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!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • 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.