Sgt. Yossi Käyhkö never had to join the army. He could have stayed in Värnamo,
Sweden, a small, quiet town of verdant fields and icy lakes, where everyone
knows everyone. He could have worked in an office for eight hours a day,
seen the same friends and drank lager at the same bars.
“All my friends
wanted to do after graduating was go straight to work. But I wanted to see new
things, meet new people and learn as much as I could,” Käyhkö said in a recent
interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Käyhkö, who serves in the infantry
corps in a battalion located in the Etzion Regional Brigade, wanted an
He recounts one week of field training, when his battalion was
away from the base, that challenged his motive for coming to Israel.
battalion had been stationed outside for seven days and the rain was relentless,
the tents blanketed with mud.
Käyhkö was slipping, covered in it. He
couldn’t even see his fingers in front of his face. As he frantically searched
for his fellow soldiers, he couldn’t help asking himself: “Why did I come here?”
The IDF is not for everyone and most Israelis call it the most challenging years
of their lives. It’s even harder for lone soldiers like Käyhkö, who lives in
Benji’s House – a four-story house in Ra’anana designed for soldiers without
family in Israel. He can’t come home to his parents on the weekends for a
homecooked meal and a clean set of clothes.
An average day for Käyhkö
includes hours of physically exhausting drills and dangerous tasks like
patrolling the border and making arrests.
During training his battalion
marches 40 kilometers at a time with crushing equipment on their
“The next day my feet were destroyed and my shoulders were
screaming with pain,” he said, describing his first march.
would take 40 km. marches any day rather than live a mundane life. He has
already had a greasy taste of the 9 to 5. Before he came to Israel he spent
three years at McDonald’s, flipping burgers.
“It was kind of hell,” he
Unlike other immigrants who join the army for a sense of duty to
Zionism or encountering anti-Semitism, Käyhkö is a rare breed of soldier – he
had no political motive to leave his tolerant town and he never experienced hate
toward his religion. His greatest fear was not persecution – it was leading a
life without purpose. So when he first met some soldiers on a trip to Israel at
the curious age of nine, he had already made up his mind that he would join the
IDF one day.
“They were like gods to me,” he said.
As Käyhkö got
older, he lifted weights and ran everyday after school. He became faster and
stronger and moved to Israel in June 2010 and was drafted two months later. He
plans on staying in the country even after his service.
“Joining the army
is different from anything most teenagers do. If I didn’t join the IDF I
wouldn’t have had so many unique experiences,” Käyhkö said.
“I could have
led a boring and meaningless life.”