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Old Soldier

A Long Island-born, middle-aged Israeli soldier patrols the Egyptian border on reserve duty—and reflects on two decades of civilian and military life

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Michael Ripstein on patrol along the Egyptian border. (Courtesy Michael Ripstein)

In 20 years of military service, I thought I’d seen all the crappy training camps the Israeli army had to offer. But there I was, early one morning last spring, walking from the glorified gravel pit that passed for a parking lot at the Southern Command training base, under the unforgiving Negev sun, beginning another reserve deployment in the Israel Defense Forces. And since I’d just passed my 40th birthday, the tour I was starting was quite possibly my last.

If it had been a normal Monday morning for me, I would have been checking emails, attending sales meetings, writing proposals, or doing any number of the activities associated with my job at a software company in the high-tech industrial park of Ranaana, north of Tel Aviv. On this day, however, I was clad in green, wiping the oil off my rifle, squaring away gear, and trudging off to some range to make sure that both man and machine were in functioning order. The smells of cordite, grease, and diesel fumes accompanied the switch—from citizen to soldier—which, despite having made it some dozen times in the last two decades, never ceased to amaze me.

As I arrived, I saw Matanya, the religious kibbutznik with whom I’d done basic training in 1990. “Mah itcha, gever,” he greeted me—“What’s up?” in Hebrew slang—and we exchanged hugs. I asked about his kids (he has seven) and his work, then we headed off to sign out the various kits we’d carry for the following two weeks. On the way to the supply hut, I met the long-haired guy I know only as Chuck, because in the army you get to know people by their nicknames. Chuck had just gotten back from a five-month trek across India and Nepal, which is par for the course for the under-25 Israeli soldier. There followed another round of salutations and general inquiries.

When I first volunteered to join the IDF as an idealistic 19-year-old, more than 20 years ago, I quickly realized that I was entering a different world with different rules than civilian life and that this new order governing daily existence would last until the day service ended. The reserves, or miluim, aren’t much different, except that the citizen-to-soldier transition is so sudden and shocking, it’s nearly violent. The eight weeks’ notice you get before arriving in camp never seems to be enough time to prepare. Work, family, holidays, unfinished business or errands—everything gets put on hold. There’s never a “good time” for a call-up.

The day before this last deployment, my 9-year-old daughter asked me, “Abba, why do you have to go the army?”

I’m sure my response was similar to that of the husbands and fathers who were joining me in the Negev. I told her we went so that our kids could feel safe when they went to school or soccer practice, so that our friends and families could sit around their Shabbat dinners on Friday nights, and so that the nation could throw itself into the mundane. We went, I said, because, sadly, the state of affairs in our little corner of the world made it necessary for there to be people who were willing and able to do what we do. My daughter and two sons nodded their heads and said, “We’ll miss you, Abba,” with a stoicism that surprised me.

In my reserve company—“A” Platoon, or Pelugah Alef, of the 360th Battalion, 10th Brigade—there are software engineers, students, cab drivers, teachers, tour guides, accountants, construction workers, plumbers, factory workers, lawyers, and just about every other vocation. There are religious soldiers who wear kippot and daven three times a day, soldiers who see their religion as a tradition, and secular soldiers. They come from the cities, the kibbutzim, and anywhere in between. They are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Yemenite, Ethiopian, and Russian. They voted across the political spectrum: Likud, National Union, and Meretz.

But among the soldiers here, I am the only one who grew up on the south shore of Long Island, New York. When I first entered the IDF, I was one of just a handful of American-born soldiers. I was also the first on my block of suburban Long Island to postpone college to do what I saw as my part for Israel. I was a brash 19-year-old and, in the days before cell phones, I remember fully disconnecting from home to immerse myself in the new reality of the army. I remember thinking at the time that as a Jew I should live in Israel. And if I was going to live in Israel, then I was supposed to do my part.

Many of my Long Island friends had graduated from yeshiva high schools in the United States, and like them I had decided to take a year off to go learn things in Israel. In truth, most of us were more interested in happy hour than Tosafot, the medieval commentaries on the Talmud. But somewhere along the way, an idea began to take form: that I was walking in the ancient homeland of my forefathers and that I had an opportunity to physically contribute to the defense of the modern state of Israel. Basically, I viewed my physical contribution to my people as part of my religious responsibilities. From that ideological crossroad, it was a short walk down Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street to the enlistment office. My great-uncles, World War II U.S. army veterans, consoled my grandmother and parents over what they saw as their loss. “It’s a good thing for the boy,” one of the uncles said. “So long as there’s no war.” That summer Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

I was soon sitting on a cold, wind-swept mountain deep inside what was then Israel’s security zone in Southern Lebanon. Using my tank’s night-vision equipment, I watched the thermal streaks of Scud and Patriot missiles over Israel’s northern skies. “What the fuck did you expect,” I remember asking myself, “inter-camp hockey games? Little League?”

After my service finished, I returned to Long Island and heard stories of frat parties from childhood friends who had gone off to college instead of the IDF. I found it hard to relate. I went on to Yeshiva University in New York, bounced around a couple of jobs, got married, and ended up a day trader in Miami.

In late 2000, taking an offer to set up a day-trading office in Jerusalem, my wife and I moved from Miami to Israel with our 1-year-old son. The first reserve call-up came about a year and a half later, for Operation Defensive Shield, in spring 2002. Following that deployment, which I spent mostly in the Qalqilyah-Nablus area of the West Bank doing checkpoint work, the call-ups continued to come roughly once a year. They brought me to engage in activities that are as far from the civilian day-to-day as possible. I went on late-night raids into Arab towns outside Ramallah to nab wanted terrorists. I searched cars at checkpoints throughout the West Bank. I rode shotgun during border patrols along electrified fences and participated in armored maneuvers in the sand dunes of the south and the mountains of the north.

In 1990, I imagined myself an unburdened lone soldier living the bachelor life off base. But as a reservist, I was a husband and father, and call-ups demanded a different kind of collateral. My family grew to five people since my first reserve tour. Every once in a while, my platoon would throw a barbecue and invite the soldiers’ families—the wives and kids who have to endure the home front side of this disruption to life’s daily routine. But each time I was called to make the switch from father and worker to gun-toting soldier, I was taken back to a simpler time, when the clarity—or naiveté—of youth made the world seem less complicated. And, to be honest, the more knotty home and family life became, the more welcome the call from the miluim became.

As a Jew, I felt it was a privilege to have had opportunities to serve the Jewish state. But on some sort of psychological level, each call-up preceded a cathartic experience that allowed some perspective on the everyday noise and nonsense that can deafen and blind us to what’s really important in life. And, of course, there was the closet redneck in me, that kid from Long Island, the only one from my high school who got to tear ass around the desert in a 60-ton tank, or fire off hundreds of rounds from automatic weapons. In the army, what’s fun and what’s not fun is measured differently from in everyday life. There’s no denying that there’s something primordially exhilarating in blowing shit up, especially when compared to filling out Excel spreadsheets.

Still, my military service, like that of all soldiers, saw its share of aborted operations, anal-retentive colonels, and idiot corporals. A lieutenant in Lebanon once failed to fire back at a Hezbollah anti-tank crew because he forgot the rules of engagement. (To me, the rules were clear: They were shooting at us; we should shoot back.) A private brought his penchant for unsafe driving to the miluim and crashed an armored jeep on a slippery road outside Hebron. No true soldier’s experience is complete without a few snafus. Thankfully, in my experience, there weren’t that many.

But it was always the sense of duty—to both country and friends in uniform—that kept me coming back. Although reserve duty is technically applicable to all Israeli men until they’re 45, only about 20 percent of eligible citizens actually serve. There are many ways to shirk the duty, from fabricated medical reasons to simply being so much of a pain in the ass that no officer wants you in their command. Employers continue to pay salaries during a soldier’s absence, and then they file for reimbursement from the government. (Independent workers get an average of recent income.)

I was once called up for maneuvers, which are designed to drill and practice military tactics, during the last week of summer vacation. Before we started, there was a cacophony of complaints from us about the inconvenient timing. I remember that the battalion commander stood before us, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Fellas, you know how you read in the papers that if Hezbollah attacks in the north Israel will know how to respond? Who do you think they’re talking about? You either realize that it’s you who’ll be facing them and that you need to be prepared, or you can blow off showing up for maneuvers, and you’ll still be there on the front lines, just a whole lot less prepared.”

