Saturday 14 August 2010

When Israeli Youth Grow Up

Israeli youth generally have a bad name amongst their peers around the world for being undisciplined, for not showing respect to others and for generally lacking manners. This results from the laissez-faire manner in which Israeli society allows them to grow up. Children in Israel seem to be allowed to do almost as they please without any restrictions. There seem to be no boundaries or red lines drawn to provide these children with the framework that they require if we are to believe the child behaviour experts.

The attitude towards children in Israel, we are told, arises from historical events in the years immediately preceding the declaration of the State of Israel, and events since then. After the annihilation of 6 million Jews during the Second World War, children took on a much greater level of significance in the period following the Holocaust. The children were the future to rebuilding the gaping hole left by the victims of the Holocaust. They were all that was left of almost an entire generation destroyed. During the 62 years of the existence of the State of Israel, the daily threat to her very existence has forced Israel to act to defend herself and secure her continued presence in the community of nations. To achieve this, Israel has been forced to build an army made up of the youth of Israel. The responsibility that rests on the shoulders of these young men and women when they enlist in the IDF at the age of 18 or 19 years old is immense. These young people are forced to act in the heat of the battle, and are forced to witness things in a way which no young person of similar age should be forced to experience. This compels Israeli youth to grow up overnight to be able to cope with this, and put their childhood behind them very quickly. But this the reality of modern-day Israel.

The importance of these children to Israel and the Jewish people is reflected by the way in which they are treated in Israeli society. They are allowed to "be children" in every sense of the word. They have free reign to do as they please, and to experience anything and everything that they wish. Society bows down before them and makes no attempt to limit them or their behaviour in any way. After all, far too many of our children have had their lives cut short at an early age and we wish to allow them to do all that their heart desires for fear of the possibility that they may not have the chance to get older and experience these things later on. Even, though this approach goes against all the theories of good child-raising, these theories don't take into consideration the Israeli reality, or that such a situation could ever exist in the 21st century. Despite doing all the "wrong things" in raising our children, we see our young people enlist in the IDF and form one of the world's most effective fighting units. Who would ever think that Jewish kids raised in such circumstances could form such a formidable army? The reality is there for all to see.

I have been honoured to witness another impressive phenomenon that comes out of a country that raises its youth in all the "wrong ways". I was proud to be at the Nahal Memorial one evening last week to be present at the opening ceremony for the current year of voluntary service under the framework of Israel's Scouting movement. I saw 480 young men and women from the Scout movement across Israel complete their training seminar, and embark upon a year which will take them to needy and underprivileged communities in the heartland of Israel and in the outlying areas. Their task is to volunteer their year to helping needy Israeli youth. While they are, of course, also attempting to grow the Israeli Scout movement through their work, there is a clear brief to devote their time to the community at large. This represents an amazing resource to these communities, and to the State of Israel. In total, approximately 2,000 young men and women will be volunteering across Israel as part of a number of different programs. This represents an amazing resource to these communities, and to the State of Israel.

The decision by these young people to take this year off to volunteer their time is not trivial. They are all youth who still have compulsory military training ahead of them - 3 years for the boys and 2 years for the girls. Many of them will wish to attend institutions of higher education to earn university degrees, which means that they will be 25 or 26 years old before they can truly embark on their life journey. The year of voluntary service extends the process by a further year. And yet they have decided to this with huge energy and enthusiasm. They are so eager to make their contribution, and to make a difference to the communities in which they will live for the next year. The truth is that even those who do not undertake such voluntary work will go into the IDF to serve their country. Many of these young people volunteer for front-line positions and fighting units for the period of their national service. Considering the number of child-rearing mistakes made by Israeli parents, the children who come out of the system have some amazing qualities when it comes to serving the State of Israel. By contrast, countries that do stick to the recognised child-rearing rules don't necessarily seem to produce generations of children that are noticeably better than Israeli children.

As I scanned the scene at the Nahal Memorial and focused on the young volunteers, my pride was swelled even more when I saw my own son amongst their number. I have enormous respect for his decision to devote his year to this fantastic cause. When I saw the families and friends that had come to support these young men and women, I could not help thinking about the environment that they have grown up in, and all the things that are wrong with child-rearing in Israel. Somehow, however, these families and many others like them seem to have got it right.

It is my wish that the young volunteers will be successful in all their endeavours, and will inspire others to do the same. Their selflessness is to be admired and respected. We, the parents, and the State of Israel are immensely proud of them, and truly appreciate the spirit of volunteering and willingness to serve their greater community.

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