It's a Thursday in June, like any other. Circulation through one of the tunnels that gives access to the Western Wall square is complicated.
Rows of young soldiers in olive green uniforms fill part of the cramped space and delay the passage through scanners that filter whoever accesses the place.
“You, to see if you decide, either enter or leave”.
It's the fifth time that day we've used that entrance. the guards mizrah (Jews from the “Eastern”, in this case, of Egyptian origin) who control it already know us and the evil photographic equipment that they had to inspect before. Thus, they take the opportunity to play a little, but they send us away in three stages.
On the other side of the barrier, the square is also different.
The Unexpected Military Panorama of the Wailing Wall
It is occupied by a geometric formation of more military, arranged side by side. In their base position, they confront the wall but turn and move according to orders shouted into the microphone by a superior. On the opposite side of the wall, some audience forms the last edge of the square.
Few countries need new members for their armed forces like Israel, a nation based on Judaism but surrounded by Muslim enemies.
No wonder, therefore, that the oath ceremony – for some young people the high point of adolescence, for others, of their short life – is repeated there regularly.
Mandatory Military Service For (Almost) All
It is preceded by careful but generous recruitment. At the Jewish Agency for Israel online, authorities begin by making it clear that military service is mandatory for all citizens and permanent residents.
In the case of interested foreigners, they explain the need for aliyah (emigration to Israel) and obtaining Israeli citizenship. But they are pragmatic and witty to the point of treating unrelated suitors in the country in a special way.
These chayal boded ('lonely' soldiers in the armed forces) enjoy enhanced rights and privileges designed to make life easier for them considering that, as the agency explains, “they have no family in Israel to wash their clothes, cook them, send them orders. or listen to them kvetch (complaining) on weekends off.”
As such, it is not surprising how many boys of different origins and looks follow the protocol.
The Fascinating Multi-Ethnicity of the Israel Defense Forces
Side by side, marching blond and red-haired Israelites, Ashkenazi (with blood from central Europe), some Sephardim (with distant ancestors from Iberia), mizrah (those coming from a broad east that includes the Middle East and North Africa) and several narrower groups.
Of these, there are recruits from the numerous Ethiopian Beta Israel, an ethnic group that the Israeli government saved from civil war and famine with operations Moses (1984) and Solomon, the last carried out by the CIA in 1991, and in which dozens of commercial aircraft EL AL rescued thousands of Jews from refugee camps in Sudan.
Others come from wealthy countries, out of faith or allegiance to the Zionist cause. Joey Fox was one of them. Canadian by birth, living on the outskirts of Toronto, he grew up in a traditional family and received from his parents a Jewish education that, despite the distance, linked him to Israel.
He visited the spiritual homeland every year until, when he turned 22, he moved to the Holly Land and listed on Tzahal, the current Hebrew name for the IDF.
Hardness at the height of Israel's Political-Military Vulnerability
As he says, “during training, people would scream in my face all the time, I was gassed, forced to go on for days without eating, sleeping, showering or changing my clothes. We were also forced to sleep in the open during the miserable desert winters”.
Once the preparation was completed, it was incorporated. And the first mission he received could hardly be seen as a reward. Its 50th battalion was charged with defending the Jewish community in Hebron.
Joey goes on to describe: “in short, we had to protect 750 Jews who lived in a valley … out of 300.000 Arabs but, despite the difficulties, I was always proud to wear my uniform and my kippah …”
The Two Phases of the Pledge of Allegiance: the Military Discipline
The command voice sounds, in Hebrew, pompous and thunderous.
The recruits respond with coordination to the orders given to the parade, firmly wielding the M-16 rifles they have learned to fire and will continue to accompany them.
There follows a longer speech and the oath itself that binds each of the new soldiers to Israel.
The elements who finished their participation in the ceremony gather on a staircase in a corner of the square where they exchange hugs and sing nationalist chants.
While others receive the congratulations of the most moved Israelis present in the square.
The next day's sunset marks the beginning of the Sabbath and the obligatory rest. Believers from the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem descend the steps of the old town towards the Kotel (Wailing Wall).
are, for the most part, Haredim, ultra-orthodox, easily identifiable by the black costumes, the old-fashioned hats (borsalinos, fedoras, shtreimels, kolpiks, trilbys and others, depending on the origin of each sect) and by their pet, the curly hair that hangs from their temples.
Although they cannot share the wall together, they come with their wives who, according to the moral principles of modesty tzniut, wear simple dresses that fully cover their arms and legs.
And the Religious Celebration and Exaltation
For each of the entrances, there are also Jews tradition (conventional believers), yeshiva students from the surrounding schools, temporarily excused from learning the log and talmud.
And they are joined by enthusiastic groupings of newly admitted IDF soldiers, still in their olive green uniforms from the day before.
Os Haredim occupy their front and predominant position against the wall and in a large minyan (prayer group) profess and appeal to DEUS rocking towards the ancient stones.
In the meantime it gets dark. The military crowds further back, in a circle of celebration that widens and becomes hyperactive.
They jump and spin to and fro. The patriotic shouts and chants follow again.
Meanwhile, the flag with the Star of David waves. Validates what moves all this commotion: Am Yisrael Chai.
The People of Israel Lives.