The Conduct of Children is a Message to Parents: Some Thoughts on Aaron Broyde’s Graduation from קורס מ”כים, The Entry Level Commanders Course in the IDF
Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde
Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and is a dayan in the Beth Din of America. He can be reached at [email protected]
A few short days ago, my son Aaron Broyde graduated from קורס מ”כים, the entry level squadron commanders course in the Israeli Defense Forces — and Aaron Broyde is a wonderful source of pride and joy to his father. He joined the IDF nearly two years ago on August 5, 2009 and that too was a source of a great deal of pride and joy to me as well (link). But yet, I sit here today with mixed emotions, feeling somewhat sad, a bit embarrassed and exceptionally overjoyed.
First, I am sad that I am not there with him watching and celebrating his accomplishments — I went to his basic training graduation and my wife was with him for this graduation, but I know that I should be there with him to rejoice in his accomplishments. What kind of father does not attend his son’s graduation into a squadron commander? The simple and sad answer is “one who lives very far away,” and that makes me very very sad. As my son embarks on a new and novel journey into an adventure I’ve never experienced, I am an absentee father. I recounted this to one of my friends in a similar situation, and he shared with me his dour reply — “this” he told me, “is life in the Diaspora when you have children living in Israel.” I felt like weeping.
My personal feelings are hardly worth posting; we all sometimes miss events in our children’s lives — my oldest daughter recently reminded me (again) that I missed her kindergarten graduation, some twelve years ago. We hope our children forgive us or at least understand our absences and I hope Aaron does in this case.
In truth, I also feel embarrassed. The Zionist dream is living on in my children and I am hardly a part of it. Aaron and I speak on the phone regularly, email on occasion (but it is hard in the IDF), I send him articles and the like on his international wireless Kindle, and we all buy him gifts showing that we miss him — and love him — but I see his life moving in a direction that I chose not to move my life — into Israeli society — and I am embarrassed that I did not make that choice. He now sometimes speaks English like an Israeli (saying “eh” instead of “um” when formulating thoughts), he most clearly thinks already like an Israeli, and I suspect he will soon be driving like an Israeli too. His future is in Israel. Mine is here. Is the future of Judaism in Israel for the foreseeable future? Is Jewish life in America in decline? Maybe I should follow so many of my friends and move there, too? Or course that is not the path I have chosen, and I can justify it (even religiously) if I need to: My life, career and community are in America and my sense is that most of the things that I can accomplish in Judaism are here too. But I see and understand his sense that perhaps the future has passed me by. I hope not.
I am also overjoyed to watch as my two older children begin the process of outgrowing me, and I am looking forward to all my children embarking on the journey of outgrowing their father. As I watch my two adult sons build lives which I am but hardly part of, I feel the deep sense of accomplishment that I always understood was embodied in the Talmudic stories that end with the phrase נצחוני בני נצחוני בני, (“my children have triumphed over me”). The deep sense of joy and accomplishment that a father feels when he looks at his adult sons and senses that they are on a path to accomplish much more profound than he even could, produces this sense of joy in watching one’s children grow up. Whether it is watching one son learn in ways that I can hardly keep up with or another wearing a uniform and holding a gun, I have this deep sense of joy and accomplishment in being surpassed by my own children.
When my children were little, and I thought about that “someday” when they would grow up, I thought how nice it would be if they came out just like me. As I grow older and develop a more critical sense of my own limitations and failings, that outcome would only make me sad. I am overjoyed that I have a son who is a soldier in the IDF — that my children are prepared for a life that vastly exceeds me in accomplishment: some of them (maybe not only one) living in our homeland in Israel, or exceeding me as a scholar, and each and every one of them growing to be something far better than his father ever could be. Without my limitations in vision or skills and unbounded by the restrictions of the time and place that I grew up in, I seem more potential in my children than I see in myself.
I am proud to have a son who is a sergeant and a squadron commander in the IDF.