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Personal Stories

Are you an overseas volunteer serving in the IDF soldier or a veteran? You certainly have a lot to tell and share. Your story may inspire and be meaningful to others.
  • Write us about your background
  • Why did you volunteer for the IDF?
  • How did you feel during your first days in the IDF?
  • What difficulties did you have adjusting?
  • How were the pre-basic and the basic training?
  • Did you make new friends in the IDF
  • What was special about your unit?
  • Mention some unusual incidents
  • How have your family, friends and community reacted to your enlisting?
  • Has the IDF changed you in any way, given you new perspectives or shaped your personality? If yes, in what way?
  • For reasons of bitahon sade please refrain from specifying details of military actions, your unit and places of your service. Loose lips sink ships!

Video with interviews of soldiers at of the Free IDF Hebrew Studies - here

Dan from Boston | March 31, 2005:

I'm a March '04 Mahalist currently serving in the West Bank. I'm almost done now with my 14.5 months and while I'm always plagued by "ayephoot" (tiredness) and can't wait until I get to go back home to Beantown a free man and be with all my friends and family, I feel a better, stronger, and more mature person for the time I've spent in the army. I'm in better physical shape than I've ever been, I'm now fluent in Hebrew, I'm familiar with the land and culture of Israel, and I've built a strength of will that I didn't have at this level before. Marching 50 kilometers to earn my light green beret and sleeping in the desert all week long without showering every week for two months and finishing a live-fire exercise with my face split open and bleeding and guarding all the time while hearing bombs go off nearby have all changed me to a great degree.

The people who would probably not have chosen to volunteer again probably didn't take the time to seriously consider the implications of signing themselves over to the military or else simply don't have what it takes to be a combat soldier. Before you choose to join through Mahal you need to realize that you will be ordered around by 19- to 20-year-old sergeants and you will not even be free to relieve yourself without asking, let alone to go home when you want to. You'll be sleeping in a tent for the majority of your first 7-8 months in the army, and the most sleep you'll get is 7 hours a night and even that's very rare.

All it takes to do well in the army is a determination to finish. I've seen guys in my company who were in amazing physical shape drop out or even get kicked out because they couldn't take the pressure or didn't have the right attitude, while some soldiers in horrible shape (I'm talking 300 pounds) get through basic and advanced training and stay with the company to the end of moslul.

I would definitely make the same decision I did had I known what I know now about the army, and in fact, I may have planned to do more time. As it is, I didn't plan for the possibility of extending my service and can no longer do so because of plans I've already made.

The decision to join the army is not one to be taken lightly. You can always quit the army if you don't like it, but then you'll have to live with that decision as well. Read through all the materials on this site as well as the links, ask thoughtful questions of people currently serving and who have served before, and talk to people who know you about whether they think it's a good idea for you to devote about 1.5 years of your life (including the time before the army in Israel) to being a soldier earning almost nothing and rarely being free to enjoy Israel. Many of the people who truly love you and care about you will beg you not to volunteer. If you are still sure without a doubt that it is the right choice for you, then you'll do fine. It's even okay to be nervous -- just stay strong and remember that you'll come out of the experience a better, stronger person.

Ron from New York | May 22, 2006:

In the Fall of 1973, I was a student at Columbia University, deeply involved in supporting Israel. Afternoons I spent either at the Jewish Agency, where I worked at the Salute To Israel Parade office, or at the SSSJ (Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry).

Yom Kippur morning of that year I was sitting in synagogue when the word went out – Israel was under attack! Like so many other Jewish teens, I made the decision to leave as soon as possible and move to Israel. My ultimate destination: the Israel Defense Forces.
It would turn out to be the greatest decision of my life. Like many, it was difficult explaining the decision to my parents, but I looked at it then as I look at it now: it was a decision made by me, for me.

Moving to Israel was blur of excitement and activity. I tried to make the right decision about joining Israeli society, and in the end decided to move to a Development Town, where I would have the greatest opportunity to learn Hebrew. Going days at a time without speaking a word of English, my advancement in Hebrew was remarkable. I would strongly endorse this method of immersion.

I remember walking down to the enlistment office the morning of my going in. There I met Jews from all over world who had come to serve, as well as the smiling Israeli natives with their proud parents. My Hebrew was neither the best nor the worst, but there was no one more excited, more serious about what lay ahead. Arriving at Bakum, where all new soldiers are indoctrinated, was like every soldier movie ever made. Hair cut, inoculations, interviews, forms, long lines, issuing of equipment. And then the big moment. The first time we put on our new uniforms, indicating we had become defenders of Israel. It was everything I expected it be. The only thing missing was the Drill Sergeant, who turned out to be a great guy, supportive, patient, and an oleh himself from Holland. I remember that day, over thirty years ago, like yesterday.

Having gone in during the month of November, basic training was cold, wet and hard.
Dubon jackets didn’t exist quite yet, and basic training was with the FN, this 1.5 meter cannon called a rifle. But I came out of it as a confident, trained, focused soldier. When I heard that I had been chosen for a slot in the Air Force, I remember jumping up and down with excitement. While not a pilot, I was a member of a special unit, and the contribution we made was really unique.

