Sisterhood Blog

How Israel's Mandatory IDF Service Affects How We Parent

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share

I began my phone call to my friend Karen with the same question that has launched all of our recent conversations: “How’s Noah?”

And so I get the latest report on her 18-year-old son who recently entered training for a combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces. Noah is the first child of a close friend to enlist in the IDF.

Her answer is a unique mixture of happiness and apprehension. “Well, he is so happy. He loves it. He’s exhausted. His last text message to me said, ‘I’m bruised, I’m sore, I’m exhausted, I’ve never been happier.’ He came home last Shabbat with a prize for his skills in shooting a really big gun. Shooting!?? I think of him as my son, not a soldier. I’m thrilled for him, but I’m scared, too. I worry how much he is going to have to give to this.”

If Karen’s son was at Harvard, she would be able to enjoy his success with undiluted pride. But as she watches him thrive in the IDF, that pride is cut with pure parental worry. It is the one situation in which many parents wouldn’t mind seeing their sons underachieve.

I’ve been living in Israel for a long time. Over the years, friends have asked me the unanswerable question: “What’s it like?” I’ve responded with the following speech: When your kids are young and you are in that child-centric stage of life, the vast majority of your day is similar the world over — getting the family fed and organized in the morning, out the door, doing your job, afterwards dealing with meals and after-school activities, bath and bedtime. It doesn’t seem matter if you live in Israel or Westchester or Timbuktu.

With CNN showing them all that is abnormal about Israel, I’ve felt responsible for describing to them just how normal life can be.

But my usual spiel feels less truthful as our children hit high school and we begin to contemplate the future. The reality of mandatory army service after high school begins to transform the parenting experience even before actual enlistment takes place. As the army looms, parental limit-setting begins to seem absurd and pointless. Shortly before Noah enlisted, he told his mother he wanted to take the car and go camping for a couple of days. Where? He wasn’t sure. “My instinct was to tell him no way,” says Karen. “And then I thought, when will he get a chance to do this after he enlists? Who am I to stop him from doing it now?”

While American parents legitimately sweat over their kids’ college applications, tuition, and the dizzying level of freedom life on a university campus will present them, it seems to pale in comparison.

Over here, 18-year-olds must instead gear up for the most restrictive, and, for some, the most dangerous period, of their lives. For parents, that period is extremely stressful.

I must confess that it is not a stage of life that I am looking forward to. And depressingly, but realistically, Israelis these days no longer even bother to reassure themselves or one another with the platitude: “Surely by the time my child reaches army age, there will be peace — and no reason to worry.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel Defense Forces, IDF, Army, Parenting

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.