Israel’s army was the first in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women when it implemented the policy in 1949, but in a country where one is expected to serve in a military combat unit before rising up the military echelon to top defense decision-making ranks, it’s still a boy’s club.
But some women are making great strides in the IDF. Ahead of International Women’s Day, three high-ranking women in the Home Front Command spoke to The Jerusalem Post about their roles and the challenges they face while protecting the country as women and mothers.
Maj. Shiran Hashay Levy, head operations officer of the Haifa District, has served in the IDF since 2000 and is the mother of three boys; the eldest is six years old and the youngest is one year old.
“I have a lot of support from my family and my husband, and that is really necessary when it comes to my work,” she told the Post.
“There are days that I come home really late, when my children are already sleeping, and there are other days when I don’t even see them. But because of my family I am able to deal with that.”
Women serving in the IDF (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
According to Hashay Levy, both her family and her soldiers see the effort that she puts in, especially in terms of the hours she spends at the base. “I have soldiers who say, ‘Whoa! How are you still here? What about your children?!’ But when they see my work, it gives them more power,” she said. “When you come from a place where you are raised to serve, and you wake up in the morning and you are excited to serve the country, your work becomes less challenging.”
Hashay Levy, who joined the Home Front Command in 2005, said she “really doesn’t know of any positions in the command that women can’t join. There is not one position that a woman can’t do, not in an office and not in the field.”
“I see myself still advancing in the army,” she told the Post,
and while she doesn’t plan on becoming the next chief of staff, the next rank she plans to obtain is lieutenant-colonel.
“Since I joined in the year 2000, the IDF has really come a long way,” she said, stressing that “the IDF needs the strength provided by women. I really think it’s impossible without us.”
According to IDF figures, 38% of female recruits have asked to be evaluated for combat service and the soldiers of the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Unit are not only responsible for saving lives during man-made or natural disasters, they are also fighters serving in the West Bank for ten months out of the year.
While some units in the IDF are struggling when it comes to recruitment, the opposite is true for the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue unit, which has seen an increase of cadets interested in joining.
Maj. Meirav Kraus, commander of the Search and Rescue’s basic training, told the Post
that the soldiers of the Search and Rescue Unit could be in the West Bank for an operation at one moment and be called to major disasters the next.
“We could be in a village dealing with Palestinian suspects at night and the next morning be sent to Tel Aviv to deal with a parking lot collapse,” she said, referring to the deadly September incident where a parking lot under construction collapsed, killing 4 workers. “We need to know how to deal with all sorts of situations,” she added.
Kraus said that she wanted to join the Home Front Command even before she enlisted, saying that in her position she serves the country in ways one couldn’t imagine in the civilian world.
“I wake up in the morning and ask myself, ‘How can I, as a commander, make my soldiers better?’ I see the young recruits growing throughout their service, and it’s incredible how they have changed over the course of their service,” she said. “In the army, you can succeed in the most amazing ways,” she stressed.
Kraus told the Post
that while she doesn’t know which position she sees herself holding in the future, she plans to serve “until I’m 60.”
The army is an “amazing platform” for women to test where they can go and what they can do, she said.
“I want the soldiers to know that there are no limits, no boundaries for our dreams. If you want to be the prime minister, if you want be the chief of staff, if you want to be an astronaut, you can do it. You are able to do whatever you want. Don’t be afraid, don’t worry if you can do it or not, you can succeed.”
And while the soldiers of the Search and Rescue Unit are key to saving lives, so are the soldiers under Maj. Shiran Simhi, department head of Guidance and Information of the Home Front Command.
In charge of providing information to citizens in times of emergency, Simhi said that her role was imperative in giving citizens the tools to protect themselves during Operation Protective Edge.
“We have strengthened the citizens of Israel, not only in times of war, but in their everyday lives,” she said, adding that under the platform of the Home Front Command, which has a call center as well as various online mediums, including their website and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, citizens are now able to inform themselves on a day-to-day basis.
“A citizen who knows how to protect himself, and how to properly prepare his or her family for disasters, is a citizen who knows how to save lives. And in my position, and it’s not a simple role, I know that I am helping the citizens of Israel,” she added.
According to Simhi, while she still does not have children, that should not stop women from reaching senior positions.
It’s all about one’s intelligence and ability to multi-task, she said, and that’s how she plans to raise her children, to be able to juggle one’s family and career.
“I know that every mother, every family, wants to protect their family. And I know that one day, when I am a mother, I will want to protect my children,” she said. “I have prepared my family for times of emergency because I know I won’t be there, and I have prepared the citizens of the State of Israel.”