I arrived in Israel on November 3rd, 2010 as a 23-year-old college graduate, to enlist as a volunteer in the IDF for eighteen months. I signed the Mahal papers in mid-November, received a visa from the government, went through the tzav rishon like every Israeli, and was drafted on December 15th to a base called Mikveh Alon to learn Hebrew. Yes, in case you were wondering how I was expected to survive in a military that speaks a foreign language, you can now rest easy knowing that the IDF picks up the tab.

Along with other volunteers and new olim, I spent the first month undergoing a simple basic training and the last month and a half focusing on Ivrit; however, from the first day to the last ceremony, it was all Hebrew all the time. There were soldiers from all over the world who would go on to become jobniks or enter kravi service, for a period of six months, eighteen months, or three years. I found myself in the middle of the range of ages.

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Before my service began, the soldiers from my Birthright trip advised me that a difficulty I might face is being ordered around by girls who should otherwise be pledging sororities or cramming for final exams. I always remind myself that despite my age, my degree and my experiences, the simple truth (the only one that matters) is that my commanders have more military experience and knowledge than I do. I am again a student.

Last week was the end of Mikveh and the beginning of my service in a combat unit. Three weeks ago I attended the Tzanchanim gibbush. I originally intended to undergo the day of physical and mental challenges to see if I could succeed in the first of many tests I will face in the IDF. Not only did I complete the gibbush, I excelled…and am now wearing the uniform of an Israeli Paratrooper!

Along with a dozen other soldiers at the bakkum (a base where all soldiers are drafted), I donned the uniform unique only to Tzanchanim, slipping my arms through the sleeves and rolling them up past my elbows. I slipped each button through its hole and felt the fitted-style of the uniform conform to my torso. Keeping it un-tucked, I adjusted my belt and clasped it around the second pair of pockets, each one below a breast pocket, a design specific only to the tzanchan’s uniform. I have never felt so proud in my entire life.

If I were to have one wish, it would be that my family could be here to share in my overwhelming joy and excitement. Such is the nature of being a lone soldier. I am thankful to be in constant connection with my parents, my sister and my brother. We communicate via iChat, Gmail, or Facebook on a weekly basis. Being a lone soldier today is certainly not as difficult as it probably was even ten years ago, when a lot of the technologies that have made this vast world of ours infinitely smaller didn’t exist.

In addition, I am also fortunate enough to have extended family in Israel. Since November, I have lived with my cousin, his wife and their three children in Tel Aviv. In true Israeli fashion, they have taken me in as one of their own. Though I still miss my family and America, they have helped ease the difficulty of being a lone soldier.

This week, I report to the Tzanchanim base to begin my service. For the first month at Mikveh, I asked myself, “Why am I here? How did my life develop to this point?” It’s been a while since I’ve done that. I know that my life will get much more difficult from here. This past summer, when I messaged my Israeli friends to tell them of my plans, they responded with overwhelming excitement, and left me with a very important piece of advice: “there will be many times during your service when you want to quit. Remember, the pain and difficulties will pass but your pride in completing seemingly impossible tasks will remain forever. Just remind yourself of the reasons you are here, and you will succeed.”

This was a broad overview of the past few months.

If what you read here piqued your interest and have questions about how to join the IDF as a non-Israeli, or simply what to know more, please visit my blog at fromUSAtoIDF.blogspot.com, where I write weekly updates on my experiences.



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