In my hands, I’m holding a photo that was taken twenty years ago. The snapshot is of a small boy, about four or five years old, dressed up in a miniature version of army fatigues. The boy wears a plastic helmet on his head, a set of imitation field binoculars around his neck, a fake ammunition belt encircles his waist, and there is a toy gun in his hands. The gun has been aimed, in all seriousness, right between the eyes of the photographer. The photographer (the boy’s grandmother), bought all of this make-believe war paraphernalia to be used as a Purim costume. What I remember, mainly, is that he was just as pleased as punch about it…although I was not.
The small boy, who is now in his mid twenties, had many occupational interests in his youth. He wanted to be a policeman, a firefighter, a paleontologist, a magician, and all was right with the world until he graduated from high school and went to Jerusalem for a year of study abroad. That was the year New York City gave up a pair of towers to Bin Laden’s Jihad and one of the boy’s classmates gave up a pair of lungs to the Palestinian Intifada. So in the general spirit of giving things up, the boy decided to give up a generous university scholarship in physics. He then proceeded to give up English in favor of Arabic, a U.S. passport in favor of an Israeli darchon, and all of Einstein’s theories of relativity (both special and general) in favor of a semi-automatic, which is what the IDF awarded him with when he enlisted. These days, the boy spends his time training for combat with the same division of special ops paratroopers that carried out Entebbe’s rescue operation in 1976.
In very real life, the toy soldier happens to be my grown-up son, and I am exceedingly proud, but exceedingly worried about him. War is no longer a game, and that realization couldn’t have hit home harder than it did when I arrived at a training base in the Negev for parents’ visiting day last summer. Do other countries in the world sponsor such an event?
Tzanchanistas in full dress code passed out roses to the mothers, then ushered us into a field stadium of sorts where we were treated to a broad range of live fire demo, combat reenactments, and mock-up maneuvers. We were shown an impressive display of ambush techniques, battle-trained attack dogs, and camouflaged sharp shooters who expertly sniped at colorful bouquets of helium balloons fluttering in the wind. From 500 meters away on command, paratroopers picked off color specific balloons according to orders, leaving all the rest intact. The crowd gave a standing ovation, applauded, cheered, and then brought out their picnic baskets and portable BBQs as if it had been some kind of a carnival or a summer fest.
But whom were we fooling, other than ourselves, and what kind of a bird have I become? Never a dove, I used to consider myself a hawk, although lately I’ve started to resemble a chicken. When the war games are over and the real action begins, it’s my son’s life that could be out on one of Israel’s front lines. Where is the end of this eternal lottery with Amalek?
We say, “NEVER AGAIN” when we talk about Masada or big numbers like six million. We know we can’t continue to tolerate such sacrifices, and we know that the world loves to impose them on us with historical regularity. But what if it’s a much smaller number, a much smaller sacrifice that comes out of my own personal set of straws? I look at that timeworn photo of my son and understand that it’s no longer a dress rehearsal, that it’s no longer about fantasy or make-believe. The war games aren’t a game anymore, and suddenly some of my idealism has begun to evaporate. All I can think about is my long ago toy soldier boy and the smallest possible sacrifice it might take to protect a Jewish nation.
All I can think about is the drawing of lots. And all I can think about…is the number one.
NOTE: This article was written in 2007. The author’s son was released from his army service a few months ago. On Friday, he phoned his mother from a base on the Gaza border telling her his unit has been activated. May Avraham Meyer Schur stay safe and return quickly to his civilian responsibilities.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.