During my last period of reserve duty I went to a firing range for target practice. I listened to the instructor’s review. I laid on the ground and, looking through the sight of the gun, I lined up my M-16 assault riffle with the target. I followed the commander’s directions.
“Turn off the safety.”
“Set to semi-automatic.”
Slowly, I pulled back the trigger. Suddenly, the power of my weapon pushed me backwards. I was a little surprised.
I hadn’t fired a gun in several years. The noise, even with my earplugs, was deafening. I dreaded hearing it again. Yet, I pulled the trigger.
The rifle pushed me back and roared in my ears. I had forgotten the familiar smell. I felt my body trembling.
Part of living in Israel is being in the army. I have served in the Israel Defense Forces for over ten years. I know that we must bear arms and that were we to lay them down our homes would be destroyed, our children killed and Israel would cease to exist. But I don’t like firing a gun.
My mom used to say, “I don’t care if Steven’s mother lets him play with guns; you can’t. I don’t believe in them.”
(Steven was my next-door-neighbor who loved his G. I. Joe.)
I would ask her, “How can you not believe in them? They exist. They are not make-believe.”
I didn’t understand her words, but the message got across: Guns are not toys. Just because your next-door-neighbor has one doesn’t mean that you can.
Little did we know then that I would eventually be firing an M-16.
In the Middle East, if the country next-door has a gun, we must have one as well. While good fences may make good neighbors, in this neighborhood walking with a big stick is essential to our survival. Although we try our best to walk quietly.
Israel does not want to fight. Israelis don’t want to fight. I don’t want to fight. Not with Palestinians; not with the Hizbollah; not with Iraq.
Whether I agree with them or not, I can understand our enemies’ claims against Israel. Some claims I may feel are justified. Others I may not. However, I see no justification for targeting my children with suicide bombs from the Palestinians; with Ketusha rockets from the Hizbollah or with Scud missiles from Iraq. These are the threats I live with every day and we must defend ourselves against them.
In order to protect our children, Israelis bond together. We put on uniforms and we fire guns. My mother taught me well and I do not like firing them, but I have to protect my home. I have to protect my children. It is about as basic as a society gets.
My friends do all kinds of things in the army. Some are medics, some are prison guards, some drive tanks while others perform psychological evaluations on new recruits. We all do what we have to do, contributing to the whole. Being in the army is part of life in Israel.
Reserve duty is not fun. I may serve in the reserves for about a month every year until I am 51 years old. During that time my life is constantly under the threat of being disrupted. I never know when I will be called or for how long. There is always the possibility of missing a planned vacation, a holiday or my child’s birthday. I may be called with several weeks’ notice or they may ask me to come in the next day. (Both have happened to me within the last year.) So I wait, dreading the sight of the brown military envelope appearing in my mailbox telling me when and for how long my next reserve duty will be.
While on duty, family life is disrupted. We need to find alternative arrangements to help my wife with the children. My son, for example, needs to get to nursery school in the morning after my wife starts work and when I am called up to the reserves I am not around to take him. These are the practical implications of going away for a month each year until I’m fifty-one.
It is also a financial hardship. While the army reimburses businesses for an employee’s salary while he is on reserve duty, both productivity and revenue decline without reimbursement.
It may not be fun, but doing reserve duty is the price of living in the Jewish homeland and raising my family here. My service is a duty that I fulfill as a member of the Jewish nation and I am proud to wear my uniform. However, I must admit that I am also thankful that my service is usually far from the battlefield because, while I know it is necessary, I really don’t like firing guns.