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Monday, December 21, 2009

A blank check

I give what I can to worthwhile organizations.  I'm not unique in this.  In fact most of the people I know also give what they can, when they can.  We don't have much... but there are always others who have far less. 

So we give.

Then there are the 'big givers'.  These are the people who are perennial honorees at gala dinners, and whose homes and offices are lined with plaques of appreciation and sterling sculptures in glass cases bearing inscriptions of thanks.

But above and beyond all those there is an entirely different level of giver... people who quietly, and without fanfare, hand over blank checks to organizations, telling them to take as much as they need... but not more.  That kind of giving goes mostly un-noticed, but is breathtaking in its generosity, selflessness, and above all, trust.

This morning some close friends of ours handed over such a blank check.  They gave it to the State of Israel (even though they are not Israelis) and were too modest to even show up to see the check change hands.

However, since I happened to be there to witness the transaction, I thought I'd share a few words about the informal rite so that they could know that their generous gift had been received.  You see, the blank check that my friends handed over today was their oldest son... and the recipient was the Israeli Army. 

But there is another side of this giving.  Their son, Meir, was certainly an active and willing participant in this transaction.  Even though we laud the Biblical patriarch Abraham for selflessly offering up his son Isaac, many people forget that Isaac was an adult at the time and, if anything, was making more of a sacrifice (pun intended) than his father.

Not too long ago, Meir found himself at a crossroads in his life.  He had finished an undergraduate degree at a prestigious college, had completed a rigorous course of training in a completely unrelated field... and was working in yet third profession that was only tangentially related to the other two.  Some people complain of not having any choices in life.  Meir's problem, perhaps, was having too many.

In the course of trying to figure out which road to take, Meir came to a mature conclusion that few people will admit... even to themselves:  He admitted that he didn't know what to do. 

But rather than sit around and wait for something to happen, he decided to dedicate a finite period of time to serve in the IDF under a program that has existed since before the State was established, called MACHAL (an acronym which stands for 'Volunteers from outside the country').  Because he is not an Israeli citizen, Meir will serve in the regular army (in an infantry unit), but will serve 18 months rather than the full three years.

Since Meir has been living with us since arriving in Israel, and we'll be his 'home away from home' during his army service, I drove him this morning to the IDF Induction Center, and handed him over to a group of female soldiers who were waiting to process him into his new life (at least the only life he'll know for the next year-and-a-half).

I have to admit that even though it will be a few years before I have to drive any of my own children to the Lishkat Giyus, handing over such a precious gift - a blank check of sorts - is still a very powerful and emotional experience. 

Giyus Na'im, Meir... and Kol HaKavod to his parents Beth and Bobby.

Kotel and party 042

Posted by David Bogner on December 21, 2009 | Permalink


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Extremely touching post and way to put perspective on the situation. I've known many such blank checks and all are extremely commendable.

Posted by: Vicki | Dec 21, 2009 3:50:52 PM

It's wonderful to hear about such generous and giving people. But if they wanted to give quietly and without publicity, is it ok with them that you're publicizing it on your blog?

Posted by: Rabba bar bar Chana | Dec 21, 2009 4:18:03 PM

Vicki... Especially in light of the number of Israeli teens who dodge the draft... it's nice to see someone who isn't obligated volunteering to serve.

Rabba bar bar Chana... Actually I don't ask them. But I thought they would want to see their son's smiling face as he walks into his first morning of army service. Being abroad they missed out on this oh-so-Israeli experience.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 21, 2009 4:31:58 PM

i'm glad david didn't ask us; because we would not have wanted him not to write anything- but we are happy he did- and especially happy to see that picture- and besides- meir deserves 89% of the credit anyway-

Posted by: roberti | Dec 21, 2009 4:50:25 PM

Tears to my eyes, David B.

Posted by: chairwoman | Dec 21, 2009 5:52:29 PM

I gave such a blank check myself 25 years ego and the IDF is stil drawing on it to this day.

