My 22 Year-Old Daughter Has Joined the Israeli Defense Forces (“IDF”) – Where Did I Go Wrong or How Proud Could I Be?

This is my first blog entry and I hope not my last.  I dedicate it to my hero, my daughter, Dana Lynn.  I have 3 daughters.  Each inspires me in a different way and perhaps I will discuss them all in this blog some at some time.  Today, I will focus on Dana.  Dana started blogging recently about her army experience and her writing has inspired me to put pen to paper myself. 

On August 11, 2014, 338 people boarded an El Al charter flight to make Aliya (to emigrate to Israel to become Israeli citizens). Of those 338, 107 were children and 108 were young adults ages 18-23 who were going to join the IDF.  Many of those 108 have already been drafted and the remainder will be drafted shortly soon.   My daughter is one of the 108.  She was drafted on December 16, 2014, and she will be serving two years.   Did I go wrong somewhere?

I am a Zionist.  You see, I was raised in a household by Zionistic Jewish American parents who watched in horror from the U.S. as Jews were exterminated in Europe – while this country did nothing.  They became ardent supporters of Israel – my father in particular.  I recall that in 1970, my father and mother went to visit Israel for the first time.  I was 7 years old.  When they came back, I had a brand new chess set and backgammon set (both purchased in the Arab Market/Shuk in the Old City of Jerusalem) and every Friday night after dinner,  dad and I sat down and we played both, and he kicked my ass.  

Dad  would also regale me with stories of Israel, the Jewish people and our Jewish history. He spoke of visiting Yeshivat  HaKotel in Jerusalem and how he loved watching the boys dance down to the Kotel – the Wailing Wall —  every Friday night.  He hoped that someday he would see me dance down the steps to the Kotel on a Friday night (he did many years later).

It was my father who arranged for Bnei Akiva to open a Snif — branch –  at the Young Israel of Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York, and who originally encouraged me to attend Bnei Akiva every Shabbat (Bnei Akiva is a Religious Zionist Youth Movement).  I walked about a mile every Shabbat to those Bnei Akiva meetings and that is where I met my first Madrich Zvi (then Howie) Glatt (z’l h’yd).  Howie was a diehard Zionist and Bnei-Akivanik. Howie taught me even more about Israel and he too imparted his love of Israel to me. When faced with the proposition of summer camp a few years later, the choices were the 2 Zionist camps – Massad – run by Rabbi Meir Moskowitz where they only spoke Hebrew,  or Moshava- the Bnei Akiva camp. Although I went to the Yeshiva of Flatbush, I thought my Hebrew was too weak for a Hebrew speaking camp and I was too afraid to go there, so I picked Moshava.  I proceeded to spend the next 6-7 summers in Moshava where I was further infused with Zionism and Zionistic ideals.  

During my years as a member of the Bnei Akiva organization, I made many friends who shared the same ideas and ideals.  As I grew older and began my high school career at Yeshiva University’s Brooklyn High School (“BTA”), I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by many of the friends that I had made in Bnei Akiva and in Camp Moshava.  We spent time in school together, we spent time at camp together, and we spent our weekends together doing things related to Bnei Akiva.  We all talked about going to Israel, about going to Israel for a year after high school on a program called Hachshara (a work/study program) and even about living in Israel, although few of us had ever been.  I still remember the fights with my father about wanting to go on Hachshara — how he was opposed to it because he believed it was unstructured and did not involve enough Torah learning.  Dad really wanted me to go to Yeshivat  Kotel to fulfill his vision of dancing down to the Kotel on Friday nights.  I lost that battle and I ended up in Kotel while most of my friends ended up on Hachshara.  From BTA, out of a class of approximately 30, at least 6 went on Hachshara and at least 6 made Aliya as well.  The year passed quickly and I wanted to stay in Israel either in Kotel or elsewhere, but I wanted to stay. As much as my father was an ardent Zionist, he was also an educator.  He thought that I would be better served if I came home, went to college and completed my education.  He left me little opportunity and swore that he would not support me if I stayed.  An education was paramount.  I returned from a year abroad depressed that I now had to stay here and attend either Brooklyn College or Yeshiva University.  

