After the army, many young men and women leave the country for a few months to see the world beyond. They are free – perhaps for the first time in their lives. Most went from high school to the army; from their parents telling them what to do to the army commanding it. When the army ends, they are suddenly adults, suddenly free.
We live in a very small country and they want to drive on a road that seems to never end, to hike mountains as tall as the sky. They don’t want to carry a gun, look at an Arab’s document. They don’t want to wonder if this bus will blow up, if this car contains explosives. They want to be in a restaurant without watching the door to see if the person who walks in is suspicious. They don’t want to hate or be hated. They don’t want to hear about rockets being fired and landing near a school or a playground. They just want to be, perhaps for the first time in their lives – young and without responsibilities.
So, they take a backpack and a flight and go…just go. As exotic as they can imagine – to the mountains of Nepal or Bolivia; to the beaches of Thailand. To wander through India and a culture so different from our own. Anything, anywhere…just not here. For now, they promise their families and themselves. Just for now. We need to breathe but we’ll be back. Trust us. We fought in the army; we were soldiers. For three years we stood, we defended. If we survived that, we can survive anything. Trust us, free us. And they go.
This is, I believe, less typical among religious men and women, who often tend to get on with life without this interval – school and marriage. For them, it isn’t so much about going free as about going on with life. Yaakov married soon after the army; Shmulik married at the very end of his service. Elie thought about taking “the trip” but never did. He looked into finding work, finding a place to study and somewhere in between, found Lauren (though I like to think that I kind of had a part in finding her too).
By contrast, both my niece and nephew went off to discover. My niece is back in Israel in school and seriously involved with a wonderful young man that is much adored by the family. She has a job and is studying – in short, the Israel experience.
My nephew Yair finished the army a few months ago and is now off in South America with his girlfriend and others. Usually, from the pictures I glimpse on Facebook, there are at least two couples traveling together – four young Israelis, four ex-soldiers taking on the world – one country at a time.
The pictures they post are amazing – such vibrant colors of green; so many shades of grass and land and trees. In places I doubt I will ever see. Breathtaking views. So different from what Israel looks like (for the most part). I grew up in America – where beauty was found in the green mountains, the autumn colors. We are a land short on water. Desert in the south and to the eastern parts. The Negev Desert and the Judean Desert. Such a small country and we have two deserts! And we border there seas – the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea – such a small country.
From top to bottom, we are about the size of New Jersey and though we have desert and forests, seas and rivers, it is all contained in a small area. You can drive from north to south in about six or seven hours (and that’s only because most of the roads are winding.
It is no wonder some of our children feel a need to go and see the lands beyond. I have peace in my heart when it comes to Yair. He will roam and then he will come home. Israel will always be his home. So, quietly every few days or so, I check his Facebook page and watch from afar. Such amazing smiles they have, so free to roam where they want.
Maybe I’m experiencing Bolivia and Peru only through his images – so beautiful and enjoying most the pictures of him towering above a cliff and smiling; or the fun images they post with the smile that is so Yair.
And then I saw a picture with a lot of people sitting in the audience listening to a group of what appear to be singers. All eyes are forward in the crowd and there are so many. If you look at how the people are sitting – you’ll see many are leaning forward. One had his head down. At the bottom of the picture, in the very corner, is a young man with his chin perched on his hands but clearly listening intently. There are no slouching bodies and again – I see how they are all focused forward.
The picture was taken somewhere in Peru – somewhere where hundreds of Israelis gathered on Memorial Day to remember 22,993 soldiers and 2,477 victims of terror. So, in Peru and presumably in other places around the world, those who were soldiers just a short time ago, gathered to remember and honor Israel’s fallen.
The concept touched me so deeply – see, they haven’t run away to forget. See how they dressed in white shirts and blue/dark pants – as they would have at home. See how they stand, how they joined together so far away, just as we did here. They’ve gone to explore, to experience, to learn but their hearts are here. They are having fun…and took the time to remember. I am humbled by this on so many levels.
For three years or more (in Yair’s case more than four years), they were told what to do – no one told them they had to mark this day. This is how deep Israel is inside of us, this is how far we have reached. From Jerusalem down the mountains and across our land, across oceans and seas, in India, Nepal, Thailand and even in Peru…we remember.
Stay safe, Yair – we love you!