Lone Soldier Stories

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Inbal Assaf, Bay Area, CA, Tank Instructor

Lone_Soldier_Stories_36_2907954903Joining the IDF was always an obvious choice for me. Growing up in an Israeli family where both of my parents have served in the Israeli army in challenging positions, I was raised to believed in the importance of serving my country and the influence that the army has on a soldier’s personal maturity and world view. After moving to the U.S in an early age, I always knew that one day I will return to Israel and serve in the IDF.

I moved back to Israel in August 2008 with Garin Tzabar, and lived in a kibbutz with a “family” of incredible friends who shared my strong love for Israel and the desire to do our part in keeping our home country safe.

On December 2008 I was drafted to Shiryon (the Armored Corps) and started a 4 months course to eventually become a Madrichat Shiryon (tank instructor).
I remember being told time and again that the army experience is very difficult, but I didn’t fully understand what “hard” meant until I joined the course. Freezing in the desert winter nights on 2 hours of guard duty, scrubbing dirty kitchen floors in the base’s dining halls, loading and unloading and again reloading trucks with heavy machinery, wiping grease and oil off my face after a week of not showering, cleaning and fixing every possible part in a tank, and shoving my way into a bus so full that there’s barely enough space to sit in the aisle- knowing that more than 6 hours will pass before I will get home. And in addition to all of these hardships, I also had to work with a new company of girls that share a culture which is so much more assertive and loud than the American culture that I was used to before joining the army. It was often hard to remember why did I make the decision to come in the first place. Why did I leave my family and friends back in the US, refused the potential of going to a good college and living the fun and relatively carefree life of an American college student?

The answers were revealed to me on the weekends home away from the army, when I would sit with my Garin friends and reflect on what I achieved each week. Where else in the world would I shoot a machine gun, drive a tank, carry a friend in her hardest hour, and teach hundreds of young soldiers about the greatest tank in the world? That is why I joined the Israeli army.

My proudest moments as a tank instructor were meeting enthusiastic officers in my base or on operational borders, knowing that I was the one who taught them as incoming privates in basic training, then again in Tank Commanders’ Course, and finally in the end of officers’ course as they become the future leaders of the Israeli Armored Corps. It was such a great responsibility, and it was worth to me more than any college degree or internship.

Now that I am released from the army, I can proudly say that joining the IDF was the wisest decision I have made, especially with Garin Tzabar that introduced me to a family of friends in Israel who will share this experience with me forever.

Katie Freeman, Los Angeles, CA, Oketz

Lone_Soldier_Stories_34_2635312044 (1)Katie Freeman was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Katie was always active in her local Jewish community, from NFTY to her temple’s (Temple Judea) youth group. She learned in school and from her family Jewish and Zionist values, and as she grew up came to believe that it was important for her to protect and defend the people and places she cared about. Katie attended the New Community Jewish High School and immediately after graduation, moved to Israel. Katie requested to be drafted into a combat unit, and succeeded in making into Oketz, the Special Forces canine unit of the IDF.

Two years into her service, Katie was awarded the Medal of Honor for life saving, when she and her four-legged partner Bondo, found a bomb planted in her unit’s path while on a mission in Nablus.

Nadav Weinberg, Shaker Heights, Ohio, Nahal Orev

Lone_Soldier_Stories_30_1567511597When you are “in the moment” of month after month after month of training (18 months in all), you quickly lose track of why you are here. When you haven’t showered in days, crawled over boulders and cacti, and marched all night, you begin to ask yourself, why am I here? Why I am not in a comfy New York City office, or at a bar with friends? WHY on earth did I think this was a good idea?! This question ran through my mind on repeat, sometimes pushing itself to the forefront of my thoughts a hundred times in a day.

Week after week after week I took the bus back to base, often fearful of what pain and suffering lay ahead. Saturday nights were always sleepless nights; I’d toss and turn, too nervous to sleep. Sunday morning I’d coast on auto pilot: uniform, gun, bus, train, base. Even when I gave myself eight hours to sleep, I never slept for more than five. Each bus ride I’d sit in my seat, looking down at my uniform and gun, repeating under my breath, this is what you wanted.

Day after day after day you were woken up by a commander screaming at you, “Two minutes dressed and outside!” You shiver in your tent, hearing the footsteps of soldiers running by, knowing that in just a few seconds, you too will be scampering around. Every soldier knows that feeling. Holding your sleeping bag tight, hoping your commander forgot. As you’re sprinting to formation, you can’t stop thinking, WHY? How is this going to make me a better soldier? Why did I sign up for this?

During Krav Maga and counter-terrorism exercises, you were holding pushups for 2, 5, even 10 minutes at a time. As you collapse to the ground, your arms no longer capable of holding your body’s weight, you’re thrust into a scenario where you have to survive five minutes against 23 men in a free-for-all. As you receive the first blow in your chest, the second from behind, and the third and fourth in perfect harmony from each side, WHY surfaces for a split second before you begin instinctual survival. How much more can my body take? Why did I do this?

I knew the answer all along: because without me, and my fellow soldiers, Israel does not exist. Because it is the right thing to do. Because if we don’t train harder than Hezbollah and Hamas, we lose. Because all of this training pushes your body to new limits, making you a better soldier and a better person. Because this is not for me, this is for our Jewish people. Because this is for the 6 million who are unable to fight back.

