Sunday 23 December 2012

The Oath that Really Counts

I had the immense pleasure to attend the ceremony which marked the end of my son's basic training course.  The young soldiers were presented to us in a parade to mark their formal induction to the Israel Defense Force (IDF) as fully-fledged soldiers.  It was truly an amazing and an emotional scene to witness the commitment of these young people to the cause of defending their homeland, and the enthusiasm with which they accept the need to give up three years of their young lives in doing so.

During the course of the ceremony, the new recruits were called upon to make an oath of allegiance to the State of Israel and the IDF.  An oath of allegiance is common in ceremonies in which new immigrants to certain countries becoming citizens.  In the USA, the pledge of allegiance is commonly recited in schools as a way of instilling a feeling of patriotism towards the motherland.  In reality, such oaths are more of a mantra and, while those reciting it may believe in its statements in their hearts, they are seldom called upon to act to fulfil the pledge.  This is not so in the case of young Israelis.  The oath that they take includes the statement that they will even be prepared to sacrifice their lives in the protection of the State of Israel, and its liberty.  This is no idle undertaking.  Thousands who have taken this oath before have made the ultimate sacrifice.  This point was not lost on any of the new recruits as they made their oath in front of the gathered crowd, and their commanders.  Even at their tender age, each understood in no uncertain terms how serious this oath is.

The ceremony was filled with symbolism as the recruits first recited their oath together in unison, and were then called upon individually to make their promise.  Each one stepped forward in front of their commander, was handed a Tanach (copy of the Old Testament)* and a rifle, and made his vow.  I was overwhelmed with pride and trepidation as my son also made the simple statement "I promise".  The Tanach in his one hand represented not only a holy book on which to make a vow, but also represented thousands of years of Jewish history that are now being entrusted into his hands.  The rifle in his other hand represented the determination of the Jewish people to survive, even if force is required.  It represented the piece that has been missing at certain critical stages during our history, and which was missing when six million of our people were annihilated at the hands of the Nazis.  The combination of the Tanach and the rifle is all that we need to move forward, determined never to allow such an event to happen again.  Each recruit stepped forward and made his promise with confidence and commitment.  Despite the obvious dangers that are involved in serving in the IDF, not one flinched or hesitated when making his vow.  I felt enormous gratitude to these young men and women, and great confidence in handing the future safety of our country and our people to them.  They are worthy in every way.

My mind wandered momentarily to think of those members of my family who were cruelly murdered in the Holocaust.  I considered what they may have thought if they were present to witness this amazing scene before me.  This is the one thing that was missing for them, and that would have protected them at the moment that they so needed it only 70 short years ago.  I felt thankful that we have learned our lesson sufficiently to create the powerful fighting force that is the IDF, and that I have merited to witness this with my own eyes.  I felt enormous pride that I can also be involved in this miracle via the wonderful work being done by my sons, and by the sons and daughters of our friends and neighbours.  This is truly a modern miracle that could never have been envisaged during the dark days that our people were forced to endure.

Today is the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, which also doubles as the memorial day for those whose date and location of death are unknown.  I feel pain in my heart that they could not be offered the amazing protection that the IDF offers us today.  I wish they could feel the immense pride that we feel, and experience the sense of comfort that we are privileged to feel in the knowledge that we are being protected by our own army.  As much as we all pray for the opportunity to live in peace and not be forced to have our army on constant alert to protect our country and our people, we will never again allow our fate and our safety to be left to the responsibility of others.  Our boys and girls are ready to take their oath to keep our safety in their hands.

* Non-Jewish soldiers make their oath on a holy book or symbol of their choosing.