I'm on the bus looking out the window, passing miles and miles of desert sand. I have been in Israel for a little over nine months and I recently decided to join the few and proud and go to the Israeli army. My decision to join the army was not particularly hard (I've always wanted an M-16), but the choice of the Israeli army over the American was one that had me -– a 19-year-old American from Los Angeles studying in Israel -- thinking and debating for months.
I think the army is especially smart for many teenagers of my generation. Besides getting into shape (better than signing up to a gym and never going), I think the discipline and self control that you learn in the army is something that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. Before heading off to college, especially in today's campus environment, the more self control I have, the more likely I'll survive it with my values intact.
"But why the Israeli army? Aren't you American?" I have asked myself that question many times. I have always wanted to go to the American army; my entire life I have felt a sense of patriotism to America. It has hosted the Jews for so many years and has treated us with respect. I always thought that I should give a little back.
So I asked myself the famous question, "Am I an American Jew, or a Jewish American? Which comes first?"
I realized that my family has been Jewish a lot longer than they have been American (especially my mom, she's Canadian). My true patriotism should lie in my home country, and looking back far enough, that's Israel. It's my home and it's the home of all the Jews.
That doesn't mean I don't appreciate America and everything the country has done for us. I still love the U.S. with all my heart. But I feel that I should first give to the people that I share a connection with for thousands of years, all the way back to Abraham -- a connection that no other religion or country could ever dream about replicating.
Everyone feels connected to Gilad because he's a member of the larger family.
I am not saying everyone should pack their bags and make aliya, (in fact, after the army I'm planning on going back to Los Angeles), but I do think everyone should do whatever is in their power to help Israel and the people who live there. Because when it comes down to it, they are your real family, and they need us.
Gilad Shalit is a case in point. His kidnapping has struck a chord deep inside me and every Israeli. Everyone feels connected to him because he's a member of the larger family. If, God forbid, it were my brother who was kidnapped, could my life just go on as normal? Well in Israel, Gilad IS everyone's brother. And in the Jewish world at large, he should be everyone's brother too.
There are small ways to help. Instead of your normal Neiman Marcus jewelry, try to find some Israeli artist who can use your help. Give a dollar or two to the different charities that come collecting at your door for Israel. Feel connected to the people here; view them as an extension of your family. That means caring about their welfare and praying for them – especially Gilad and all the soldiers presently in Gaza.
And there are big ways. If you want to enroll in the army, come on over and join me; I'll help you get settled in. And we'll fight the fight for Israel and the Jewish people together.