When we first told ds19 (then almost 18) that we wanted to make aliyah, we told him he had the option to stay in the US. He said it was a no-brainer for him – if his family was moving to Israel, he wasn’t going to stay behind in another country. The only concern he had was regarding being drafted into the Israeli army.
I told him that this wouldn’t be a concern since there was a deferral for full-time yeshiva students, which he was. He was very, very concerned about this point and I repeatedly reassured him that it would be fine. After all, there are many thousands of yeshiva students and they all have the same situation as him, so why should there be a problem?
Six weeks after we arrived, he got his call up notice to the army. We had been told that new immigrants or returning minors (his status) rarely were called up until after a year. My husband spent the next sixteen months working on getting a deferral for ds, but the Tal Law changed this summer and there are now no deferrals being given to yeshiva students. Ds is scheduled to be inducted in two months. Yes, I do feel very badly about this. If he had expected this to happen, he would have made a different choice about moving here.
As the months have gone by, I’ve repeatedly brought up to him the need to consider what will happen if he needs to serve in the army and to plan accordingly. He can maximize his time there by networking and getting into a framework in which he can learn a skill or be with other charedi young men or whatever he wants. I told him I’ll help him but he has to tell me that this is what he wants, because it’s a big project for me and I have other things to do with my time if this isn’t something he wants to pursue. There are some decent alternatives, none of which are his ideal but I think they’re acceptable.
Now before I say anything else, I want to say that ds19 is a thoughtful and considerate person who really strives to do what is right in every situation. He works on his character and tries hard to integrate his Torah learning into who he is. He has been raised in a home that has stressed a work ethic that is contrary to his yeshiva framework and it has been difficult for him to balance the two paths, because in the world we live in it’s one way or the other. He has asked grappled with questions regarding career that very few of his peers are asking and is really trying to find a way to be responsible long term financially and to keep his Torah studies in the forefront of his life. It’s a very hard situation emotionally and the educational choices that we’ve made since living here have been in large part so that none of our next six sons need to be torn in different directions the way he is.
So he’s not a young man looking for others to take care of him or without a sense of communal responsibility. He’s in a framework in which army service is strongly discouraged, which I understand. However, I told him he must have a plan B if plan A – getting a deferral – doesn’t happen.
He told us he will follow the guidance of his rosh yeshiva in this regard, who is advising him according to the Torah leaders of Israel. Today he called and told us that the plan is that he (along with many, many other young men in the same situation – he has been caught in the first wave of charedi boys to deal with the new political reality) will either get a deferral if the law changes between now and then, or he’ll go to jail.
When I heard that ‘go to jail’ was the advice he was given, I hit the roof. Why are they advising him like this? He really believes this is daas Torah. He’s a trusting American kid with no connections and when they come to cart him off to jail, it’s not like the gedolim are going to be advocating for him personally. I don’t believe being in jail is a fun or positive spiritual experience, and it sure doesn’t look good on his future record. They make it sound as if he’s going to be taken to jail along with all of his buddies, but it’s not going to be like that. He’s going to be on his own.
Do they really think that going to jail is a better alternative than serving in the army? I very much understand the reality of the army and that it’s not an ideal framework for a number of reasons. I also understand that it’s not ideal for the Jewish country to be surrounded by millions of hostile neighbors who would like nothing more than to see every person in the country of Israel wiped out, and the army is a necessary defense force to ensure our survival. I think most of the parents of young men as well as the young men themselves would prefer if this wan’t a mandatory part of growing up here, but this is our reality.
The charedi community wants to force the hand of the government and is threatening civil unrest if their sons are forced to go to the army. I don’t agree with this approach and I don’t want my son caught in the middle of it.
It’s not easy for me as a parent to see ds being told this is the Torah approach, to see him being advised in a way that I think will be damaging…But I raised him with the understanding that being an adult means living his own life and making his own choices. I’ve given my feedback and suggestions to the point that it was constructive. We all want to save our children from roadblocks on the path of life that are apparent to us. However, we can’t force our adult children to live their lives according to what we want. And it’s only with hindsight that we’ll see what the consequences of a given approach are; I can’t confidently declare that I’m right and others are wrong. It remains to be seen.
I don’t know how many parents are in our situation but I know that the entire country will be watching carefully to see how the first wave of unwilling charedi recruits will be handled. As for me personally, I’m working on acceptance of what I can’t change.