Issues relating to high school graduation from my youth, and most of my life in the US, are so vastly different from where we are physically, spiritually, and biblically today in Israel.
Though I’m old enough to have four kids who have graduated from high school, I’m not so old as to forget my own high school graduation. I was thinking about this milestone on the occasion of my son’s graduation this month. Issues relating to high school graduation from my youth, and most of my life in the US, are so vastly different from where we are physically, spiritually, and biblically today in Israel.
My high school graduation, and hundreds of thousands of others like it in the US since then, was focused on things like prom, post prom parties, and ceremonies that often involved kids drinking before, during, or after. The truth is I was pretty straight then and so none of this really impacted me, except from the drunken kiss I received just prior to my graduation ceremony from a girl who was more drunk than we were actually friends.
By contrast, all of my children have gone to religious and single sex schools, so there was no prom or anything that goes along with that. And until my son’s graduation this month, and a party arranged by the boys themselves afterward, no hint of drinking. We didn’t think much of letting my son go to this party or not, other than the whole idea seemed dumb. We live in the Judean Mountains, on the edge of the Judean desert. While summer days are hot and dry, summer nights actually are often windy and cold. So going to an outdoor pool at a place with a particularly high elevation, for a party only starting at 10:00pm, seemed not fun, or not so smart, at least to us old people.
Joining the IDF after Graduation
Of course that my son said some of the boys would be drinking seemed extra stupid to do around a pool. But my son doesn’t drink, and was more interested in hanging out with his friends before they all went their own direction, some of whom will start going off to the Israeli army as early as next month.
We didn’t worry about my son drinking and driving, something that American parents might worry about. But we did have another unique Israeli concern.
In order to get to the party, the boys would have to drive on what’s basically a country road. The road is not especially well maintained or lit, and is narrow with only one lane in each direction. In most places, there’s no shoulder. About two thirds of the way to the pool, not more than 20 minutes from our house, the road makes a sharp right turn, and cuts straight through the middle of a Palestinian Arab village. Many people have had incidents there, including friends whose cars have been stoned while taking the turn slowly, which makes an Israeli car a sitting duck.
I have driven that road many times. I am comfortable driving there, albeit I do so with added caution. But my son and many of his friends are relatively new drivers, most never having driven there. Doing so for the first time after dark seemed particularly unsafe and unwise, especially because of the fact that during Ramadan there is an increased number of acts of terror and violence.
‘That Boy Recovered, Physically at Least’
My son, like many of his friends, is a responsible driver. Growing up in Israel there’s a unique understanding of the fragility of life, and an awareness that any of these boys may very well – in fact likely will – be called into military service defending the country, putting their life at risk. This was brought home with the killing of my son’s 9th-grade teacher in a terror attack some 18 months ago, and another terror attack around the same time in which one of his classmates was run down by a terrorist. Fortunately that boy recovered, physically at least. He not only graduated that same night, but spoke to the class, parents, and guests about overcoming adversity.
I didn’t worry about my son doing anything irresponsible, but I did worry about him getting caught up in an outrageous Ramadan “celebration” by people who would use this occasion to threaten to maim and kill others. In the end we discouraged it more because the idea of going swimming that late and being out all night, cold and wet, made little sense, no matter how much he wanted to be with his friends. We rationalized by not letting him drive there because he didn’t know the way and had never driven on that road before in the day, much less after dark. But not knowing who would be driving, that was only a minimal comfort because we had no way of knowing if his classmate knew where he’d be going, or knew to be especially careful.
‘More than Danger, there are Blessings’
Sometimes I wish that our life here was so simple as to be worried mostly about teens doing stupid things like drinking and driving. Many people ask about our lives and assume that we live in a war zone. Of course our concern in this case would indicate that’s more true than not. But it’s not. People assume that life in Israel is fraught with danger around every corner. Yes, there are dangers. But more often than not, more than danger there are blessings at every turn.
I can’t put my finger on it, but despite the threats we face, life is in fact safer and better in Israel on any number of levels. And it’s not only me, my friends and neighbors feel the same, as do many friends who come to visit. A friend who is a pastor visited recently and shared how even members of his church were worried for him. But he knew the reality and explained that he feels safer here than anywhere. That’s not rhetoric. It’s simply the truth.
We raise our sons to have pride as Jews living in the Land that God gave to Abraham and his descendants. To us. We raise our sons with biblical values. Some will go off to the army this summer. Others will take a year of advanced religious studies to better prepare them for the experience of serving the country. All who can will compete to get into the most elite combat units they can. This is how we raise them.
That’s not to say they don’t do stupid things. They do. They’re 18-year-old boys. That’s natural.
But living in the Land and having the privilege to defend that Land and our people infuses a level of substance and meaning to life here that far supersedes things like prom and the risk of drunk driving. We’d be happy to give up the terror any day, however.
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