By: Eli Novick  | 

I Didn’t Draft

I didn’t draft, and I feel bad about it. I could have, though I probably shouldn’t have, but I still feel bad about it. Let’s back up.

At the end of my first year of yeshiva in Israel, I was fully ready to never step foot in Galus again. I begrudgingly flew home wearing Blundstone's, a small knitted kippah, and long, thick tzitzis with strings of techeles draping down my legs. A couple of nights after that I sat down with my parents to break the news that I was making aliya and drafting into the IDF. I told them I didn’t feel I had a place in America, that I wanted to raise my kids in Israel, and that if I’m going to benefit from the country I need to first give back by serving in the army. I asked for their blessing and help with the paperwork. They were nervous, but not shocked. After all, they had raised me as a Zionist, sent me to Zionist schools my whole life, and marched with me at the Israeli Day Parade every June. They told me that even though it would be hard for them, they would support my decision to do what I think is right.

After a couple of weeks, the idealism began to fade and I became a bit more grounded. I realized that for several reasons I won’t get into now, it made more sense to spend the next several years in America near my family earning a degree. So after a second year of learning in Israel, I began my first semester at YU. And it was the right decision for me.

Then October 7th happened. Then I had friends who were sent to fight in Gaza. Then chayalim were killed in Gaza. Then chayalim I knew were killed in Gaza. Then I had to take my statistics final. And then I’m sitting in Furst Hall trying to work out the difference between a z-test and a t-test when the question “What if?” begins bubbling up in my mind. What if I had chosen differently at the end of Shana Aleph? I could be wearing green right now, in Gaza, defending Am Yisrael. I could have been, but I’m not. Because I chose not to draft, now I’m here. And I feel really, really bad about it.

Now, I still believe that the right decision for me was not to draft. I’ve reviewed my decision dozens of times in my head since the war broke out and I know I did the right thing. In life, you should do the right thing, even if it feels bad. 

But this works both ways. You should feel bad even if you’re doing the right thing.

When faced with big decisions, the choice is rarely between absolute right and absolute wrong. Situations are complex and nuanced, and both sides (usually) have merit. Decisions aren’t about discarding the invalid option but rather about picking the side that weighs heavier on the scale, even if the other side is also heavy. This means that even when you choose to do the right thing, you still can, and should, consider what you sacrificed by not picking the other side.

When I was in high school, a friend a couple of years my senior was deciding whether or not to draft into the IDF. When I asked him at the time about it, he said that he was scared, but as Moshe tells Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven “הַאַחֵיכֶם יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה וְאַתֶּם תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה” — “Will your brothers go to war while you just sit here?” (Bamidbar 32:6). He eventually decided to draft. And even though I didn’t, I still hear Moshe’s words ringing in my ears each morning as I wake up and hear about the next chayal who was killed. Just because I rightfully decided against drafting, it doesn’t mean I didn’t sacrifice an important value along the way. There is truth to my feeling bad about sitting in America while my brothers are out fighting, and dying, in war.

I don’t feel guilty. Guilt can be debilitating if not managed properly, and it can convince a person that he or she has done something wrong. What I am describing is a lighter kind of feeling bad, one that causes me to doubt myself, instead of attacking myself. And I invite this doubt — this uncomfortable doubt, into my heart, acknowledging its presence and allowing it to simply be. I do this because I know that sacrifice is a part of life. Sometimes we need to choose to give up valuable things in order to do other valuable things. We need to recognize that the alternative, the thing that we’re giving up, is virtuous, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. 

Understanding how to feel bad about doing the right thing has been one of my biggest coping mechanisms during these past several months. It has taught me that these uneasy feelings do not mean that I am a bad person, but rather that I am a sensitive person who has complex and nuanced values and who sometimes needs to prioritize some of them over others, as painful as it is. Recognizing this has helped me not get weighed down by what I didn’t choose, and has instead freed me to make the most of what I did. Right now I am not in the army. Right now I am in YU. That was my choice and it was the right choice. I don’t ask “What if?” Instead, I ask “What now?”


Photo Caption: A bunch of my friends in the army. Not pictured: me.

Photo Credit: Eli Novick