Friday, May 7, 2010

Becoming a Chayal - Rafi's IDF Swearing in Ceremony

Over the years, I have been to a number of IDF swearing in ceremonies, mostly with groups of tourists. At each ceremony, I have been moved to tears of pride, even when I did not know any of the soldiers there. (OK – I also cried when I saw the movie “Born Free” as a kid…).

But yesterday was different. Yesterday, Batya, Ari, Nili and I were at Latrun to be with our oldest son Rafi as he solemnly pledged allegiance to people, state and army of Israel. It was a moving ceremony marking the end of the initial stage of basic training, and I found myself choked up numerous times. I could barely sing the “Hatikvah” at the end as my voice kept cracking.

The soldiers arrived at Latrun early in the morning for a series and exercises, practice drills etc. We arrived at 3 PM. Under a blazing hot sun we staked out seats in the outdoor amphitheater nearest to where Rafi and his unit would be stationed for the ceremony. We were joined by my Mom (Savta Reva), 2 other Efrat families whose sons are in the same unit, a whole gaggle of friends of Rafi, Ari and Nili, and our close friends the Peretz and the Schwartz families who have watched Rafi grow up. We had coordinated together to bring food and drink for the boys and their friends & guests so we lay out a spread of fruit, schnitzel, foccacias, sandwiches, cookies and cake, drinks etc. Rafi and the other soldiers soon joined us and soon everyone was busy eating, drinking, laughing, hugging, talking, posing for pictures etc. This scene was repeating itself all over Latrun as families and friends gathered in a festive atmosphere to celebrate this milestone in the lives of our sons and families.

By 4:45 the ceremony was ready to begin. Rafi and his pals quickly joined the over 600 soldiers being sworn into the Armored Corp marching on to the stage and arranging themselves by units and companies. The ceremony began with the soldiers at attention and the crowd standing for the recitation of “Yizkor” remembering those who have fallen in defense of Israel. There were various presentations and speeches and then the moments that we were all waiting for. In response to the pledge of allegiance to the people, state and army of Israel, each company roared its affirmative response. Then, each soldier came forward to receive his Tanach (Bible) and gun from their company commanders.

While this ceremony is the “swearing in” where they go from being recruits to being soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (complete with M-16 rifles), interestingly not everyone swears. Jewish tradition takes swearing very seriously and as such discourages the use of oaths and swearing except when absolutely necessary. Therefore soldiers are given the option of replying Ani Nishbah (I swear) or Ani Matzhir (I affirm) in response to the pledge. Many religiously observant soldiers (including Rafi) choose to affirm rather than to swear. Since each company responds in unison (at the top of their lungs) and since roughly half or more of the soldiers are identifiably religious, the response came out sounding something like Ani Nishtzir in a wonderful cacophony of personal autonomy within the broader group cohesion and conformity. This was another moment that moved me to tears as I watched Rafi’s face closely as he responded Ani Matzhir with such intensity and strength, affirming his pride as a soldier of Israel and his pride and identity as an observant and proud Jew.

The short speeches focused on the hard work that the boys have gone through already and the hard road ahead. The commanders who spoke were full of praise for their dedication and spirit. There was a strong emphasis on our desire for peace and security. Not once was there a glorification of war and battle. Is there another army in the world quite like this?

We were thrilled to have Savta Reva and our close friends and close friends of our kids with us and to be joined together with other families from Efrat. As olim, we and our kids have become used to celebrating life cycle events with a relatively small circle of friends since so many of our relatives still live overseas. But yesterday we were probable one of the largest groupings there – when Rafi stepped forward, a huge cheer went up from our section accompanied by large hand held signs, clapping and singing.

All in all, it was a celebratory occasion. Of course, darker thoughts intruded uninvited at times but they were pushed aside by the pride and energy of the soldiers and the thousands of friends and relatives sharing the moment and celebrating together.

For us it was a moment of intense pride and fulfillment. We have after all come home to Israel as part of the age old Jewish and modern Zionist dream. We have brought up our children to be dedicated to the people and traditions of Israel. We are so proud that Rafi understands that freedom does not come for free and that he sees it as his privilege and obligation as a Jew to fight to maintain our hard earned freedom – no one else will do it for us.

I have been to Latrun and seen the banner “Welcome to the Armored Corp Family Circle” many times. For the first time I knew that that banner included me - we are now a part of that proud family…Shehechiyanu VeKiyamanu VeHigiyanu LaZman Hazeh.

1 comment:

  1. I am kvelling for you all, and I have goosebumps reading this that start at my shoulders and go all of the way down my legs! I pray that "lo yilmedu od milchama...." and that Rafi and all other chayalim will no longer need to carry a gun. In the meantime, mazel tov, I guess?