Each deployment brings with it its own political and moral discussions. And true to the diverse make-up of the average miluim company, the discussions are heated and from the heart. I heard soldiers debating the Oslo accords, the Gaza withdrawal, and conversion laws. In a platoon of reservists, the company commander is more of a manager; he won’t tell people what to think, and the debates sometimes end in stalemate.

I’ve always felt that as long as I am physically able, I will report to service. But I do it, I admit, for what may seem an old-fashioned notion: national duty. I once asked my friend Gadi, a lanky tank driver who went through basic training with me, why he always responded to the call-up. He answered, “I’m here because you’re here.”

In the Negev, at 40, I realized I was one of the elder statesmen in the company. What could be my final deployment turned out to be patrolling the Egyptian border (with its new geopolitical significance), a few hours from the Red Sea port of Eilat, in a wild no-man’s land. We dealt with the complicated reality of illegal Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants crossing the Sinai frontier to sneak into Israel. We stopped Bedouin smugglers. And we knew we weren’t far from Hamas and al-Qaida cells.

I did basic training not too far away from where our platoon’s Humvees patrolled on this last deployment. One moonless night of that tour, I sat in a dried-out river bed, a few hundred yards from an Egyptian watchtower, and scanned the distance with my night vision equipment. I know that—barring the outbreak of a war for which I would return to service immediately—those may have been some of my final acts as a soldier. Either way, no one can say that I never did my part. And there will always be a part of me that would long for the oases of simplicity that the IDF presented for me. That, and blowing shit up.

Michael Ripstein lives in Mazkeret Batya, Israel.

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aliza says:

Thank you Michael for your heartfelt article. You represent the heart and soul of why I love Israel. I only wish that others felt and responded as you have over the years. yesher koach.

Jay A Friedman says:

Thank you for a wonderful memoir.

I’m 74 years old. Far Rockaway to Ra’anana. First Miluim when I was 32.
Greatest feeling when they stopped asking why I was doing Miluim and started treating me like the rest of the chevra. Worst feeling was when I got the notice thanking me for my past service (In other words –”we don’t need you any more.”). I still remember the members of my unit. For three or four or five weeks each year (except for the wars when it was longer) we were the closest family imaginable. During our civilian intervals — each went his own way.

I was an ordinary soldier and I am still proud that I did not waive the privilege of being part of Zahal.

Harold says:

I’ll stop crying long enough to say Thank You!

Simon says:

An excellent article. Self – ‘been there, done that.’ Thanks to Tablet for the umteenth time for publishing articles of profound relevance.

Great piece. Yep, blowing up shit is fun.

Binyamin in O says:

The IDF’s mission in life is to shoot fish in a barrel. There are no regular armed forces they fight against on anything approaching equal terms. The Israelis have the Apache’s, the F-16s, and Merkavas. They other side has overgrown fire crackers, a few AK’s and some World War 2 era unguided rockets. Is it any wonder the IDF took five fatalities during Cast Lead (two of them from friendly fire), and inflicted 1134 on the Gazans, at least 40% of them civilians by Israel’s own account? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgiQa1h6OqQ.

A soldier in the Afrikaaner army of South Africa could have written the same article as this guy 30 years ago. Only he probably would have had the guts to write about the violence he inflicted on the blacks. There are many other IDF testimonials out there that don’t sugar-coat the truth. Since Tablet allows only one link per comment, i can’t list them all, but there are dozens.

What is sickening about this article is that Jewish Americans are so under-represented in the U.S. armed forces. I will document that claim in a subsequent post.

Binyamin in O says:

As of August 31, 2009, there were 4697 Jews serving in the U.S. military (active duty), according to Dept. of Defense numbers cited by CNN. http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2009/11/12/raw-data-religious-preference-in-the-military/. As of Sept. 30, 2010 (the nearest date I could find) total number of U.S. active duty military personnel was 1,133,699. Presuming Jewish American comprise 1.7% of the U.S. population our representation in the U.S. military is approximately one quarter the size of Jewish representation in the U.S. population.

