Yom Yerushalaim, 5775.
I'm sitting in the auditorium at the Begin Heritage Center. It's evening and my soldiers and I are finishing up the day's programming with a concert. We're all having a good time, some songs, some stories, a little comedy. And then the performer starts singing a song that goes like this:
"אני עומד על החומה עומד בגשם לבדי וכל העיר העתיקה מונחת לי על כף ידי... ... מי חלם אז בכיתה כשלמדנו לדקלם 'על חומותייך ירושלים הפקדתי שומרים' שיום יגיע ואהיה אחד מהם "
"I am standing on a wall, standing alone in the rain, and the Old City [of Jerusalem] is laid out before me"
Who would've dreamed back in school when we learned to declare 'Upon Your walls, oh Jerusalem, I will stand guard' that the day would come that I would be one of them" All my life I have been in religious Zionist schools and camps. We learn about Israel. We daven about returning to Jerusalem. We send packages to Israeli soldiers. And throughout all of that we constantly hear about how Israel is our home. Israel is the ideal. Move to Israel. My parents, my teachers, my counselors. Israel, Israel, Israel. There are those who really do it. A substantial number, even.
But me? "Of course I'd like to, Rabbi, but don't you know how hard it is?" "Come on, Mom, let's go to Israel for vacation, but we have to come back in time to spend time with my friends before school starts." "Wow, your family is super inspirational, I don't know how you did it." "Yeah, of course I'd love to move there someday, but first I need a husband, kids, financial stability." Aliyah is a dream, a someday. And the army? Yeah right. Not even in the cards. I hate being told what to do. And I'm no "fighter" anyway. But over time, the words of my teachers started to permeate my brain. The things that were holding me back stopped seeming so important. Instead of "yeah right" I started thinking "what if." I did a summer program in Israel, and "maybe one day" turned to "definitely someday."
And during my gap year, I finally realized that there is no someday. There is only right now. And right now, I don't want to go back. How could I return to my normal American life when I have experienced the other side? How can I let my brothers and sisters defend my country while I'm in college halfway across the world? I knew I couldn't push this off. No more excuses. And so, just a year after being registered for college in America, I made Aliyah and began the process of drafting to the army.
I am not in combat. I do not stand on the walls of Jerusalem, guarding day and night through rain and heat and whatever else. I do, however, stand in front of my soldiers and teach them values and the history of our land and our people. I take them on trips to give them a connection to the physical land. I teach them about holidays and customs that they might not be familiar with. And I prove, with my very presence, that Zionism is not just a concept. Israel is not just something to learn about or a nice place to visit. Israel is our home. Israel is the ideal. Israel, Israel, Israel. So I sit here on Yom Yerushalaim, with my soldiers, fighting back tears of emotion and happiness. Because who would've dreamed back in school that the day would come that I would be one of them?
Liba Hornstein is from Highland Park, New Jersey and went to Yeshiva of Flatbush for high school. She joined the army in January 2015 and serves as a mashakit chinuch, in charge of education on her base.