October 3, 2013

Our New Leaders

An azure sky floats above the sparkling Mediterranean and the warm afternoon sun tickles our cheeks. Parents and siblings gather excitedly for a ceremony.

This is not a cap and gown university graduation. We sit before 19 and 20-year olds who have just completed a rigorous 14-week commanders’ course. And the 100 soldiers who proudly stand here are about to receive three stripes on their uniform and take on new, important responsibilities in the IDF.

My son, who has been in the army for one year now, is one of these soldiers. He entered this course with trepidation, he persevered and now he has finished. Cameras poised, breath held in anticipation, we listen to the general who inaugurates the ceremony.

He calls out the name of a soldier who has earned a special distinction. My heart stops as my son runs forward amidst clapping and cheering. I feel a lump forming in my throat and tears roll down my face. My son proudly stands at attention before the general and I glance at my husband. He too is wiping his eyes. This is a moment when parents’ hearts swell.

And here we are, two immigrant parents who never served in the army and who often feel like outsiders in this perplexing country. Yet here we are, watching our oldest son graduating from an advanced army course and receiving special honors.

For us, having a son who is a soldier has been a terrifying roller coaster ride with lots of fearful plummets and unknown twists. Time usually flies at quick velocity, but with a son in the Israeli army, time stubbornly refuses to budge. 

And now, here we are. I see towering skyscrapers and beyond, the glistening sea. Just as the skyline is being built before my eyes, the young generation is being built up. These young soldiers are recruited to serve for three and sometimes, four or five prime years of their lives where they endure physical and emotional hardships.

Unlike the civilian world where money, education and looks propel one forward, in the army these distinctions mean nothing.  Determination, self-discipline and enthusiasm propel one forward.

The general calls for the officers to unroll the soldiers’ sleeves, revealing their new stripes, the symbol of higher responsibilities. 

Standing before us are our new leaders. These young soldiers know they are making a huge difference to the country and they are proud of their contribution. We can see it in their poise and their pride. We all stand for HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem and wipe more tears from our faces. 

A young female soldier is called to the center. She orders all the soldiers to stand at attention and suddenly whips her cap high into the air. All the soldiers follow suit, and soon the blue sky is speckled with green. The crowd breaks into cheers and parents run down to hug their sons and daughters, while soldiers rush to congratulate each other. 

We run to our son, our hearts swelling and as we embrace him, knowing that he is an intrinsic part of this incredible country.

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