CalTex says:

Great story. To a great extent it expresses the feelings I have about my 25 years in the US Army Reserve. Especially the part about blowing shit up.

Melissa says:

Great article. You should be proud of your unwaivering committment to your nation and your family. Well done!

Drew says:

As a Jewish-American who proudly served 23 years in the reserve forces of the US military (and now retired several years), I want to thank you for your service to Israel, and from one old soldier to another, I salute you (although you will probably tell me to save the salute because you work for a living)

I am not sure why Benyamin finds the article sickening, but there are always those in the world who see the bad in everything. I am glad you find honor in the part you played in keeping Israel safe.

Sandee says:

What a human article! Running the gamut of emotions and experiences,Michael, you actually show that inner strength of Israelis who still act like that hard-covered Sabra fruit of the prickly cactus. I love Israel, but you prove your love by living there and by serving in the IDF, even miluim. Thanks for both.

Binyamin in O says:

And FYI, Mike, you are not “blowing shit up,” you are killing human beings whose crime is they want to live with the same dignity and security as everyone else on the planet. Of course, your army can not do bupkiss without my tax dollars and my nation’s moral sanction.

Bill Pearlman says:

Binyamin, why don’t you give it a rest and hustle on over to a site like Mondoweiss. That’s where guys who think that Hitler should have finished the job congregate.

Mike, great story, and its nice to read about somebody who is a man, in every sense of the word. A rare thing in this day and age.

ranen says:

Unfortunately when the author writes that “We dealt with the complicated reality of illegal Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants crossing the Sinai frontier to sneak into Israel” he neglects to spell out the full moral implications of his actions: those that Israel turns back are frequently killed by the Egyptian soldiers. Just saying.

Great article, Michael: Also nice to see other veterans commenting here. I’m another one. When I enlisted about a decade before you, I barely understood or spoke Hebrew. I wound up with the same job as you, in tanks. Most of the kids I trained with (they were ten years younger than me.) were wounded in Lebanon. I was the only American in my sadir unit and in miluim. Things got pretty crazy during Intifada 1. I also went back to the U.S. to work, and lost touch with army friends. But recently I ran into someone I knew from miluim. In his words, “We did our jobs.” (http://www.sderotisrael.com/we-did-our-jobs)
Thanks again, Michael

Notes to Binyamin O:
My father, his brothers and sister all served in the U.S. armed forces. I was a Navy brat until I was 15. The one and only time they all showed any pride in me was when I came to the U.S. after a stint in Lebanon – a Jewish soldier in a Jewish army. I would not characterize the Syrian tanks as overgrown firecrackers. I was living in Sderot during Cast Lead. Prior to the IDF invasion of Gaza, many of those overgrown firecrackers you mentioned made their way into the homes and stores and synagogues of my neighborhood. Had you been there at the time, you might have a different feeling for those missiles and the people who launch them at Israeli children. I can tell you that nobody danced in the streets during Cast Lead. Nobody was happy. Especially in Sderot – every explosion from Gaza was dreaded. I don’t think there is anyone in Gaza who wants to avoid harming Gazan civilians more than the people of Israel. And I can also tell you that the vast majority of soldiers of the IDF would much prefer a miluim where they just blow up targets to a war where people get injured and killed. If you haven’t been there, . . . well, it’s good for you that you haven’t.

Vivian Margulies says:

I still have tears in my eyes.Thank you for keeping my family safe.
Yeshar koach.
Vivian

Hershl says:

Kol hakavod l’tsahal.

Long Live Israel.

Binyamin in O says:

To Jerry:

Total number of Israeli fatalities since the Gaza (home-made) rockets began in the fall of 2001: 28.

Total number of Gazans killed by Israeli munitions (tank shells, M-16s on full auto, Apache “precision-guided” Hellfires, M-60 mortars, T.C.I. M89-SR rounds, and DIME munitions) over the same period: 3861 (according to B’Teslem).

And since Cast Lead, how many unarmed Palestinian boys have been cut down by IDF gunfire? You just killed two unarmed Palestinians in Qualandia refugee camp the night before last. And yes, some were indeed stone throwers. In a democracy, M-16 fire is not considered a proportionate response to stone throwers, and indeed, in Israel, if the stone throwers are Haredim or settlers, they get kvelling, not bullets.

