July 8, 2024
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The Soldiers of the Eight Towns

Back in Bergenfield in 2002, all the neighborhood kids would hang out at Katz Field on Shabbat afternoons and play whiffle ball. Jason and Joey- the Katz boys, were always pumped and ready to compete. Yoni and Moti- two other boys from up the block, who were core members of that “chevra” were less inclined to do so.  Yes they pitched and batted and fielded but always seemed like they were never truly in the Game. One little brother Avi picked dandelions when he tagged along. From another family, there was Dovi, the biggest of them all but the youngest player, and he had definite potential. He could sock the ball two backyards down while swinging with only one hand. Not bad for a seven year old. His older brother Yehuda showed up once in a while….mostly with a seifer in hand.

I distinctly remember watching all 14 or so boys from the window of an upstairs bedroom, thinking what the future held for them all. A dozen years later, clarity has landed.

The Katz boys are doing great here in the Eight Towns, thank G-d. More on them, maybe, in another column.

Lets’ start with Yoni. Yoni played X-Box and other sundry forms of video games seemingly all day and all night, 24/6. Find Yoni, and you’d discover a young teen with a virtual/video machine gun in his hand blasting the bad guys to smithereens. Yoni made Aliyah with his family a few years later…and joined the Israel Defense Forces, where he received “Israel’s Soldier of Distinction Award’ for his expertise in- for real- Sniping. I kid you not.

Moti graduated Israeli university at an early age, and now serves in a special services Computer Unit of the IDF- a unit so unique and elite that he can not even tell his parents what he does. Most Israeli soldiers can’t. Contrast that with what goes down on this side of the ocean, where kids don’t WANT to tell parents what they’re doing…..

And oh by the way, Avi, the cute little baby of his family, enters Israeli Air Force High School in the Fall. Yes, all their parents are very proud. A Mom told me just today that “our daughter is only a high school Junior but has already told us she’s prefers not to do Sherut Leumi (National Service) but rather wants in on the real deal.”

As for Yehuda and Dovi, they each made Aliyah as “Chayalim Bodedim” – lone soldiers having made Aliyah without their families. Last I saw them on a visit to Israel two years ago, one was a paratrooper and another a naval officer.

It doesn’t end there…. Friends and neighbors in Fair Lawn just saw their son “Josh” finish his service as a member of the Golani Brigade. He too was a Lone Soldier. His parents were nervous and proud and terrified and happy and certainly spent many a sleepless night, but they will never, ever for a minute forget Josh’s induction ceremony at the Kotel- where in his father‘s words, “we saw Ethiopians and Russians and Druze and Sephardim and Ashkenazim and payos and tzitzis and pony tails- but they were one Army. They were one IDF. And as long as we all look at them that way no enemy of ours can or will ever destroy us.” And with a twinkle in his eye the father added, “and you know what? That is exactly how they all see themselves.”

In their earliest days of elementary school, each of these kids would celebrate Israel Independence Day by dressing in blue and white, being issued color-paper makeshift passports and boarding a cardboard-box EL-AL plane with paper-mache wings and cotton outside their windows serving as puffy clouds. They were treated to a make believe visit to Israel for Yom Ha’atzmaut.  We send our children to Zionist day schools and high schools, so is it any wonder that this is how their story unfolds?

And now comes the million-dollar question. What have we, the Eight Towns Communities of Bergenfield, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, New Milford, Paramus, Teaneck and Tenafly, done to honor and commemorate the achievements of our own who serve in the IDF? Where is the plaque in every school, where is the weekly prayer for their welfare in shul? Where are their photos in our schools and biographies in our newspapers? For if we don’t value this value, then what do we value?

Yoni and Moti and Avi and Yehuda and Dovi were all in my backyard together on many a Shabbat. Who was in yours? And how are you remembering them every year since they left, every Fifth of Iyar?

Said one of the fathers, “It is an honor for the soldiers to wear their uniforms, as many consider them Bigdei Kodesh (Holy Garments). As with many parents, we have children with high levels of success in learning, academic and business fields. However, we consider the IDF service of our children to be of the greatest calling and source of pride.”

Robert Katz is a 26-year resident of Bergen County and has been a Jewish communal professional for nearly 30 years. His column appears in the first issue of every month. Robert can be reached at [email protected]

By Robert Katz

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