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by Michelle Nevada


There is a shortage of soldiers in Israel right now, and the truth is, historically, many of the soldiers who help fill out the ranks in Israel are from families of religious Zionists in Galut. In the last estimate of numbers from the IDF, those who come from Galut represent 10 percent of the corps.

I'm not sure when the calculations were made, but I am afraid that there are now, and probably will be in the future, far fewer IDF troops from Galut, and I don't see that number increasing unless the Israeli government wakes up to the new situation in the Jewish world – brought about, entirely, by the government's short-sightedness, their lack of good judgment, and their absence of integrity.

Right now, mothers like me are being approached by our sons who are ready to graduate from high school, and they are asking us: "Ima, do you think I should spend a year in the IDF?"

Before Gush Katif, I assumed my sons would go into the IDF. I raised my sons to see Israel as their most important priority, and my assumption had always been that they would go into the IDF after high school. The IDF was the obvious place for them to go to defend our Holy Land, mature, grow into men, learn Hebrew, perhaps meet a nice girl, and connect to Israel in a way that might lead to aliyah. Even if I couldn't be in Israel, I constantly lectured to them, that didn't mean they shouldn't be there.

These were the Zionist ideals that were so clear in their upbringing that they needed no permission from me to assume them. My sons knew what was expected.

But then the Israeli government made a huge mistake. Not only did they decide to destroy the Jewish communities in Gaza and Amona, they decided to use IDF to do their dirty work. At that moment, a bastion of Zionism, that wholesome place where religious Zionist mothers sent their religious Zionist boys to defend Zion no longer existed. The IDF had been replaced by a brutal gang of anti-Zionist thugs who were bent upon the destruction of the homes of loyal religious Zionist families.

My children and I watched the television with disgust and anger as we witnessed the hatred of the Israeli government for their own people play out in Gush Katif and Amona. We sat, incredulous, as we saw cages lowered onto rooftops in order to trap loyal religious Jews like animals. We cried to see synagogues thrown under the treads of tanks and bulldozers. We marveled at the determined faces of young men and women intent upon prayer with their legs locked for the Amida, as they were dragged into trucks by our former heros, the IDF. Those who had once been the face of Zionism had been reduced to political pawns.

These became the new images of the IDF in our minds' eye. Anything done since then is, in our estimation, a lie. We are not convinced by slick ads or by the kind-looking IDF recruiters who come to our religious schools. We are still too sick, our nerves too raw, our pain too new.

Now, after Gush Katif, there is the question where there never had to be: "Ima, do you think I should spend a year in the IDF?"

When my son asked the question, I hesitated. I love Israel, but Israel isn't what it used to be. There was once a place where the religious Zionists sent their sons – called the Israeli Defense Forces. It was a place where our sons could to defend our Holy Land, become men, where they could perfect their Hebrew, where they could, perhaps, meet a nice girl and consider aliyah.

They can still become men, learn Hebrew, perhaps meet a nice girl, and consider aliyah – but it isn't a place for defending our Holy Land.

After Gush Katif and Amona, that dream is gone. Now, the IDF is a force used by the secular government to flex their muscles against a defenseless religious populous. It is a place where those who are religious are held back from the best positions in the service, a place where they are interrogated about whether their loyalty is to the IDF or to the Torah, and a place where they must be forced to chose between the two. If you choose to keep your religious ideals, you go to jail.

My friends comfort me with words about the Hesder Yeshivas, that in the Hesder Yeshivas, the boys can be both religious and Zionist. But it is stories of religious soldiers being discriminated against, of religious soldiers told they can't belong to the Golani brigades, of religious soldiers forced to destroy outposts, of religious soldiers having to train with young women in situations where their religious ideals may be compromised, which strain my belief in the protection offered by the Hesder Yeshivas.

Does my son have to choose between being religious and jail if he joins the IDF? Why must I even ask this question? Why must our young men suffer for their Judaism in the one place where we are supposed to find support, where they are being asked to protect a Jewish homeland?

And, if he joins the IDF after all, and he is, G-d forbid, taken hostage – will the government regard him, like Galid Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev – as fodder for a "peace process" that releases terrorists from prison in exchange for a liberty that never comes or a promise that is never fulfilled?

So, I answer, finally.

"Don't join the IDF, that is no place for a son of Zionism. Go to Israel and study in a yeshiva. There you can become a man, perfect your Hebrew, perhaps meet a nice girl and consider aliyah, but you won't have to go to jail for wanting to protect and defend Jewish ideals that no longer exist for a government that cares less for our young men than it does for the sons of terrorists."

Even as I say the words, my eyes tear. They are not the words I want to say to my son. They are not the words any Jewish mother should have to say.

Michelle Nevada is a religious Jew from rural Nevada. Contact her at


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