When the envelope arrived mid-July, I spent a few seconds deciphering the writing in Hebrew only to realize it was addressed to Lang, Daniella. The green lettering of the return address was foreign yet familiar: Tsahal, the Hebrew acronym for IDF or Israel Defense Forces.
Since Daniella was away, I put it on her bed. But I didn’t need to open or read it to know the contents. Born early April and entering 11th grade, she was being summoned to her tsav rishon, which loosely translates into First Call. The first of many formal meetings with the army, a day off from school, to conduct a battery of tests—urine, vision, blood, IQ, psychological. In a country with compulsory military service for 18-year-old men and women, tsav rishon is a rite of passage in IDF-speak. It’s a day that most 11th graders discuss at length as they swap stories they’ve heard from older siblings or friends about units, jobs, placements. As soon as she got home and I told her what was waiting for her in her room, she raced upstairs. “January 22, 2014–put it on the calendar!” she screamed down to me. “That’s my tsav rishon.”
During one of our summers in Israel, we’d had a taste of tsav rishon with Benjamin. In 2010, a month before entering 12th grade, he received the same summons. Since we were in Raanana and since he was born in Haifa, he was able to report to the base in that coastal city about an hour north. Even though all sabras are supposed to serve, certain populations are exempt, including those who had emigrated long before army age and who intended to stay abroad.
Before our most recent move, everyone wanted to know if I could see myself staying in Israel this time around. My first stint in 1989 lasted five years and the second in 2007 was one year. Since I wasn’t eager to come and humor is a good coping mechanism, I joked: “I’m on a 10-year plan, which represents Benjamin starting his army service and Simone finishing.” At the time, it all seemed so far away. Now, he has a little over one year left and will be released in March of 2015; by the fall of that same year, Daniella will probably be inducted. And around the same time Daniella will start, Simone will receive her tsav rishon.
For me, the thought of my petite daughter dressed in army fatigues and spending two years in the IDF is one I try hard to push out of my mind. Partly because it ages her—and us. Partly because it means we’ll have two out of the house and only one left, not for long. Partly because it signifies the first true separation between parent and child, probably similar to what my parents felt when I left home for college in Chicago. There will be kilometers between us and experiences that will be hers and hers alone. But there’s a deeper, more difficult to digest reason that I need to distance myself from my daughter’s next stage. That of fear, of the unknown; depending on the unit she chooses or where she gets placed, I might not always know her whereabouts or her goings-on. For some soldiers, they are commanded to not divulge any information about their unit. What happens in the army stays in the army. Just like with Benjamin. Even if I could know, I wouldn’t want to.
A few years ago, when we first told our kids the plan to return to Israel, we were greeted with groans and shrieks. Not one of them was supportive or excited, each for his/her own reasons. Benjamin wanted to be a lone soldier, which comes with a set of perks he is not entitled to since we’re here. And the girls just wanted to live their American teenage lives where they read from left to right, apply to college and understand everything being said around them.
And then something surprising happened. Shortly after we settled in, Daniella concocted her own 10-year plan, beginning after high school graduation. I often overheard her answering people’s questions about what she wanted to do and she’d say, “First, army for two years, then travel abroad, after college…” Somewhere along the way from not wanting to move to being a 9th grader, she had undergone an attitude shift. One that was mature and full of acceptance.
At each turn in conversation, I stood back and smiled, my heart pulsing with pride.
P.S. Stay tuned for Part II next week!