Even though I am old enough to have four kids who have graduated from high school, I’m not so old as to have forgotten my own high school graduation. I was thinking about that milestone on the occasion of my son’s graduation this month. Issues relating to high school graduation from my youth, and most of my life in the US, are so vastly different from where we are physically, spiritually, and biblically today in Israel
My high school graduation, and hundreds of thousands of others like it in the US since then, focused on things like proms, post prom parties, and ceremonies that often involved kids drinking before, during, or after. The truth is I was pretty straight then and so none of this really impacted me, except from the drunken kiss I received just prior to my graduation ceremony from a girl who was more drunk than we were actual friends.
By contrast, all of my children have gone to religious and single sex schools, so there was no prom or anything that goes along with that. And until my son’s graduation this month, and a party arranged by the boys themselves afterward, there was no hint of drinking. We didn’t think much of letting our son go to this party or not, other than understanding the whole idea seemed not well thought out. We live in the Judean Mountains, on the edge of the Judean desert. While summer days are hot and dry, summer nights are often windy and cold. So going to an outdoor pool party at a place with a particularly high elevation, for a party only starting at 10:00pm, seemed not a “fun” environment, perhaps not so smart; at least not to the older generation.
When my son said some of the boys would be drinking, it seemed particularly foolish to do so around a pool. But my son doesn’t drink, and was more interested in hanging out with his friends before they all went their own direction, some of whom would start by going off to the Israeli army as early as next month.
We didn’t worry about my son drinking and driving, something that American parents might worry about. But we did have a particularly unique Israeli driving concern.
In order to get to the party, the boys would have to drive on what is best described as a basic country road. The road is neither especially well maintained or lit, is narrow with only one lane in each direction. The road is also in most devoid of a shoulder. About two thirds of the way to the pool, not more than 20 minutes from our house, the road makes a sharp right turn, cutting straight through the middle of a Palestinian Arab village. Many people have suffered incidents there including friends whose cars had been stoned while taking that turn slowly and thus creating a situation in which an Israeli car may be best considered transformed into nothing more than a sitting duck.
I have driven that road many times. I am comfortable driving there, but I do so with added caution. My son and many of his friends are relatively new drivers, most never having driven along that vulnerable route. Doing so for the first time after dark seemed particularly unsafe and unwise, especially because of the fact that during and after Ramadan there are increased numbers of acts of terror and violence which last even days beyond the end of the month long fast.
My son, like many of his friends, is a responsible driver. Growing up in Israel there is a unique understanding of the fragility of life, and an awareness that any of these boys may very well, in fact very likely be called into military service to defend the country, putting their life at risk. This was brought home with the killing of my son’s 9th grade teacher in a terror attack some 18 months ago, and another terror attack around the same time in which one of his classmates was run down by a terrorist. Fortunately that boy recovered; physically at least. He not only graduated that same night, but spoke to the class, parents, and guests about overcoming adversity.
I didn’t worry about my son doing anything irresponsible, but I did worry about him getting caught up in an outrageous Ramadan “celebration” by people who would use that occasion to threaten, maim, and even kill others. In the end we discouraged it more because the idea of going swimming that late and being out all night, cold and wet, made little sense, no matter how much he wanted to be with his friends. We rationalized by not letting him drive there because of his lack of familiarity of the road, not knowing his way, and not having driven on that road before in the day much less after dark was sensible parental guidance. Not knowing who would be driving did not lessen our anxiety because we had no way of knowing if his classmate knew where he’d be going, or knew to be especially careful.
Sometimes I wish that our lives here in Israel would be simpler; that our concerns would center about our teens engaged in stupid things like drinking and driving. Many people ask about our lives and assume that we live in a war zone. Our concerns seem to infer that may be more true than not. But it’s not. People assume that life in Israel is fraught with danger around every corner. Yes, there are dangers. But more often than not, danger is eclipsed by the blessings realized at every turn.
I can’t put my finger on it, but despite the threats we face, life is in fact safer and better in Israel on many levels. And it’s not only me, my friends and neighbors feel the same, as do many friends who come to visit. A friend who is a pastor visited recently and shared how even members of his church were worried for him. But he knew the reality and explained that he feels safer here than anywhere. That’s not rhetoric. It’s simply the truth.
We raise our sons to have pride as Jews living in the Land that God gave to Abraham and his descendants to us. We raised our sons with biblical values. Some will go off to the army this summer. Others will take a year of advanced religious studies to better prepare them for the experience of serving the country. All who can will compete to get into the most elite combat units they qualify. This is how we raise them.
That’s not to say they don’t do stupid things. They do. They’re 18-year-old boys. That’s a given and a natural progression through life.
But living in the Land and having the privilege to defend that Land and our people infuses a level of substance and meaning to life here that far supersedes things like proms and the risk of drunk driving. We’d be happier still to give up the terror any day.
I used to live in White Plains, NY, and gained familiarity with all of Westchester County. In 2004 I pulled up my roots from the US and planted myself and my family in the Judean Mountains, affirming God’s gift and promise to Abraham and his descendants. If you can’t join me in person, you can join me in solidarity. Be among those who bless Israel, and declare today that you are a Judean. Contact me at FirstPersonIsrael@gmail.com.