During the years to come, I would serve in many famous places in the history of Israel, from the deepest parts of the Sinai, to the very top of the Golan Heights. My most outstanding memory of service is easy to pick. While many of you have seen the movie and heard the story of Entebbe, I was in uniform those days, and served on the Northern border while it was taking place. To have been even a remote part of that page in our history, is a feeling I will always cherish.

Most recently, I began serving yet again. Every summer now I spend in Israel serving in the Kav HaTefer program, or Seam Line program. This special program is targeted for soldiers above the age of normal reservists. This past summer I spent with Nahal Haredi, a special group of observant Jews, both Israeli and Mahalists who have created something truly special within the framework of the IDF. Whether observant or not, these are the most motivated soldiers I ever served with. Not only did I meet Americans serving, but French, British, and South American Jews as well. Each and every one, with the same look in their eyes.

So from the perspective of someone who made the decision over thirty years ago, and continues to renew that decision each and every year, I whole heartedly endorse the decision you are about to make. There will never be a greater chance for you to be more than already are. Take the chance!

Joel Starr, Maryland | Aug 7, 2006

Interesting. As I sit at my computer tonight in Maryland, my brothers and sisters are experiencing great difficulties the Northern Israel by the hands of the Hizballa. As a 14 year veteren of Machal (I served in 91/92), and currently as a doctor, and a volunteer EMT and Firefighter, i'm searching the web for a way to get back and help in some way, any way that I can. I've known about the Machal2000 web site for some time, but tonight, I sat and read through this wonderful site. When I enlisted in 1991, I dont believe there was such an informative site. I enjoyed tremendously reading the perspective of the active soldier just finishing his service as well as the 30 year veteren who served in the early 70's. The first made me feel quite old, but I'm amazed at how similar his experiences are to mine, almost as if he is describing my time in Israel. In turn, reading the more "seasoned" veteren write about his experiences, made me feel still young.
I long to return to Israel now. I miss it dearly, and I know she misses me. I may be a decade older than the young commanders, but that same desire to help and volunteer is as stong today as it was 15 years ago. My feeling of connection to Israel, to the people and the honor to defend our great country still burns strong inside me. Sure its been 14 years since my release, but it feels like yesterday. And yes, I have a full time practice, a family and children of my own, but if G-d forbid should there be a full call up of all reservists, I would be on the next plane (in fact, my bag is already packed). I'm sure all veterens living abroad would do the same. Its would be my duty, as a Jew, as an Israeli...but more so..it would be an honor. I can still taste the dirt and sweat and the feel of my rifle as if it were just last week that I was in the fields. I don't think those feelings and memories really every leave you. I can't really comment much more than the previous soldier's entries. They have stated it so well and accurately. But to empahsize, the IDF is not for everyone. It SHOULD be, but it is not. You must be strong mentally. Physically is helpful, but not mandatory. If you are strong mentally, nothing can stop you. The experiences that you gain from your time spent in the IDF is priceless. You will gain FAR more than what you give. But the mere thought that you are serving a Jewish Army, helping to defend the borders of the homeland, is a thought so powerful, that will propel you through any difficulty. Best of luck and BeHatzlacha!

Josh from Washington, DC | Dec 9, 2007:

The secret weapon of the stars - Israeli bodyguards - By Susan Karlin, Israel21c.org

Lindsay Lohan totes one to dance class. Eva Longoria takes one shopping. Jennifer and Brad shared one before their divorce.

It's the latest celebrity craze since adopting African babies - an Israeli bodyguard with training from the Israel Defense Forces.

Recently, Lohan unveiled her new bodyguard - an unnamed ex-Israeli Army specialist. Kevin Federline's lawyer hired IDF-trained Aaron Cohen, founder of the Beverly Hills-based IMS Security, to serve Britney Spears' camp with subpoenas for their custody battle. Even that dubious friend to the Jews, Mel Gibson, has relied on one to part the waters for him. For more than a decade, Avi Korein was Gibson's personal bodyguard before he opened his own Beverly Hills security firm, Screen International Security Services.

So what's the allure of these Israeli security mavens? According to industry experts, it's a combination of discretion and training.

"There's a mystique surrounding the Israeli military, based on their past performance and handling of information," says an American IDF-trained security specialist in the Washington, DC area who gives his name solely as 'Josh' for security purposes. Josh served in the Israeli infantry as a designated marksman from 2004-6 ..."

"Discretion at all times is paramount with Israelis in regards to operational and personal security," he told ISRAEL21c.

"In America, particularly in the celebrity scene, there are occasional leaks of personal information," he adds. "But it doesn't happen as much in Israel. Privacy is of great concern. That attitude and conditioning translates to the private security field. Bodyguards revealing secrets about celebrity clients is considered unprofessional and in poor taste."

While celebrities might favor their ability to check wagging tongues, security firm CEOs seek out ex-Israeli military members for their training - particularly when it comes to high-alert situations.

"The Israeli intelligence gathering is among the best. I don't have to train them as much" as people from other backgrounds, says Emiel Fisher, the CEO of RDP Worldwide in Richmond, Virginia, who has handled security for touring rock stars. "They garner a lot of respect from the private security industry."

