What Volunteering In The Israeli Army Taught Me
Israel is only one of a few countries in which military service is mandatory for both men and women, and service can last from 24 to 32 months. When I landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, I did not know that the military service was mandatory for women. But I would soon learn, as I was required to complete a volunteering program with the Israeli Defense Force for three weeks.
During this time, I was really impressed with the naturalness these young women held; women who were my age, but carried machine guns. Not only did I learn how not to be afraid of guns (which was kind of a “dive in the deep end” situation, since they were almost everywhere), but the young women I was lucky enough to meet taught me so much more about life, and are the best proof that wisdom and strength lies far beyond age and gender. Here’s what I learnt from them during my time in the Israeli army.
Get things done
You can guess how bad-ass they were by just entering the military. They sunbathe during their lunch break, their guns and maps next to them. When you would ask them how they feel about the military, they usually would just shrug their shoulders and say, “We don’t have a choice, but we will get it done.” And they did. They wouldn’t let the military define them; they would give their best with their given task and learned things most teenage girls (like me) wouldn’t even dream of. They knew it was important, even though hours of uniform sorting isn’t the exact definition of fun, but they gave it their all because they knew it was important.
Never stop dreaming
These girls were not merely soldiers. They were artists, models, designers, and so much more. With everyone I talked to, I got the opportunity to hear about their unique story. Like the pretty girl of Russian origin who got model offers, but wanted to work in the agriculture one day. Or the shy officer who had a passion for fashion, and is now a very successful designer and college student. Or even the girl who loves to travel and dreamed about one day visiting every country in the world. They didn’t let themselves be defined by the uniform, but constantly worked on their personal dreams whenever they finished their duties.
Live in the moment
One of the most memorable moments during my time in the army (one that still sticks with me today) occurred when one soldier told us during our showing of Tel Aviv how she and her friends would love to trade in their uniform and wear colorful clothes every day to celebrate not only the day itself, but life. I went to Israel following a gut feeling, and it is no secret that life in the country is not very easy as we heard about attacks quite often. The girls in the military knew about the risk that was embedded with moving to this country, yet their beliefs in what is right was strong enough to overcome this. They created their lives following their beliefs, their dreams and their passions.
Home is where the heart is
Many of the soldiers came from far away to start anew, and whenever I heard their stories I thought of the quote from T.S. Eliot: “Home is where one starts from.” Most were beginning a new life in Israel and found a new home, and you could feel how excited they were about it. They didn’t care if they had to wield a gun, complete exhausting exercises in the early morning or live at the military base five out of seven days, just to return on Monday morning in full fitting. I did not hear them complain once. On the contrary, they took pride in their work and it was not uncommon for some to continue into the military service after their mandatory time, because the women felt they could accomplish more on this path. They felt completely equal to the men in their units. They did not even talk once about gender inequality; they felt completely encouraged to pursue engineering, mathematical or scientific careers, and many of them did with help of the military.
There are many words to describe these amazing women who master their life in the most incredible way and defy odds on a daily basis, but the one that would stick out the most is energetic. They put so much energy into everything they do; so much that I felt I could even take some of it back home. They taught volunteers like myself to embrace life and live each moment to the fullest, to never regret following your heart and to always be open for new encounters. I am really grateful for hearing about their stories and hope all their dreams come true – they rock!