Posted by: Ofra Leon | Dec 21, 2009 5:55:55 PM

When the IDF draws on on the check, the "check" is happy to oblige :)

Posted by: Ofra Leon | Dec 21, 2009 7:38:04 PM

Beautiful post. It reminded me of some friends who traveled to Israel about five years ago and served in the army for a few weeks, although neither of them is Israeli. They were about 65 at the time.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Dec 21, 2009 7:54:12 PM

roberti ... I'm curious about your math. Please show your work. :-)

chairwoman ... If it makes you feel any better, I think I made his mother cry too. :-)

Ofra Leon... Yes, but your son is a big time officer/doctor. You think they're going to waste taht kind of talent?! :-)

Ilana-Davita... The program you are talking about is 'Volunteers for Israel'. While a very nice program, it is not really army service. Generally participants work on a base doign warehouse work or other menial tasks. The MACHAL program is real army service (in this case in a combat unit) with a minimum committment of 18 months.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 21, 2009 8:08:43 PM

Kol Hakavod to Meir...having gotten to know him peripherally over the past few months, I think your couch will be missing a pair of butt cheeks--but let's hope those smiling female soldiers make good use of them! Giyus kal!

Posted by: Noa | Dec 21, 2009 8:35:48 PM

Wah! Tears in my eyes!

Posted by: Sarah | Dec 21, 2009 9:14:45 PM

Very nice.

Posted by: val | Dec 21, 2009 10:12:53 PM

I smiled when I saw that picture. We actually know Meir, he grew up in the same shul we "grew up" in back in the old country. He worked with youth groups in the shul (maybe he actually ran them, I don't recall) when my kids were attending. A really nice guy. We were thrilled to run into him a while back at a bar mitzvah when he told us of his army plans. We wish him all the best as he embarks on his army service.

Posted by: Baila | Dec 21, 2009 11:26:10 PM

" Yes, but your son is a big time officer/doctor. You think they're going to waste taht kind of talent?! :-)"

Trepp, my son wasn't borne a big time officer/doctor. He did duty in Lebanon, yehuda and shomron and gaza in the worst of times both as a tank commander and as a doctor and he is not yet tired of it/

Posted by: Ofra Leon | Dec 22, 2009 8:06:40 AM

Another P.S.
At the ripe old age of 50 I deed the 'Volunteers for Israel' program myself just days before the break of the first Intifada. No warehouse work for me, they put me to do repair work on tanks and millitary vehicles as well as assambling metal protective gear against rocks and granades on jeeps befor sending them to the Gaza strip.

Posted by: Ofra Leon | Dec 22, 2009 8:16:32 AM

What a wonderful post. Tell Meir that if he decides to do the Kiwi holiday thing after Army service, there is always a bed for him with us. My hubby also did the Volunteers for Israel programme, and thoroughly enjoyed serving in this way.

Posted by: Noa | Dec 22, 2009 7:12:15 PM

What a wonderful post. Tell Meir that if he decides to do the Kiwi holiday thing after Army service, there is always a bed for him with us. My hubby also did the Volunteers for Israel programme, and thoroughly enjoyed serving in this way.

Posted by: Noa | Dec 22, 2009 7:12:18 PM

Sometimes with Sar-El (the volunteer army program), you get more than you bargain for - like having your very first day of your two-week service be the day after the IDF goes into Gaza.

My friend who experienced this did much more than warehouse work; his tasks, while menial, were crucial and freed up soldiers who would have otherwise been stuck doing these jobs (and likely would have been frothing at the mouth in frustration at not being "in it," if I know soldiers). His intended 8 hour days turned into much more. On top of this, my friend was asked/ordered to stay an extra week. Which he gladly did.

Of course this doesn't compare to real army service, and usually it is menial chores, but sometimes it's not. And in Israel, you never know when it might be "not."

Anyhoo, beautiful post. And the "blank cheque" is a beautiful, and apt, analogy. Thank you. And thank you Beth, Bobby and Meir.

Posted by: Alissa | Dec 22, 2009 8:45:33 PM

The IDF is very lucky. We were given the same "check" four years ago and went very far with it. Good luck, Meir, from all of your friends at WFD. Kol Tuv.


Posted by: 359 Officers | Dec 25, 2009 9:02:23 PM

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