I have this thing for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF); when I see them my heart melts away.
I see these good looking men and women, in their military fatigue, all so good looking soldiers and they are all JEWISH, making up the Israeli Defense Forces and I feel safe.
I too was once a soldier in the IDF. I served a whole two years in the armored forces. However, then I did not understand the meaning of Jews having an army and not just an army, one of the best in the world.
When I matriculated high school I had a choice, to either have a long four month vacation or go to the military right away. I chose to get my draft in order at once and by early September, two months after graduating high school, I was wearing a military uniform. For me the two years of compulsory military service was a life journey on many levels.
At the freshman training camp I learned discipline, not the kind my mother applied at home. I learned to be responsible for my fellow soldier women. In the long camp barrack, which was left by the British when they ended their Mandate in the Land of Israel in 1948, 40 young Jewish girls lived for three months together. Each morning we had to prepare the room for inspection and if there was one bed out of order, we all paid, we were all punished. I therefore, treated all beds as my own bed and gave a hand to any fellow soldier who appeared to have hard time juggling our tough military schedule.
I discovered I had social and leadership skills I never knew of before and I learned to be independent, to manage my life away from home and without the watching eye of a parents.
Of course I learned to shoot a rifle. At that time girls trained to shoot a Czech made rifle, the rifles the Czechoslovakian government gave the Haganah when they fought in the War of Independence. Only one time we went to the shooting range to practice the use of an Uzi. What fun that was. And I learned to crawl under barbwire and jump from high walls, and go on night excursion and learned how to act if the enemy attacks us at night. Serious stuff.
I excelled in leadership and since I was an athlete I was a human package ready to become an instructor in the freshwomen camp. At the end of fresh training I was called to the office of the camp commander. The pulsation of my heart was fast. I thought that my often mischievous behavior got me in trouble, real trouble. It did not. The camp commander explained to me that my human qualities were most suitable to go thorough instructors’ training course and then join her staff. This military career offer was an honor I did not understand nor appreciated; I reused, based on some insignificant back problems and got myself dismissed from becoming an instructor, which, to this day I regret.
I was transferred to the armored forced headquarters in the south, not too far from Gaza. I worked as an office manager for four officers and lived on base. It was tedious work of long hours with hardly any reward. It was not easy for a young 18 year old. I missed home, I missed fun and I missed my bed.
The South border with Egypt and the north border with Syria were at active war. From Egypt the Fedayeen kept on infiltrating into Israel and on the north, from the Golan Height the Syrians were gunning at the Jordan valley Jewish settlements constantly. But I did not pay much attention to it as, that was daily life in Israel, Israel’s reality.
Once in a while I was assigned to night duty at the War Room, from where the armored forces brass command a war. On one of those duty nights, in 1966, the Israeli air force got into altercation with the Syrian air force; I did not get to sleep all night and the tension was excruciating. Early that morning the camp was humming with military brass. War was in the air. I was finally let off duty. My bosses came towards me to find out more about the night’s events. I was too tired to talk too overwhelmed. So when they asked where I was going, I told them to fetch my tank as war is imminent. They looked at me as if I lost my mind. They wanted a scoop, I wanted to run away. That was the first time I was scared, I was scared at what was coming.
Military life went on. It was a school like none other. It was a two years of preparation for life, real life.
I was promoted to Corporal, and was selected to be part of a unit that participated in what was called “four days walk” parade that culminated in a parade in Jerusalem and in which all the army’s arms participated. The one month training that lead to the four days parade was the best time I had in the military. It installed in me deep pride of my nation and country I have never had before.
Two years in the military were long two years. Toward its end I no longer could tolerate living on camp hours away from my home. I applied and finally got a transfer to a base near home, Haifa. I was assigned to an office where I and another fellow lady soldier were in charge of over 1000 armored forces reserve men.
As you may know, the Israeli military is mostly relying on its reserve forces. We were in charge of the reserve duty call up of all these men and were to make sure that their civilian life is disrupted the least possible. That is the policy so Israel’s economy is not disrupted. If you take many men out of their work, their farms and businesses the flow of life in the country is greatly affected. That is why Israel cannot afford long wars.
All that changed when we had to call these men for duty at the eruption of the 1967 war.
“My” soldiers fought on the Syrian border and conquered the Golan Heights. Many came back in body bags. I was devastates; I was heartbroken but I was also proud of the men, whom, only few days before I knew by name and file; I knew what they did for living and how many children they had. One of them was even my boyfriend for a while.
The Six Day ended and my short lived military career ended with it too.
I was released with the mark: “a good soldier but not very disciplined (mischievous?)”. For me it meant, I kept my character but gave my best to the military.
Years later I understand what I did for two years in the military; I helped, in my own little way, to build the army the State of Israel is so proud of, the one that defends our Homeland and all Jews.
So when I see The Israeli Military brass in military fatigue we never dreamt of having in 1967, my heart melts away.
I only regret that I did not know then what I know now; as if I did, I probably would have chosen the career the commander of the fresh training camp offered to me and, in all likelihood, would have remained in permanent military forces service, as full a time life career. Oh’ well, what was done cannot be undone, but Israeli soldier I was.