By Lisa Sanders, Journalist [and proud mum]
It’s a breezy morning and I’m driving up the coast to the IDF recruitment office. I’m trying to get there by 8am, when the place opens.
My son Yoel [pictured with me, right], 16, is in a good mood.
“I hope I get a good profile,” he tells me.
“Hmmm,” I nod uncertainly.
The army, with its impenetrable jargon and alphabet soup of battalions and divisions is completely alien to me.
I’m also nervous as to what this “good profile” will mean for my firstborn.
I can’t even start to picture my baby as a warrior.
But he and his friends, strapping lads all of them, hope to be “Kravi” – fighters.
In their eyes it’s utterly uncool to be desk-bound – a “Jobnik.”
This is his second attempt to complete Tzav Rishon, the first stage of the army induction process.
Yoel went a fortnight earlier, setting off in the early dawn light along with a handful of schoolmates. He arrived back after 9pm, reporting that the army was “a balagan” – chaos (anyone who’s ever experienced Israeli bureaucracy can sympathise, right?).
Potential recruits are made to wait and queue, and wait again. Between the waiting and queuing, each must complete an interview, a medical check-up, and sit a computerised IQ exam.
At the end of this, they get three separate scores: an IQ number, their “family background” score (I have no idea what this is) and a medical score.
So far, so bewildering. For me at least. And he needed to go back, because he hadn’t completed the medical. The doctor, apparently, leaves promptly at 5pm every day, regardless of how many children are still waiting. It’s exam season in Israel.
My son pointed out that, were he to take public transport to this second appointment, it would mean another day spent not studying. So I offered to take him. We rarely get to chat these days; I admit I leapt at the chance to drive him.
Despite the traffic jams, we arrive.
Teenagers of all shapes, colours and sizes are plodding towards the recruitment centre: phones out, earphones in, the characteristic gait of today’s youth. I park the car, buy coffee at one of the cut-price coffee stands that have popped up everywhere and watch a flock of traffic wardens laughing as they sip cappuccinos.
After an hour or so, my son messages me: “Nearly done. Out soon.” Not too bad then. “So? How was it?” I greet him as we get back in the car. He shrugs, then slumps into his seat. “Not great.” “What’s that mean, not great?” “I got a 64 on my medical.” But the numbers mean nothing to me, dunce that I am on all matters army-related.
He explains patiently: “It’s really low. Because of my eyesight. If you’re over minus six, that’s it.” “So?” “So I can’t be “Kravi.” “You can’t?” “No. Total bummer. I tried to argue with the doctor but it was no use.”
He imitates the doctor’s Russian accent. Then he falls silent. I negotiate the winding, hilly streets of Haifa, taking us down and out of the city.
I switch on Galei Tzahal, Army radio; it’s Erev Yom Hazikaron, the day before Israel’s Memorial Day and they’re playing all the sad songs.
Twenty-three thousand men and women have been killed in service to their country or through terror attacks since 1948.
I drive, and try to think what to say to my son. I understand his bitter disappointment. He wants to make a meaningful difference to his country and his army service is the most important thing to him right now. But even I know enough to realise that his lowered medical profile, taken together with his high IQ score and “average” family background score (I’ve still no idea what this is) means he can be considered for intelligence, perhaps the elite cyber unit if he’s lucky.
So he’s not going to be a fighter. Of course I’m relieved; heck, I’m ecstatic. I pull over and we get out by the beach to eat burekas.
We talk about nonsense, about surfing (his great passion), about his studies. And I think: this typical, uncomfortable blend of happiness and worry, uncertainty, sadness and joy is what characterises this country.
Perhaps now I’m finally a proper Israeli.