Shalom Life | February 14, 2014

Op-Ed: IDF, Here I Come

A college graduate explains why he left his comfortable life in New York to begin military service in Israel

By: Robert Stark

Published: December 10th, 2013 in News » World

I'm a 23-year-old college grad, who left home for Israel to volunteer to join the Israeli army just two days after doing well on the Law School Admission Test. Why did I leave my cushy life in NY to start a strict and unpleasant military life in Israel?

I've been asked that a lot, and in impressive frequency in the last few weeks by various Israelis and immigrants to Israel, so if I wasn't sure about my answer before, I am now. First of all, it's probably because I'm crazy. I don't mean, "Haha, Robert's crazy", I mean something must actually be wrong with me. I'm no psychiatrist or anything like that, but considering my choice to join one of the most active militaries in the world despite the lucrative and SAFE opportunities waiting for me in NY, I feel like crazy must be a good explanation for my unnatural choice to do the opposite of a human being's natural instinct to stay warm and safe in my cost/benefit/risk assessment.

In case crazy doesn't completely satisfy your logic zone, and it usually hasn't been satisfactory to the people who asked in person, I will try to explain what I believe motivated me to take this decision. Ever since I can remember, I knew that I was a Jew. I know quite a few people from my background who never learned they were Jewish until well after their childhood years, but I was lucky enough to be aware of my own heritage from a young age. What a "Jew" was, I couldn't tell you really. But I always associated Jewish issues with my own identity. So, not surprisingly, whenever Israel would be on the news I felt a warm lump in my throat and my heart would skip a beat.

Eventually, my desire to understand my own background led me to study Jewish history and our religious customs. I learned about our long exile that culminated in the birth of our new Jewish State. And I knew, to connect to myself I'd need to connect to my people. And to connect to my people, I'd need to connect to our future. And it is my opinion, that the future of the Jewish people will be written in Israel, where the Jewish people act overtly as one nation on the world stage.

So, yes, I became a Zionist. Let me be the first to air the coming thought: "Oh gee whiz, not an ideologue!" I assure you, I'm not an ideologue. In fact, I often detest people who are so stuck to the principles of their beliefs (Zionism, socialism, religion, etc, etc) that their actions are sometimes not dictated by a long chain of logical and emotional thought. But, that doesn't mean that a certain way of thinking isn't right at least some of the time. I mean, shouldn't the poor be taken care of somehow (socialism)? Shouldn't we see all life, and people, as priceless creatures of infinite beauty (religion), and shouldn't a nation of people be able to decide their fate for themselves (Zionism)? Israel is a country built on all three of these ideas.

Shared Jewish roots

This country, despite the tremendous difficulties it faces due to a scarcity of natural resources and an abundance of enemies, has from day one found it extremely important to allocate money and services to its weakest sectors, including sectors from which it will likely never see a return on investment. For example, every year a societal transfer payment occurs in which the non-working ultra-Orthodox sector receives a total of $2 billion from the working sector. This country, despite the horrors it has endured and the constant dehumanization it continues to suffer, refuses to enact capital punishment even for the most dangerous captured terrorists because Israeli society sees all life as having the utmost importance. Israel has even released nearly 3,000 terrorists in its history; recently over 1,000 terrorists were released for the return of a captive Israeli son. In fact, the head of the Boycott Israel movement, who supports anyone who works for Israel’s destruction, himself receives an Israeli scholarship to attend Tel Aviv University where he pursues a degree in philosophy. And of course, this country was built to give the Jewish people their exclusive say concerning their own future.

Perhaps each example I gave is extremely controversial, but these are the things that have kept me engaged with it since my late teen years. So, I suppose what began as a natural curiosity based on my shared Jewish roots, flowered through the power of fundamentals like the ones I just outlined.

You might be saying, that's nice, but not everyone who thinks dogs are cute will buy one for a pet. And certainly not every young man who likes Israel will put his or her life on a totally different course for a few years, simply out of appreciation for the State's existence. Yet, as a student of politics I know something is as concrete as the laws of physics: statistics are important. True, we don’t usually change our lives around statistics that we learn. They often have no affect on our habits, or the way we interact in the world. But one statistic did affect me: 75% of the population of Israel is Jewish. I would say this knowledge made me fly here. It had this affect on me because I know that no matter what happens, a Jewish majority means a safe place without persecution for the Jewish people. And this peace and prosperity is only possible here, where we enjoy more than 50% of the vote. This needs to be protected, and I would be a hypocrite if my actions do not match my beliefs. So, I too, will protect it.

Seems petty? As history teaches us, persecution of Jewry has occurred in every country we've ever lived in since day one of our long exile. It's happened in kingdoms, its happened in democracies. It continues to happen today: Just have a look at the news coming out of Europe (particularly France) once in a while.

For this idea, a safe place for the prosperity and peace of the Jewish people, I am here. Though inside Israel we know we are safe from persecution, outside our borders there are many enemies who threaten the existence of our safe haven. If our enemies would simply leave us be, at least in our own home, then I would not be here. But they haven’t made that choice, so here I am to contribute my small part to the security and wellbeing of our homeland, so that all Jews have a place to be truly free.

To follow my journey through the Israeli army, visit AmericaninIsraeliArmy.com

This story is reprinted with permission from Ynet News

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