I ended up at Yeshiva University (“Y.U.”), but the experience of being forced to return had an impact on me.  I gave up!  Resigned to the idea of finishing school at Y.U., I tried to find things to do to fill up my time and I started to rebel in every which way.  I completed my schooling, but by the time I finished Y.U., my father wanted me to continue on to graduate school in some form.  I ended up in law school (applied only to Cardozo and got in – luckily), and I pursued a career as a public defender.  I have now been doing criminal defense work since 1987, most of it public defense work.  At that time in my life, my feelings for Israel and for living there dwindled.  It became a fantasy of something to do “someday.”

Perhaps this is where I truly went wrong. I abandoned the notion of moving to Israel and serving my people in pursuit of a career and family. I got married and had children. The notion of living in Israel became distant and foreign as we focused on educating our children and finding money to pay for Yeshiva tuition.  I still talked of Israel.  I sent my kids to Yeshiva/Jewish Day School and through the school I hoped to instill in my children a love of the people and the land of Israel, but it was abstract for them.  I spoke of Israel often, but I am not certain I conveyed my love for her.  We could not afford to take them to Israel when they were young, so we could not show them our heritage and our roots.  Israel became remote and abstract and the notion of living there slowly faded.  I think that I was very far from my Jewish Zionist roots.   

For my eldest daughter, Dana Lynn, her studies at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School stimulated an interest in Israel, but it remained an interesting and abstract idea until she went on March of the Living in her Senior Year of high school.  In Poland, she sensed despair from seeing how our people had no place to go to escape and how they were systematically murdered.  She experienced a sense of hopelessness at how few Jews fought back.  Then on Israel Independence Day – Yom Haztmaut – which she observed in Israel, Dana saw a strong Jewish people determined to overcome adversity and live in our homeland; a place rich with our history – a place that we can call home.  From that moment forward, Dana ran back to Israel at every opportunity.  Her determination and her love of Israel helped reignite that spark that I had so many years ago; the deep love of Israel that had been slumbering inside me. 

Unfortunately, I’m also my father’s son. When Dana came to me three years ago and told me that it was her desire to go and move to Israel, I questioned her commitment to that idea. I impressed upon her the value of an education and told her that she had to get her education first. I told her that if she completes her education and still wants to move to Israel, I would give her 1000% of my support.   

In August, after completing four years at Binghamton University and graduating with honors, my daughter did what she wanted to do three years ago and she left the United States and all of its luxuries to go live in Israel, to become an Israeli citizen, to serve in the Israeli army and to protect the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

Where did I go wrong?

All beginnings are difficult, and the older you are the more difficult and challenging the new beginning can be. The younger you are, the easier it is to adapt.  I think I should have been more supportive three years ago. Dana would have already been living in Israel by now for three years, her army service would be complete, and she would be ready to start making a life for herself in Israel.  Instead, she got an education and a great one, but now she must put her life on hold and do 2 years of army service first.  At 22, she must now take orders from an 18 or 19 year old commanders. 

Where did I go wrong?

I did not advocate for my own needs and desires as much as I should have when I was younger. 

Where did I go wrong?

More importantly and more recently, I didn’t do enough to give my daughter the support and encouragement that she needed three years ago.  Yes, I’m very proud that my daughter is an ardent Zionist and that she is now living in Israel and that she is serving in the IDF, but regret that I did not listen earlier and put aside my father’s reasoning.  I hope never to repeat that mistake.

Finally, I need to thank Dana Lynn.  Over the last few years, her bravery and determination have helped me remember my love of Israel.  The events that have unfolded over the last few months in Israel have increased my resolve and commitment to Israel.  I think that we need to realize what Dana did on March of the Living – we may live here in the United States, but it is not home.  There is only one home for the Jewish People – the Land of Israel. 

Where did I go wrong? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I was only derailed for a bit.  Thank you Dana Lynn!  You inspire me! You inspire us all!  How Proud I am!

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