By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/JNS.org
Click and bang – the sound of an IMI Uzi gun. Stillness – the feeling of sitting for 12 hours on a hilltop, guarding a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. Tangy – the taste of canned grape leaves stuffed with rice. Strong, confident, connected – the attributes applied to Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers.
“Israel is a nation of brave men and women. I am lucky to be joining the army,” Eyal Kidron, 22, from West Bloomfield, Mich., told JNS.org hours before boarding an El Al charter flight bound for Israel. “We [Jews] have a right to live, and I have to do my part. I am happy to do it.”
Kidron was among a group of 75 future IDF soldiers who made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh on Aug. 17 on a flight facilitated in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, JNF-USA and Tzofim-Garin Tzabar.
Among the soldiers were several young men and women following in the footsteps of their siblings by joining the Israeli army.
The flight of 233 new olim (immigrants) was welcomed by hundreds of supporters, friends and family, including Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“When you see so many brave young men and women from North America sacrifice so much and voluntarily leave their families because they feel a yearning desire to serve in the IDF and defend Israel, that’s powerful," Fass told JNS.org.
Sylvia Azoulay, 22, from Long Island, N.Y., is the third Azoulay sibling and the fourth member of the Azoulay family to serve in the IDF. Her oldest brother, Tal, made aliyah 15 years ago and served in the Golani Brigade. Middle brother Ittai was in a tank unit (though he has since returned to the U.S.), and father Marc served in the army several decades ago as an 18-year-old French immigrant.
Azoulay said she grew up on inspirational stories of her father’s service. At 12, her grandparents brought her to Israel for her bat mitzvah and she fell in love with the Jewish state.
“I did my bat mitzvah on top of Masada,” Azoulay recalled to JNS.org. “My brother was still in the reserves and it was the Second Lebanon War. The first night I arrived, he got called up to serve and I ended up not seeing him the entire trip. I decided at that point how important it was [to serve in the army], and that I felt the need to do the same.”
Azoulay hung on to her IDF dream through middle- and high-school, and even college at New York University. Now, she is hoping she’ll have the opportunity to be an infantry instructor.
Her father Marc told JNS.org he and his wife are “very happy” for their daughter’s decision, but they are also sad knowing she won’t be home for Shabbat dinners on Friday night or to help in their Long Island store.
“She has her life to live and we are behind her 100 percent,” he said. “Israel is not an easy place to start a life. But working toward a common goal of keeping the state of Israel alive and vibrant and moving forward – that is what we have done throughout history. I am proud that someone else in my family is participating in that dream.”
Noam Fink, 18, from Brookline, Mass., always knew she wanted to be in the IDF, too. When her brother, currently serving in an intelligence unit, enlisted 18 months ago, it confirmed her belief that she could make it work.
“My parents always instilled the value of going to the army and wanting to live in Israel,” Fink said. “I have to give back to this country that has given us so much – culture wise, identity wise,” Fink told JNS.org.
Fink’s parents are Israeli. She attended Jewish day school, and then Hebrew schools and Jewish camps. She said those experiences influenced her a lot, too.
Will she compete with her brother or see his presence as supportive?
“I want to be in the canine unit – or anything combat will work,” Fink said with a laugh. “We’re going to be doing such different things I don’t think we can be compared.”
And will Fink’s two younger brothers, ages 12 and 14, also join the IDF one day? “I hope so!” she said proudly.
Samuel Friedman, 17, from Silver Spring, Md. is also joining the IDF. His older brother made aliyah in 2013 and served in the IDF for three years.
“It was a good time, so I figured I might as well do it too,” Friedman, who will be living on the same kibbutz as his brother during his service, told JNS.org. “I am not worried at all. I am sure I will be OK.”
Michigan’s Kidron will also be joining siblings in Israel. Three of his older siblings have made aliyah and/or live in Israel, and two of them served in the IDF before him. Kidron recalled how at age seven, his older brother returned home with his paratrooper wings and he was so proud of his sibling. From then on, he was inspired to join the Israeli army.
Growing up in the U.S., he always told his friends he would one day enlist. While that didn’t stop him from making friends and living a classic American lifestyle, they all knew that one day they would see him go. Now, he hopes to join a medical rescue unit.
“I’ve been training intensely,” Kidron said, noting that the good thing about having older siblings who have gone through the army is that they can tell him “what to do and work on – aerobic, acrobatic workouts, running.”
In the months leading up to his aliyah flight, Kidron loaded his backpack up with 40 pounds and went on long runs – “just trying to stay as fit as possible.”
He said he knows the army will be physically trying, but the mental pressure is even greater – and making it in Israel as a lone soldier – the mental stress is the biggest fight.
At the welcoming ceremony Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in his remarks he knows the decision is not easy to make aliyah.
“Leaving behind family and friends, looking for work, starting in new schools, learning a new language, there are challenges ahead but we are all here to support you and help you build your new home,” Rivlin said.
Kidron said he is confident he will make it through. His message to others who are considering a similar move: “Just don’t forget that Israel belongs to all of us. You don’t have to be born there to live there. Every Jew should feel that Israel is their home.”
Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.