“Where do you want to be buried?”
This is not a question that mothers are supposed to need to ask their children. Over the past nine years, as an active reservist, I was always aware of the possibility that Israel would find itself at war and that we would be called upon. But even in my darkest nightmares, I could never have fathomed the events of October 7.
Hamas brutally murdered over a thousand civilians, including women, children, elderly—even infants. There were heart-wrenching videos of beaten and bloodied kidnapped Israeli teenagers being led around the streets by their hair. The victims all had only one thing in common: they were, or were believed to be, Israeli.
These actions demanded a response. We, the soldiers of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], are the ones who must respond, and I am among them. As a result, last week at JFK airport, my mother, through her tears, asked me if I would want to be buried in America or Israel as we said goodbye to each other before my flight to Israel to join my unit.
Despite our pain, our spirits are high, and our collective conviction in the righteousness of the path before us is strong. Nevertheless, the distance between civilian and soldier is great, and the transition is difficult, physically and mentally.
Drilling in full gear in the punishing Middle Eastern sun is harder at 35 than it was at 25. Many of my friends have wives and children at home—one will, with near certainty, miss the birth of his first child. A few weeks ago, I was pitching investors at a conference, debating the merits of our business model. This week, I debated with my fellow soldiers if it would be better to wear our armored vest higher or lower, knowing that field surgery can’t address a stomach wound.
Last weekend I celebrated my brother’s wedding. Russell and his bride Jenna were married wrapped in the flag of Israel, a flag I now carry in my military vest as we prepare for a ground incursion into Gaza. That flag, which last Saturday was the backdrop to a scene of love and unity, now serves as a symbol of strength and resilience in the face of terror.
The flag in my vest is not the only thing I carry. I carry hope that if we are able to remove Hamas from power, Israel will become a safer place. I carry belief in the justness of our cause. I carry fear—for my friends’ lives and for my own. Before I left, my best friend reminded me that bravery is to act without fear, whereas courage is to act in spite of it. In the small country that is Israel, everybody knows someone who was injured or killed on October 7. The threat that Hamas poses to Israel is both real and personal, and so action is the only choice.
I thought back to our reserves training last year when soldiers from our company argued for 15 minutes about whether it was right or wrong to shoot a woman who produced a knife at a checkpoint and began to threaten soldiers. And then I thought about Hamas, who massacred the participants of a peaceful music festival.
They carried with them maps not only of military bases, but of kibbutzim, with instruction guides on how to kidnap and torture civilians. In this context, it becomes difficult to view those who immediately regurgitate the rhetoric of a murderous terror regime, and who cite “Israel’s disproportionate response” as anything other than enablers. It is their rhetoric, and in some cases, financial aid, that has allowed Hamas to continue to exist, at great cost to Israel and the people of Gaza.
While we have been deeply wounded by our losses, we are not strangers to pain. In 1947, Israeli poet Natan Alterman wrote that, “The state will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter.” Throughout our history, we have paid a heavy price for the right to live within our homeland, and that fight continues to this day. Israel is united behind the IDF, and we will be victorious. As Golda Meir once said, “We have a secret weapon in our fight: we have no place else to go.”
Corey Feldman is currently working for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).