Life in Israel is interesting for young people. When I was the age where Israel's young goes to the army, I was in university with little more to worry about than remembering which day of the week it was so that I'd go to the right classes. World conflict lived in the newspapers and the history books; tanks and guns were seen, at most, in parades and movies.
When I moved here and began seeing Israel's youth, I had the mistaken impression that going to the army meant putting their lives on hold for three years. The truth is that they do not put their lives on hold - perhaps their dreams of future studies and career, but not their lives. They live so much in these years, experience and grow so much. For most of the first two years of my university studies, I had no idea what I wanted to learn. I switched my major more than once and only really settled down to something specific when the university deadline for filing my major approached.
Here, Israeli kids decide before they enter university. They enter according to a particular major and changing it may mean starting all over again. That's the study part. The other part - meeting, dating, and marrying is something else. Many young people meet during the time one or more is in the army; often the wedding is timed for right after the soldier is discharged; or perhaps a few months before.
Well, it's official - Shmulik is engaged to be married to a lovely young woman a few weeks before the Passover holidays. It's something they have been planning and discussing for a long time. They'll marry in April and God willing, Shmulik finishes the army part of his service in August; followed by another two years to finish off his Hesder learning and studying obligation.
We went to sign the contract last week for the wedding hall. There's a problem. They want you to commit to a certain number and they will guarantee food, etc. for up to 10% above that amount. There are three groups of people we are inviting - our friends, our family...and Shmulik's friends. And there's the problem. Shmulik's friends...most of them are already soldiers, or will be in March when they enter the army.
How can I know if the army will let them come? How can I pay for so many and not have them show up? Shmulik has already asked his commanding officer to come...Shmulik is replacing S's last driver, who also got married during the time he served as S.'s driver...and S. wasn't able to get to the wedding because something came up at the last minute. We have no way of knowing if this will happen again.
That's fine for one person...but what if the number in question is 50? That's a huge number to leave up in the air. The wedding hall wants to know a month in advance...there's no way I can do this, I explained to the manager at the wedding hall. "He's a soldier," I said, "I can't know a month in advance." A war could break out a week before, a day before. How can I know?
And that's where, once again, I realized I had forgotten the basics of life in Israel. The manager was a soldier once...he knows the army better than I do. This is not his first wedding...not the first where the groom is a soldier, where so many of the guests will be soldiers.
"Can you tell me a few days before?" he asked calmly.
That's reasonable. I can do that. Probably. A few days before, all will have asked their commanding officers and most will have gotten an answer. So long as war doesn't break out a day or two before the wedding, most of the soldiers will know if they can get leave or not. We'll manage.
As for Shmulik - the army gives him 10 days off after the wedding and he has vacation days coming to him that should give him time enough to do what he has to do before. It will be interesting planning a wedding for a soldier - but there is such joy in this event. My son is a soldier...and will soon be a groom, a husband. For now, we've got the countless details to think about...but even as I do...I'll stop and be grateful for this wonderful time and this great joy as our family continues to grow.
In thinking about this wedding that will take place, it brought back thoughts of a soldier who did get married in the midst of a war. From his wedding ceremony, he and his new bride had one day together before he went off to war. He was severely wounded...months of surgery...a miracle that he survived...a few months ago, they celebrated the birth of their first child.
In all these things - I see a picture of Israel, a reality I couldn't imagine during my own university days. Back then, I spent a lot of time imagining my life in Israel, of having children here, of them growing up here in this land. I imagined them serving in the army, though I now know I had not a clue what that meant. But I know that never did I think that during their service, one would be getting married.
What an incredible blessing - to raise a son to this wonderful moment in his life and ours. May Shmulik and Naama be joined in marriage, and may they be blessed with health, happiness, and many children as they build their home, here in their land, our beautiful Israel.