Back To The Front Lines

Back To The Front Lines

Next week, Mr. Singer, teacher in a local day school, will be Samal Zinger, sergeant in an Israeli army unit. Next week, Aharon Singer, who looks outside his apartment window and sees children playing on a cul de sac, will open a tent and see the hills of the West Bank.
Next week, Singer will put on a bulletproof vest and put his life on the line.
On Sunday, Singer, who made aliyah in 1995 and served in the Israeli army and returned to the United States after discharge to get married and raise a family, is going back to Israel to join his old paratroops unit. As a member of miluim, Hebrew for the army reserves. As a former soldier who, living abroad, is exempt from reserves call-up.
“I’ve been feeling more and more tense as the situation’s been unraveling in Israel,” says Singer, 30. He lives in the New York area but is reluctant, for security reasons, to divulge exactly where.
Singer is among a growing number of former soldiers making the same decision to volunteer now — Zinger is the Israeli pronunciation for his surname.
Unless Israel declares a formal state of emergency, which it has not done during the escalating months of Palestinian shootings and suicide bombings, the army does not contact its former soldiers aged 21 to 45 who live in the diaspora to come back.
So Singer, sickened by the fatal seder night attack in Netanya last month, called the army. He asked if his unit could use him.
“If you come, we could sure use you,” the liaison officer answered.
Singer told his wife, Dina, he was going.
“I cried the minute he got off the phone and said, ‘They need me,’ ” Dina, a social worker, says. “He wanted to get on the next plane.”
Instead, Singer has spent a few weeks taking care of logistics — buying an airplane ticket from his own limited funds, arranging a leave of absence from his teaching job, getting a tuition refund for his to-be-missed studies at Touro College, asking a chasidic rebbe for a blessing, giving more tzedaka, doing some jogging to get into shape, spending quality time with his wife and year-old daughter, Na’ama — before going.
Singer doesn’t know where he will serve, but surmises it will probably be in one of the Arab cities now occupied by the Israeli troops. Nor does he know how long he will serve — his ticket is open ended.
Is he scared? “A little,” he acknowledges.
“I’m putting myself in a lot of danger,” he says, before quickly adding: “I don’t feel any doubt about the rightness of my decision.”
Singer, a native of Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, is a religious Zionist, the son of a Holocaust-survivor father. “Being a child of a Holocaust survivor really affected me,” he says, sitting in his apartment, balancing Na’ama on his knee. “I never want that to happen again.”
Dina says she wasn’t surprised her husband decided to make the miluim decision.
“Aharon is a very idealistic person,” she says. “I was anticipating this.”
She says as the fighting worsened during the Intifada II that began in September 2000, “he would start talking about going back to Israel.”
“I’m just a normal guy. The Pesach massacre did it for me,” Singer says, referring to the attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed 28. “People were being massacred over there. The guys in my [former army] unit are over there. They’re doing Jenin. They’re doing Kalkilya.”
Next week Singer may be based in one of those West Bank cities, identified by Israel as hotbeds of Arab terrorism.
“I’m going to be there for the duration,” until the army action against the West Bank cities ends, he says. “Hopefully it will be over in a month or two.”
Many former reservists living outside of Israel are joining Singer. “Hundreds” have contacted the army about coming back or have simply showed up at military posts, Maariv reported.
“It’s very important for Israel to see that people from all around the world are coming back,” says Yahel Zilan, consul for public affairs at the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan. With 30,000 Israeli men recently called to reserve duty, each trained soldier in a unit “might also be very important from a physical perspective,” Zilan says.
“I’m going there as a family man,” Singer says. “This is not just my decision. This is a joint decision,” with his wife. “I love my family. I want to get back as quickly as possible.”
Singer has founded a nonprofit organization, Geulath Israel, to pay for bulletproof vests “and other life-saving equipment” for Israeli soldiers. The vests cost $700 each, and the army doesn’t have the money to buy one for each soldier. Singer will bring “as many vests as I can” to distribute when he arrives in Israel.
“Soldiers are literally risking their lives on a daily basis (and unfortunately sometimes losing them,)” states a Geulath Israel flyer. (The organization’s address is PMB #225, 1375 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11230).
Neighbors are knocking on Singer’s door these days to contribute to the funds; strangers come up to him on the street.
“The response is just overwhelming,” he says. “Most of the money I’ve collected is given by the ‘ultra-Orthodox’ community.’ ”
One sympathetic congregation, Poaley Agudah Israel in Flatbush, Brooklyn, has taken up a collection to pay for his plane ticket, and the Orthodox owners of a military supplies firm have offered to provide the vests at cost.
When he returns from Israel, Singer wants to make aliyah — permanently this time — with Dina and Na’ama.
First, a going away party at his day school, “a quiet Shabbos with my family” and immersion in a mikveh, an act of ritual purification, “if I can.”
Then, on to Israel.
“I’m going to work and worry and daven,” Dina says.
“I don’t believe anything is going to happen to me,” Singer says. “If anything happens, I want Dina and Na’ama to remember me as a person who followed his convictions.”

read more: