There is a plethora of paths one can take after high school. Many Beverly students take the path to college, where higher education leads to more social connections and work opportunities. Most Israelis take the path to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), where fighting for one’s country becomes the primary goal.
The two paths intersected last Friday, when IDF soldiers came to visit the primarily college-bound members of Beverly’s Normans for Israel Club. One soldier, who introduced himself as Adam, currently serves in the field unit, which is a mixture of an intelligence unit and a combat unit. Among his main tasks lies working with Palestinian authorities.
The other speaker, Kinneret, began her military career in the educational field. She started as a youth leader, a position that included working in after-school programs. Later, she was promoted to the Jerusalem commander of her field. She has since ended her service and is currently finishing college.
“It’s an interesting position,” Kinneret said of being commander. “I had 50 soldiers beneath me, so a lot of responsibility was involved. Still, [the position] gives you tools you will use for the rest of your life.”
Serving in the military is mandatory in Israel. The service begins once a person reaches the age of 18, and females are required to serve for two years, males for three. After a career in the military, traveling becomes a priority, followed by college, which most Israelis begin at age 23.
“We go at a much slower pace than [Americans]. It’s part of the Israeli culture to travel. We believe we can learn from different cultures. No one’s in a rush [to go to college],” Kinneret said.
Both soldiers agreed that the training period was one of the hardest parts of their military experience.
“You just graduated from high school, you’re still a kid and they give you a uniform, a rifle, and you start running and getting orders from commanders. The food is different, and you see your family only once every three weeks,” Adam said. “Still, it’s a lot of fun when you look back on your overall experience, and it’s really great being there.”
Much controversy has surrounded the soldiers’ task of separating civilians from terrorists, and the speakers believe it is also one of the most difficult parts of their job.
“In places like Palestinian territories, it’s sometimes hard to [distinguish] between civilians and terrorists because the enemy is hidden [among ordinary people]. But we’re well-trained and well-educated, so we know how to solve these situations,” Adam said.
Although American news coverage of Israel often includes such controversial aspects of the IDF, Kinneret assured the club members that Israel should not be associated with such dilemmas.
“Sometimes you see in the media that all these bad things are happening, but Israel is an amazing country. It has beautiful beaches, deserts, lush mountains. People are swarming in from the U.S. to get medical procedures because of the doctors and cutting technology in Israel. It’s important to stress the positive impact that the country has in the world,” Kinneret said.
Kinneret also described the unique amount of cultural diversity in Israel, which she claimed partly defined the country.
“It’s what Israel’s all about. You have people who have been there for hundreds of years, people from all over the world who are coming back to their forefathers’ land. I have people in my class from Australia, from Iran, from everywhere. It gives all cultures a significant place.”
When asked to elaborate on the lessons they learned from their experiences in the military, the soldiers both agreed that such a question was hard to respond to because, as Kinneret claimed, “It’s such an extreme experience that you can’t really sum it up in one answer.”
Still, the soldiers shared a few of the major lessons they acquired from their experience.
“It’s mostly about the relationships that you have. You’re in such difficult situations at times and you find who your true friends are,” Kinneret said. “They can be people who you’ve never met before, but once you’re in [a difficult] situation, you bond and develop amazing relationships for life.”
“Sometimes you put your life behind those of your friends. You also get a lot of skills, such as maturity, and responsibility for yourself and your friends. Life becomes easier after the military because you are independent, you know how to take of yourself and the people around you,” Adam added.
The soldiers are currently on a nationwide speaking tour called Israel Soldier Stories, which is organized by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization.