Wednesday, December 9, 2009


It's the holiday season here, and I was watching the news this evening and a message from a local soldier came on-- he was from Long Island (I think) and he wished his family-- specifying the members-- a merry Christmas and said that he would see them soon.

Here, from NY, soldiers are in Penn Station. They're standing around with guns and vests and hats in twos or threes. They're sometimes on the subway, but that's one soldier going home (yes, there is Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, but you don't constantly see soldiers in uniform or the like) or something. Sometimes you see some soldiers downtown walking around-- but again, rare. And you don't know someone is a soldier unless he/she is in uniform. Our wars (US) are fought overseas and soldiers/military are not something that is so much a part of our lives, unless you are or know a service member. Soldiers are usually far away from their families and may go a year or more without seeing their families.

In Israel, soldiers are a part of daily life. Every child knows a soldier or (especially in the ultra-Orthodox communities) at least has had multiple encounters with soldiers. You see them all the time on the buses, walking around in groups of five, ten, fifteen-- in or out of uniform. But you know they are soldiers. Israel's wars are fought close to home-- very close to home, as in within a few miles, just over a fence, or in your backyard. Israeli soldiers are not nearly as far as US soldiers and may go a month without seeing their family (lone soldiers being the exceptions-- and even then, they often have adopted families).

It's such a radical difference, how different the US soldiers and the Israeli soldiers and the whole mentalities and culture surrounding the military are. It's so much more ingrained in Israeli life, and your army (being used to mean all branches of the military) service defines you in so many ways. In Israel, what unit you served in defines you and later can influence your job options. It means you were smart enough/strong enough/could finagle your way best/etc. into such-and-such a position, and you will forever be defined by that to some degree. In the US, you served in the army (again, generalizing to all branches of the military)? Thank you very much, now continue on with your education/career. No one, or very few people, who does/do not have a military background or an interest in the military will care what you did in your service. It does not define you the same way as it does in Israel, and so you were in Operation ___________, or served during the ______ War-- thank you for your service to the country.

Ask me how many American soldiers (people my age roughly) I know.

Come on, take a guess.

Ok, two. And one of those is through the one other soldier I know. Ask me what they did? Not a clue. What unit? that ended up in Iraq?

Next-- ask me the same question, but substitute "Israeli" for "American." -- Lauren, how many Israeli soldiers do you know?

Come on, take a guess

Ok, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten...I can go on. Oh, wait, I forgot some...I can still go on. Ask me what they did? I have at least a vague idea for most of them. What unit were they in? That I can tell you.

Reminder: I'm American, born and raised. The only soldiers that I know what they did are my grandfathers (side story: In third grade my grandfather came in to speak to my class about being a bomber (among other things) in WWII. He ended up having a whole side discussion with my third grade Hebrew teacher because they worked on the same kinds of planes in different armies.).

I wonder-- would I have gone into the army if I grew up in Israel?

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