by Yehoshua Mizrachi
"4277800". This number represents a new milestone along my path of integration into Israeli life. No it's not my tuedat zehut (identity card) number, or my kupat cholim (health insurance) number. It's the registration number. Stamped on the Uzi submachine gun I was just issued.
Getting the gun came as no surprise; I've spent time on a firing range recently with other Israeli citizens who, for one reason or another, didn't serve in the IDF and therefore didn't receive army weapons training. We learned to disassemble it, clean it, re-assemble it; shoot it standing, kneeling and lying down. We learned the proper stance for effective shooting; you know, kind of like golf. We learned the rules of gun safety and the protocols of the firing range. We learned how to load the guns, how to release jams. But mainly, we learned how to shoot - how to neutralize someone coming at you with deadly intent. After all this training, the Security Coordinator of our community took me back out to the firing range to observe me handle and shoot the weapon. I passed the test, so now I have the Uzi.
The license permits me to carry the gun anywhere in the country, and those so licensed are encouraged to carry their weapon at all times. Many suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks have been either pre-empted or shortened by a quick thinking citizen with a gun on his back. So this I shall do, although I admit it's still a bit awkward. But I'll get used to carrying it soon enough: to the mall, food shopping, to shul, even on Shabbos - yes, we have a heter (religious dispensation) to carry guns on Shabbos.
There is purpose to all this. Thus trained and equipped, I can begin standing shmirah, sentry duty for the community. Every man must do shmirah, but as an oleh chadash I have been exempted from these responsibilities. Now I can take my place, do my part, and take some of the burden off my neighbors in helping to protect my family and theirs. After all, that is the reason I came - to share the burden of protecting our common future on this Land.
Carrying a gun demands something more - a change of consciousness. You have to walk differently, constantly scan your surroundings, look at everyone who approaches as a possible assailant. There is no letting down your guard. The gun never lets you forget your name and address. Like the kippah on my head, it is a constant companion and physical reminder of where my priorities lie.
Jews and guns - a funny mix, from the American perspective. Even in the face of rising anti-semitism, American Jews are squeamish about Jewish self-defense. The terminally misguided American Jewish establishment has always parroted the arguments of the gun control lobby. Guns, not people, are evil. Eliminate guns, and you eliminate crime. It's easy to debate pros and cons of gun control from the comfortable salons of Boston and New York, where the only people actually killed with guns are pushers and prostitutes, nobody you'd ever invite home for dinner. But in Israel we don't have that luxury. Here, they kill the people you do invite over for dinner - your neighbors, and innocent five-year old girls cowering under beds, and infants right in their mothers' arms; every Jew has an invisible target painted on his back.
Many people, upon reading this, might wonder if living in Israel is worth it. After all, Jews in the States don't need to sling guns on their back as a condition of life. No bullet-proof vests are necessary for the ride in to work. Why bother to live in Israel, when you can be a perfectly good Jew in Monsey or Baltimore?
We Jews are fond of ascribing every minor setback to Divine Providence. It's bashert that the lasagna burnt; it's bashert that I missed my connecting flight. But to quote my friend and neighbor Rav Yitchak Rubinstein: how is it conceivable that the same Gcd who is invested in a ripped fingernail or a fallen hem is not involved in the most significant event in 2,000 years of Jewish history - the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Israel?
As Baltimore Rabbi Moshe Hauer has reiterated, the future of the Jewish people is being decided here, in Israel, and not in America. To live oblivious to this truth is to live as one asleep. Zionism - Jewish nationalism - can no longer be dismissed with pious suspicion or outright contempt; it is the beginnings of the ultimate geulah (redemption).
It's all about raising your consciousness. It's about being aware, not only of the things going on around you, but of their portent. Like me with the gun, none of us can afford to slumber. Yet so many people go through life in a trance, studiously ignoring Elijah's gentle tug on our shoulder. For those fortunate few who get it, Zionism is the wake up call to Jewish Identity.
And the beginnings of Jewish Nationalism is Jewish Self-Defense. So I will carry my gun, not to kill, but to be allowed to build. I will do everything in my power to contribute to the great and holy enterprise of strengthening our hold upon this Land. I will carry my Uzi. I will do shmirah. And I will cover your shmirot until you get here.
Good Shabbos from the Gush Etzion, where we are living your dreams,