You slept well the night before you were drafted into the IDF. I know because I quietly opened your bedroom door several times throughout the night to enjoy looking at you, just my son, before you become “Reewho-ush Tzahali” (“Property of the IDF”) for the next three years. For over a year, I stood by as you calmly and deliberately made your preparations for being drafted into the army. During part of that time, you participated in one of the pre-military academy programs. It was a good year for you and your friends. You learned more Israeli history, you traveled and hiked throughout “Our Land” (“HaAretz Shelanu”), you did volunteer work with underprivileged children in development towns and you even found the time to work at the Lauder-JDC Camp in Szarvas, Hungary with Jewish summer campers from all over the world. Meanwhile you went through all of the trials and tests you needed to go through as part of your pre-draft process.
One of the times I looked in on you during the night before your draft day, I remembered, that you were barely 3 years old when Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Declaration of Principles Agreements. Back in those heady hopeful days of “The New Middle East” my strong Socialist and pacifist tendencies took over and I expressed the hope that by the time you reached draft age we (Israel) wouldn’t need an army at all! Of course looking back now, I realize that the nation and I were “dreaming peace” too early and certainly when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated on 4 November 1995 we all felt that we had landed right back in the quagmire of long-term conflict which would require Israel to maintain its sleek and modern army for years to come!
You slept well the night before you were drafted into the IDF and I kept watch over you, just my son, for a few more hours. Sometime in the middle of the night, I became fearful that you would wake up, find me looking in on you and be very upset with me for my silly night-watch. So I managed to persuade myself that it would be best for me to go to bed and try to sleep for a few hours. I managed to get myself into bed, I didn’t manage to sleep, I was too excited!
Soon enough it was 5:45 a.m., time to get up, and head into the day you have waited for (and I have feared) all of your life – Draft Day at Ammunition Hill! As you have always done on other ‘important event days’ of your childhood, so too on this day, paying attention to detail, you dressed in a way that would signal to all of us, your family, that we were going with you and that we have every reason to be very proud of you. You wore a burgundy colored Szarvas Summer Camp shirt from a trip you took there with your paternal grandfather a few years back and gray shorts. You took your Szarvas Camp pouch and your sister’s National Service backpack filled with all of your belongings and supplies. You wore the new running shoes I had gifted you with the day before. New shoes blessing – “May all your steps go well” – “Tevale be’Neimim”.
As we waited there on Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill for it to be precisely the drafting hour, I lay my hands over your head and blessed you in Hebrew saying: “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menasseh. May the L-rd bless you and watch over you. May the L-rd shine His face towards you and show you favor. May the L-rd be favorably disposed towards you and may He Grant you peace.” And as you have done all of your life, you humbly kissed my blessing hand. Then your paternal grandfather quietly lay his hand over you, blessing you in his subdued regal Cohanic manner with all of the compassionate peaceful force of Aaron the Priest your ancestor. Finally through all of my tears, and through all of the tears of the other mothers waiting with their sons and daughters, it was time, and we all walked forward and into the draft board office.
You stood in line, got your papers, we hugged you, one last “we are all civilians hug”, and then we watched as you went through the doorway, your first steps in the army. Your paternal grandfather looked at your late father’s wristwatch to be sure that he too accurately marked the precise hour, as you standing in the doorway, looked back at all of us and accompanied by one last “Good luck, son!”, you marched into the Israel Defense Force!