But the sad truth is, the IDF has not killed nearly enough to accomplish its goal: the crushing of the Palestinian will to resist.

My only request: don’t ask me to pay for those bullets.

Binyamin in O says:

Also Jerry, it’s really sad that your parents approved of you only when you were a “Jewish soldier in a Jewish army.” My dad was an American soldier in the American army during WW2. They fought not for one religion, or one race, but for the ideal of freedom, which means, “all people are created equal.” And yes, the Arabs are indeed people.

That is why the corrupting influence is Zionism is sickening to me. What is best about Judaism is its tradition of fighting for justice and for the underdog. Now that Jews are the overdogs in Israel, that tradition is being destroyed.

I think Michael Ripstein, like you and like Israel, abandoned a noble ideal, American’s commitment to freedom, equality and justice. israel today is not a democracy and won’t be until the Palestinians have the elemental human rights we all take for granted. No army that defends one religious group to the exclusion of others, be it Islam, Judaism or Christianity, can be considered a moral army.

Bruce Derflinger says:

Binyamin, in this era of high tech warfare we often forget the first missile was a rock. Thrown with speed and accuracy a small boy can bring down a giant. Have you seen the damage a potato with many six inch (15.4 cm) nails thrown by those “boys” can do? Just because a weapon is not high tech does not mean that it is not dangerous.

During my visit to Vietnam in the late 60’s I carried several types of rifles and pistols (loud and obvious) plus, but toward the end of my stay in country I carried an extra weapon – a crossbow (silent and scary). Both can kill – even thought they were developed more than a thousand years apart. A kid with a rock can be just as dangerous to life and limb as a sniper. Both have the intent to harm and should be dealt with according to their malicious intent.

A country has the requirement to protect its citizens from harm and attack. The measured response of Israel to the provocations the Gaza rocket attacks shows the care the Israeli military uses in responding to the attacks from Arab militants. Before you explode, consider this – if just a few of those missiles were fired across the US boarder how would the US government respond? I think it would be in far greater force and devastation and the problem would not be likely to re-occur.

The problem Ben is that the world is not and has never been a warm and fuzzy place. As much as we try for it, wish for it, as much as we dream for it, or strive to make it a utopia; it is not safe, it is not nice and unfortunately it probably never will be. For a couple of thousand years this part of the world has been a cauldron of passion and blood. A country, or a people, who are unwilling or unable to stand against the tide of fundamentalist/radical Islamic hatred for anything non-Islamic will be put, as the prophet Mohammed commanded, to the sword and will disappear from the face of the earth.

David says:

I am a deeply committed member of J Street, a fan of Meretz and a believer in all that the New Israel Fund does — in other words, a real leftist. Having said that, I cannot express my gratitude to the author enough, for all that he represents and does for Am Yisraeli. May the God of Israel protect and bless him and his family forever and ever.

Ariella says:

Thank you for your service and for writing this.

Ariella says:

A quick look at B.O’s source about the religious preferences of U.S. military members as well as a five-minute google search shows he is certainly wrong. The DOD statistics he cites does not include the Coast Guard and in addition is a self-reporting survey, which according even to the article that cites it almost certainly represents the number of religious minority servicepeople in the U.S.

Other sources cite numbers as high as 30,000 Jewish service members (though I question this number as well).

Along with pretty much everything else he says, B.O.’s ‘statistics’ are lies.

david Ariel says:

Binyamin O, thank you very much for your walk-ons here. There’s already enough evidence of your way of thinking for, oh, maybe one afternoon workshop at a psychiatric convention. Keep it up.

Binyamin O is a troll. Deal with him as we deal with all trolls: ignore him.

I know he’s a troll, but fake Binyamin wrote : “My dad was an American soldier in the American army during WW2. They fought not for one religion, or one race, but for the ideal of freedom, which means, “all people are created equal.”” Ummm, Binyamin, tell that to an African American. Your father’s American army in WWII was strictly racially segregated and adopted the Jim Crow laws of the South for its facilities and forces around the world.

