In recent days, I have been feeling something that, unfortunately, is not always a popular sentiment — I am simply proud of our country’s young generation. These children, the generation raised on smartphones and screens, are foregoing their summer vacation plans — the beach, shopping and hanging out with friends — in favor of helping children in the bomb shelters in Ashdod, helping senior citizens, volunteering at hospitals, contributing to the public diplomacy campaign aimed at Diaspora Jews and volunteering to collect care packages for the soldiers on the front.
This generation that grew up in a world that venerates the individual over the community, proved at once that in times of trouble, it can be counted on and it will help. Children and teenagers, aged 10 to 18, have been planning their summer camp experiences for the last several months — looking forward to traveling the country and hiking with friends — and they were very disappointed when they were forced to cancel their plans because of the security situation. And yet, the children who belong to the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation immediately asked, “What can we do? How can we help?”
As chairman of the Israel Scouts and as an Israeli citizen, I was moved to tears when I saw hundreds of scouts among the thousands who came to pay their respects at the funeral of lone soldier Staff Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, who was killed on the battlefield in Gaza.
More than 200,000 young people belong to the various youth movements in Israel — Jewish movements, Arab movements, right-wing movements, left-wing movements, national movements, religious movements and secular ones. Despite the great diversity in their creeds, a code of values links them all together — the values of social activism and community service.
Over the past several days, the cynical public has been shown that it has whom to rely on. As their friends, only a couple of years older, are wearing military uniforms and defending the country, our youth is the army of the homefront. The “soldiers” of the youth movements took upon themselves a civilian role that is important and essential in bolstering the homefront and maintaining national strength. Wherever they are needed — there they are. In the bomb shelters, in the hospitals, with children, with seniors, with Holocaust survivors, with the disabled, they fight like lions to preserve unity, to keep people smiling and to boost morale.
And not just that. The challenges of modern warfare have spread to a new front — the war on international public opinion on social media. Those in my generation, who still have trouble figuring out how to post a clever status on Facebook, are left with no tools and no words in the face of the terrible propaganda war online. The “soldiers” of the youth movement have also volunteered on this front. The Israel Scouts, for example, set up a “command center” that operates 24 hours a day on Facebook and Twitter to assist with public diplomacy efforts. Instead of tanks, they fight with posts and comments, sitting in front of screens in the small room. They are Israel’s virtual Iron Dome.
During these difficult times, we can feel the solidarity among the citizens of Israel, and especially among the youth, who are finding common ground and volunteering to take on all missions at all times. They are becoming the glue of Israeli society, proving our strength and unity as a single nation facing the world.
Avraham Shapira, head of Hashomrim, the Jewish watchmen’s organization, famously said many years ago, “This is our youth? This is an embarrassment.” I say that we are blessed. If this is the generation that in a few short years will be wearing military uniforms, and the new leadership of Israel will be chosen from among them — well, friends, we can sleep peacefully.
Eli Ben Yosef is chairman of the Israel Scouts.