In his “Letter to a Hesder Student” (Opinion, Jan. 15), Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union for Reform Judaism suggests that the original purpose of the Hesder Yeshiva program [combining yeshiva study and army service in Israel] in its current form is no longer relevant. He suggests that Hesder students need to share the security burden equally, presumably with regular service soldiers serving three years instead of the 16 months served by those in Hesder. How little he understands the army and the reality in Israel.
In the past 32 years since we made aliyah, we have witnessed that the nature of the army has changed. Once the bastion of secular, kibbutz-born young men, the elite fighting units of the Israeli military have become populated by religious, knitted-kipa-wearing Hesder students. As the number of secular volunteers has decreased, the number of Hesder volunteers has increased. Hesder units learn together and serve together. They are in the front lines of battle and suffer more casualties and deaths than other units, proportionally.
Yet in spite of this, the Israeli government, most notably those from more secular, left-leaning parties, has waged a campaign vilifying these student soldiers and those that have inculcated them with their patriotism and zeal.
This is not a debate between the right of Jews to live where they choose, a basic American ideal protected by law. This is not a political debate concerning final borders, as yet nonexistent and as yet not discussed. This is a debate about the fundamental raison d’etre of the Jewish state. We have forgotten why the state was reborn as a home and haven for the Jewish people.
Our secular leadership, with eager support from our politically correct American co-religionists, forgets that Jews, too, have rights. It appears that the only groups fighting to maintain these rights are those closest to the Hesder philosophy. While those in the secular world define themselves as Israelis, those in the religious world define themselves as Jews. And in the Israel of the last several years, Israelis have persecuted Jews. After the forced deportations from Gush Katif several years ago, the Jews have learned that the Israelis cannot be trusted to defend their own homes, let alone their own country.
Rabbi Yoffie represents a branch of Judaism that has never been in the front lines of this defense. Rather than suggest that our Hesder students question their existence, perhaps he should write a letter to the non-Hesder soldiers to increase their love of country and nation, and remember that before they became Israelis, they were first and foremost Jews.
Highland Park, N.J.
and Petach Tikvah, Israel