Binyamin in O says:

DRW: that’s not the only time our country has fallen short of its ideals. Much worse was our treatment of the Native Americans, the denial of the vote to women (up until 1920!!!!), not to mention slavery. The point is our ideas are liberty, equality and freedom. That’s why we move along the right path. It takes us far to long. And don’t get me wrong. My own army, is every day filling innocents in Afghanistan.

a more trenchant criticism of my comments here, is why do I bother with the IDF when U.S. drones have killed more innocents in the past 24 hours than the IDF has killed in a year. Fair question.

Yaakov Hillel says:

When a Jew becomes atheist especially in America or anywhere you can expect him to turn into a Binyamin in O. The only religion who believes that no other has the right to survive is Islam. Israel as far as Islam is concerned is in the Area of Islam (Dar Al Islam) which means it not only does not have the right to exist, its Jewish, Christian and all other non Muslims do not have the right to live. 50 years ago I gave up my American citizenship for the right to serve in the Israeli Army. Ive lived here since. We have a group of no bodies at least 3% of the Country like Binyamin of O. I would be happier if they would go to O as well. You will never win an argument with his type of people because no matter how wrong he is he will always consider himself right. Many people versed here the truth and have shown the type of people The Arab enemy is. Like Holding Gilad Shalit without letting him have the rights that every country gives(Geneva Convention). Their hiding behind women and children. Shooting Rockets mortars and missles from mosques hospitals and schools. Killing their own people who belong to other factions. Israel owes them nothing, and in war there is no such thing as fairness you kill two of my soldiers and I kill two of yours.

Shalom Freedman says:

I also greatly appreciated this article. It is not easy to serve in the Army , year after year. It is not easy to deal with the thousand and one problems and difficulties such service requires.
I believe behind the idea of service for many is the understanding of Jewish history, and the kinds of destructions our people have known in the past. The Israeli Army is that force that enables the Jewish people to defend ourselves against those who would destroy us. Unfortunately there have been many such would- be- destroyers in history and there are many many now.
The duty of policing a hostile Palestinian Arab population is one of the most unpleasant duties a soldier can have. It often raises moral questions and difficulties. Even when one puts this in a context and understands it has been necessary only because these people or their representatives would destroy us, it does not remain free of difficulty.
There are all kinds of soldiers in the IDF. I also served there for many years in a kind of unit in which I was never in frontline danger. I always had special appreciation for those ‘who took the real risks and did the real work’. Apparently Michael Ripstein was such a soldier. For during that service and contributing to the security of the people of Israel he has my gratitude.

green fatigues in the desert? what do the zionists do with the 3 bill in aid america gives them each yr?

When I first started reading, the first thought that occurred to me was what the comments wouldbe like.I was,needless to say very pleasantly surprised;but perhaps what surprised me most was the lone dissentor,and his posting name.b’kitzur,Michael -Ashrecha! May you and your family merit many, heathy happy joy-filled years!
“Binyomin” I hope you merit to wake up and smell the coffee….

Joe and Rivky says:

We were both so moved by your article, Michael, and we are honored to call you our friend. You are the kind of person we want our kids to emulate. Your appreciation of Israel and what it means to be a Jew in our country, is an inspiration and helps to remind us why we came here too. Kol Hakavod to you, Michael.

Bianca says:

Fabulous Michael! What a genuine and meaningful piece that will resonate in the hearts of many. Awesome accomplishment kiddo!!! Lots of love!

Avi R says:

Nice article, but wait until your kid goes into the army. It’s a whole new ballgame.

Bucky says:

Binyomin is your typical self hating Jewish leftist. Binyomin, check out the book “John Lennon and the Jews” reviewed in Tablet, it should resonate. And the miluim article, just fabulous. I was one of those wide eyed young Zionists in Tzahal ,but unfortunately washed out because of some psychological issues, which thank GOd were taken care of later in life. By the time I had identified and treated my problems, my life in the U.S. was a fait accompli. I ended up moving back to the U.S. and regretting my failure to this day. My good friends who made aliyah served proudly, but I was not able to do so. I dream now of moving to Israel, and going in to the Civil Guard for at least some of the IDF feel as lame as that would be.

Doug Greener says:

Michael, great article. But there’s no reason for you to stop. I’m only 67 and do volunteer milu’im every year (or so). I’m certainly not the oldest. We have a great unit with guys who will make you feel right at home. Our stints are for 12 days and there’s usually one per month. If you, or anyone else, is interested, call the volunteer unit office at 02-584-2286. It’s the IDF, so your call may not be answered, so leave a message or keep trying.

Caroline says:

I want to thank all the miluim volunteers!!!
you are our heros!

Absolutely wonderful…Thanks Ripper for taking the time to put down in words.

Great article.Maybe I should reconsider aliyah…

Dani Beck, A Platun says:

Michael My friend,

Beautifully written and very sincere your article does a good job describing our weird and double life as soldier – civilians.
Whether your retirement will turn out to be final or not – at the age of 40 it is quite clear you may look back and be proud of the fact that when it was your turn to contribute you did above and beyond.

Well Done!
Dani

Herb K says:

Binyamin O, have you ever considered an honest days work? If you are indeed “working”, you are cheating your employer and should be fired.

Naftali says:

Todah Michael. It’s hard for me to believe that its been 38 years since I stepped into Tironut as a Chayal Boded. August 1974. My years in Tzahal were very special and your pride in serving shows. It’s even harder to serve in Miluim when family, work and life all have to be put aside.

Like you I recall seeing the lights of the Kibbutzim and Moshavim behind me when on raids in Lebanon. I know very well why I was there. Idiots like those on MW and other Kapos in our midst will never understand, and I don’t bother. There were many like them in Hitlers Germany who thought they were more German than the Germans and they scoffed with contempt at their visibly Jewish brethren, Much to their shock, they were on the same cattle cars as those Jews they despised.

Kol Hakvod

Naftali says:

Binyamin,

“That is why the corrupting influence is Zionism is sickening to me. What is best about Judaism is its tradition of fighting for justice and for the underdog. Now that Jews are the overdogs in Israel, that tradition is being destroyed”.

Yes, we should go back to the pacifist gentle ghetto jew persona that worked so well for us for oh, forever. My mother for example.

Living a gentle Jewish life in Hungary, minding her own business. Boom, next thing you know, she is in Auschwitz watching her family go up in smoke. Yup, we should fight for justice, but for others, not for ourselves. Jews don’t fight back.

Actually, it’s so called Jews like you and Chomsky and Silverstein that are sickening. I consider you KAPOS.

Finally, Michael and anyone else that has served in Tzahal will tell you, no one wants peace more than fighting soldiers. We know how ugly war is. Peace Now was founded by combat soldiers (BTW, how come there is no equivalent to this organization anywhere in the Arab/Muslim world) However, we are also not fools, we know who and what we face.

niza palma says:

you are one of the good men in this world who are willing to die and serve for the country even though you live in a place where you can be always a boss and spent time for your family ,[arents,siblingd and friends. only a few do that and i salute you my friend

you’ve got a great weblog right here! would you like to make some invite posts on my weblog?

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Jealous says:

My biggest regret is I never served in the IDF. I always wanted to make aliyah and serve in the army and always basically just assumed that I would, but somehow I never did it and got too old to do so. I’m now 41, at age 18 I didn’t want to go to college and postponed it and spent just under a year on a kibbutz. My Hebrew was decent before I went to Israel and it got very good during my time there. At one point I informed my mother that I was going to stay in Israel and join TSAHAL, but she cried, cajoled and nagged and insisted I come back home for Passover.I learned that I would need to proof of Jewish background anyway to make aliyah so I returned to the US as per my mother’s request. I found myself enrolling in college, and then in my 20s, I started various grad degrees that I never completed, and always figured I would still be able to make aliyah in time to do at least minimal IDF duty, like “Shlav Bet” by my late 20s/early 30s. Somehow I did not get around to visiting Israel again until 2000, at the age of 30, and I learned that I was then learned that old to be drafted if I made aliyah, that they no longer drafted people above the age of 26, although some told me I could still volunteer in theory up to the age of 35, so I had some hope I would manage to do it before 35, but in the interim I got married to my then-wife. Now I’m divorced with elderly parents, and I can’t see myself abandoning them in their old age while they are ill, although I desperately want to move to Israel, but whenever I visit the country (I’ve managed 5 trips between 2000 and 2010) I get such a twinge of regret every time I see hayyalim in IDF khaki, whether miluimnikim or sadir. I can’t help thinking that that should have been a part of my life, and I’m also convinced I’ll never be a real Israeli without having served if I ever do manage to make aliya.

Jealous says:

PLEASE IGNORE MY POST ABOVE–IT WAS POORLY PROOFREAD–MANY TYPOS

My biggest regret in life is I never served in the IDF. I always wanted to make aliyah and serve in the IDF and always basically just assumed that I would, but somehow I never did it and I just got too old to do so. I’m now 41. At age 18 I didn’t want to go to college and postponed it and spent just under a year on a kibbutz. My Hebrew was decent before I went to Israel and it got very good during my time there. At one point I informed my mother that I was going to stay in Israel and join TSAHAL, but she cried, cajoled and nagged and insisted I come back home for Passover.I learned that I would need to proof of Jewish background anyway to make aliyah so I returned to the US as per my mother’s request. I found myself enrolling in college, and then in my 20s, I started various grad degrees that I never completed, and always figured I would still be able to make aliyah in time to do at least minimal IDF duty, like “Shlav Bet” by my late 20s/early 30s. Somehow I did not get around to visiting Israel again until 2000, at the age of 30, and I learned that then learned that I was too old to be drafted if I made aliyah, that they no longer drafted people above the age of 26, although some told me I could, theoretically, still volunteer up to the age of 35, so I had some hope I would manage to do it before 35, but in the interim I got married to my then-wife. Now I’m divorced with elderly parents, and I can’t see myself abandoning them in their old age while they are ill, although I desperately want to move to Israel, but whenever I visit the country (I’ve managed 5 trips between 2000 and 2010) I get such a twinge of regret every time I see hayyalim in IDF khaki, whether miluimnikim or sadir. I can’t help thinking that that should have been a part of my life, and I’m also convinced I’ll never be a real Israeli without having served if I ever do manage to make aliyah.

jenniemorgan says:

I just saw this comment now and wanted to reach out to you as this is something I have been grappling with myself. After much soul-searching, I have realized the following, which I hope will help bring you some peace and allow you to move on:

1) There is a reason the author of this article was the only American in his unit. It’s because, while the IDF is hard enough for native Israelis, it is a thousand times harder for people who grew up in a different society and don’t have parents in Israel. I can assure you that you would not have been happy after a long and frustrating week when everyone around you was met by their parents, brought warmer underwear and nice food, had their laundry done for them, and you were just left to fend for yourself. And don’t delude yourself – nobody else’s family would have adopted you and treated you as their own. I think there are many American Jews who would theoretically like to do their part for the Medina, but realistically, this job is more suited to people whose families live nearby and can support them emotionally.

2) You do not have to do what “everyone else” is doing. There are ways to help Israel without being commanded to shoot or drive through dirt. The IDF is not the only way and you need to make an effort to find your own path and not regret that you have not shared the exact same path as native Israelis and a few one-off immigrants from the U.S. Be accepting of who you are. You are an American Jew, not a native Israeli.

3) You wouldn’t be a “real Israeli,” army or not, if you didn’t grow up there. You would be an immigrant. There is nothing wrong with being an immigrant, but recognize that, while you may read materials that say the army is a good absorber of immigrants, it actually does not have the power to make you not an immigrant when you are one.

4) The reason so many people have left their native countries to make aliyah is because they faced anti-Semitism and in many cases had lost their families. America has been the great anomaly of this otherwise global pattern. You don’t have to feel guilty that you come from a place where you can be yourself, and you don’t have to feel guilty about living there, looking after your parents, and so on.

5) There are lots of Israelis who are not happy or fulfilled despite having served in the IDF. Serving in the IDF can’t do that for you.

6) Imagine that you had been in a situation where you had to decide quickly whether someone was a threat, so you shot, and then it turned out that you were wrong. Then you’d really have a life regret.

I hope this helped a bit and if not, I hope you’ll consider counselling to help you let go of this and accept your life path for what it has been. Best of luck to you. :)

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