My Son the Soldier / Ray Cook

08 Feb 2012
Next week I shall be returning to Israel for the first time in 10 months.
This is not really a holiday break.

My elder son, who made Aliyah last year, will be joining the IDF.

This is a surreal moment for me. It’s difficult enough to think that my son is an Israeli, that’s pretty hard to get your head round; after all, the family has been English for 100 years, and before that Russian, Polish and Latvian for centuries.

Despite having extensive family in Israel, some of whom have seen action in Israel’s conflicts with its neighbours, the fine detail of what they had to do, day after day, what they had to confront, and the ever-present gnawing feeling that sooner or later they would be involved in a battle, a skirmish, an ambush or a war did not impact my own personal life.

Now it does.

I write about Israel from the safety, or relative safety, of my home here in the north west of England. When I wrote about Gilad Shalit or Operation Cast Lead, it was with the luxury of detachment; after all, I had no direct family connection to that conflict.

My son’s great-great grandfather rode with the Cossacks; one of his great-grandfathers was given the King’s shilling and told to go home because he was unfit for service in the First World war; another great-grandfather caught a ‘blighty’ on the Somme; one grandfather saw out WWII in the Canadian army whilst the other spent the duration in a munitions factory; a great-uncle was a POW in Burma and other great uncles also fought.

Then we skipped a generation – my generation; no need even for National Service, we luxuriated in the Pax Europa.

So the idea of my son square-bashing, carrying a weapon and even having to use it, is alien to my life experience.

Yet this is the rite of passage of most Israelis, certainly most Israeli Jews. It is the experience of their fathers, mothers and grandparents and it will likely be the experience of their children and grandchildren.

So now I must come to terms with the fact that my son and, in the future, his children and their children will have to bear arms to protect the Jewish state.

In so doing I will have an even closer empathy with thousands of Israelis who, day after day, have to put the dangers that their sons and daughters face to the back of their mind as they go about their daily lives.

Unlike Israelis, I will have a son serving overseas. This means I will also have a certain empathy with the parents, relatives and friends of UK forces serving in Afghanistan.

A new phase in our family life begins.

So there we will be, Sunday 19th February on Givat HaTakhmoshet (Ammunition Hill) in Jerusalem to watch our older son be inducted into the IDF.

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