On the evenings before a young man goes into the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, neither he nor his parents sleep much.
The soon-to-be IDF inductee parties with his friends. The parents also do not sleep -- out of worry, fear and apprehension.
This week, on Monday, we accompanied our first-born son, Noam, to the IDF army recruitment center in Jerusalem, where he was inducted into an IDF combat unit, with three months of basic training lying ahead of him.
Noam, 19, was named after a soldier, Noam Yehuda, who was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Safed, and was killed by a PLO missile at the age of 19 during the Lebanon War in 1982.
Arafat and his terrorists had set up a worldwide terrorist organization from his base in Lebanon, responsible for the murders of hundreds of Jews and Israelis throughout the world.
The irony is that 19 years later, the enemy is the same.
The irony is that for our own Noam, 19 years later, the enemy is the same. An enemy who had duped the world to such an extent that he received the Nobel Peace Prize! An enemy who was invited by the Israeli government to return from exile in Tunis, given arms by the IDF, and who turned the tables to set up cities of refuge for his "troops" to again launch attacks against Israelis.
A few nights ago, we watched the evening news with Noam. Thousands of Arab rioters were shooting guns wildly in the air, as they ran through the streets precariously toting the teetering body of yet another shahid ("holy martyr"), a title given to terrorists who blow up themselves along with innocent Israeli civilians for the "Glory of Palestine."
Noam's comment: "Well, wish me luck! I'm going to be in a war."
YEAR OF REFLECTION
When you take your son on that proverbial ride to the draft induction point, his entire life flashes in front of you.
All those special moments are quashed into those 25 minutes of negotiating Jerusalem rush hour traffic. His moment of birth. His Bris Milah. His first steps. His first day of school. His performance in the local singing group and how he "cut" his first cassette. His bar mitzvah. His going off to yeshiva. His summer of work with Downs Syndrome children. And his resounding Shabbat meal send-off with his friends, when they sang at the top of their lungs from Psalms to punk rock.
Watching our son joke with friends while waiting to be called to get on the bus, our hearts swelled with pride at this wholesome, fine son of ours who was eager to serve his country despite the gruesome predicament the country is in right now.
Unlike most Israelis, Noam holds an American passport. He could easily skip the country without too much difficulty and attend university in the U.S. However, he chose to stay and serve.
Going to all these funerals has made me aware of how I must protect the people of Israel.
This past year has been one of reflection for Noam. He was glad to have made the decision not to go straight into the army following graduation from high school. Instead he chose a yeshiva preparation program, with a curriculum that readies yeshiva students for army service through deep philosophical discussions, along with physical education to prepare him for rigorous army training.
It has also been a year of funerals. Too many funerals. After returning from the funeral of our daughter's 20-year-old youth counselor, who had been shot dead in a drive-by shooting, Noam declared: "Now I know why I am going into the army. Going to all these funerals has made me aware of how I must protect the people of Israel."
After a few minutes wait at the induction center, Noam's name was called out. The time had come to part. We hand over to the IDF a wholesome, happy, wonderful son. Noam stretched out his arms and held each of us in a tight embrace. The lump in our throats choked back the words we had each planned to say. All we could manage was: "Stay safe, and may God be with you."
Please God, we pray, return our dear son to us unharmed, safe and sound.