Elijah Shaw, CEO of Icon Services Corporation in St. Paul, Minnesota, once hired an ex-Israeli commando to guard a famous actress who was being stalked on an international tour.

"I've used members of the Israel Special Forces - its equivalent of the Navy Seals - when I've had a specific, high-level threat," says Shaw, whose clients include Naomi Campbell, Michael Bolton and 50 Cent. "They operate at such a heightened sense of awareness. Because of the constant conflicts there, they're always on alert; they never switch off."

IDF-trained security specialists often see more similarities than differences between guarding celebrities and countries.

"Stalking is a form of terror," counter-terrorism expert Aaron Cohen told The Forward in October. "The formula is a lot like counter-terrorism, because you need to see who you're dealing with before you freak out."

Cohen is a Beverly Hills native who served in the elite Israeli combat unit Duvdevan, which specialized in tracking terrorists. He founded IMS - Israeli Military Specialists - a Los Angeles-based private security firm operating in Hollywood.

"The same security principles apply whether a person is going out to dinner or out of the country," adds 'Josh'. "Counter-surveillance is employed as a protective tool. The things that affect a client is not necessarily terrorism. The idea is to protect a client against harm or embarrassment. We focus a great deal on behavioral profiling - how to assess threats through situational awareness - for example, body language exhibited by one member of a group that contrasts the others can indicate the individual has a different agenda or intent. You take in everything and ID what doesn't belong."

With personal screening like that, it's no wonder that Hollywood's elite are putting their trust in this new breed of Israeli commando.

Max from Los Angeles | Feb 15, 2008

Hi everyone, I thought that I'd share some of my thoughts as a December 06 Mahalnik about to finish the army in another month (well, in March, but there's hafshash in mid February or so the rumor goes).

A little about me... I'm 23, graduated from college in 2006 and came to Israel during the war. I havn't been barmitzvad, never went to Sunday School and didn't speak a word of Hebrew when I arrived. I knew not a single person and had only been to Israel once before, when I was 13.

I lived with an acquaintence of my family who kindly housed me until I found a place of my own. I briefly attended the ulpan at Mt. Scopus but found it far too reading and writing oriented when I was in a rush to learn how to speak.
Anyways, I remember what it was like traveling halfway around the world for an experience whose details I only knew about from the Mahal website and several short phone calls with Mahal.

I'd like to talk about some of the difficulties you will encounter as a foreigner in the army. Make no mistake about it - the army is hard. I'm not talking hard physically, although it is that as well. I mean mentally it is difficult. Here's a short list of some issues that you will encounter in one way or another while serving:
- You'll be ordered around and yelled at by guys much younger than you, who don't speak the language that you're used to (the mafakdim are forbidden to speak to you in English, although most know it), and like Dan from Boston says, you have to ask permission even to use the bathroom. In tironut discipline is strict and it will be a shock and an adjustment.
- Most of what you do in tironut doesn't involve things that you usually associate with being a soldier. Instead you're learning how to obey commands and work together in a group. Most of the interesting stuff happens in advanced training or later. This is a shock to many.
- There will be an age/cultural difference between you and the Israelis. The extent of it depends on the individual but all the foreigners I know feel it.
- Most of the Israelis don't know what they're fighting for and are deeply ignorant. In a class of 30 some guys, our Memmem asked how many of us knew what the 1956 Suez Crisis was. Myself and two others raised their hands. Israelis believe that everything happens behind the scenes and "nothing can be known."
- If your Hebrew is poor like mine was (still isn't great by any stretch of the imagination), be prepared for frustration and confusion until you get the hang of things.
- Medical care is scant; because you're kravi (combat), you're supposed to suck it up unless the problem is extremely serious. Most of the time demanding to see the rofey, not requesting it, is required to get things moving. The army is deeply skeptical of medical issues because people will use that as an excuse to get out of doing work.

With regards to motivation, be aware that if your reasons for serving are ideologically motivated they will be tested severely. I have come across a great swath of ideological disillusionment among volunteers. In my time in the army, 30% or more of the volunteers that I know have dropped out of kravi, most not due to medical reasons. On the other hand, the people I've seen who have done the best are those that are doing the army for personal growth and fulfillment, which is offered in spades. I've grown tremendously here and so have many of my friends. The experience is enormously invaluable, you will make a lot of friends that you will keep for life and, personally, I wouldn't trade this past year and a half for anything. It has been the best, and *the* defining moment of my life so far.

Keep in mind that at some point in your training you *will* be depressed and angry for one reason or another; keep your head down, remember why you're there and fight through it.

Even though the army itself is a great beauracracy and seems impersonal much of the time, they do care about their chayalim bodedim. Here's a couple examples. They are relatively flexible with iom sidorim to take care of your personal problems (at Mikvey, it's extremely hard to get these). A lot of guys will take advantage of the leeway given on this. There are occasional days of iom kef (beach days and bowling days and such) which are generously provided for by the Friends of the IDF. You even get little packages sometimes. I've found Israelis to be very nonjudgmental and easygoing despite their reputation, and many are willing to help you with your Hebrew. The army will contribute around $200 for your housing.

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