*You can read more stories about Nadav’s army experience at his great blog:   //nadavweinberg.blogspot.com/

Anonymous, Ojai, CA, Golani 12

Born in Israel, raised in America – two polar identities. I left Israel at only four months old. Growing up in California, I was always fascinated by the idea of being a soldier. My father’s stories from his days in the Golani Brigade only fueled my fantasies. On summer vacations spent in Israel, I remember as a child I’d always stare down the soldiers in envy and beg my parents to give the “ones with guns” a ride when I’d see them hitch-hiking. This itching desire to wear the sexy green uniform and live the army life never left me. On the morning of July 12, 2006, a timer began to tick towards the day I’d make those fantasies a reality.

I was traveling in northern Israel with a close group of friends when all hell broke loose. Waking up to a sky full of war planes/helicopters, streets closed down for tanks moving north, and rockets slamming into my home country. The Second-Lebanon War had begun. Those already in the army got the phone call and headed back to base, those of us that were still civilians made a pact to do our part and join up. My parents response was a definate no and their reasoning was too strong to question, I was one year away from receiving an American Citizenship and drafting at that time would of denied me of this privilege. Full of guilt I boarded my plane back to California and continued dreaming of the day I could call myself a soldier.

In 2008 the ball that never stopped rolling starting rolling really fast, my time had come. Through the help of Garin Tzabar, I connected with people with the same passion also living in California. These people became the best friends I have ever had, as we opened this new chapter in our lives together. In the summer of 2008 we moved in together on Kibbutz Hazorea and spent three amazing months of pre-army bonding/partying before the big date. Finally came November and my anticipation was met by a very angry Samal (Sergeant) telling me I was supposed to be off the bus five seconds ago. This was it, I was in. Welcome to Golani.

Training was a sicky sicky gnar gnar (Cali-lingo) experience, never to be forgotten. Mountains lost their scenic appeal, little pebbles lost their cuteness but after a full year of intensive training I finally became operational; I was truly satisfied.

I want to take a second to clear up a common rumour I ran into while researching the IDF before joining. The rumour goes like this, If you join the Gdud (Infantry Battalion) you will become the armies guard dog, see no action, stand around and do nothing for your entire service. One must join a Sayeret (Special Forces Unit) to have the real action-packed rambo movie experience. Clearing it up for all you future soldiers, this is not true. I’m not going to get into my personal experiences but I assure you, if it’s a rambo moment your looking for, your chances are equal if not better in the Gdud. Word of warning, I most definately over-romantizied the army experience prior to living it. The things one might see, do, and lose in reality are very difficult to deal with. Operating in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Northern Border, I would never call my service a waste; rather a collection of unforgettable memories, and a life changing experience impossible to regret. My pre-army expectations were met and exceeded. Now a civilian once again, I honestly miss my army days.

Yael Lewis, San Diego, CA, Madrichat Sport (Fitness and Sport Trainer)

Lone_Soldier_Stories_28_216918079Why did I come to Israel and join the army?

I have been asked this question about a million times while I have lived in Israel. I have many answers because I have so much love for this country and what it has given me… I’ll start with that my whole life prior to the army I had attended a Jewish school, counseled in an Israeli youth movement and grew up in a Zionist household. I would come to Israel on vacations with my family from time to time. Israel was always on my mind and there was always the thought to come to Israel to either join the army or do something in Israel. Being a Zionist Jew in the States and continuously teaching and speaking about Israel, saying “Next year in Jerusalem” every year at the Passover Seder seemed silly to me.

So on July 22, 2008 I made Aliyah with Garin Tzabar after attending a total of five weekend long seminars during my senior year in preparation for Israel and at the same time being pressured by all my school friends about applying to colleges and working on SAT scores.

I was a fitness trainer in the army, finished an intensive three month training course where my Hebrew improved the most in my opinion. The rest of my time in the army I served at Bach Nachal, a base where combat soldiers in the Nachal Brigade do their basic training. I spent my weekends with mygarin (family) onKibbutz Hazorea.

I have recently finished the army and I can say that it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I matured extremely quickly due to the great responsibility a young 18 year old is given in the army. I learned to do things alone and work with people. I changed a lot. I have become less uptight about life and have learned how to live in this country called Israel. In my opinion anyone that wants to live in this county must do the army. It is part of the Israeli mentality that teaches you in the end how to survive here. The Israeli mindset is much different than the American one. More pushy and complicated bureaucracy wise. The army let me understand that mindset and the reasoning behind it.

From doing the army, I met so many amazing and different people who are now my friends here in Israel.  My garin, who many of them now live in Israel, are my closest friends. Like Israelis have their circle of friends from school and what not, I now have my circle of friends here thanks to Garin Tzabar.

Being independent in Israel, jointing the army, facing all the difficult tasks in the army and having to work even when notified off guard (which happens ALL the time) broke me in.

I would not have wanted to do anything else besides what I did for the past two and a half years. Certainly not go to university like all of my friends back home who are going to start working and starting their real grown up life with no experience of the world or the diverse people in it.

I’m staying in Israel as long as the universe allows me to.

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