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December 01, 1989 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-01

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Israeli women march during IDF graduation ceremony.

For Israeli Teens, Parents
Army Is A Rite Of Passage

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Israel Correspondent


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ast Sunday, on a gray,
windy Jerusalem mor-
ning, a group of
teenage girls dressed in
heavy sweaters, faded jeans
and tennis shoes milled
around in front of the army
recruiting office on Rashi
Street, waiting for a bus.
Among them was my
daughter, Michal.
Their destination was an
army boot camp, less than 30
miles away. Within a few
hours they would be soldiers,
caught up in the confusing
and demanding rituals of
basic training — standing in
line to get their khaki
uniforms, making up cots
with dusty army blankets,
snapping to attention in the
presence of officers only a
year or two older than them-
selves, pretending to feel at
home in the new, impersonal
world of orders and military
discipline. At night, away
from their parents for the
first time, some of them
would cry.
Some of the mothers and
fathers were already crying.
They stuffed sandwiches
into duffle bags, gave hur-
ried advice and looked off
into the distance for the bus
with nervous expressions.
The girls, already an-
ticipating their new status,
seemed embarrassed and
amused by these last-minute

parental ministrations.
Sending a child off to the
army is an emotional expe-
rience in any country, but in
Israel it is also a moment of
community and continuity.

The parents there that
morning were a cross-section
of Israel's heterogeneous
ethnic, religious and
economic society; but the
army reminded us of the one
experience we shared. Many
of us could remember leav-
ing for our own army duty, a
generation ago, from the
same military recruiting of-
fice. Most of the men still
serve in the reserves, mid-
dle-aged brothers-in-arms to
our own children.
At 8 a.m. a group of
ers came into
uniformed soldi
the courtyard of the
recruiting station and stood
at attention as the Israeli
flag was raised. I recalled a
similar ceremony from the
day, in the summer of 1970,
when I was inducted.
Tzahal, as the Israeli army
is known in Hebrew, still
basked in the glow of its
heroic victory in the 1967
Six Day War; we felt that we
were going off to join an in-
vincible military jugger-
naut. A popular joke at the
time was that America
wanted to trade General
Electric and General Motors
for General Day an. The con-
ventional wisdom was that it
would take the Arabs at
least another generation to

mount a military challenge
to Israel.
There was no such
euphoria at the recruiting
station last Sunday morn-
ing. The near-disaster of the
1973 Yom Kippur War, the
controversial campaign in
Lebanon in 1982, and the
ongoing Palestinian upris-
ing in the West Bank and
Gaza have tarnished the
army's image and made it
seem a more fallible, even
vulnerable, institution.

Looking over the crowd,
one mother spoke for many
of us. "Thank God I'm sen-
ding a daughter, not a son,"
she said. In the Israeli army,
girls do not serve in combat
units. They have desk jobs,
usually (but not always) far
from the combat zone. But
for many boys, especially the
best and the brightest,
military service means
front-line duty.
The army is the first adult
challenge that Israeli ado-
lescents face, and they take
it seriously. Serving in a
well regarded unit is the
equivalent of getting into an
Ivy League university. For
girls, the most sought after
jobs are those that require
intelligence and initiative;
for boys, the goal is a combat
unit. According to the
Military Spokesman's Of-
fice, more than 90 percent of
the soldiers in infantry, ar-
mor and artillery units are
volunteers. 0

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