His dark, Mediterranean skin, deep-set black eyes and freshly shorn skull are renowned characteristics of our bronze protector. Her long, chocolate curls, set against a soft olive complexion, turn heads and make boys wonder. Their bodies - chiseled, firm and tanned from long days spent in the harsh Judean sun - inspire envy and admiration.

The iconic image of the Israeli soldier is one that instills pride in some while evoking great fear, and perhaps even anger, in others. The soldiers walk with honor and privilege, conscious with each step of the tremendous burden of their birthright.

The premature lines, forever etched in their young faces, belie their ages. Behind the staunch, fierce demeanor lies a deeply embedded sense of self-awareness. Under constant attack, Israeli society relies on the strength and determination of its soldiers to protect it. At 18, Israeli youth are immediately enrolled in the Israeli Defense Forces and are at the mercy of their superior commanders. Their service may range from serving on the front lines to battling terrorists in house-to-house guerrilla warfare.

As an American, it is overwhelming to imagine being forced into combat at such a young and vulnerable age. But what is far more saddening and disturbing is the absolute necessity of this mandatory system, as to have it any other way would be national suicide. The jihadist's belief is propelled by a conviction that he is fulfilling Allah's will. A group bent on murder and terrorism founded in religious conviction is an almost invincible enemy, especially as they will act with any means necessary. Israel must remain vigilant to counteract this.

On their long hours of patrol, the soldiers must constantly grapple with questions that can never be answered. The ever present "Why?" gnaws at the core of their very being. A question such as "Why won't they let us live in peace?" is deep and all-encompassing. These students' Zionistic impulses tell them, "It is good to die for your country." This mantra, coined by Israeli war hero Joseph Trumpeldor, leads to more questions than it answers. For some, this patriotic mission is inspiring and moving. Others are disturbed by the inherent responsibility this sentiment imposes. Still, as these thoughts race through their minds, their bodies march forward, purposefully.

As these soldiers enter hostile territories, they do so with the realization that each corner turned may be their last. Each bullet nearly missed makes their adrenaline surge and quickens their heartbeats. The flash of a muzzle means it is go time, and with it a horrific awareness that this is for real, this is happening. And then, a comrade is shot. Recognition of death radiates from his face, and he whispers his last words, "Shema Yisrael." He musters his last bit of strength to recite this prayer, affirming his faith in God and his destiny. The sight of a fallen soldier instills ferocious anger and pain in his brothers in arms. Their questions are unrelenting. Another family forever changed. Another precious life lost.

Lounging in this coffee shop, enjoying the clichéd yet soothing voice of James Blunt, I feel selfish and remorseful. I am overcome with a sensation of helplessness and inertia as my brothers and sisters risk their lives daily while I am merely "chilling" in the deep, leather chairs of Starbucks. Perhaps I am writing this in an unconscious attempt to alleviate my own ambivalence. Perhaps I seek to finally find answers to the questions I struggle with. Why was I born in America instead of Israel? What is the role of the American Jew vis-à-vis Israel? What are my personal responsibilities to Israel? My tribute to the Israeli soldier is offered with great admiration and respect. But for the chance of birth, I would have been among them. One thing I know for certain: They are my brothers and sisters, and I am proud.

© Copyright 2008 The Diamondback www.diamondbackonline.com, Posted: 5/8/08

Continued, next page; our guest speakcer Itamar Kremer