I could choose to do after high school, before college, and instead of a yeshiva year, and it came to mind recently after experiencing Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. I’ve thought about it and know that I probably won’t do it, but it still comes to mind sometimes. And that is joining the Israeli Defense Forces. I love Israel and I would love to be able to defend it and keep it safe. But I don’t know what my parents would think or if they would let me, which is understandable. And moreover, I don’t feel like I’m cut out for it. Physically I’m not very strong or big; emotionally, I don’t know if I could handle the stress and sacrifice that comes from a military career. And lastly—I’ll admit this, even though I’m a bit ashamed of it—I am and would be terrified of being in the IDF. I’m scared of fighting in a war and of being in combat. It’s cowardly, it’s wrong, but I don’t think I can easily change that.
Yet periodically it comes to mind and bothers me. Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do? Wouldn’t it help me get past my challenges and grow as a person? Shouldn’t I be chomping at the bit to defend my true homeland and to keep Israel safe? Yet I don’t feel that I can get past all the challenges. It would be brutally difficult and I don’t know if I could handle it at all, particularly because it would be voluntary (given that I’m a US citizen and not an Israeli), and thus I would keep on regretting that I made that choice to join. And the IDF deserves someone who doesn’t have the fear and terror that I do about being in the military.
So I’ve gone for years feeling this sort of conflict and guilt inside my head, but this past Yom Hazikaron someone said something that changed my perspective on this, and I’d like to share it. I was in Tanach class and we were discussing the assembly we had just had on Yom Hazikaron, hearing about fallen Israeli soldiers and honoring their memories. My teacher asked us if we had any reactions or thoughts. Some of the discussion was on joining the IDF and if it’s what we should be doing, but my friend Eliana Doft had an interesting idea. She said that even we teenagers in America, going off to college, can fight for Israel in our own way.
There’s a lot of anti-Israel protests and propaganda disseminated on college campuses nowadays, where people claim that Israel violates human rights and is “an apartheid.” If the voices that claim that are the only voices, then that’s what people will believe—and that’s very bad for Israel and its public image. Eliana said that we can be “ideological soldiers,” where we spread the truth and the goodness about Israel on campus, and fight for the truth about Israel to be known. There are plenty of advocacy groups we can join, for instance, and there’s also social media that can be used to spread pro-Israel beliefs. College is a formative period in one’s life; people form their opinions and viewpoints, and we can fight to make sure that they see the right side of Israel and don’t succumb to the propaganda of its enemies.
The idea struck a chord with me, which is why I wanted to share it. In a way, I will become a “soldier” by taking this on, but in a different type of war—a war of ideas. I’ve always known the importance about spreading the truth about Israel and combatting the ideas of others that go against it. Now I see how doing so is my own way of defending the country and keeping it safe on another front.
To be fair, it’s not the same as being a true IDF soldier. I have the utmost respect for anyone in the IDF and the challenges and sacrifices they make. I wish I had the strength and courage to join, but I know that I will most likely just go off to college. But when I go off, I’ll be willing to fight. It’s a different sort of fight, a different type of war, but a fight and a war all the same. And I want to help Israel succeed in the war of ideas and ideology.
Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist, but currently is drowning in emails from colleges. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.
By Oren Oppenheim