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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Just Another Day in Israel?

Our middle son Ari is a senior in high school. The senior year in Israel focuses on studying for bagruyot (matriculation exams) and preparing for the Israel Defense Forces. This week is one of the periods set aside for students to explore various pre-Army prep and yeshiva programs.

Today though, Ari needed to report to the Draft Board in Jerusalem for the first stage of tests for acceptance to the Israeli Air Force. (He is not actually specifically interested in the airforce, but when the army says “show up”, you show up – and on time!).

Since I was heading into Jerusalem, we planned for me to drive Ari to near my office from where he would take a bus. But he wasn’t ready in time. I waited for him but he did not get to do everything that he needed to do before we left…like saying his Shacharit (morning) prayers.

While saying the morning prayers, we adult Jewish men (and some women) adorn ourselves with Tefilin (phylacteries) which for those who do not know, are Biblical verses enclosed in black leather boxes attached to our arm and head with black leather straps (Bind them as a sign on your arm and…between your eyes – Deuteronomy 6).

So there we were this morning, driving from Efrat to the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, through the checkpoint and the tunnels, over the bridge and on the main roads, with Ari sitting beside me praying with his tefilin on. If we got any strange looks, I did not notice them. Jewish religious symbols are part of the landscape here, and while it is not usual to wear Tefilin while a passenger in a moving car, it is not really so strange either. Somehow I think that even in New York we would have felt uncomfortable (never mind in St. Louis, Denver, Oklahoma or California).

Anyway, I went to work and Ari spent most of the day at the Draft Board and performed well enough so that the airforce is calling him back for round two. From there, he got on a bus heading south to spend the next 2 days checking out a Mechinah pre-army leadership program.

The mechinot are army prep programs where high school graduates spend 1- 2 years strengthening themselves spiritually and physically before army service. The programs generally involve intense Torah study, leadership training, physical fitness and army guidance. The army has learned that the mechinot produce soldiers who are more mature, focused and motivated and often officer material. Our oldest Rafi is at the mechinah at Maaleh Efrayim and his draft date is just a few weeks away in March.

So today was just another day here in Israel, yet somehow, from start to finish it served to remind me of the significance and responsibilities of living here in the Jewish state.

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