I have three children serving in the Israel Defense Forces. I am the father of Sgt. Nathan Weinberger, 20, Cpl. Rebecca Ross, 19, and Pvt. Ruthie Ross, 18. President-elect Barack Obama has spoken repeatedly of the need to engage young people in service for their country and for the world; in Israel, service is mandatory.
We moved to Israel from Miami in the summer of 1997. Thanks to the Russian immigration boom that preceded our arrival, when I showed up at the ripe old age of 36, the Israel Defense Forces was not interested in my services. My children, however, all immigrated way before the induction process begins, and the IDF very much expects to induct each one of them. A few weeks before a child turns 17 the Induction Administration sends parents a letter, which reads in part: "We believe that enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces represents a joint family experience and that you also, as close family members, are excited and curious in advance of the enlistment. We very much appreciate the guidance, support, and encouragement of the candidate through the various stages of enlistment, and we will help you in this as much as we are able."
I felt relieved when I first received this letter in advance of Nathan's induction process four years ago. While I was not given the opportunity to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, I have a part to play in supporting the service of my children.
How is it different to live in a country with mandatory military service? As the parent of three soldiers, I am very much touched by the fact that the whole country loves my children. Because service is mandatory, when Israelis look upon my uniformed children, they see not only young people serving their country, but they also see themselves, as well as their own mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who once served, who are serving or who will serve. It is because of this, too, that the military's achievements are naturally experienced as our achievements and its failures our failures (and oh how difficult it is to admit failure).