Enlisting to the I.D.F dispite my parents objection
I am 18 years old, and during the past few years I have been getting into fights and arguments with my parents over major disagreements, and the truth is that I often treat them disrespectfully, and look down on them.
I studied at a yeshiva in England and I want to enlist in the army to give back to our country by serving and protecting it. By the way, I speak five languages, so I hope to be recruited into an elite unit and help as much as possible.
Despite this, my parents want me to complete professional training and are threatening to cut me off and disown me if I enlist.
They think wanting to enlist means I have no respect for them. Is it right of my parents to threaten me? What would the Rabbi do in my place (What would you do if you had a son like me?)?
And will I be able to enlist? Who is right here?
Your desire to contribute as much as possible to the State of Israel and the army is very much appreciated, and inspiring. It is obvious that this truly comes from the heart and for this desire alone, you deserve a lot of respect and support.
The conflict you are describing is becoming common in many homes, both in Israel and around the world. It is rooted in a natural process, in which a child grows and matures and slowly becomes… an adult! An independent person with the ability to carry out his or her own will, without necessarily considering the will or influence of others around them. Sometimes this process takes the form of a “rebellion”, and leads to heated arguments with parents. And that is natural, too. There is a double challenge here: being true to the path you choose, and also maintaining a good relationship with your parents and family.
Although there is an argument, it is important to remember that just as you want to do right by yourself and others by enlisting and serving, your parents also are coming from a position of wanting to do what’s best for you. In other words, you want the same thing. The argument is about what is the best thing for you. You think that it is completing your military service, and they think it is learning a profession. They are not arguing with you because they are against you or want to make you unhappy, but quite on the contrary, because in their opinion, their solution will make you happier. Even in moments of disagreement and anger, you should remind yourselves that you are a family and you are all on the same side. It’s a bit like a rivalry between two units (for example, paratroopers and Givati, or the ground forces and the air force): each one wants to be more successful than the other, but in the end everyone is in the same army, on the same side, fighting against a common enemy, for a common goal.
So, what can be done about this?
You did not specify what profession your parents would like you to go into or where (in England or in Israel). Maybe part of their desire is to keep you close to them, and be with you! You are their son, and they miss you and love you. And that is an important thing, not to be taken for granted. There are many parents around the world who have such a hard time fulfilling their role that their children are forced to leave home and make their own way in the world, which is very sad. You love your parents, but at the same time you have a very big desire to leave the familiar home setting and pursue a personal goal that is very important to you. This debate about wanting to be near your parents or far away from them is also very typical at this age.
1. An external mediator
You say that this clash with your parents has been going on for several years (!). It sounds very unpleasant, frustrating and exhausting. It often helps to bring someone from the outside into the picture, who will help you make the discussion more straightforward and practical, and will stay away from the more emotional and angry side of things. This could be a sibling, another relative, a member of the community etc. It sounds like there are a lot of raw feelings between you and your parents and this can hinder fully thought-out decision making that both parties can agree upon. Another idea is to hire a professional mediator, for example a psychologist, who specializes in family dynamics. There are many such experts, both in England and in Israel. They know how to help family members who are at odds to pinpoint the exact problem and reach decisions that are acceptable to both parties, in order to prevent a rift. If your parents do not agree to come with you to a consultation with a psychologist, you can reach out to one yourself (because you are 18), and even consult another family member for advice on how to proceed.
2. Doing research about military service
The army is an entire world of its own. There are a lot of options, a complicated sorting process, placements, appeals, choices - and you also have to follow through, even if you are not always placed where you wanted to be. That’s a part of it, too. Exactly two days ago, I spoke to an American who made Aliyah with her husband and children 5 years ago, and she told me that one thing she will never understand as well as Israelis do is the army. It is new to her, she didn’t grow up with the knowledge and experience of the military, and she understands that in this sense she will always be an outsider.
It is not clear how much your parents know about how the army works, what the various units are - maybe they have no one they can ask. And concerning yourself: where do you get your information from? Is there someone you turn to for advice? Maybe that same person could help explain to your parents why their concerns are exaggerated or don’t completely line up with reality? Maybe, for example, you can show them that, even in the army, you can have a respectable profession in certain positions? There is a lot of important information to learn and understand when considering enlisting in the army, and it is very helpful to gather the knowledge in an organized way and share it with everyone involved. Sometimes when you bridge gaps in knowledge, or overcome stigmas or misconceptions (which your parents, or even maybe you, have), you can be a lot more responsible and confident in your choice.
As we grow older, we realize that what matters is not only what we choose to do, but also when we choose to do things. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”, and one of our tasks is not only to figure out what to do, but also figure out proper timing. In your case, the decision of whether to enlist or not might not have to be made right away. Maybe you can also enlist later, after studying for a certain amount of time? You may want to choose a framework where you are in the Reserves - combining studies with military training? And maybe even consider a track of higher education after which you directly occupy a professional position in the military, and maybe are even able to skip straight to the officers’ course? Your decision does not need to be made under pressure. And again, it is worth trying to get advice from as many people as possible who are familiar and have personal experience with careers in the military.
4. Contribution to society
You describe a desire to enlist that stems from very strong ideals to serve the country and contribute to the greater good. At the same time, it is important to remember that there is more than one way to do good. Some examples are national service, high tech, medicine, and many others. Does a doctor or educator contribute any less to the country than a soldier or an officer? It is hard to say for sure. Both contribute, but in different ways. For example, your impressive language skills could help the State through a position in the Foreign Ministry, by advocating for Israel in the Diaspora, or by educating Jewish communities around the world. There are lots and lots of ways to contribute, and to feel fulfilled. You have a lot of abilities, skills and potential, which means you have many options. This is worth considering, and it is also worth asking people you trust for advice.
We don’t yet know what will happen, what you will choose to do, and how your family will react depending on your choice. Their threats to disown you may be empty threats, and simply an expression of the pain and apprehension they are currently experiencing. What we do know is that family and parents are irreplaceable. Family is a unique and special community and resource. Despite all the frustration and difficulty you are currently experiencing with your family, it is important to remember that your relationship is worth a lot - now and for the years to come. It is therefore worth making every effort possible not to have a complete falling out, no matter who is right or wrong (if there even are a “right” and a “wrong” in such a complex situation). Imagine if, because the Air Force is upset with the paratroopers, it cut off contact with them, and in turn the paratroopers invaded the Givati’s training ground to show that they are stronger. What kind of army would that be? A strong army works together, even where there are arguments (and there indeed are arguments), and even when emotions run high, we never forget that we - the army, the people and the state - are all one family. And we have a common future together and a greater purpose to fulfill.
To sum it up, we have gone over some points that can help you deal with the difficulty of reconciling your dream of a meaningful military service with your parents’ plans for a very different future. Since your conflict has been going on for quite some time, it is important that you find good mediators and advisors who will help you feel more at ease, and dive into the heart of the matter. It is also crucial to examine the objective facts about army recruitment and units, as well as vocational and university studies, in order to take into account the feelings and concerns of both parties about the future. And in the end, no matter what you decide to do, remember that family and parents are a strong and important pillar, something powerful and irreplaceable. It is worth investing in family relationships in the long run, even if it sometimes comes at a price in the short term. Or, in more military terms: sometimes you need to lose the battle in order to win the war. And that is the real goal.
Please keep us updated and feel free to contact us again in the future for advice.