The Year In Israel
By Max Fruchter
As I listened to the mefakeid (commander) deliver his speech into the microphone, I understood from his tears and quavering voice that the message was emotional and filled with passion. From his opening remarks until the end of the ceremony, the mefakeid addressed the newly inducted tzanchanim, paratroopers, beginning with a recap of the history of this significant location, Ammunition Hill.
Years ago, as conditions grew more serious during the Six Day War, things suddenly took a turn for the better as the IDF swiftly acquired an array of strategic military trenches in the Battle of Ammunition Hill, a turning point in the war and a prime factor in ultimately leading to a victorious Israel. For this inherent importance within Ammunition Hill, the tekes, or induction ceremony of roughly 200 soldiers, was held precisely in the same location where just 50 years earlier, similarly valiant men took a stand and helped in bringing into reality the Israel we know today.
Throughout the formal admittance of these men and women into the respected Paratrooper Unit, I constantly had to remind myself that most of them were no older than me. Their disciplined faces and powerful presence belied the fact that in reality, many had only graduated from high school last year. Now, with the acceptance of a gun, beret, and Tanach, every child had transformed into a brave and courageous soldier putting his or her life on the line for the preservation of our homeland.
Shmuel Goldis, an alumnus of my yeshiva, was amongst the few hundred inductees that afternoon. When I went over to greet him and wish mazal tov after the ceremony concluded, I truly realized how mentally, physically, and emotionally strong a soldier must be. Knowing a soldier by name and face personalizes the meaning of Tzahal and immensely increases the appreciation and hakarat ha’tov one must have for each soldier. Shmuel is only one year older than me and shares in many of the friendships I have. His father, who could not stop smiling and hugging his child with the deep pride and love only a parent can feel, took several pictures of Shmuel and each of us who came to support him, capturing a moment I’m sure we all will remember. My mother, who spent a year in Israel at 18, responded with enthusiasm when I told over my experience at this tekes, recounting many of the distinct memories she has of supporting friends in her year at their very own tekes.
One particular point in the mefakeid’s speech brought an important concept to mind, one which I had never paid much attention to before. As he recounted the historical significance of Ammunition Hill, he emphasized the legacy and heritage of those who serve in Tzahal. The heroism of past soldiers leaves a challenging path for all current soldiers to follow. Hopefully, with a similar valor, the soldiers of today can carry the torch passed on by the soldiers of yesterday.
Several days after the tekes, I was fortunate to spend Shabbos with my cousins in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Throughout the course of exceptional meals, my cousin shared with me much of my lineage which I had previously been unaware of. I was fascinated to learn of two ancestors in particular–illustrious rebbeim (Rev Itzele Peterburger and Reb Nachumke of Grodno) originating from Lithuania and even NYC who influenced Torah study for Jews of their time as well as today. After Shabbos, my cousin was kind enough to draw up a family tree for me (a remarkable feat which must require an exceptional memory) and point out where, precisely, I fall on the tree of over 10 generations.
As he showed me various sefarim written by my ancestors (some dating back to as early as 1880) on topics ranging from mussar to halachah, I was reminded of the tekes I had attended only a few days before. Contemplating the greatness of my ancestors, prominent rebbeim whose contributions to Judaism are prevalent today, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of pressure fall over me. I wondered, how can I possibly become even remotely similar to such incredible men? Before long, images of hundreds of young soldiers, many who are no older than me, popped into mind. Despite the high expectations and sizable goals set by distinguished soldiers in years past, these men and women stood proud, with confidence, prepared to do all they can for our country and our people. With the faces of these young men and women who hold such bravery gleaming in my mind, I realized how lucky I am to have the ability to aim high in achieving greatness.
The fact that my ancestors were such influential rebbeim should only encourage and motivate me to be the best I can, not suppress my potential by hiding in the face of intimidation After all, if men and women as young as 18 can put their lives on the line for all of us, shouldn’t we all be obliged to at least aim high and be the best we can be? v
Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.