His Uniform, My Responsibility

Gershom Gorenberg

In the informal division of labor in this blog, Haim normally handles the issues of army service. He’s the one who wrote Company C, after all. However, in the week when my son became a soldier, it was hard for me to write my column for the American Prospect about anything else.

A friend has volunteered to drive. He’ll drop us off in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, near the entrance of the Israel Defense Forces induction center. My son and I will talk, with our eyes on our watches, and I’ll hug him, and he will swing his duffel bag over his shoulder and walk in. I’m writing beforehand. You are reading this after the event.

For my son, as he has described his feelings, that gate marks the precise physical location of the end of childhood. For me, it marks the end of the countdown that began with his birth. It is the line between one type of anxiety and another, shaded in a deeper gray.

Let me add quickly: I’m not writing about physical danger. After enduring all the army tests that Israelis his age undergo instead of filling out college applications, he has received an assignment that isn’t likely to include being shot at. But it’s militarily important and imposes that small, weighty fragment of responsibility — like a speck of an ultra-heavy radioactive element — that an individual soldier bears for what an army does.

Indirectly, I know that I actually imposed that responsibility. It is the end product of a chain reaction that began before he was born, when I made the decisions to live in Israel, rather than in the United States, and raise children here. After I arrived as a student, one reason I stayed is that Israel was a place where political passion never went out of fashion, where strangers argued politics on the bus, where it was rude to phone a friend during the evening national news because the news mattered.

Now, because of one of those parental decisions that predetermine a child’s life, my son is becoming a soldier. This is the moment when politics — of Israel, of the Middle East — becomes absolutely personal…

Read the full column here, and feel free to return to SoJo to comment.

4 thoughts on “His Uniform, My Responsibility”

  1. All our family wishes your son and all of you calm and safe service. We wish the father and mother of the new soldier much health. The task of changing hearts here is ours; your part in it is noble and courageous. Thank you for that.

  2. Having served in combat I can say it’s an experience I could have done without but it made me value human life evenmore. The structure of army life on the other hand seems to give more structure to a young man’s life and brings him closer to his life goals. I only hope that the military and political powers do not squander his life like the unprincipalled cretons did here in the US during the last eight years

  3. My 20 year old niece Yonina is an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. Since she made aliyah, returning to the country of her youth, and especially upon entering the IDF (soon after Lebanon 2), I have begun to view Israeli and Mideastern politics through a different lense. No longer was it theoretical. No longer were hawkish or liberal positions interesting polemics. Everything affected or could affect the life of my beloved niece Yonina. I have never quite been able to clearly articulate these concerns.

    Thus I thank you for this article. While the gulf between a niece and a son is huge, the concerns overlap. Well done!

  4. Youu have written: “The new government will be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose rhetoric is built from fear and the fantasy that the military can solve all problems”. To quote you, this is more than a bit “arid”. It is wrong because it implies this image is the totality of his thinking and policies, which it isn’t. It implies that one shouldn’t fear and yet you support the military. It implies Netanyahu lives a fantasy, which he doesn’t.

    Did he/does he/will he make mistakes. Sure. But to negate, in a throw-away phrase of distaste, the entirety of his position is not only to ignore the reality of the hostility and the approach of Arabs which is deny-Jewish-nationalism, but to place your own thinking in doubt.

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