Typically, the idealism of youth is denigrated. Twenty-somethings charging headfirst into a picket line are more often seen as symbols of an anarchic bent in millennial thinking as opposed to evidence of principled individuals taking a stand.
But in at least one area, we as a Jewish community can agree that the fear-nothing-and-take-no-prisoners approach unique to those just out of high school is something to be admired and cherished. I am talking about the phenomenon — pronounced more in America than elsewhere in the world — that sees Jewish teenagers leaving their homes behind to take up arms on behalf of the State of Israel.
As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the concept of the “lone soldier” is nothing new in the history of the Jewish state. It refers to the conscript who doesn’t have a family to welcome him home for Shabbat, to wash her clothes, to send care packages to pierce the sometime monotony of military life. The distinction typically went to the refugee olim and to orphans. But in the last few years, an entire network has emerged to support a different kind of lone soldier: the American kid who chooses a new life as an immigrant, knowing that in making aliyah, she will say goodbye to her parents, grandparents and siblings for a long time and will be forced to wear the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces.
Make no mistake about it, it’s not a forced choice, but is instead a sacrifice. Under current regulations, older olim — with some exceptions — do not have to serve. Nor do those who make aliyah with children in tow. It is quite possible to fulfill the Zionist ideal of making a home in the Jewish state and, by waiting just a couple of years after graduating college, forgo military service.
But that’s not what Gil Kuttler, whose friends were targeted by a terrorist, or his brother — both Baltimore natives — wanted. They wanted to place their blood, sweat and tears — risking their very lives — on the line in defense of Israel.
In recognition of that sacrifice, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces has coordinated free air travel so that lone soldiers can be reunited with their American family on a regular basis, as well as added perks not available to every Israeli soldier. Such support — funded by private and institutional donations — is a way for the American Jewish community to say thank you to these inspiring young men and women. But it’s also a way for the community to embrace their parents, who despite having no choice in the matter, make a sacrifice as real as that of their children.
Is it all worth it?
Just ask Yossi Kuttler, who describes his time in the IDF as a “part of my life dedicated to an idea greater than myself.”
God bless the idealism of youth.