My youngest son is still hiding out from the army.
Manny is not a left-wing activist. He is not even haredi. Some might call him “Artful Dodger”. He has always dodged what people thought of him. At the Tipat Chalav where babies get weighed, the doctor noticed he was skinny. I said, “Honestly, doesn’t he look strong?” And he was.
Fast-forward 12 years. Manny sat in the kitchen, read a chapter of the Bible and Ethics of the Fathers in Hebrew and translated it all into English–for example, “at 18, the wedding canopy”. He read the Code of Jewish Law. Then he read The Path of the Righteous, and so on. What boy does this?
Just before Rosh HaShanah his brother-in-law from the Golani Brigade offered to take him to Uman.
We thought, now something big will happen.
Well it did, but not what we thought.
In fact, nobody knows what happened in Uman, but Manny changed.
A short walk from our house in the Negev Desert is a yeshiva high school, and Manny enrolled. He slept at home, but the menahel said no, you must sleep at the yeshiva. Manny walked there with his blanket, and a few hours later returned and slept in his own bed.
The counselor, the teacher, and the menahel called. Manny said okay, and then slept in his own bed.
Somehow Manny got through four years of yeshiva without going. He did go out for walks in the desert, though. His rabbi spoke to him alone for five hours, but Manny stayed the same.
When the army recruited him, Manny’s commanders, one after another, came to our house. Right before Passover they arrived with a box of matzah and other items. They gave us a microwave oven, a clothes cabinet, and lots of canned food. Why? Manny was doing well, or something.
Still we got a sinking feeling, and thought we’d better tell the commanders: if Manny wants something, nothing can stop him. If he doesn’t want, nothing can make him do it. They can’t make him and even we can’t. No one knows in advance. He doesn’t talk; he just does it.
We gave them the key to Manny, and they didn’t pick up.
It had to happen sooner or later: The 28th of Tammuz happened to be the-Yismach-Moshe’s yahrtzeit. An ancestor of his. On that day, Manny fell asleep during guard duty and was ordered on base for Shabbat.
Manny left base anyway, on the 29th of Tammuz, which happened to be the Holy Rashi’s yahrtzeit. Another ancestor. How did he know the yahrzeits? He didn’t; we didn’t know either. There must have been a subconscious spiritual connection when hiking alone in the desert each night.
Manny called the base and said he’ll come back, but he didn’t. The commanders called five times a day. Manny eventually gave himself up and did time in jail.
He played shesh-besh with the other inmates and got some tips for next time.
Next time Manny sat in the back seat while the commander drove him to jail and inevitably braked at a traffic light, Manny ran all the way home.
Lesson: If people would just get married at 18, before joining the army (as it says in Ethics of the Fathers), we might have some peace and quiet around here.