A mother’s pride, a daughter’s fight
(Editor’s note: The following features a mother and her daughter reflecting on the latter’s decision to join the Israeli Defence Forces.)
When she was born, she was so small and sweet. As a toddler, her curly hair bounced as she skipped and played, sang and explored. I marvelled at her first steps and smiled as she chattered a million miles an hour. I watched her sleep, shed tears when she fell and scraped her knees, applauded at her graduations. We taught her to love Torah, the Jewish people and our land, history, philosophy and law, our language, legends and heroes. She sang songs and told us stories, formed opinions and created her own ideals. Eighteen years flew by at the blink of an eye – and a young woman stood before us.
I was 14 when I knew that I’d serve in the IDF. I grew up in a Zionist community and home, and Israel is a part of my identity. My best friends in Israel have mandatory service, some putting themselves in life-risking positions to defend our homeland. To me, it is home without any doubt, so why wouldn’t I be obligated to serve alongside them?
To most, it was a dream with good intentions that would pass with time. It was a scary thought and I assume a bit of a shock when my family and friends understood that I wasn’t kidding around. And so began the long and painful process of becoming Israeli and enlisting in the IDF.
I see her now, a young woman so beautiful that sometimes she takes my breath away. So intelligent that she leaves me thinking hard to keep up with her arguments. Equally at home in high heels and expertly applied makeup as she is hiking across Israel in well-worn boots, she has strong values and the leadership backbone to stand up for them. She has walked in the footsteps of her greatgrandparents, grandparents and parents. She has become someone special, someone unique all on her own.
And now, in another completely different set of clothing – the uniform of the IDF I can see her standing tall and proud like a warrior, her curly hair flying. I lie awake at night, worrying if she’s cold, if she’s eaten enough, concerned that she’s tired, alone, in danger. In those brief calls from across the ocean, mother-to-soldier, soldier-to-mother, I try to get as many questions in as I can in, to hear the strong energy, the determination, the resilience and the excitement for where she is and what she is doing that is so selfless and so meaningful. It gives me the strength and the courage to face the next day.
Basic training was a pretty big shock. There’s no “absorption centre” or easing into routine, so, like many before me, I was thrown into the deep end. At night we have one hour after dinner to shower, make our beds and use whatever time we have left to call our friends and families, because during the days phones are forbidden. We were 40 girls and four showers, so I had to run to make it before the massive lineup started.
One night after waiting a few minutes for the water to warm up, I hopped in to begin scrubbing off the day’s dirt. I hadn’t been in for more than two minutes when I heard my commander yelling: “hakpatzah, hakpatzah!” That meant that I had to be ready and downstairs as fast as humanly possible because we were running a drill.
Soaking wet and incredibly frustrated, I got changed at lightning speed, skipping things of lesser importance such as socks, and bolted downstairs at a speed I didn’t even know I had to join my team. We were going on a masa, not that I knew what that entailed. Each team followed their commander in silence. We ran in twos, looking out for any injured soldiers or slow runners, helping and motivating each other to continue, our faces covered in mud. The journey came to an end and we stood in formation, the whole unit together to receive our hard earned tags as a reward for our heroic efforts.
Two days later we had the incredible opportunity to hear from an ex-soldier who fought in the Palmach. We listened to him tell his war stories, hanging on to every word he said. Hearing about his life and his sacrifices re-instilled in me the reasons I had given everything up to join the IDF in the first place.
When did our roles reverse? Each time I look at her now, in her uniform, I see that strong warrior-woman, that passionate being, that child of mine, that role model to us all.
Go forth on your journey, Shalhevet, feel our arms protecting you like a shield, our words of love whispering in your ear and our sense of pride filling your heart. Be true to yourself and know how much we love you. And then return to us in safety and peace. “God keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”
Day to day it’s hard to remember, while we’re running in the rain, doing pushups in the mud, being yelled at in the freezing cold. Sometimes it’s hard to look back on my friends in university and see everything I’m missing, or to talk to my family on the phone and hear how things are without me.
But I chose to be here for a reason, and even if every day was as hard as my toughest day, I’d never regret my decision. It’s almost impossible to explain the strength of the pride I feel in uniform and the motivation to fight harder and give more.
Because if I don’t fight for my country and my nation, who will fight for me?
Ashira Gobrin is vice-chair of Bnei Akiva Schools and senior executive at a technology startup. She sits on the board of The CJN. Shalhevet Gobrin is a graduate of The Toronto Heschel School, Ulpanat Orot and the Diller Teen Fellowship program. She is currently serving as a tank instructor in the artillery unit of the IDF.
Shalhevet Gobrin in an IDF tank.