Combat soldier Naomi Silverman spent a year cleaning shoes. Trapped in the back
of a chalky storage closet on a field intelligence base, she organized the
equipment room, cleaning weapons and unpacking boxes of new uniforms. In the
mornings she measured girls’ feet – new combat soldiers – and fitted them for
One could call her Cinderella.
Except Silverman wasn’t in
the countryside of France and the other girls weren’t going to the ball. They
were wearing bulletproof vests, not dresses.
They were going to
No one knew that Silverman wanted nothing more than to be a combat
“There is no way you could ever do that,” Silverman’s
commander told her, when she suggested switching positions.
who is in the Search and Rescue Unit, always knew she wanted to be a combat
soldier. Though raised by non-religious parents in Queens, New York, each year
her family vacationed in Israel.
As she grew older she admired the
soldiers from afar during summer abroad programs.
This wasn’t how it was
supposed to work. She made aliya to be a combat soldier. She gave up her dreams
of university to defend Israel and she was stuck cleaning boots.
wanted it so badly. I remember wishing any of those girls were me,” Silverman
When Silverman first joined the army she was part of the air force.
However, finding it too difficult, she left early. Not allowed to join a combat
unit until she had a job somewhere else, she settled on a logistics position in
the equipment room. She thought it would be temporary.
However, it was
much more difficult than she imagined.
“I was not assertive and very
quiet. I also never did sports so I wasn’t that physically
Sometimes I cried. They didn’t think I was going to last where I
was, let alone in a combat unit,” Silverman said.
Not only was Silverman
short and thin, but she also couldn’t speak any Hebrew.
soldiers rested, she had to take lessons.
“I could read and write but it
wasn’t enough when commanders were yelling directions at me,” she
However, slowly Silverman’s Hebrew improved and she became
stronger. At the completion of a 5,000-kilometer run under the crushing weight
of a vest, Silverman couldn’t help but remember the day she arrived for basic
training – too tired to complete a 500 meter jog.
After a year working in
logistics, one day she woke up early for a full day of tryout drills.
family came to Israel the night she was supposed to receive the results. She
didn’t want to let them down.
When she heard she was accepted her whole
But a few days later her parents left and she was
alone again. The real struggles began.
Suddenly Silverman was pulled from
the air-conditioned equipment room and alternated between long nights of
guarding the Egyptian border and exhausting Search and Rescue drills.
learned how to operate the equipment that extracts people from exploded
Using dolls as dummies, she learned how to determine the
severity of bodily damage, whom to save first. Wearing a special suit and mask,
she also learned how to identify chemicals in the air, how to administer special
showers to exposed victims.
“There are so many different scenarios we
trained for. There even is a certain way you have to cut the clothes – so the
chemicals don’t burn the skin.”
Silverman would have never learned any of
this in school.
Sometimes she cannot help but wonder how different her
life would’ve been if she went to a university like her twin sister.
I didn’t go to the army I’d be taking classes. In the summer I would do all
sorts of internships and little side jobs,” Silverman said.
hardest thing is not having any family here. I am still finding a way to cope.
It gets kind of easier as time goes on,” she continued.
But Silverman has
built a life here. She wants to stay in Israel after her service. She wants to
become a social worker and insists on only speaking Hebrew with her friends, so
she assimilates faster. She wants to be a real citizen in the fearless eyes of
In the end there wasn’t a fairy godmother or a prince.
Silverman didn’t even have her parents to save her.
“People ask me why I
would ever join the army, coming from a comfortable life in America,” she
Silverman is no Cinderella.
But she finally wore the shoes
she always dreamed of wearing.
“I tell them I wanted to do something
bigger than myself.”
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