Guest Post: “My Sons’ Lives and Learning”
A mother of yeshivah students and soldiers
Ellen Levi joined the Biblical Museum of Natural History a few months ago as Head of Advancement and Donor Relations. Following the recent news about the manpower shortage in the IDF and how it will be made up by pulling out yeshiva students from Religious Zionist rather than Charedi yeshivos, and which I found out directly relates to her family, I invited her to write a guest post.
My Sons’ Lives and Learning
When my husband and I decided to make aliyah 16 years ago from Baltimore with our (then) four children, we understood one of the things we’d be giving up (except of course for the proximity to family) was the ability to walk in many segments of the Jewish community. In Baltimore, we davened in a more “yeshivish” shul. We worked in the Jewish federation world. We sent one child to a Modern Orthodox school and another to one that veered more “black hat.”
We knew that here in Israel, we’d have to “pick our camp,” and that wasn’t so comfortable for us because we believed strongly in the value of each segment of the Jewish community, of the importance of helping each of our children find his or her way, within, we deeply hoped, a Torah framework. And yet, we knew that making aliyah meant that one day, our then 3 and 5 year old sons (and perhaps our two daughters) would don a uniform and serve in the IDF. We knew we’d have to be committed enough to raise them to not only be dedicated to learning, but also with the sense of responsibility to the Jewish state and everything that entails. For us, there was no other path.
What was once hypothetical is now very real.
I now have six children – 4 boys and 2 girls, and one new grandson.
My oldest daughter served as a “tatspitanit” (surveillance soldier) on the Gaza border for two years. If she wasn’t already married and pregnant on October 7th, she surely would have joined the reserves to help watch over our soldiers and keep our borders safe.
My 21-year-old son is a classic Religious Zionist – with emphasis on both the Religious and the Zionist. He loves being in the Beit Midrash, discussing philosophy and learning Gemara until late at night. And he deeply believes in his responsibility to keep Israel safe. He enlisted nearly a year ago with his Hesder yeshiva group from Maale Adumim and recently served in Gaza for a month and a half, gun over his shoulder, Gemara in his pocket, as he tried to keep up with Daf Yomi, while protecting Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. He can’t wait to get back to the Beit Midrash, but it is unclear when he will be able to do so.
I heard his voice once in 6 weeks for about 90 seconds – not enough to know how he was really doing. Only when he came home could we break the news of the loved ones killed while he was in Gaza– the son of close friends, the husband of a cousin….
And my now 19-year-old son? He’s training for the most elite combat unit he can get into, while learning Gemara at a “Mechina Yeshivati” (Atzmona) – an army preparatory program with a strong focus on Torah learning.
My 19-year-old is not a natural Torah learner. He has some minor learning disabilities that make Gemara learning difficult. School was hard for him. I’m thrilled that he is finally spending time in the Beit Midrash. A year ago, when I asked him about his choice to learn in a more serious mechina, he responded, “At the end of the day I want to marry a religious girl, to have a religious home. Now is my time to finally learn how to learn.”
His mechina is on the Gaza border. Due to the war, they only really got into the rhythm of learning after Chanukah. And now his year (which he’d hoped would become two with Shana Bet….) may be cut very short. The army has told them that due to the loss of so many soldiers and the stress of the war, they need more new recruits. He may have to enlist next month, rather than in another year and a half.
I have one who loves to learn and another for whom it’s difficult, but he’s committed to working on it. Both are dedicated to protecting our country, our nation… Are their lives worth less than those of others who refuse to enlist? Is their Torah learning worth less?
I believe in the importance of achdut, unity, in the importance of loving and supporting our fellow Jews. I believe in working to move past our divisions. We should love and respect one another. But I also believe that we all need to do our part – to learn and to fight, to dedicate ourselves in all the ways necessary – for our people and for our home, together.
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