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Benji Azziza


By Danita Aziza

A Land Filled With Lessons To Be Learned - Lesson #4:
Learn From Your Children

The day I told our son Benji that we were going to take a year- long sabbatical to go and live in Israel is forever etched in my mind. We were in the spare bedroom of our Winnipeg home and Benji was looking for a favourite old sweatshirt that was stored in the cupboard. I was sitting on the bed watching him as I broke the news. The month was September and almost a full year before our departure.

Benji’s response was anticipated and typical for an almost 15 year old in  shock.  He shouted; “you can’t do this to me” as he flung his found shirt across the room.  “What about my friends, school, getting my driver’s license” he screamed.”  I remember saying nothing in response at the time, but got up to hold him in my arms.

A week passed before I broached the subject again.  Much calmer now, Benji told me that I couldn’t force him to come to Israel with us that he could find a way to stay in Winnipeg and be in grade 11 along with his buddies.  I remember telling him then that as his parent I had made lots of mistakes many times doubting my parenting abilities.  But, I told him with strong resolve, as his parent I would never do anything that I thought would be bad for him and that in fact, I believed that out of the entire family, the experience in Israel would be the best for him filled with the most opportunity for growth and maturation.  This time he was the one who had no response and while hard to believe, I was never again to hear any objections from him concerning our plans.

This memory played out in my mind this past Sunday morning as I watched Benji get into the car with Michel, my husband, to drive to Jerusalem for a meeting with a representative from the Ministry of the Interior at the Nefesh B’Nefesh office to complete the second to final phase of his Aliyah application.  As a 17 year old, Benji made the life altering decision to make aliyah before any of his family members so that he could be drafted into the Israeli Defence Forces within the next year.   The boy who stood in the bedroom on Colchester Bay in Winnipeg barely two years ago resembled nothing of the young man I watched confidently turn his head and smile at me as he got into the car and drove away.

As I closed the door, I had one of the moments where reality and fiction are confused.  Was this for real or a moment living someone else’s life with someone else’s son?  This was for real and the culmination of eight months of angst and anguish, research, soul searching and decision making all on the part of a 17 and a half year old whose parents brought him to Israel to live their dream.

When Michel and I came to Israel for the year and decided to stay on for another year for Benji to finish grade 12 , we were diligent in our research and did everything possible not to place him in a position where he would be obligated to do military service.  We didn’t want him to feel that he had to go to the army and we were intent on presenting many options to delay making the decision even with staying in the country past his eighteenth birthday.  We spent many hours making telephone inquiries, reading websites, speaking and meeting with program administrators and even those affiliated with the army.  Michel and I spent our morning walks with the dogs hashing and rehashing the options, but knew ultimately that the decision would not be ours to make no matter how absurd it was to leave such a weighty conundrum to a pubescent adolescent.

November and December were particularly difficult months for Benji.  He was struggling and rightly so.  He felt strongly that he wanted to remain in Israel for now but didn’t want to go on to university immediately and then fulfill his service obligations following a three year degree.  We were pushing the idea of a year -long army preparation program that many Israelis now do prior to their service to prepare them for the experience.  While this was our choice Benji was adamant that he didn’t want to pursue the option. 

On a Sunday evening in early February as we were driving to Tel Aviv, Benji sent me a text message from the back seat of the car.  The message read, “I’ve made my decision.  I’m making aliyah.”  I needed to catch my breath. In that instant, pride, anguish, excitement, fear and finally calm permeated my soul and all I could muster as I wrote back was, WOW.  How silly.

When we had our first opportunity to sit with Benji later that evening, Michel and I wanted to make sure that he fully understood the implications of his decision.  We told him that if he made the decision to make aliyah we, as a family, would make aliyah at the same time.  He thanked us for the offer, but told us that his preference was to be the first in the family to make such a commitment and thus set an example for the rest of us to follow.  He told us in no uncertain terms that this was his decision and as such, he would take the lead. 

And so now what was originally intended to be a year living a dream in Israel has evolved into a son who is about to become an oleh hadash , a new immigrant.  He will likely be called by the army in the fall to begin testing to determine in what capacity he will serve the Country and by this time next year, he will begin three years of service.  It is hard to explain to those who live outside Israel how as parents we could allow our child to take such a decision given all the risk that it entails.  Some would say we are irresponsible, but when you become enmeshed in life here you begin to understand more deeply how Benji arrived at his decision and how we, as parents can support such a decision.

For the past twenty months now, Michel and I have straddled two worlds so to speak and our emotions in response to Benji’s decision reflect the ambiguity of our current status.  Israeli parents are resigned to their children having to fulfill military obligations to the State and for the most part, take great pride and interest in their children’s service.  While worry and concern is an ever present state, it is simply a fact of life.  If the country didn’t have an army there would be no country and therefore there is no choice or option involved for the sons and daughters of citizens of Israel.  In many respects how can we be different from other parents, yet we are not yet quite the same.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.