Modern-Orthodox combat training officer Lt. Mikey Soclof slumped against the bus
seat one Friday afternoon, relishing his first free moment in weeks, as he tried
to call two of his friends before Shabbat.
“Obviously practicing religion
as a soldier is difficult. My free time often comes in contact with what I’m
doing in the army,” Soclof said in a recent
Twenty-two-year-old Soclof – who made aliya from Ann Arbor,
Michigan – had just finished training a group of new immigrants in a two-week
As a combat training officer, Soclof recruits soldiers,
leads them through boot camp and then assigns them as drivers, gunners or
loaders in the Armored Corps. He is responsible for 36 soldiers, five tank
commanders and a sergeant.
Being an elite officer has always demanded
more than the standard amount of work. Officers are known to work long hours,
organize activities and sit through late meetings. They are the first to wake up
and the last to go to sleep. It is even harder when you are religiously
“Israel is less religious than it is secular. The first
time you see that is in the army. All of a sudden instead of your whole
community practicing kosher, it’s maybe three or four guys. Usually you can’t
even get the 10 people you need for a regular prayer service,” Soclof
Like many Orthodox soldiers, Soclof strives to reconcile religion
with the rigors of protecting the nation.
“If someone needs to go to the
hospital, it is okay to drive on Shabbat. In the army, it’s the same thing.
Turning on my tank – something that is forbidden on Saturday – is okay to me
because it’s for the purpose of defending my country,” Soclof said.
come to the conclusion that people’s lives are more important than always
Coming from a tiny Jewish community, Soclof is used to
adapting when it comes to Judaism. As a child, his family would drive miles to
the nearest kosher supermarket. He commuted 45 minutes every day just to get to
his Jewish day school.
Still, the army does what it can to support
religious soldiers, giving them time to pray in the morning and afternoon, and
making sure every kitchen is kosher and inspected by a rabbi in uniform. Even
so, it isn’t always easy.
“When it’s four in the morning and you’re
crawling in the mud and freezing rain with a lot of weight on your back, you’re
not going to think about how great it is you’re defending your country. Because
you’re a person. You might start to give up,” the 22-yearold said. That is why
Soclof teaches his combat soldiers the most important thing is strong
connections with fellow soldiers.
“They will bring you back up and make
sure you keep going. Not everyone is broken at the same time.”
training officer says that he has learned discipline and time management, and
that thanks to his service, he is the fittest he’s ever been in his
“I knew coming out of high school that if I wanted to influence
something, I had to be active. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking about Israel
in the States before actually joining the army. After all, I could have
protested what Israel is doing, I could have studied political science, I even
could have become an ambassador to America,” Soclof said.
“But I’m a
Jewish person and I believed I needed to join the army to keep Israel safe.”