I’m very excited to be writing this post from a couch in my grandparents’ apartment in Israel–I’m visiting over winter break.
The last time I visited Israel was a year and a half ago. When I arrived here a week ago, I soon realized how much had changed within my family now that three of my cousins are in the army. They’ve been in the army since earlier this year, but before I arrived I didn’t quite grasp what that meant and how much it changes things. My grandfather is turning 80 this weekend (the reason for my family’s visit), and one of my cousins simply won’t be able to come to our party because he isn’t allowed to leave his base this weekend. The only communication I’ve had with him since being here was a quick phone-call. Another cousin is training to be a pilot, and while I will get to see him at the party, I have yet to see or hear from him during our entire visit here. The more my family misses the absent cousins, the more it seems we do nothing but talk about them and the work they’re doing.
What I’ve found strangest is seeing people my age prepare for the army right now. As I’ve been working on applying to college and thinking about what I want to do with my life, they’ve been going through testing to see how they’ll be serving their country for the next few years. Even though I know quite a few people going into the army here, it still surprises me that I’ll be starting college at least two or three years before them–and that while I’m spending time thinking about myself and trying to have a “college experience”, they’ll be learning to think less about themselves and instead to think about their unit and the goals of a group.
In America, I feel like I’m constantly being told that I’ll figure everything out in college–that I’ll make my best friends, discover a career path, and somehow manage to explore a million different new things. While I’m not sure all of that will happen (I hope it does), I do know that for many Americans, college is a chance to live away from your parents, feed yourself, and begin to get a taste of what independence feels like. But in Israel, you don’t live alone after high school–you live and work with a group of people all the time. Even the most raucous and rambunctious teenagers are forced to learn discipline. And, instead of trying to go as far away from home as possible (what? never!), many Israelis my age look forward to coming home every other weekend and getting a chance to take a break from their tiring work.
This trip has been kind of a reality check for me. I know America and Israel are very different countries with very different security needs and capabilities, and that at least in the foreseeable future, there won’t be a draft in America, so I’ll never have the experience of being required to serve my country. But I do think there’s something I can learn from the way Israelis look at serving in the army. I’ve talked to quite a few people about their impending draft and asked them why they didn’t just say they were crazy, get out of the draft, and go to college–and they looked at me like I was crazy. They told me that they want to serve because they know that Israeli soldiers, both fighters and those who do administrative work, allow Israel to flourish and prosper as it does–that without them, Israel could not be the what it is today. Even though to me giving up two or three years of my life seems like a burden, to many Israelis it is not just a duty, but something they look forward to.
That, I think, is what I want to remember as I head towards college. During senior year, I’ve often fallen into the habit of stressing so much about my college essays and potential acceptances that I forget to think about other people. I can only imagine what it will be like when I don’t have my family around me to yell at me and keep me somewhat grounded. And so, when that happens, I hope to think about my cousins and friend serving their country in Israel, and remember that there’s an entire world out there of needs and responsibilities that are bigger than myself–and that even though my needs may seem incredibly pressing, I need to take time to think about other people and my community as a whole.