Idan Ben-Yitschak knew he wanted to do something unique after high school.
After spending his childhood in Israel and his adolescence in Bayside, he decided he would take a step to solidify his Israeli identity. In August of 2013, he relocated back to Israel to enlist as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.
“I’ve always been conflicted if I was Israeli or American,” he said. “I grew up in both places. I have friends from both places. The one way to solidify your Israeli identity was to serve in the military.”
In April, Idan will join his father and grandfather to talk about their Israeli military experiences across three generations. They are scheduled to be the guest speakers at a local event commemorating Yom HaZikaron: Israel’s Day of Remembrance. The day honors veterans and fallen personnel from the IDF, Israeli security services and victims of terrorist activities.
The ceremony is set for 6 p.m. on April 18 at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Boulevard in Whitefish Bay.
Idan, who served about four years in a field intelligence unit, joined as a “lone soldier” from the United States. Lone soldiers in Israel are those without immediate family in-country.
He took the commander course and officer courses, spending the last year and a half of his service training new recruits, then serving with them on the border.
At the upcoming event, Idan said he plans to talk about how his experience as a lone soldier from the United States compares to that of the soldiers who grew up in Israel.
“When I got in uniform and went on the bus to the base for the first time on the first day, everyone is shocked, but I realized that I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself 100 percent into,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Bayside, his father Ophir was worried. His son was overseas in the military, following in his footsteps. Ophir himself returned to Israel after his high school years in the United States to serve in Israel’s Navy.
Although he was concerned, Ophir said he was also proud of his son’s decision to serve. The experience, he said, also helped him connect with his own Israeli identity.
“We got to feel as if we were part of the Israeli people in worrying about him and thinking about him,” Ophir said. “Every time I worried about my son, I said to myself, ‘There’s another … 30,000 parents just like me who are, at this particular moment, worried about their son. And I am one of them.’”
During his own time in the IDF, which took place between 1984 and 1987, Ophir said he was a radio man on a missile ship. The service fell toward the end of the first war between Israel and Lebanon, and Ophir said he helped protect Israel from terrorist activities. At the Yom HaZikaron commemoration ceremony, he said he plans to talk about the context of his service and what made it meaningful.
“Whether it’s in the military or outside of the military in some other capacity, even if it’s in the U.S., I think each and every Jewish person around the world should take a small role in taking care of this one little piece of land that we have,” he said.
Ophir’s father and Idan’s grandfather, Elisha, said he is filled with pride as he thinks about his family’s military service in his native land.
Elisha said he put in three years of active service before spending 40 years in the IDF’s reserves. During his service, Elisha lost his friend Ran Drori, a man he befriended while training to be a paratrooper.
Drori died from the accidental explosion of a hand grenade during a training exercise, he said — an incident that also injured Elisha’s knee and put him in the hospital for three months.
After his recovery, Elisha joined an intelligence unit. His service spanned both the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
For Elisha, Yom Hazikaron is a time to remember the sacrifices people make in his homeland, including his fallen friends.
“Everybody is carrying a very sad soul on that day,” he said. “Everyone. There is no one can that escape it.”
At the April 18 event, Elisha said he plans to talk about his time in the service and the loss of his friend.
Keren Weisshaus, an Israeli emissary based at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation through the Jewish Agency for Israel, said this year marks the 70th Yom HaZikaron for Israel. She said the Ben-Yitschak family was selected as the guest speakers for this year’s event to highlight the theme “l’dor vador” or “generation to generation.”
“Every new Israeli generation is called to protect and serve their country,” Weisshaus said. “Every generation pays the price of Israel’s independence.”
The state of Israel takes the Remembrance Day seriously, she said. Although the day is often viewed as secular, not religious, she said it feels sacred.
“The one thing that Israel as a society can do is to commit to follow, commemorate and really remember those who gave their life for Israel’s existence,” she said.
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How to go
Yom HaZikaron: Israel’s Day of Remembrance
What: This day honors veterans and fallen personnel from the Israel Defense Forces, Israeli security services and victims of terrorist activities.
When: 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18.
Where: Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Boulevard in Whitefish Bay.
How to watch:
Can’t make it in person? See it live at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Facebook page: Facebook.com/JewishMilwaukee