My niece Eden Farber is an IDF soldier. I was also one shortly after I made aliyah. I do not generally advertise this because I am not particularly proud of it.
Anyway, Eden just wrote this piece at Times of Israel. The IDF forced Eden to take down the piece. I found it on the Wayback Machine though, and they can’t take that down. Ha.
But anyway, call me biased, but it’s very well written. And to me it’s agonizing. It’s about her disillusionment with the Israeli army, how she went into it idealistic and wanting to serve, use her talents, be useful. Driven by Zionism, love of Israel, all the stuff we are taught in Jewish day school or Hebrew school or youth groups or home school all our lives.
But then she realized that the army is not that great. In fact it was the worst experience of her life. She’s still in it. Here are some relevant passages to the very sad point I’m going to try to make here. Eden writes (my bold):
I became depressed. I cried, more than I ever have. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours in a row. I stopped eating. Food nauseated me. I could go a week eating just one box of cookies. I fought with my family, I canceled plans with my friends. I kept fighting to advance, putting in appeals, meeting with high ranking officers to show them who I am, but in the back of my head I began to ask myself, who am I? Why would I deserve this?
And then one sentence later (my bold):
I know that Israel needs the IDF, and I know that being a part of it is important in the big picture. But I wasn’t ready for this.
And then this (bold and italics mine):
I was able to get out of my depressive state. I was able to find myself outside of just being a cog in the machine. I’m a relatively happy soldier now, who hates her job, just like every other soldier, but does it anyways, just like every other soldier, and goes to the pool and the gym with her friends on breaks. I have had my share of important shifts, where I’ve done a great deal, as well as shifts so boring I started counting speckles on the ceiling tiles. I have set my naïveté aside and learned that the biggest challenge – the one nobody prepares you for – of being in the army is staying out of it, mentally and emotionally.
…the process of separating yourself, the you that thinks and cares and wants, from the you that obeys and does and works, can be heartbreaking.
For this article she is being praised, and rightly so (partially) for being courageous enough to write an article that is not entirely flattering about an institution that most American Jews are trained to revere. The draft is like a חפצא של קדושה, a holy object. To say anything bad about it or unflattering is being courageous, and it is.
But Eden stops just short of the real conclusion, because to her the draft itself is holy. She would not object to that assertion.
I just googled battered woman syndrome. Political correctness has infected Google which brought me to Battered Person Syndrome. Here are some key symptoms:
Repeated cycles of violence and reconciliation can result in the following beliefs and attitudes:
- The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
- The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
- The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.
There are elements of all these symptoms in her article.
Repeated cycles of emotional violence and reconciliation with the IDF (being a part of it is important in her words) results in her thinking the violence is her fault: “I began to ask myself, who am I? Why would I deserve this (a promotion from a high ranking officer)?”
The responsibility is elsewhere, never with the abuser, the IDF draft, who the battered person always returns to: “I know that Israel needs the IDF, and I know that being a part of it is important in the big picture.“
The belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient (in this case holy or godly), is in that same sentence.
Her solution? You can’t ever fault the draft itself. You can’t repudiate years of education meant to make you believe the word of a politician that you must be drafted is a holy word. So you disconnect from yourself. Stay in the marriage, become emotionally detached…a ghost of yourself…
…the biggest challenge – the one nobody prepares you for – of being in the army is staying out of it, mentally and emotionally.
Mentally and emotionally. Notice what she did not say. Physically.
In order to refrain from lashing out at the draft itself, which is what I have done, you have to disconnect from everything. Turn yourself off. Become a robot rather than a human. Learn to turn off your humanity.
But there’s a bigger challenge than staying out of the army mentally and emotionally. The biggest challenge – the one that causes you to fundamentally change the way you see the world – is to stay out of it physically. To put your foot down and say NO MORE.
You can get a divorce.
And here I’m not talking to Eden alone. I’m talking to everyone drafted against their will and miserable, you don’t have to do this to yourselves. You don’t have to stay married. You don’t have to return to your abusive spouse convinced that being part of an abusive marriage is important or idealistic. You don’t have to believe that it’s holy to serve in the army for the sake of serving in the army because it happens to be that a group of at least 61 out of 120 politicians who all lie, cheat, and steal from you for a living say that you have to do it. We all dislike politicians to some extent at least, yet we believe following their word is holy?
Let’s assume the IDF is holy. I believe it is, but not any more intrinsically holy than any other industry in Israel. IDF is just the defense industry. Israel needs all of its industry to survive, high tech and grocery stores included. But let’s accept that it is. That doesn’t mean, however that serving in the IDF is holier than serving anywhere else in the country. If everyone served in the IDF, everyone would starve because there would be no profit-driven division of labor. We’d turn into Mao’s Great Leap Forward where everyone was a soldier and simply die of starvation, just like the Chinese did, 45 million of them from 1958-62, when the whole country was drafted into a Chinese army all at once with Mao directing it.
If the IDF is holy, it needs support. It needs people outside of it in the economy to feed it. I’m one of those. Other people in Israel need people in the private sector to supply them with goods and services. When you get a job and make money, you are doing something holy because you are supporting the IDF that way. You are supporting the army, but you are also supporting everyone.
When you sit in the army and do nothing, you are not supporting the army. You are not supporting anyone. You are obeying politicians. That’s it. You are burdening the army. So the most courageous thing to do would be to simply leave and accept the consequences. If you are worried about prison, you need not be. You’re already in one.
Yes, if there was a war I’d fight in the IDF, and I’d be grudgingly OK with forced basic training only so we are prepared in case of an emergency. But serving just because it happens to be the artificial law agreed on by 61 out of 120 loathsome people is not a holy endeavor.
But let me close out by putting this into perspective. Eden is complaining, and rightly so, about being wasted in a vast bureaucratic system that doesn’t know its right from its left. But it gets much, much worse than that. Eden’s case is a mild one. Consider the families – the wives and children and parents – of soldiers who have died capturing murderers, who are then released by Netanyahu in a “good will gesture” to Abbas, and they go out and murder again.
Imagine how broken, beaten, downtrodden they are if they have any will to live at all. Eden has the luxury of reconnecting with her humanity on weekends or breaks or when she happens to maybe be doing something useful in the IDF in rare instances. Those people, they do not. They are broken for good. There is no way out of their eternal hell. They will die miserable, because of the IDF and the politicians who run it.
Some soldiers are not as strong as Eden. Many commit suicide. Suicide, in fact, is the leading cause of death of IDF soldiers.
You can break away. You can separate. You can love Israel – the people, the nation, the land, and the God of Israel – and hate the draft. Once I achieved that break, I became a happier person.
If you don’t think you’re doing anything useful, just leave. Don’t go back. If you are fighting and you don’t believe what you’re doing is helpful or morally acceptable, don’t risk your life. Leave. Don’t go back. Take the prison sentence and move on.
And if you’ve already been destroyed by the draft, or you have a loved one who was drafted who has already committed suicide, the only thing I can say to you is that Moshe Rabeinu placed the broken tablets in the same Aron (ark) as the full, unbroken set of tablets. You may be broken, but you’re still with us, והמקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבילי ציון וירושלים.
עד מתי, as they say in the army. It’s an inside army joke to some as I learned when I was a soldier, but a serious life-threatening question to others, some who cannot survive it.
Yidlach Shirai…Ad Mussai!
When will this hellish draft end? When the Jews realize it is not holy, and as we say in Avinu Malkeinu –
אבינו מלכנו, אין לנו מלך אלא אתה.
Our Father our King, we have no King but You.
When I say it, I mean it.