When someone at my shul goes to Israel, besides the traditional blessing, our rabbi always says, “And you should bring back good news.” As I sit in bustling Ben Gurion Airport waiting to board my flight home, I can report that there is good news to share. Yes, there is good news in the midst of a covid surge, economic turmoil, unrest on the borders, and an Amnesty International report that outrageously labels Israel as an apartheid state. Each one of these challenges can take up its own book length analysis and they certainly don’t fall under the heading of good news.
So what’s this talk of good news? The good news is Am Yisrael. The people of Israel. The people, in spite of all the turmoil and challenges, are as vibrant and passionate about life as they have always been. It was heartening to spend time at Machane Yehuda, as it pulsed with energy and excitement. Walking the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you see and feel a nation ready to return to its former self. But while the covid hangover has changed much about life in Israel, as bidud (quarantine) and masks are still very much at the forefront of most conversations, covid has not changed the people.
On this trip, among the meetings and conversations I was privileged to be a part of, I had the opportunity to spend time with nearly 100 Israelis, each of them finishing up or just fresh out of military service.
They are Am Yisrael and they are spectacular.
Each one of these young men and women had just finished a minimum of 2.5 years of service. Many of these same people had chosen to delay their service to volunteer as youth counselors or mentors even before they were drafted into service. So when I met them, they had given three or four years of their early adult lives in service to their country. You might expect them to be tired or maybe even a bit jaded, having just served in units where they were responsible for life-and-death decisions on a daily basis. Their late teenage years and early twenties had been dedicated to protecting a nation and securing their homeland, some of the time under the cloud of covid. That is a burden that certainly could leave someone weary of both mind and spirit.
But in fact the very opposite was true. Each and every one of them told a similar story—they loved their service in the IDF, were proud of what they did, loved Israel and the Jewish people, and saw it as their mission to share the very best of what Israel has to offer with the world. Each of them was intent on disconnecting, traveling, and taking a well-deserved break after their grueling service. But this summer, they are set to serve as shlichim (emissaries) in America at overnight camps — certainly not a job for the faint of heart. And they wanted to spend their summer as staff at Jewish summer camp not as a way to come to America for free, but, to quote one of these young men, “Because it is my responsibility to connect with American Jews and teach them about Israel and also learn about them so I can teach my community back in Israel.”
To a person, their poise and sense of purpose, in equal measure, was something to behold. No, they are not the product of a racist and apartheid regime. Ask the young woman whom I met about her tour as a commander of a group of Muslim soldiers and she will quickly disabuse you of the idea that the IDF is a tool of a racist government. These young Israelis were not jaded or worn out from both defending the nation and fighting corona; rather, they were emboldened by what they had done and brimming with enthusiasm for what was to come.
So I bring good news from Eretz Yisrael. Israel is in good hands. This generation of Israelis is every bit up to the task of leading at home and abroad. They bring with them an energy and pride that is exciting and invigorating. The good news is that Am Yisrael is alive and well. The next generation of leaders is ready, willing, and able to meet the challenges they will undoubtedly face.
Michael Schlank spent the early part of his career as a Jewish communal professional, transitioning to work on a wide range of public policy issues, then moving on to become an educator. He is now the CEO of NJY Camps, a New Jersey-based Jewish overnight camping agency.