Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why I Left the U.S. Navy Recruitment Office to Fight for Israel:

Memorial Candles lit on the tracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau
  S.O.D. Photography

”Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses - because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened”

-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces upon visiting newly liberated Nazi death camps. April, 1945

"Jews invented the legend of the Holocaust."

- Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, April, 2000

My first experience with terror was during the 2011 Jerusalem Bus Stop Bombing that occurred while I was studying in Israel on a gap-year program. I remember the day clearly because instead of going into the city I serendipitously ditched my regular volunteer service at a food pantry in Jerusalem for a more attractive option.
I was with some friends playing cards, listening to music and smoking hookah in my dorm room when we heard the ambulance and police sirens - one after another after another. We stared at each other and silently soaked in the tense ambiance. Something wasn't right. Why were there so many sirens and for so long? Moments later, a fellow student barges into the room - cellphone in hand - and with a wild look in his eyes tells us the harsh reality: a bomb had exploded at a busy bus stop near the Central Station in Jerusalem - just two blocks from where I was supposed to be volunteering that day.
Unfortunately, a couple of my friends were standing at the stop at the time the device detonated. One suffered a light shrapnel wounds to the head and later gave me a drunken, misty-eyed account of what transpired including the enormity of the explosion and the horror of seeing bodies, limbs and blood splattered on the pavement. Six months later, Israeli authorities detained four Hamas militants with links to the attack. The bomb was a shock, more or less the first of its kind after a relieving four years of calm in Israel. It highlighted the harsh reality that the Jewish State was still very much vulnerable to assault and that peace or at least a hint of normalcy was no longer within reach.
A few months after the bombing I went on a week-long educational mission to Poland that offered a boots on the ground approach to Holocaust Studies. The trip was heavily subsidized by my gap-year program and along with over 30 others I took off from Ben Gurion Airport to Warsaw and began what would turn out to be the most emotionally draining tour of my brief history. Mass graves, remnants of Jewish towns and cemeteries, horrific museums and a half a dozen extermination camps are all we saw that week. Aside from my family's Polish roots and their unwarranted demise at the hands of Jewish hatred, I felt an unyielding magnetism towards Poland. One incident in particular resonated with me and subsequently watered the seeds of my already growing bond with the State of Israel and ultimately led to my future service in the Israel Defense Forces.
On day three of the dreaded trek, we drove to Krakow home to the Old Jewish Cemetery, ancient synagogues and the factory-turned-museum of Oskar Schindler, the unconventional humanitarian and subsequent inspiration for Spielberg's Academy Award-winning film. It was high noon on a clear day when our bus stopped at a red light only to be greeted by a storm.
Presumably because of the eager looks on our bus's Orthodox-looking passengers, a group of around 10 natives standing on the sidewalk faced us and simultaneously and ceremoniously saluted their arms in a hail to Hitler. I was stunned for only a few moments before a current of fury surged through my veins. Some passengers reciprocated with their own middle-fingered salute while others banged barbarously on the bus's window. Unable to properly express my own buildup of emotion, I slouched low in my seat and began to cry. Perhaps it was due to the overload of images from our walks through numerous Nazi death camps, gas chambers and human furnaces of a dark history or the harsh reality that I was powerless in the face of present day anti-Semitism. Here I was, a mere bus ride away from the the exact spot where the SS butchered and burned an upwards of 80 members of my extended family in the central city of Kalisz over 70 years ago and watching as modern day Poles all but urinated on their graves. Their callous act was was salt on the wound and a deplorable desecration of the memory of millions of victims.

