The words flashed on my phone. I stared at them in disbelief. My friend Sean was dead.
Just around my 18th birthday, I was drafted into the IDF. My base, Michve Elon, was in northern Israel. My friend Sean and I shared a room as well as our philosophies, life views, and histories.
The transition into the army was tough. Waking up at 4AM. Enduring curses, commands, and shouts. Standing at attention in the freezing, cold rain. Doing push-ups in the mud. Reality kicked in. During those grueling moments, your buddies make it bearable. The bond and camaraderie between soldiers in the IDF is deep and long lasting.
After three months at “Michve”, I was drafted into a field-intelligence unit. Training was hard and I was miserable. I considered faking illness, requesting a transfer to another unit, and even running away from Israel. After a really punishing weeklong training mission in the desert; minimal sleep, little food and water, and long hikes– I discovered that I had the strength to complete my combat training. Soon after, I was made radio-operator of my platoon, an honor granted only to the most trusted soldiers.
Upon completion of training, my unit was sent to Hebron to defend and protect the Israeli and Arab residents living there. While I was in the middle of a stressful twenty-four hour surveillance mission, with food scarce and sleep nonexistent, I realized how much I had to be thankful for. But why put myself through all of this, more so voluntarily?
One of my proudest moments occurred in the middle of the night in November 2012, when my group thwarted a terrorist attack, thereby saving many innocent lives. Then and there, I felt that there is a greater purpose and reason for the human existence and resolved to pursue goodness.
People often ask why individuals like Sean and myself leave everything behind and enlist. The answer is simple: We are Zionists.
The belief that Israel is the only Jewish homeland is not only a philosophy we hold deep in our hearts, rather a lifestyle we live by. We choose to fight for Zionism because we know Israel is our only true home. Leaving the comforts of America and putting our lives “on hold” are just minor sacrifices we undertake in order to fight for Zionism. As Zionists, we are prepared to do anything on behalf of our precious homeland.
Sean Carmeli was a happy and selfless human being; moreover he was a true Zionist. During high school, he made “aliyah” (the ascent to the Holy Land) with his family and settled in Ra’anana. Following Sean’s high school graduation, his parents moved back to Texas.
Sean decided to stay in Israel without his parents and join the army. Like myself, he was a “chayal boded,” or lone-soldier who serves in the military without having parents or close family in Israel.
On July 19th 2014, Sean Carmeli lost his life defending the state of Israel during Operation Protective Edge. My dear friend was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Gaza. He was one of sixty-five soldiers who died defending their country. He died a brave hero and my life would be forever changed because of him.
We fight for Zionism to protect our home.
Ariel Zohar is a ZOA fellow and serves on the Executive-Board of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Loyola Marymount University where he promotes the truth about Zionism and Israel.