Writer Ari Bornstein holds up an Israeli flag in Jerusalem.
Ari Bornstein in Jerusalem.

Why I am leaving the Bay Area and enlisting in the IDF

I am a Jew. Given that, I have special responsibilities and privileges. It is not a zealous ideology, but rather a spiritual and unbreakable connection to all other Jews.

I admit that I do not adhere to all the mitzvot that my religion commands of me; instead, I explore my connection to Judaism through my people.

I know I am welcome at any Shabbat dinner anywhere — despite politics, wealth or nationality — based on my community’s shared values and history. I have met incredible people that I would never have met without our singular mutual connection, and in every corner of the globe, I will always have a home that will welcome me.

Human connection is a value I have learned to cherish. And nowhere do I feel embraced by an entire community more than in the Land of Israel.

In America, I do not feel a sense of national identity and do not know what unity truly means. But when I stand on Israel’s soil, I can feel the presence of all who came before me. I feel the presence of my ancestors who died defending the Temples. I feel the strength of the Biblical figures who wrestled with angels and killed giants. I feel the yearning of my great-grandmother who stood under the gates of Auschwitz. I feel the joy of my grandmother who fought in the War of Independence as one of the first women to enlist in Israel’s army. I feel the rebellious nature of my mother, who fled to the haven of Israel against her parents’ desires.

And above all else, I feel at home. I know that, beyond my birthright, I am a Jew in my soul. I am eternally thankful that I have a country that represents me and my beliefs, the State of Israel.

Israel is located in a complicated region with hostile neighbors, and requires all its citizens to serve in the armed forces. Although there is conflict on Israel’s borders, I will always be able to seek refuge inside of them. And with this bond that I have with the country, I feel eternally indebted, and beyond that, I feel inspired to serve.

That is why I have enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces.

I do not enlist to attack the enemies in front of me, but rather, for all that is behind me. I enlist to fight no enemy, just protect my own. In Israel’s army, I know I might have to defend, die or even kill. However, most of all, I am enlisting to understand. Understand my people, my culture and my home.

It pains me to have to leave my place of birth to follow my future path; however, it is the step I am endowed by my Creator to take.

Although my enlistment may appear political, I hope you can understand that for 2,000 years, my ancestors did not have the privilege of defending our sovereign nation. I am wary of those who conflate criticism of Israel and criticism of Jews, and I hope you understand the difference.

I will miss the awe of the Golden Gate Bridge, July 4 fireworks and Thanksgiving dinners. But I am eager for the ice cream on the beaches of Tel Aviv, the Diasporatexture of the Kotel and the flags that flood the streets on Israeli Independence Day.

I hope that my journey for the next three years and beyond will rid me of the shackles of the diaspora, of the wandering Jew, of a stateless outcast and of a victimized people. I have learned not to be an observer and sit idly by as evil grows. I will fight for justice and peace, despite the oxymoron. I enlist with the truest intentions and ask for your support and prayers on my uncharted journey ahead.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Ari Bornstein
Ari Bornstein

Ari Bornstein of Lafayette is a member of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland and has a B.A. in international relations and Middle Eastern studies from UC Santa Barbara. On July 26, he is scheduled to fly to Israel with 44 other young Jewish Californians, all enlistees in the Israel Defense Forces. They are part of Garin Tzabar, a program that helps foreigners serve in the IDF and make aliyah.