Just over four months ago, I merited to start the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for some time, while also making a decision that to many may seem illogical. Why would a 27 year old who began his writing career less than a year earlier, choose to begin an 18 month (at least) commitment that will make the furthering of that career much more difficult (both in terms of writing time and ability to market)? And as a follow-up question, how would he feel about that choice after a few months, when the reality has fully set in?
Before I answer question 2 (a little suspense is nice, at least for those who don’t follow me regularly on social media and might already know the answer), I must answer the first. After all, there were several reasons, and not bad ones, for me not to draft to the IDF. I’ve already mentioned the writing career angle, which is the biggest and most obvious. One of the main ways to truly build an audience, especially when self-publishing, is to be putting out books as often as humanly possible, a some author friends of mine do to great effect. Well, while in the army, the available time to write slows to a crawl, and nearly all of that must be done by hand and then typed up when home for the weekend, due to not having a computer on base and (at least so far) phone use on base being heavily restricted. Second, again, due to limited phone time (and free time in general) there is very little time to work on one’s marketing game, the other key to building a successful career, as I mean to do. From a purely business standpoint, there is only what to lose by serving in the army.
Then there’s the age. Now, to be honest, I’m in far better physical shape now than I was at 18 or 20, and while asthma is still around, it’s much less of one now than it was then. However, that is still a factor, as is the fact that I’m serving with (and under) people who are nearly all younger than I. To put it in perspective, I was the oldest guy in my platoon of 52 soldiers, and one of the oldest 4 in our company of about 150 (2 other 27 year olds, and one 31 year old–yes, really.) This also makes me older than all of the officers I interacted with on any sort of regular basis. The three mefakdot (off directly in charge of my team (two for the Hebrew course itself, and one for general things as well as basic training) are between 19 and 20 years old, and the higher ranking officers in charge of the platoon can’t be older than 21 (our mefakedet pluga, the highest officer we had some regular interaction with, might be a little older, but not by much.) So not only was I serving with guys who were younger, many of whom much younger, but I was being ordered around by girls between the ages of 19 and 21. Not exactly a normal state of things, for me personally and for the army in general, and something that might well be an issue for some, not to mention the issue of keeping up with younger guys, whose frame of mind is likely to be quite different from mine as well.
And, of course, as a still single guy, devoting my time to the army inevitably means less time available to socialize (or, rather, to work on being more social) and to work on not being single any more. Hobbies, as well, such as video games or rock climbing, are also all but out of the picture for the time being, and reading time is similarly lessened.
So why the heck did I do it?
Similarly, there are several reasons why. First, there are the ideological ones. The IDF is the first Jewish army to exist in 2,000 years, and as someone who believes that all Jews should live in Israel, I had to not only make the move but also give of myself to the country. I also am not one of those too-common modern Jews who see meekness as a virtue. We were once regarded as fearsome warriors, and the IDF has done much to restore that image of us, and I want to be on that side of the fence. Plus, the country is very much threatened constantly, and it would be hypocritical of me to be as, well, militaristic as I am and not serve myself. This comes from both a political and religious mindset.
Second, there are the social reasons. While some Israelis will say I’m crazy for voluntarily serving at my age, most I’ve met have a positive reaction to my choice, and appreciate it. And as most men, and many women, do serve here, it will certainly help down the line to do so myself, not to mention the fact that many people make lifelong friends while in the army. At least for the time being, the army is very much a centerpiece of the social fabric, and if I want to truly call myself Israeli, I need to do this.
The last main reasons are more personal. Army service will do a lot to improve my Hebrew, beyond the Hebrew course I’ve now completed, and thus will further help me integrate here long-term. And there is of course the desire for the army experience (every male with an ounce of testosterone has at one point or another considered joining their country’s army, though most don’t in the end). Army service, especially if I get into a combat unit, as I hope to, will also allow me to test myself in a way not possible in civilian life, and can help my future writing, as militaries and people serving in militaries are fairly common in the science fiction and fantasy genres, which I write in.
I think that pretty well answers the “why” question.
Now, for the final question: After just over four months in the service, on two very different bases, how do I feel? In short, this is up there as the decisions I am happiest to have made in my life. That is not to say that there haven’t been difficulties and frustrations; even now, I am fighting through army regulations & bureaucracy to get myself into a position that I think I’d be better suited for, and there were of course frustrating days in training. And as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve had to largely give up some hobbies and significantly curtail others, in addition to limiting my writing and book marketing time (though of late that has been much less and issue). But that doesn’t matter. I am a part of the only Jewish army to exist in the last 2,000 years. It’s honestly hard to put into words what putting on the uniform and walking the streets does. It certainly makes people look at me differently. Several times I’ve been approached by people in need of directions (fortunately, I have been able to help most of those times), and I know that they asked me because of the uniform. It also provides a real, tangible sense of being a part of something greater than yourself, to give to your country. For me, and other Lone Soldiers (who moved here on our own, and lack any immediate family in Israel), this is a conscious choice we made, as opposed to Israeli men, who are required to serve. For me, I had to both choose to move here and then choose to serve, due to my age. So despite the challenges faced so far, and the challenges yet to come, with every passing day I am more and more proud of this choice. I have another 14 months to go, assuming I do not choose to sign more time, and at least as of now, I view it in terms of how much more time I’ll get to serve, as opposed to many, who view it as how much time until they get out.
It is fitting that I have finally finished writing this post on the night of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, on which we honor the more than 23,000 soldiers who have given their lives in the line of duty over these last 70 years (as well as commemorating the more than 4,000 civilians murdered in terror attacks.) While I have visited the military cemetery on Har Herzl in Jerusalem several times, the visit with my platoon a couple months back was an entirely different experience. While the fallen men and women buried there were always my Jewish brothers and sisters, it is different now that I, too, am in the army, as that makes us brothers and sisters in arms. Soldiers, most of whom never had the chance to reach the age I am today, soldiers who, if the time had been different, could have been a friend, or even me. Thus far, I am fortunate to not have lost any friends in the line of duty, but as I am here longer, and make more friends in the army, the odds of hearing such terrible news only grows more likely. Someone I know just recently lost a friend in a tragic accident during an army operation, and right now most of the guys I spent the first months of my service with are in the middle of their training for combat units. They’re the ones who, in a few months, may well be manning checkpoints, conducting anti terror operations, and, if it comes to it, going to war. I can only pray that they stay safe, and that when, G-d willing I make my way into a combat unit myself, I too will be safe, so that one day we can all meet up again and exchange stories and experiences.
But for now, we are the protectors of the Jewish state. And while we must all be prepared to potentially give our lives in its defense, I, personally, would much rather kill for it and live. G-d willing, we will succeed in destroying our enemies, and ensure the everlasting safety of the Jewish state, our only true home.
That’s all for now, and while I realize it got a bit heavy, there are times when it’s required. Next time will hopefully be something more fun, or at least more entertaining. Until next time!