America saw a return to patriotism after the 9/11 tragedy that managed to raise enlistment rates in the military. But will the escalation of aggression in Israel stimulate the same response from American Jews?
As Sabbath comes to an end with the final prayers at Beth Jacob synagogue, young families enjoy a leisurely Saturday evening, socializing in the synagogue lobby while their children play in the empty parking lot. One of the young fathers, Ariel Buchwald, 34, is willing to go to Israel and fight. "I would want to defend us against the people who are attacking us."
Yehoshua Levine, who would not disclose his age, except to say that he is in his 20s, is also ready to fight, but he looks upon the conflict as something out of the ordinary. "The way that the Israelis fight isn't in a formal army setting. They are dealing with Palestinian terrorists who you just can't pick out and fight. Theoretically, if the army needed people, and I enlisted and went through all the training and steps, I could do that."
Levine's insight into the situation suggests he has devoted a lot of time to following the conflict. "The techniques and the morals that the people who are fighting in the Israeli army are totally misrepresented by the press and obviously by the United Nations as evidenced by the Jenin fact-finding mission. They never had any fact-finding mission to try to link up the Palestinian Authority with the terrorist attacks, and there's tons of documents and evidence that link them. This shows that they're obviously slanted in their view of the two sides. That's one of the reasons I would be willing to fight in the Israeli army, because they have such high morals and they teach their soldiers to try to avoid any civilian casualties when they can. For instance, what they called the 'Jenin massacre' obviously wasn't. They could have done air strikes like America did in Kabul, but they didn't. Instead, they went in on foot, and 23 Israeli soldiers ended up dying in order to avoid civilian casualties. That's definitely an army that I would be proud to fight in and be a part of, if they needed me."
When asked if he would be willing to fight, Yonah Weiss, 22, seems certain. "Sure. I would want to help the brothers and sisters, but mainly to help rid the world of terrorism and make peace on earth. I think we need a lot of help. Long strides await us to reach real peace."
David Mahpour, 18, says he would probably fight for Israel. "Why not? I think a lot about the situation over there. It's important. A person needs to fight for what they believe in, and that's what I believe in. If you don't believe in something, then there's no point. You have to have a goal in life. You have to have a hope for something. That's why all those people are still there, because they believe in something, and they still have a goal. They want to stay for what they fought for 40 years ago."
Shmuel Kellogg, 21, sounds as if he's ready to suit up immediately. "It's our homeland, and we learn in our holy Torah, we have to do anything that it takes to defend our land against people who threaten it."
At the SDSU Chabad House, pro-Israel sentiments also run strong. Robert Shaw, 39, is willing to fight. "Absolutely -- if my wife and five children would let me! It's our homeland for 3000 years, and I'm ready to help provide for security and safety for the rest of my brethren."
At Alpha Epsilon Pi (a Jewish fraternity), David Gurovich, 20, says he is willing to fight for Israel under certain conditions. "I moved from Ukraine to this country and I love America, but I won't tolerate terrorism -- especially after September 11. I support Israel, because I saw the way Palestinians reacted to 9/11, dancing in the streets. I see how other people in the Middle East are. It's just envy for this country, because they don't like capitalism. I would fight for America, but I'm not sure I would fight for Israel. But the big reason I support Israel -- not as a Jew, but as a person -- is because there is only one Jewish state. How many Arab states are there? Many. But for the Jews, that's their only place, and they can't go anywhere else, so that's why they're defending it with their lives."
Dan Lax, 20, doubts that he would fight for Israel. "I was never really brought up too religious. I would like to go to Israel sometime, but I haven't been there, and I don't feel like I would be willing to die for their cause."
Rahami Buckman, 18, plays an arcade game while discussing Israel. The clicking noises of the machine match the staccato cadence of his speech. "Right now, no. I wouldn't fight there. This war's been going on for, like, a thousand years, man, and it's like...at this point, it just goes back and forth. I don't feel that either country is wrong or right. Someone needs to step up and, like, take control and, like, negotiate the peace, and I don't think the U.S. has been doing a very good job of it. So I feel like there's no need [to fight], at least not right now. Maybe, in future years, if there's a need, and the Palestinians are oppressing the Jews, and the Arab nations decided to team up and go to war with Israel, it might be possible. But right now, no."
Tracy Marks, 19, works as a cashier at D.Z. Akin's restaurant. "I might possibly be willing to go. I think that I should go, but I don't know if I would be brave enough to go and risk my life."
Sabrina Wolfson, 25, has just finished a late dinner at D.Z. Akin's. "Yeah. I'd go. They won the war six years ago, so they should be able to keep the land."