Asher and I meeting our cousin Polly for the first time on March of the Living
In the past few weeks, as I’ve been going through my second semester at Northeastern University in Boston, I’ve come to the realization that I honestly don’t think college is the right place for me to be right now. I have been having growing feelings of anxiety and depression and displacement about being here, and while they have been present in my life through most of my teenage years, they have only been made worse by my time here at Northeastern. It is imperative to understand that it isn’t the school that isn’t right for me, but rather school in general. Northeastern University is the best possible environment for me to study in. My peers come from around the world and share the values of hard work, mutual understanding, and unanimous acceptance. If I had gone to any other university in the country, my feelings of anxiety, of displacement, and of ennui would be compounded and amplified. However, even here I am settling. The degrees I come out with, while opening doors that otherwise would stay forever shut to me, are not necessarily the doors I need opening. Studying International Business will undoubtedly allow me to engage in the global market in a way that only a degree from Northeastern could, but even so this is not enough. To settle for the business degree when I have the unwavering passion for writing, storytelling, and argumentation will in the long run deaden my senses and teach me that there is a clear line in the sand between work and play. I am, and have been since I came to Boston, writing about Israel. It is not work; it has no bearing on anything I am “learning” in school. Israel is my play. I know definitely that I want to work in the Middle East, making a living as well as helping to solve the Middle Eastern Conflict. I truly and wholeheartedly believe that the way to fix the Middle Eastern Conflict as well as most of the conflicts of the Western World is through renewable energies. I want to be a part of a company that perpetuates renewable energies throughout the world. To understand the conflicts that plague our modern existence, however, I need to throw myself into the conflict not as a passive observer as I have been in the past, but as a participant. I need to join the IDF. This will be one of the most formative experiences of my life and I embrace that with open arms. I am writing this blog as well as taking video of my experiences prior to and in the IDF. The articles I write during and after my service then would not be written from the prospective of an Ashkenazi American Zionist Jew living in the United States. Then and only then, after having written, told, and discussed my experiences and the implications of them will I be able to move forward with my life into the field of Business. Israel and the Middle East have more than enough opinionated soldiers who do hate Arabs, gays, and anybody “different” and do perpetuate a political and militaristic landscape similar to apartheid. Israel needs more conscious objectors to her shortcomings. Israel needs more people to stand up and say, “this is wrong” instead of “this is the world I live in, there is no point in trying to change it.” Too few people care enough to speak out when they are against the constructions of settlements in the West Bank. It seems hard, as a native Israeli, to detach oneself from the world one lives in, to look at the bigger picture. There is a large enough problem of kids deferring their service, getting out if it in any way possible, and even subverting the IDF to escape their conscription. Israel needs more Zionists ready to come to Israel “To build the land and be built by it” in the words of the Zionist leader A.D Gordon. My brother Asher is one of those Zionists. At heart, I am one of those Zionists.
I understand now that I have been anxious in class and depressed more often than not recently because I crave more right now than simply a college degree. I have spoken to my parents many times about how one needs more than a college degree to develop as a person. I need more than a degree to transform from a young adult to a full human being in the world I see in my future. I spoke to Asher before I made my decision to come to Northeastern about my desire to join the IDF and he was rightfully hesitant. The last time I talked to him about these feelings was before I came to Northeastern. In many ways he was against me going and that is completely understandable. He did not want me to go simply because he had gone. He did not want me to have the tough experiences he had. As my oldest brother and my biggest role model, he did not want to see me suffer in any way. That is understandable. However, just as he felt the compulsion to go regardless of what anybody said, I too have that conscious and subconscious compulsion. For Asher, the flame had been lit and could not be extinguished until his dream and his duty were satisfied; I have the same exact feelings and have tried to subdue them and keep them at bay in favor of a taking a sort of convenient pragmatism. I am and have been letting my life and the determining factors in it act upon me instead of me acting upon them. It took me coming here to Boston and to Northeastern to realize that I need to serve in the IDF now more than ever. In my numerous conversations with him, we weighed the pros and cons of going to university against going to the IDF and I decided to take the pragmatic approach; to come here to the college of my dreams. I thought that I could get a degree, use the momentum I had built up in high school to excel academically, and try to get as much “real world” experience as I could. The army, I thought, could wait until later. I decided that if, after five years here at Northeastern and abroad studying International Business, I still wanted to join the IDF I always could. However, the reality of my decisions has come to fruition. I write about Israeli Politics in my free time, I talk to anybody who will listen about Israel and my experiences on TIF and March of the Living, both in class and beyond the classroom. What manifested itself in my experience here is that I am pursuing a life that I am only interested in by definition, not with my heart and not with my spirit. A business degree sounds better on paper than taking three years off to do military service. However, the world I live in isn’t “on paper”. For me to be able to move forward with my life and grow as an individual, I need to first satiate my undying need to do service in Israel. Here, the person that I am becoming and the person that I see myself as in the future are growing farther apart. In high school, I was driven to achieve, excel, and set records both in school and in sport not of my own accord, but rather to validate myself to others and please them. Many of the reasons I decided not to give the army further consideration was because of this. I did not want to put my parents and my family through what I saw Asher put them through. I wanted to achieve the pinnacle of success as defined by Milken, my family, and society at large. However, I have come to realize that if I continued to do this I would never achieve true and lasting happiness. Thus it seems obvious to me that I became increasingly depressed and anxious about studying for tests and writing papers of marginal importance to me. I am and have been craving a more meaningful existence since I came back from Tiferet.
