Editor’s Note: The Jewish Link wishes hatzlacha to Tzvi, our primary Israel correspondent for the last several years. As he continues on to the next stage of his career in the IDF, we know he will soar to ever-greater heights and we hope to print much more from him in the future.
On Wednesday morning, I will be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces.
Looking back on that sentence, it’s just too crazy to believe. Yes, I was informed of this fact over a month ago (minus some last minute changes). Yes, I’ve been in contact with the IDF for the past six and a half months, and even reached out to them to begin my service earlier than required. Yes, most of the decisions I’ve made over the past six years have revolved around the army, and yes, I do believe that I was born for this.
But, then I look back at that sentence, and it just still seems too unreal.
I’m not a soldier.
I was born in Englewood, NJ, a suburb of New York City which no one in my country has ever heard of. I went to amazing Modern Orthodox elementary and high schools in New Jersey, where aliyah was a virtue, but alumni who served in the IDF were few and far between—valued, yes, and even revered—but I could hardly see myself ever becoming one of them. I spent a gap year in a yeshiva, surrounded by rabbanim and community members, amazing role models, most of whom had passed through the IDF. But still, I never saw myself ever doing the same. After all, I’m not a soldier.
I spent five years learning Hebrew, integrating into Israeli society, and obtaining the skills necessary to become an electrical engineer in Israel. A bigger plan began to unfold during my time in college, of offering my services to the IDF in exchange for years of valuable work experience, and, through this, to also begin to repay the vast debt that I, my family, and my community owe the Jewish state. But, even as I based many of my future personal and professional decisions on spending at least two years in IDF service, I still could not foresee myself going through the journey I’m about to embark on. I’m not a soldier.
However, as I sit in my apartment, packing my bags for a month of basic training, I’ve realized a simple but important fact: I’m not a soldier, and I’m not ever going to be one. Soldiers are the eighteen-year-old Israelis who spend most of their teen years getting into shape, trying to ace their bagruyot and dreaming of being accepted into elite army units. Soldiers are the young men, the heroes, who make aliyah and join programs such as hesder and machal, and give their strength and courage to the Jewish army, to fight off our enemies. Soldiers are the heroes who eagerly run back for milu’im (reserve duty), after they already have jobs, families, and lives, to fight and win Israel’s most difficult wars, many unfortunately getting injured in the process. These are the real soldiers.
I’m not a soldier. I’m an electrical engineer. I may don the sand-colored uniform of the Air Force. I may report to the same bases as the soldiers, eat the same food as the soldiers, sleep in the same barracks as the soldiers, and receive the same fringe benefits as the soldiers. But, I am not a soldier. I am Tzvi Chaim Silver, born in New Jersey, USA, now of Giv’at Shmuel, Israel; graduate of RYNJ, TABC, Lev HaTorah and Machon Lev; electrical engineer par excellence. I may have an IDF personnel number, a draft order and equipment, but I am not a solider.
Over the course of the twenty-four months or more that I will spend in the IAF’s technical wing, I may help design technology to keep our military pilots safe as they fly dangerous missions abroad. I may spend that time developing important skills in learning and applying the physics of aeronautics. I also may spend that time changing wheels on damaged aircraft, or sitting in the IAF museum in Be’er Sheva playing the movie in the visitors’ center. No matter where I get assigned, it will not be a waste of time, because I will be serving the most important cause in the world: the safety and security of the State of Israel, and of all Jews around the world.
I’ve spent the last five years preparing to serve the Jewish homeland. With the skills to make my contribution to the Jewish people, the (hopefully sufficient) determination to survive the verbal and physical abuse of IDF tironut (basic training), and the desire and drive to serve the State of Israel in the best way that I can, I am ready to don the sand-colored uniform on Wednesday, step out into the world and begin my IDF service. I don’t need to be a soldier… I’ll just be me, and there’s no better way for me to serve my country.
By Tzvi Silver/JLBWC Israel
Tzvi Silver, a Teaneck native, has been living in Israel since 2011. He recently graduated Machon Lev-JCT as an electrical engineer, and will begin his service in the Israeli Air Force on December 6.