OCTOBER 5, 2017 – PARDES HANNA KARKUR, ISRAEL – Where am I? Who am I? How did I get here? Am I dreaming? Am I dead? Or maybe I’m simply awake?
Before me is a vision: Rows of hundreds of young, proud Jews stand at attention in unblemished army fatigues, circling a spiral concrete stage while a grizzled old decorated general stands before them confidently addressing them in Hebrew. I don’t understand a word. I don’t have to ….
It’s the beret ceremony for the Nahal Brigade – Israel’s legendary infantry forces.
I scan the circular rows of green desperately trying to spot my 19-year-old son, but the genetic and age similarities make it a near impossible task – like trying to identify a single blade of grass on a football field. My wife and I frantically search and search … but it’s just doppelgangers standing next to doppelgangers … until I finally hear his name.
“Corporal Miles Rubin!” Suddenly, my son steps out from the green blur and approaches the general. He is handed his beret, a symbol that he’s completed the strenuous, Israel Defense Forces basic training. He is now an official Israeli soldier ready to serve the Jewish people.
I get chills, tears, seemingly every emotion pours through. I am no longer me witnessing this, but somehow, my grandfather, my great grandfather, as if we are a single soul all beaming proudly at Miles’ accomplishment and our people’s survival. I’m my great aunt lined up about to enter the “showers” of Auschwitz. My distant cousin screams from another line for me to let go of the baby. “Just let go of the baby! And you will live!” She wouldn’t let go. But today, she and that child live and smile from some other dimension that I don’t fully understand … and Corporal Miles Rubin walks back into the blades of grass and places the beret on his head. My son is the link in the chain, a link forged of iron!
How did he get here? How did I get here? How did the Jewish people get here?
Three years earlier, Santa Clarita, Calif.
Every parent wants their kids to grow up in the best neighborhoods and attend the best schools. As a Jew, this is not a decision but an innate calling. We moved to the very northern fringe of Los Angeles County to get ours: the valley behind the “Valley.”
Drawn by inflated school district test scores, bright white vinyl wood-grain fences, and manmade lakes – complete with romantic, Venice-style walking bridges draped over the Kodachrome-esqe, blue water – it seemed like paradise. That is, until you moved into it.
After a year, the illusion was coming apart. I began to yearn for splinters from real wood fences, a real, toxic, blue-algae plume floating on top of one of those kidney-shaped, carved-out ponds … anything that seemed authentic. The whole damn thing was so FAKE. And my kids knew it. By the time Miles entered high school, the illusion of happiness that Santa Clarita promised had fully shattered.
Miles also was looking for something real … but for a 15-year-old American boy who’s not into sports, there are not a lot of choices in a vinyl world. Just endless boredom, mischief, anger, and weed. And as the partying got stronger, the grades got weaker until there were no grades at all. Seemingly, nothing could break him out of this suburban teenage spiral.
I was losing him, my wife was losing him, the world was losing him, and when one night he didn’t come home, I prayed. Real hard.
Miles eventually did come home, but the next two years proved even rougher.
You don’t know when or how God answers your prayers. In an instant gratification world, you want to believe in a Hollywood turnaround, but life is a lot messier than a movie. The concept of time does not apply to prayers. God doesn’t have a watch. Prayers are answered when they need to be answered.
About 12,000 hours of video game-playing later, my son took off his headset, turned off his computer, stood up from the living room couch, and announced to the family that he had decided to join the Israel Defense Forces.
Miles would have to somehow obtain his Israeli citizenship, travel across the world alone to a foreign country, live on a kibbutz for six months to be fully immersed in Hebrew (the IDF doesn’t bark out orders in English), pass a series of mental and physical tests, enter the IDF’s basic training, and then enter Special Forces training. How will this kid ever be able to do this?
The IDF ceremony concludes as the new soldiers proudly stroll down toward their families. Miles approaches us, and an overwhelming joy sweeps over me. The past, present, and future exist all at once. He is Joshua, a young King David, a Maccabee, a resistance fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto, Moshe Dayan … and now as he hugs me, Miles Rubin.
My prayer was answered.
Scott Rubin writes from Los Angeles.