Similarly to how I please others by winning awards and scholarships and achieving academic excellence, those around me drove my decision to come to Northeastern. Before coming to Boston, until recently, I have made excuses about why I “should” go to college before considering the army or why I “should” follow the path that’s expected of me and is most pragmatic. Sure, there is a time for pragmatism, but there is also a time that to go out and do what your heart tells you. Any of my friends here (and even kids that I’m not friends with) can tell you that all I do is talk about Israel, all I care about is Israel, that I even spend my free time discussing, writing, and surrounding myself with all of the “Israel” that I can. It is no secret to anybody who has had a conversation about Israel how much I love it, how much I care about Zionism. That is the crux of the problem: the work that I’m doing in school; accounting, economics, calculus, they have no meaning to my life, to my soul and the essence of my being. My feelings of anxiety aren’t going to go away by themselves and I will, at least for the foreseeable future, be coping with my surroundings, biding my time before I can get out and pursue the life I truly need and want. I have been coping with these nagging feelings of anxiety about my life since high school, more specifically since I saw what else was out there in the world. I know I will just become more and more annoyed with myself and anxious about being here because I’m not doing what I really want to be doing, what I really need to be doing. I’ve had the unimpeachable feeling that I needed to join the IDF since TIF, the same feeling Asher had. It’s not Northeastern that’s making me feel this way. Rather, it is the general subconscious feeling that I’m going back on myself, on what I’ve always wanted, what I’ve promised myself I would do. Its as if in some ways coming here was a betrayal to myself and my conscious and subconscious decisions to move to Israel, to do the army, to put my money where my mouth is.
It is no secret to my family that since the time I was a little kid up until now I’ve had a genuine problem telling people what I want and what I need in fear that I would get rejected. I remember the trip I took with my Dad where it was “Elon’s rules” the entire trip. It made me feel on pins and needles deciding everything that we were going to do. Even still today when the decision about where to go to dinner or where to sit or what to do on the weekends, it is still meaningless and I still have no inclinations to exert my will over those situations. This, obviously, is different. As hard as I know it is and will be for me as well as for my family, I need to go to Israel and join the IDF. I’ve tried to compromise, push my own nagging desires aside to make everybody happy, but just, as my parents have told me many times, “by making everybody else happy, you are forfeiting the ability to make yourself happy.”
I am looking for something more in my life; something beyond attending classes and getting good grades and living my life inside the bubble that college creates. I’ve lived in that same bubble in Los Angeles as well. The real world was at a distance as I attended school with the most privileged youth in the world. True life-changing learning doesn’t come from book learning in that type of vacuum. My body, mind, and spirit reel at the idea of continuing to study inside that vacuum because I know that at some point I will have to grow up, I will have to go through that crucible and the longer I put that off, the farther I fall from being able to achieve true satisfaction, true life meaning, and true physical, mental, and spiritual growth. My dad has always said that “I know the meaning of life” and I think that at this point in my life, this is what the meaning of life is. For me to grow as a person, I need to get wholly outside of my comfort zone and throw myself headfirst into the experience I’ve always known I needed to be a complete human being. In the same way that going to swim in Brazil as a part of the Maccabbi Games was a transformative experience and I needed to go even if it was something completely new and unknown, this is the pinnacle of new experience. Tiferet and March of the Living furthered this notion. Up until I go to Israel I will be a conscious observer in the world I want to help shape. I know that the IDF will be able to help shape me into the person that I want to be, will offer that crucible that I am looking to pass through and will give my life the meaning that I’ve always yearned for. In the end, every athletic and academic award I’ve received amounts to nothing because they haven’t in any way challenged me to the essence of my being. Just as Asher needed Water Polo to grow during high school and the Army to grow afterwards, I too need that growth. Water Polo, Swimming, even to some extent academia has come easy to me; I’ve learned how to work the system and succeed. What I need now more than anything is to throw myself into a system that I don’t know how to work, a system where I don’t know what “success” is per-se. What I do know definitively is what the IDF creates. It creates citizen soldiers, especially those who join from the Diaspora as lone soldiers, that have given their life meaning, have reached a new level of self-understanding as well as societal-understanding. Asher and the soldiers he fought along side with, as well as every other בודד חיילֹ (lone soldier) that I’ve met is wise beyond their years, has their priorities straight, understands the value of hard work, and has a deep appreciation for the luxuries we surround ourselves with every day.
