As I write, I imagine my friend Joshua Sider in full combat gear, running time trials up and down Israeli sand dunes. If this last year had gone differently — had Sider not postponed his admission to the University of Michigan; had he not instead gone to Jerusalem for an experiential education in the Arab-Israeli conflict; had Sider not spoken with Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, Arab Zionists, Jewish anti-Zionists, etc.; had he not visited the death camps and concentrations camps in Eastern Europe — perhaps Sider would be moving into Alice Lloyd or East Quad Residence Hall this week. Instead, on Aug. 9, Sider’s airplane kicked its wheels up from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and he began his three-or-more year bid in the Israeli Defense Force.
The University accepted Sider days before Christmas 2011, like they accepted me and most of our other friends from suburban Detroit — Huntington Woods and West Bloomfield, Michigan, to be specific. But Sider decided not to enroll in classes for the Fall 2012 semester, and, in July of this year, Sider officially declined his offer to Michigan.
The University, as well as friends, family and foes, were asking: Why? Why do this? Why go to war in far off land, for a country that you aren’t a citizen of, in a bloody, volatile conflict that has little chance of being (peacefully) resolved soon (or ever)? His grandparents asked him if it was because he worried about not having friends in college. “Don’t you like it in Ann Arbor?” they wondered.
Unlike a few other Americans I know that have joined the IDF, Sider doesn’t seem motivated by prejudice against Arabs or hunger for bloody vengeance. Sider said his decision rested on logic, thoughtful deliberation and his principles. As I alluded to earlier, Sider’s Arab-Israeli conflict program introduced him to a diverse range of perspectives. Sider witnessed firsthand the state of things in Israel, and the condition of Jewish people in Israel, Europe and parts of Africa. He learned more about the history of his people and the Jewish state than could be learned in a book.
So when Sider returned for the holidays last winter, he returned resolute. He had carefully prepared his reasons, anticipating his parents’ critical response and tears. When I spoke with him, Sider told me his reasons for joining the IDF. In my friendly contrarian way, I challenged his arguments, but in the end, we agreed that his decision made sense for him. Where I come from, Sider is a rebel, an independent thinker and an anomaly. Summer-camp-attending, backyard-basketball-playing, college-education-funded upper-middle-class-Jewish kids like us don’t fight in wars. My mom wouldn’t even let me play full-contact football growing up. Kids like us are supposed to watch Woody Allen films and joke about being our high school’s freestyle fleeing champions. If the draft returned, we’re supposed to run away to Canada or exempt ourselves with our college-student status. But, alas, Sider independently sought out military service.
I believe Sider’s story can be useful and helpful for anyone, but especially college-age people. At a time when so many of us are lost in one way or another, Sider has already confidently chosen his life’s direction. He seems sure of who he is and what he’s doing. On the other hand, what the fuck am I doing? The direction of my life’s next four years are anybody’s guess. Writer? Surgeon? College-educated hermit? Who the fuck knows? Sider is pretty much set. He’ll be an Israel solider with sturdy principles. Unlike skeptical and contrarian me, who spends more time challenging his principles than acting upon them, Sider will be championing a cause in which he believes. I applaud him for that. Say what you will about the Arab-Israeli conflict; our opinions of it are irrelevant to the beauty and greatness of Sider’s tale.
So what’s the moral? Maybe Sider’s story is a reminder of how much one person is willing to do, and can do, for his cause. Maybe it’s to dissuade our fear of risks, threats and obstacles in pursuing our goals. Maybe. I don’t know. But it definitely gives me a sense of urgency about establishing my life objectives, passions, etc. If I am indeed “lost,” in an adolescent, whole-life-ahead-of-me, emotional teenager kind of way, then maybe remembering Sider’s ongoing adventure pushes me toward being “found;” that is, toward finding purpose and direction.
This has been a friendly salute to Joshua Sider, born and raised in Huntington Woods, Mich., now training and fighting in Undisclosed Location, Israel.
Good luck, brother.
Zak Witus is an LSA sophomore.