American Patriotism and Service in the IDF
I met with a group from the American military last week. After thanking them for their gallant service, one of them inquired about my daughter serving in the Israel Defense Force. I told him I’d write him an explanation. Here it is.
But before addressing his very innocent question, let me say that many have asked this in a non-innocent way. During my campaign for Congress, some of my Arab brothers and sisters who were constituents (our district has the second largest Arab-American population in the country) publicly accused me of having a family member serving under a foreign flag. This traditional charge of Jewish dual loyalty is mostly spurred by anti-Jewish sentiment and is below the belt. But it too demands a response. And this is especially true during the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, which I am recently attended in the national capitol, which so often draws charges of conflicting loyalties from those unsympathetic to Israel.
American independence would never have come about without the assistance of foreign fighters who assisted in helping a fledgling democracy achieve its freedom. In 1780 alone, more than 5000 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island to help the Americans fight the British in New York. More famously, the decisive victory of Washington over Cornwallis at Yorktown on 19 October, 1781, would have been impossible without the assistance of the French Army and Navy led by the Comte de Rochambeau.
To be sure, the French had many motivations in assisting the Americans, among which were countering the surging global influence of their English archrivals. But a great many French patriots, inspired by the spirit of the coming revolution, were motivated by the simple desire to uphold human liberty.
The most famous and noble example was that of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known as the Marquis de La Fayette. Lafayette, as every American schoolchild knows, was a French aristocrat who served under George Washington as a major-general in the Continental Army. Lafayette’s heroic struggle to help our nation achieve independence saw him wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. Not satisfied with risking life and limb in the cause of American independence, he even returned to France in the middle of the war to inspire and increase French support of the American revolution. He too served at Yorktown, helping to block Cornwallis‘s army, and witnessed the British surrender.
That spirit of the citizens of a strong, established, and noble nation reaching out to fight for the freedom and independence of a weaker republic yearning to breathe free lives on in the valiant American souls who fight for the IDF in Israel. My daughter is part of a young American warrior class who believe, in their righteous might, that a tiny, fledgling democracy in the world’s most dangerous region deserves more than to be bullied forever. They’re sick of witnessing the utter injustice of societies and cultures that brutalize women, gays, and non-Muslims, corrupting the innocence of their own children by teaching them to kill people just because of their ethnicity. Being Jewish is simply insufficient cause to be marked for death. Having grown up in the greatest democracy in the world, they want the blessings of freedom to be the birthright of every member of the human family.
This is especially true of the Jewish people. No nation in history has been the target of more unbridled, irrational hatred than the Jews. We have been ghettoized and imprisoned, tortured and gassed, burned and incinerated, exterminated and brought to the verge of extinction. And the only thing that has reversed these horrors is the creation of a Jewish army to declare once and for all that Jewish blood will never again be cheap.
No nation is more understanding of what the Jews have suffered, and are more committed to ensuring it never happens again, than the American people, the most benevolent, caring, and compassionate nation on earth. It was American GI’s who liberated the concentration camps and saw Jewish children turned into discarded mounds of human surplus. And it is the American people who contribute billions of dollars annually to Israel’s defense so that American values and freedoms can flourish in every part of the world, especially in the Middle East.
But then there are those Americans who take it one step further. Well aware that the blessings of liberty were conferred on the American people mostly through their own exertions but assisted through the contribution of others, they extend themselves to fight for liberty in the far corners of the world. They don’t just send money or write an op-ed supporting freedom. They don the uniform of a persecuted people and a besieged democracy so that Tel Aviv can be as free as Tuscaloosa and that Jerusalem can be as safe as Des Moines.
When I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in his office a few months back and brought my daughter along for the meeting, he said to her that by fighting for Israel she also helps defend the United States. And with Israel struggling on the front lines against terrorists who hate the US even more than the Jewish state, his words capture the sentiment of many young Americans who give up the comforts of campus life to don olive green uniforms and carry packs on their backs in broiling, barren deserts so that women can get an education and children can learn freedom from hate and oppression.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.