Wednesday, August 24th, 2016...2:31 pm
Elie becomes a fighter
An elite military unit reminds its soldiers of the mission: ‘Tomorrow War’
By TEDDY WEINBERGER
At the conclusion of a soldier’s training, the IDF conducts an “end of course” (sof maslul) ceremony. My son Elie, who is in an elite, secret commando unit, recently completed a relatively lengthy 16-months of training.
(I was rebuked by a friend for mentioning the name of Elie’s unit in a previous column; let’s just say here that Elie’s unit specializes in operating behind enemy lines.)
Life in Israel
The ceremony was held on Thursday night, Aug. 11, at the unit’s base near Ashkelon.
At the ceremony a brief film showed us portions of the training: use of sophisticated weapons, martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, charging enemy positions, transport via helicopter, use of special gear for night fighting, and the frequent arduous challenge of walking/running extremely long distances while carrying extremely heavy backpacks.
Sarah and I looked at each other: Too much scary information.
A mother of one of the boys spoke, and she very much expressed a lot of what I was feeling. On the one hand, we are extremely proud of our boys. The IDF sees a need for this incredibly demanding unit and our boys volunteered for the challenge. (While there is a universal draft, participation in elite units is voluntary.)
But this graduation is so very different from other graduations. The good wishes of “Mazal Tov” that I heard seemed fraught. Because at this graduation Elie and his comrades officially became lohamim (fighters). Now they are fully trained to go on any mission that their commanders deem necessary.
Half of the approximately 60 boys graduating from the two units that night were religious. As it happened, one of the religious boys was chosen to address the crowd. He drew attention to the fact that the ceremony was occurring during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples. He said in effect that the job of the new fighters was to prevent such destruction to the Jewish people.
I was amazed. Outside of Israel, only religious Jews know of Tisha B’Av, and the day is completely taken up with religious meaning. Here at this military ceremony this new fighter dared to point to the obvious (so obvious that he apparently was not afraid of being accused of advocating religious values to the general public — something that religious soldiers typically avoid): the destruction of the Temples was a political and military defeat for the Jewish nation.
The young man was saying that after almost two millennia of military powerlessness, soldiers in today’s IDF have the privilege to defend the Jewish people.
After the ceremony I walked around the base. At the entrance to the large dining hall there was a big poster. On it was the symbol of Elie’s unit with the words “Tomorrow War.” The prophetic vision of Isaiah (2.4) and Micah (4.3), quoted to the world by Menachem Begin at his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, in Dec. 1978, still remains our hope: “Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”
But that is our hope for the future. We pray that this vision will be realized in the near rather than in the distant future, but we also know that it will not happen tomorrow. War is tomorrow. What about today?
In part, today necessarily is about preparing for war tomorrow, and as of Aug. 11, my son Elie is fully prepared. But thankfully, because tomorrow is not here, today I want to simply be proud of my son and of my family — and to happily say, “Mazal Tov.”
Teddy Weinberger writes the “Life in Israel” column for the American Jewish World. He lives in Givat Ze’ev, near Jerusalem.
(American Jewish World, 8.26.16)