My son entered the Israel Defense Forces this week, on March 22 to be exact.

He now is a proud member of the Givati Brigade infantry unit, and ensconced on his base near the Egyptian border.

And his enlistment day, like many other major life events for so many people in recent weeks, was completely turned upside down because of the coronavirus.

We have been anticipating this day for months, ever since he began the path to enlisting. But in fact, it has been on my mind ever since we made aliyah when he was a year old.

I hoped by the time he was old enough to serve in the army there would be no need for mandatory conscription. You know, peace. Right.

So after nearly three years of studying post-high school in yeshiva, my son will now serve in the IDF for the next three years.

Yom giyus, or enlistment day, is frequently celebratory, as children and their parents from the center of the country gather at the Tel Hashomer military base. Often, groups of friends bring musical instruments to accompany their buddies to the door. Parents kiss, cry and snap photos. The soon-to-be newly minted soldier smiles as they inch toward the bus that will take them away from their parents to their base.

But, psych – the buses are actually a way to get rid of the crying parents. They travel about 20 yards around the building and let the young soldiers off to get and register their gear, at least that’s what I heard.

Not so this time. The soldiers who entered the Givati and Golani brigades on March 22 were broken up into smaller groups and sent first to different way stations to begin the enlistment process. This was presumably so if one enlistee is infected with coronavirus, it would not affect the entire group.

Parents were not allowed to accompany their children, so the kiss and cry took place in and next to our cars.

I feel a little cheated. And while my tears may have embarrassed my son somewhat, I think he secretly would have liked us to accompany him, just for a little bit.

And now, instead of the traditional coming home for the first Shabbat after enlistment – before the rigors of basic training really kick in – he will remain at his base for the next 30 days, thanks to coronavirus.

However, the Shabbat preceding his enlistment was a very special one, also in large part due to coronavirus. Usually on Friday night, many of our children rush out after the meal to hang out with friends and walk around the neighborhood, where they meet up with more friends. It is fun for them, but I kind of miss the Friday nights when we sat around the table as a family and played games (when I wasn’t so tired that I was passing out, that is).

This Friday night we did not even have a synagogue to go to, since we were forbidden to gather in them, or anywhere else. So we sat around the table and together sang Kabbalat Shabbat, and much of the Maariv evening service. After the meal, we came back to the table and played games. And told family stories. And laughed. And we did it again on Saturday.

And early Sunday morning was a scramble to get out the door and to the designated spot on time.

It has been such a busy period that I have not really had the time to think about what his enlistment into a combat unit really means, and how worried I should really be. And perhaps the security situation will remain calm for the next few months as coronavirus unleashes its own kind of terror on Israel and the world.

We have been warmly welcomed into the Givati “family” by our friends and neighbors who either themselves served in the unit or have children who did.

Oh, and their berets are purple. I do hope we will be able to attend the kumta ceremony where they receive their beret, which they rarely wear on their heads, but rather under the left shoulder strap of their service uniform. That is in about three months. Who knows what coronavirus will be up to by then.

Perhaps by the time my second son is ready to enter the IDF, things will be back to normal. Or maybe this is the new normal.


Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit cjn.org/oster.

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