Modern day Krakow
S.O.D. Photography 
Throughout my trip in Poland I frequently returned to the thought of those powerless Jews that perished in the Holocaust. I had read of the courageous defiance and uprising in numerous ghettos and even within the death camps but I couldn't help but wonder whether some (if not all) of the atrocities could have been thwarted had the Jewish people formed a globally united community with an army to protect against the inevitability of enemy attack.
While the Nazis lost the war, the battle had just begun. In May of 1948, precisely one year before they were admitted as a member of the United Nations, the State of Israel was declared. They were immediately met with violent opposition and just hours later Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all declared war on the newborn nation. Israel survived her first battle with those who flocked to fight in an attempt to complete an unfinished job but it didn't stop there. Since then, the State of Israel has fought a dozen wars and conflicts and today, in the 21st century, rouge elements including Hamas and Hezbollah call for and actively pursue the death and destruction of the Jewish people and their homeland.
Things were different when I returned to the United States after my gap-year program. I was living in New York with my brother, had two flexible jobs and enjoyed too much independence. My experiences in Israel could only be seen through the rear-view mirror and only felt through the thousands of amateur photographs taken over my year-long dream. I had always thought about joining the military and following in the footsteps of my veteran "Zaide" and Grandpa who served in WWII and the Korean War Effort respectively. I would frequently pass a U.S. Navy Recruitment office on the way to and from work and often though of dropping it all to enlist lest I get too old or too caught up in my responsibilities and missed the proverbial boat.
One day, on a whim, a walk inside. The walls are adorned with posters and propaganda depicting soldiers upholding the constitution and protecting freedoms with ardor and machismo. I dawdle around, asked some questions I already know the answers to and grab some brochures before promising the officer I'd be in touch. I very much intended on joining the U.S. Navy albeit on my own time. I did my research and even began an intensive exercise regime to get ready for training. I often fantasized of traveling the world an stopping at one of the 800 or so U.S. Military installations along the way.
But I also had my reservations. The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation's survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation and if they were someone would know about it long beforehand (think: Edward Snowden). Based on their military track record of global intervention, coup, promotion of the dogma of democracy and overall meddling in most international affairs, the US seems to be plowing through more of an offensive campaign than a defensive one while leaving an unfavorable trail of poor foreign relations and political blowback. Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States.
When Operation Pillar of Defense was launched in November 2012, I was in New York doing research for a feature article on security in Israel and the region as a journalist forThe Suit Magazine. My thoughts were with the Israeli people and the IDF and like many others I was infuriated by the ongoing circumstances in Israel. Coupled with my newfound understanding of the vast reach of Israel's enemies, the war opened my eyes. There is no isolated incident of terror in Jewish history. The Pogroms, the Holocaust, the Jerusalem Bus Stop Bombing, the onslaught of rocket fire leading up to Operation Pillar of Defense and countless other incidence are part of a larger enigmatic epidemic of anti-Semitism that is far outdated yet nonetheless alive and active. To claim that Israel's enemies make a distinction between Israel the Nation and Israel the People or that they are solely resisting oppressive Zionism is misguided as is apparent in Hamas's Charter. The Lebanese scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Phd. quotes Hezbollah's Nasrallah describing his view of the Jews:
"If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli".
In light of these circumstances, I enthusiastically enlisted into the IDF to do my part in protecting the Jewish State albeit fully aware of the inherent dangers and potential consequences of the conflict. Although not within the scope of this article, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is an ugly one. The Oslo Accords withered in the wind and cease-fire agreements were written in sand. While Israeli soldiers frequently respond to violent protests due to settlement expansion in Judea and Samaria, they have also removed their own friends and families from lands given in failed peace treaties. It's a foul trade off that has left both sides frustrated and unsatisfied.

I must point out that "defense force" does not mean passive force and I am in no way giving credence to those who claim that the IDF is a humane army. Granted, they are a very moral military and are often the first to respond to natural disasters globally, but to put humane and army in the same sentence is an oxymoron. There is nothing tender or benevolent or peaceful about war except, perhaps, that force is used as a means to those ends. War is violence. Ammunitions are fired and people die. Buildings collapse and critical infrastructure is destroyed. People are misplaced and lives and lands are torn to shreds. Weeks, months and years of forethought and planning occur at the highest levels to ensure that the most effective strategy to eliminate the threat is carried out. The word "humane" is thrown away along with the gloves when someone wishes to wipe your entire country off the map under the false precept of piety.
The threat of modern day supreme spiritual leaders and quasi-dictators implementing their radical ideologies and racial opposition is very much real and the IDF is present in Israel to thwart the very plausible "Holocaust 2.0" against the Jews. Thousands if not millions of of Islamic fascists want to pounce on the Jew much like the conspirators of the Final Solution did during the second World War at a much larger volume of hatred, propaganda and indoctrination than I can fathom. Their rally-calls for global dominance through Jihad and relentless pursuit of scapegoatism to pacify the troubles of their flocks echoes those of their 20th century counterparts. But Israel won't let their ominous threats become true. I won't let them become true. Because "Never Again" means never again.


  1. Great article, found a lot of similarities from your story to my own. Well written mate.