Throughout the fall, the conversation often revolved around Daniella’s tsav rishon. She’d come home from school with new updates from classmates: how she was being summoned before two of her peers even though her birthday was only a few days before theirs; how she’s been called first although she’s the last or newest arrival in the country; how she should do as many tests as possible in Raanana ahead of time. We went step by step, first taking the forms to the family doctor for her to read the dizzying array of medical issues that had to be checked off ken or lo and get a referral for a urine test. On another day, we went to the lab to do the test and still another, to the optometrist for an eye exam. Slowly, she gathered the necessary paperwork to bring with her to reduce the amount of time and hassle on the big day.
Finally, January 22 arrived. In the tri-fold the IDF sends is a bus pass from the student’s home to Tel HaShomer, a major Israel Defense Forces base near Tel Aviv, and back. Daniella pleaded with one of us to drive her, explaining that everyone says how important it is to get there before the time indicated in order to finish everything in one day.
Philippe plugged the address into WAZE and dropped her with plenty of time to spare.
At 1:19pm, she called. “Mommy, where were we during the summer of 2006?” I knew that one. It was a biggie, the year before we came on sabbatical to Raanana. The year of Benjamin’s bar mitzvah, which we celebrated at Kibbutz Galon hotel in southern Israel, arriving on the tail of the Second Lebanon War. A summer I will never forget. When the question of moving to Israel for a year arose and the conversation of coming back began in earnest.
“You guys went to Mami and Papi’s house in France ahead of us. We met you there, spent a few days in Berlin with Abba’s best friend and then we came here,” I told her, images of us standing at Checkpoint Charlie and eyeing the remains of the Berlin Wall flashing before me. “Remember?” Daniella wasn’t listening. I could hear her translating into Hebrew and telling someone in the background her whereabouts.
It wasn’t that I was prepared for the question, but these types of questions no longer surprise me. When Benjamin was interviewing with different units shortly after we arrived before his March induction, he had to know and tell all: every name and address of school he’d ever attended, every address where he’d ever lived, every time he’d visited Israel, names of our former babysitters and so on. Sometimes he had advance notice and could research the information, while others it was more spontaneous and via a phone call, starting with “Mommy, what was the Brazilian au pair’s last name?”
The army is asking. The IDF has to know.
After Daniella figured out the three buses it took to get home, she regaled us with stories from her day. She was asked how many rooms in her house, what Philippe and I do and what she wants to do in the army. Contrary to what most people say, the soldier who interviewed her was a woman and a fellow Raananaite and very, very nice.
The upshot was she had to retake the urine test for some random reason, wait for hours for a doctor to examine her, which lasted all of a few minutes, and the initial round of psychological testing was thankfully not language based but with shapes. Her physical profile ended up lower than expected, first because she wears glasses and then because she weighs less than 50 kilos (110 lbs) on her 5-foot barely 1-inch frame. The meaning? She cannot serve in any combat unit. Sigh. Of. Relief.
Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of 12th graders swarm the hallways throughout the day, all trying to understand where to go and when. Some of their paths keep crossing, Daniella explained, so they talk. In the group of kids she repeatedly met and waited with were two girls in the miniest of mini skirts, one Haredi boy who was trying hard not to interact with anyone, especially the girls, and another boy who couldn’t stop talking about how the doctor had touched his privates, telling everyone he had wished it had at least been a female doctor.
Two days later, during the Friday night dinner conversation, she and Benjamin exchanged tsav rishon tales. By early the following week, she got a call from someone in the army asking for contact information of a relative who has been in the country for four years or more that they can call and check up on her.
And so begins the adventure. Her journey on a path she probably would never have chosen if we had stayed in America but one in which she takes tremendous pride, like most of her peers. The kids’ acceptance of and readiness to serve the country is a phenomenon, one which is difficult to understand and explain. Benjamin owns it, and surely, in the not so distant future, so will Simone. Sometimes I still cannot believe we’re here. Doing this.