What I need now more than anything is to be in the place that will challenge me in that way and will give my life that meaning. I know the IDF isn’t always about glory and honor and wearing uniforms and manifesting the Zionist dream in reality and I accept that. The IDF, for me, has a twofold attraction. For one, the army in any regard gives you the skills, discipline, motivation, and work ethic that are unparalleled in any other experience in the world. I need that right now to grow as a person. If I don’t go to the army, I will live a half-fulfilled life because I will have had the singular experience of living as a civilian, living life in the cushy seat my parents have given my brothers, Asher and Caleb, and I. All I will know is a life filled with reaping the benefits of a system that rewards the rich and keeps the poor behind high gates. The Army, whether American or Israeli, is the great leveler of society: everybody starts from the bottom. Secondly and more idealistically, The IDF is the caveat to the Right of Return. If the State of Israel is affording me the unwavering ability to move there if “the s**t hits the fan” anywhere in the world, no-questions-asked, as a Jew, then that requires payment in return. If I ever were to live in Israel without having served in the military, I would consider myself a second-class citizen and I would be a second-class citizen. There is a difference between being able to preach about Israel to wealthy white Americans here in the US as a wealthy white American and having had that experience of living in Israel and fighting to defend her. That is the difference between the Milken majority and those few that have joined the IDF. I no longer want to be one of those kids. When I went on Tiferet and even more so on March of the Living, I felt the gap widening between my peers and me. Many of them took both of these trips as excuses to travel around, have fun with their friends, and miss school. They did, of course, feel some emotional intensity from these trips, but only ephemerally. Both trips had no lasting impacts of the majority of my peers. The thought of rejoining friends, partying all summer long, and telling cool anecdotes took precedence over the real and true meaning of the trips. I honestly can say that I am one of the few that felt and understood the gravity and importance of both trips. Each changed my life and my outlook on it. I can share one specific moment that I can recount that will honestly be etched into my memory forever. We were walking through the Lodz ghetto memorial, one of the many places where Jews were rounded up, counted, and shipped off in cattle cars to be exterminated. The memorial was in part this long tunnel with the ledger of names taken away by year posted. The tunnel spanned the length of more than a football field, and the names covered the tunnel floor to ceiling. I looked for the family name “Zlotnik” and unfortunately I found it. There was a ledger page that was devoted to Z’s. The “Zlotnik’s” were a large portion of that ledger page. My family’s destination: Auschwitz. From that moment on, I vowed to myself that I would never let anything happen to my family like that again. As TIF progressed and especially as MOTL progressed, I saw the gap widening between myself and the experience I was having, and my friends and their experience. Both trips were not just times where I felt the emotional ardor during and for a week after each trip. Rather, the trips continue to make a lasting impact of my life at a day-to-day level. My grandfather can say “God Willing” and perpetuate having Jewish Children to not give Hitler a posthumous victory, but I said as I stood in Lodz Ghetto, and still say “f**k that”. I need to and I am going to go defend what I believe in, defend the country that is our homeland, against any and every person worldwide that would see her fall. Anything less is giving Hitler a posthumous victory in my books.
I don’t mean to be melodramatic but it does come down to that. I am sick of seeing people either hiding behind the face of AIPAC as though donating were equating civic duty and people passively advocating for Israel. I see so many of my high school peers, especially those who I went on TIF and MOTL with, who when they face opposition regarding Israel shut their mouths as though they know they are wrong. That type of passivity and timidity are what led to the Pogroms in Russia and the Holocaust in Europe.
I myself have always been a passive and timid person. I’ve always hated conflict and would contort my own desires and opinions to avoid it, but that is something that needs to change. I need to be more assertive of what I want in the world and this more than anything in my life is what I want and moreover what I need. Tattooed across my chest is “If you will it, it is no dream”. How fitting this is considering that joining the IDF has always been nothing more than a dream. Now more than ever, I do will it. I actively intend to go to the army and serve in Israel’s defense and that no longer should stay a dream. I intend to wholeheartedly pursue that which is important to me because if I didn’t, I would end up 30 years old working somewhere that I didn’t love thoroughly, with a degree that was “adequate” and “pragmatic” but not uplifting, and I would regret every moment and despise myself. I need the IDF and the IDF needs me. It is as simple as that.
The cherry on top of it all is two-fold: for one, by the end of my service I will have created a home and for myself in a place that I already call “my homeland” (and for it to truly be my homeland, I need to do my duty there). The second point is more obvious: college can wait. The money my parents have put aside for me to go to college isn’t going anywhere and hopefully I can come out of my service in the army, go back to college with a new perspective and outlook on life, and a new appreciation for what it means to be so gifted and blessed to be where I am. I have made up my mind about this a long time ago; I’ve just needed to realize that my mind isn’t going to change and I’m just making myself more and more unhappy by living a life I’m not wholeheartedly a part of. Honestly, it took coming here for me to realize that. I’ve known it since I wrote it on my Core final in 10th grade. It wasn’t a matter of if I was going to go; it was just a matter of when. And I realize now that I need to go now rather than later. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And If not now, when?”