|Chary, Meir, and Steve Fox Nefesh B’Nefesh|
This summer, we found ourselves among hundreds of olim, friends, and relatives, seeing off an El Al charter sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps people from all over the world immigrate to Israel.
The festive atmosphere was a celebration of 359 people, young and old, who were going to live out their dream of moving to the Jewish homeland. Among the group were 154 singles, 127 of whom would be enlisting into the Israel Defense Forces, including our son, Meir Fox. Also included were 127 pairs of parents who now had to deal with the reality of their children entering a new, and potentially dangerous chapter of their lives.
Meir took a typical modern Orthodox trek, growing up in our Zionist community in Teaneck and Bergenfield, attending Moriah and Frisch. His love for Israel first showed when he was 9 years old. He got upset about something, put on his knapsack, and told my wife that he was running away from home. “Where will you go?” my wife asked. “To the land of my people. To Israel,” he answered proudly. Little did we know then that he actually meant it.
This was just the first exhibition of his ultimate dream. When he and his twin brother, Moshe, were 10 years old, they wanted to go to sleepaway camp. My wife did not want to give them such independence at such a young age. She heard about a job opening at Camp Morasha as a camp mother. As a result, the whole family went to sleepaway camp. (She worked there for 12 wonderful summers.) After two years, however, Meir decided that he wanted to go to Camp Moshava, a B’nei Akiva-sponsored religious Zionist camp, with a strong philosophy encouraging aliyah. As parents of twins, we always encouraged our boys to pursue their independent goals. Because my own love of Israel and Zionist ideology was nurtured in B’nei Akiva, I couldn’t say no. I am sure that his experience in camp, coupled with his education in the pro-Israel schools we sent our children to, all contributed to his love of Israel.
After graduating Frisch, Meir decided to learn at Yeshiva Netiv Aryeh, overlooking the Kotel in Jerusalem. After two weeks, he told us that he decided to enroll in the Ivrit track and would be taking all his classes in Hebrew. In addition, he volunteered once a week at Shaarei Zedek Hospital. When he came home for Pesach that year, the question of the army first arose. After a year in yeshiva, he decided he wanted to go to the army rather than college. As Zionists we were proud, but as parents we insisted that he go to college first and then decide. He wound up going to Netiv for another semester before enrolling in Queens College but the aliyah bug never left him. He graduated Queens this past January while going to Yeshiva Bnai Torah in Far Rockaway in the mornings, and once again told us of his plans to move to Israel. At 23 years old, he was old enough to follow his dreams and all we could do was encourage him, although the thought of him enlisting for 18 months still was difficult to deal with.
During the months that preceded his aliyah, we were busy helping him with his plans, although he did all of the major arrangements himself. During this process, he taught us a lot about himself and about the virtues of being a true Zionist. At the airport, Nefesh B’Nefesh gave out placards with the line: I’m making aliyah for: When he filled out the blank he wrote “For all those who cannot.” This small sentence showed a deep, thoughtful response to a seemingly simple question. When we asked why he wanted to serve 18 months rather than the six minimally required for someone his age, he responded that if you go for six months, you are not given real responsibilities. Because he was physically fit, he wanted to offer the army as many of his skills as possible. He felt that to be truly part of Israeli society, you should not come just to enjoy the fruits of the land but contribute to the country as well. This of course is in contrast to so many who live in Israel and refuse to serve in a meaningful way. If he was going to make aliyah, he wanted to do it the right way.
At the airport in Israel, a reporter asked an Israeli general about this influx of American enlistees and he replied that these soldiers generally are more motivated because they are serving by choice rather than obligation. To me, it is like a baal t’shuvah, someone who becomes observant by choice rather than by upbringing.
Seven months ago, my father, Joseph Fox, a Holocaust survivor and partisan who fought the Nazis for the last two years of the war, passed away. At the time, I wrote in the Standard that the Jewish people had lost a warrior. I know that as much as he would be nervous about Meir going into the army, he would be immensely proud that his grandson is following in his footsteps and defending The Jewish people. I often wonder if during those dark days of the Shoah, what it would have meant to him if someone could have told him that one day he would have a grandson serving in the Israeli army.
Meir and the other 126 lone soldiers have taught us what it means to be real Zionists and to exhibit love for Israel with actions, not just words. We have learned that when you raise a Zionist, you can’t fault him for taking it seriously. As much as we will count the days until his release from the IDF, we could not be prouder that he has chosen this wonderful path. We have given him the wings to fly, and we hope that he will soar to newer and greater heights. To him, and all the others, we wish an uneventful army service and true fulfilling lives as Jews in the Jewish homeland.
Steve Fox is a Teaneck resident, president of Fox Marketing and Video Productions, and co-chair of the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.