This is a post I wrote in the middle of Tzuk Eitan (Operation Protective Edge, this past summer) and never published.
The first time I came to Israel, I was twelve; I came for my cousin’s wedding and it doubled as a bat mitzva trip for me. When I saw soldiers they were cool and practically grown up. Definitely with a lot of responsibility.
The next time I came, I was post high school, studying in a one-year program that would count as part of my degree when I got back. I remember looking at the soldiers and thinking that we were the same age but living in completely different worlds. I wasn’t sure which world was preferable; I did know that I owed them a lot and in many ways they were more mature than I was. I remember thinking that we were so different, but still so much alike.
I’m not the same age as the soldiers anymore; I have a brother who, if he lived in Israel, would be just starting, or about to start, his stint in the army. I see soldiers, I see high school boys and girls – and I see kids. Young and innocent, immature, sweet, kids. I wonder what they want to do with their lives. I wonder what they’ve been through already. I wonder, especially when I see soldier couples, if they were neighbors or met during their service, and if they will marry when they get out of the army. I wonder who will go to Thailand to find himself and who will start studying for a degree.
I look at my youngest brother in law, a year and a bit older than me, and think about what the army has done for him. Maybe he’s chronologically older than me, but he’s still just a kid. And being in the army has matured him – a lot. He’s not all for fighting, like he was at first. And there are other changes, but I won’t write them.
I look at the kids finishing high school and know that in three years, when they finish army, they will be different people.
Unfortunately, thanks to Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge), I’ve seen way too many pictures of soldiers on the internet. Most of them, if not all, were of soldiers who are no longer with us. Smiling faces of kids, young and innocent. Kids who were engaged, kids who were two weeks before their weddings. Kids whose younger siblings are still in grade school and asking the prime minister why this had to happen and why there was a ceasefire.
Kids who had plans for the future, who had their whole future before them.
Of course, some of those killed weren’t kids. Some of them were career soldiers, or reservists; officers with wives and children. Some of these career soldiers left behind children who will never know their father – because their father was killed a short while before they were born.
I’m not sure what’s worse – a dead kid soldier or a dead soldier who leaves a wife and five orphans.
I do know that when I see the faces of these kids, smiling faces full of life and hope, I can’t help but smile. And then I remember that they’re not here anymore. And I have to ask why. They were kids! Kids barely out of high school. You see it in their jawlines, in their attitudes, in their crooked pubertal smiles and disproportionate noses, in their optimism, in their barely-there facial hair.
Like any other kids.
High school kids in uniform. That’s what they are.
Why did they have to die, and why can’t we respect their deaths, and their families, and make their deaths worthwhile? Those are questions I don’t have the answer to.
I wish I did.
And I hope and pray that by the time Shlomo finishes high school, we won’t need to fight anymore, because we will have quiet. Peace – probably will never come. King Solomon didn’t have peace – the countries were afraid of him. We don’t have peace with Syria – Syria is afraid to start up with us. With Egypt we don’t have peace, either – they just hate Hamas, and so do we. When Jacob’s sons fought and killed all of Sh’chem (Nablus?), they didn’t make peace with their neighbors. No one came to kill them, because everyone was afraid. That’s not peace. But it is the only way we’ll have quiet.
I know that this hope, and prayer, may very well be in vain. Those who fought in 1948 had the same hope and prayer for their children. It didn’t happen. Those who fought in 1967 felt the same way, and prayed that their children would never have to wear an army uniform. That didn’t happen, either. Every parent in this country, every soldier in this country, every reservist, hopes and prays that the fighting of today, that the soldiers of today, will be enough, and that the next generation, my generation’s children, will not have to wear uniforms and will not have to fight.
This is what we hope. This is what we pray.
But as Golda Meir said, “We will not have peace until Hamas loves their children more than they hate us.”
Hamas hasn’t gotten there yet. And as long as they turn their children into suicide terrorists, we will have to fight them, and so will our children.
I hope, I pray, that the world will wake up, that we will wake up, and that no more innocent high school kids will have to die.