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Dear Emuna: Joining Israel’s Army
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Joining Israel’s Army

Help! My son wants to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces.


Dear Emuna,

We are Americans but we have imbued our children with a strong love of Israel. Now our 17-year-old son says that he wants to join the Israeli army after his high school graduation. We are simultaneously proud of him – and terrified. We could probably prevent it – through financial and other pressures – but then he will be very unhappy and resentful. We are so torn. Any advice?

Proud and Frightened

Dear Proud and Frightened,

My older son served in the IDF so I may not be completely objective in my response. I certainly am able to understand your fears and concerns. I think the general principle is that we want to give our children the freedom and means wherever possible to follow their goals and dreams.

In this case, in fact, your son’s goal is actually consistent with yours since you raised your children to love the land of Israel.

The only thing holding you back is fear. Fear is never a good guideline when it comes to making important decisions. If you are afraid of sky diving, you don’t need to conquer that fear. You can live a meaningful life and never jump from a plane. But it you are afraid of commitment and vulnerability, you will live a lonely, empty life. That is a fear you need to move past.

If you don’t let your son follow his dreams, the real risk is not only that he will resent you the rest of his life but that he will live an unfulfilled life as a result. If you force him into other less desirable choices, you risk that he will always be unhappy, always pursuing what you chose and not what he wanted, always wondering what if or pondering if only…this is true for all parents who compel their children to sacrifice their dreams to their parents’ vision.

And, again, in terms of the fear. Not only should it not be the deciding factor but we have to remember that the Almighty runs the world.

Life has risk – whether we are driving in a car (probably the most dangerous activity of all), walking across the street, or even, unfortunately, running the Boston Marathon.

This risk, joining the Israel Defense Forces, is a meaningful risk, a risk on behalf of the Jewish people and you should support him with pride.

Converting to Judaism

Dear Emuna,

I'm a 17 year old trying to convert to Orthodox Judaism. I'm studying and slowly adjusting, but I feel like I'm out of my league. Do you have any suggestions (book recommendations, thoughts, feelings) that might help me?

Seeking Advice

Dear Advice Seeker,

That is a big move, requiring a large amount of courage and determination. Good for you! If you haven’t already, you should contact the orthodox rabbinical council in your city so that they can direct your conversion process. While there are so many fantastic books in English these days that it’s impossible to know where to begin (although I feel compelled to make a plug for my husband’s book, The Bible for the Clueless but Curious and of course you’ve already discovered!), the most important suggestion I have is to get yourself a teacher (I assume the rabbinic council will recommend someone).

It shouldn’t just be a person who can explain the text to you, but rather someone you can observe, someone whose actions will teach you (louder than words as they say) what it’s like to be a Torah-observant Jew.

How does she dress? How does she speak – tone, language, sensitivity? What is it like to have conversations that don’t involve gossip? How does keeping kosher work in a real kitchen? (What are her best recipes?) What is an authentic Shabbos experience like? How does the food stay warm? How do you keep the kids involved? What is discussed at the table? What’s her daily prayer commitment? And on and on and on…

We have a mitzvah to serve a wise man, a Torah scholar. It’s not just out of respect but because that’s the best way to learn who and what we want to be. No book or website can even come close to replicating this experience.

This is a very exciting path you have chosen. I’m sure there will be challenges along the way and also great reward. There will be moments of loneliness as you leave your past behind and moments of joy as you are enveloped in the warmth of a new community. There will be moments of discouragement when you realize how much there is to learn and moments of excitement when you master a new concept. It is a thrilling, moving journey and I wish you much luck and help from Heaven as you embark on this new way.

Boston: Protecting Our Kids

Dear Emuna,

Between Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon, I just want to curl up in a little ball and hide. But mostly I want to protect my children. How can I do that?

Frightened Mom

Dear Frightened Mom,

Two words: You can’t. I’m not sure whether you’re referring to shielding your children from bad news or protecting them from physical harm. But either way the answer is the same: You can’t.

In both cases, all you can do is take reasonable precautions – and then pray, recognizing that all outcomes are in the Almighty’s hands.

I certainly don’t think we should sit our children (or ourselves) down in front of the evening news’ parade of murders, rapes and fires. But I don’t believe we can really prevent them from hearing the big stories. Even if we don’t have a television. Or internet. Or a radio…

There is always someone in the school yard who spills the beans. There is a cover story in a magazine at the grocery check-out counter. There is a television on in the background at the local sushi restaurant or at the mall when you are buying them new shoes. We can’t keep out the news and we need to be prepared to give our children answers and information in a reasonable and down-to-earth manner. If we aren’t hysterical, they won’t be either. But if we are…

And if we model trust in the Almighty, they will learn this as well.

As for keeping them from physical harm, as I told the mother whose son wants to enlist in the IDF, life has risks. There are reasonable risks accepted by all – driving, flying, going to work in tall office buildings and running in a city-wide marathon. To shield your child from all of life’s risks is not possible. Nor desirable. To try to shield him from most of life’s risks would probably destroy him.

Terrorist attacks shatter our illusions of control. But illusions are all they ever were. Let your children lead “normal,” healthy lives and pray to the Almighty, the only and ultimate Protector, to keep them safe.

April 20, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 14

(13) alistaire, April 26, 2013 8:34 PM

the car accident that changed my life

When I was 15 years old, someone tried to kill me by falling asleep behind the wheel of her car on the Cross Bronx Expwy. Later, she lied in court. She did not have any car insurance.

(12) Dovid R, April 25, 2013 12:47 PM

There are other factors besides danger

Although I agree with the the author that fear should not be a determining factor in such a decision, there are many other factors to consider before allowing your son to conscript. A 17-year-old may just be on a temporary high, or may just feel it's "macho" to join an army and brandish a machine gun. Your son might be impetuously committing two years of his life with little thought to his long-term plans. I would talk to him very seriously about why he feels this is what he wants to do with his next few years. Does his desire stem from sincere commitment or more superficial reasons such as peer pressure?

Another very serious issue to consider is the type of environment he will find himself in. Although the IDF is nominally kosher and maintains high ethical standards, depending on the unit your son will serve in and who his buddies will be, Israeli army life may actually be very detrimental to his religious life. Whatever your ultimate decision will be, you will want to research very seriously exactly what your son is committing himself to.

Otherwise, good luck in your decision! Parenting is never simple.

(11) yojewmama, April 25, 2013 8:47 AM

great responses to sincere issues

Thoughtful, heartfelt, thanks for your answers to these questions.

PS we live in Israel and my son goes into the army in July. I'm also proud and frightened. It's natural. And dear US momma (wish you were HERE, please come!) so many, many mothers and fathers pray every single day for every single soldier. <3

(10) Savta, April 24, 2013 11:12 PM

Proud of Him

I'm proud of your son for wanting to join the IDF. May he be matzliach in all his endeavors. Imagine how mothers in the USA felt when their sons were drafted into the US Military? If you're worried about his safety just remember that Hashem controls the world. On Rosh Hashanah it is determined who will live, who will die and the way it will happen. It's in the Uneh Saneh Tokef prayer we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If something is meant to happen it will happen no matter where we are or when. Be proud of your son for wanting to serve and protect Israel. May Hashem protect us all.

(9) Anonymous, April 24, 2013 10:15 PM

Not All ARE Soldiers

Not everyone can be a soldier. I believe a parents duty is to explain what it means -the risks and rewards. My war was Vietnam. My father, of blessed memory, asked me"Are they bothering you." Here, to a Zionist, they are bothering you .I can see the young man's concern. I can also see the point of young Jews who do not wish to serve in the army and do other actions in support of Israel.

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