IDF female soldiers training.
(photo credit: COURTESY IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
“There are a lot of girls here in the combat unit. That’s more than you could say for I think any other country if I’m right,” said 26-year-old combat soldier Chaya Winterseld. “The girls give of themselves what they can. They push themselves as much as they can.”
International women’s day is a celebration of women worldwide, but it is easy to forget the girls who place themselves in danger everyday for their nation. For most of the countries in the world, women are not allowed in combat positions in the military, but Israel conscripts both men and women. According to the Israel Defense Forces 33% of IDF soldiers are female and 3% choose to take combatant roles as of 2011.
Even more remarkable are the diaspora girls who choose to leave behind family and friends to be a part of the IDF.
Chaya Winterseld who was born in Israel, but raised in Montreal, knew she wanted to join the IDF since the age of 11. She has been doing combat intelligence for seven and a half months and said that although it wasn’t easy getting the position she wanted, she was determined.
“When 24 I decided to make Aliyah. It was something I’d been thinking about for many years. I started seriously speaking to the army about drafting in October I had an interview in New York. We spoke about me joining the army and I told him that a few of the many reasons I had for wanting to join. I had to tell them that I really l wanted to join the army. At first it seemed like they didn’t want to draft me. It was a lot of and going back and forth until I was told that I would be drafted in July. I was told I could be a secretary for an officer and I told them it wasn’t interested in. I wanted to be a combat soldier.”
Winterseld laughs about the fact that her parents think she’s crazy for the decisions she’s made, but are also proud and supportive.
“[Women’s day] shows a generation how much women have done. It doesn’t matter, if you have a goal, you can reach that goal,” said Winterseld. “I’m happy,” she affirms.
Like Winterseld, American-born Rami Diamond joined the IDF for the challenge. Also combat field intelligence, Diamond studied for a year in Israel and then made the decision to become a soldier. “I felt like I left my mind and my heart in Israel,” said Diamond. “Because of my age I’m not longer required to serve, but it was never a question. I come from a military background, my father was in the US navy and I grew up with the principal that freedom isn’t free. You have to fight for it and what you believe in.”
To Diamond, joining a combat unit was the only thing she felt would fit with her personality. From age 10 she had practiced combat of a slightly different nature: fencing.
“After the army like everyone I’d like to travel and continue my studies, have a profession that continues to help Israel. I’m dedicated to the improvement of the country and our children and I’d like to eventually live in the north. Possibly, if the timing is right, I’d like to try out for the 2016 Olympics. I was on the Israeli team for fencing before I was drafted.”
Ariel Lowry, another American girl turned Israeli combat soldier, was willing to work hard for her goal, bringing her Hebrew up to combat standards within two months. At 22, she first knew she wanted to join the IDF when she was 19 on her first visit to Israel. With the Iron Dome, she works to stop incoming missiles and defending the country she fell in love with.
“I started proving to them that I could do this and they decided to let me go. It takes a lot of effort but it’s worth it. Once I made Aliyah I rushed right away and the next day I called them to call the army. I had to sign a paper to say I wanted to join early. Normally you have to spend a year but right away I wanted to join and didn’t want to waste any time,” says Lowry. “I told them I wanted to be combat and they told me ‘you have to have good Hebrew and you have to be tough’.”
Lowry says that the experience has been difficult, but rewarding and if one day her daughters want to follow in her footsteps of being combat, she would support them.
“One time when we were in am area, a family came for Shabbat. They came to give food and say thank you. The mother said to us “Every night I see you’re safe. I see your machine and I see the light and I know it’s on and I know you are there. I know you are protecting me. I put my kids to sleep and I know that my house will be there in the morning,” said Lowry. “I’m with guys and girls and no one notices a difference. We’re all soldiers and we’re happy to be here.”