Women in combat: IDF soldiers on guard over Passover

The "Magazine" speaks with some of the women in IDF combat units remaining on guard across Israel during the holiday.

April 26, 2019 21:33
Women in an IDF combat unit help one of their fellow fighters during a training exercise

Women in an IDF combat unit help one of their fellow fighters during a training exercise. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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They are fearless. They are strong. They are women who serve in some of the toughest combat units in the IDF.

This group of women dedicated their lives to serving their country, to protecting their country come rain or shine, war or peace, and that dedication remains unaffected by Jewish holidays and special occasions. These women serve in the IDF combat units, and they are spending their Passover on base or on guard, keeping the country and its citizens secure during this unique time for the Jewish people.

Speaking to the Magazine, Sgt. Avia (first names only), who is in an Artillery Unit, said that this is her first Jewish holiday on base, and despite not being with her family this year, she’s excited.

“The IDF put a lot of effort and work into the holiday to make it special for us,” she said. “It was like Shabbat. There was a festive meal and the rabbi was there to go through the story of Passover and the Haggadah together with us.”

She said there are about seven soldiers staying behind with her on the base to keep guard, and that they were making it fun.

For Avia, it’s hard not to be with her loved ones.

“It’s tough, but my fellow soldiers too are like my family, so I know it will be OK. I know that it’s important for me to be here to protect the base, my fellow soldiers and the people of Israel,” she explained.

Asked about how and why she joined a combat unit, Avia said she always knew she wanted to take a gap year to help people and do something memorable.

Avia (left), who is serving in the IDF's Artillery Unit, poses with a fellow artillery soldier atop a tank (Credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

“I wanted to mentor, interact and do something to challenge myself, and going into a combat unit was the best option.”

The beginning was difficult for her.

“I didn’t come into the army physically fit; I wasn’t so prepared and that was the main challenge,” she recounted. “But they train you well, and look, I made it in. I knew it would be hard, but I got there in the end. It proves that women can be as strong as men.”

Avia said she appreciates the human interaction and that she is achieving her goal “of doing something meaningful and important.”

“I also love that I get to be in the field and not stuck in an office,” she joked.
The artillery soldier has a powerful message for young girls who hope to make it into an IDF combat unit.
“Think of the big picture,” Avia said. “Whatever you want or whatever you dream, you can achieve. Fight for that dream and don’t let anyone stop you.

“It might sound big, but you can do it.”

ARYOT YARDEN (The Lions of Jordan) company leader Capt. Sapir sees Passover as perfect way for the unit to prepare as a family.

Aryot Yarden is a mixed male/female battalion that protects the Jordan Valley region, and over Passover and other Jewish holidays it remains almost fully functional, keeping settlements and kibbutzim in the region safe.
“We secure all the settlements and kibbutzim in the area, along the entire Dead Sea and Jordan Valley. It’s a long region and there are continued patrols,” Sapir explained.

Aryot Yarden (The Lions of Jordan) company leader Capt. Sapir hoped Passover will be a unifying experience for her soldiers (Credit:  IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

“It’s crucial to remain on base and in service during the Passover holiday, and although we’re not with our own families, we have our family in the IDF – with the soldiers we serve with,” she said.

Sapir affirmed that those who stay behind – about half the battalion – understand the importance of being there and protecting the families in the region so they can have a safe and enjoyable celebration.
“Half of us stay to protect and reinforce the area,” she said.

She explained that this was her third Passover away from her family, so she is used to being away from home.
Asked what festive activities take place, Sapir said they read the Haggadah and take part in all of the Seder night’s traditions: “We do the entire Seder with matzah, maror and someone even hides the afikoman,” she said, giggling. “Then we all go looking for it.”

Those remaining behind during Passover still feel the happiness of the holiday, she noted.
“Another really special thing that happens is families from the settlements and towns in the area will bring the soldiers on guard duty food and something sweet to say ‘thank you.’”

She added that families also come visit the base to spend time with their loved ones during this time.
As a teenager, Sapir knew she wanted to be in a combat unit and this decision was made concrete during her high school years.

“I knew I wanted to do something significant and when I was in high school, soldiers came to the school and spoke about combat units and the army to us,” she explained. “I started working really hard on my fitness and started doing a lot of training, and I was really excited to join.”

Asked about her day-to-day responsibilities, Sapir said that her unit’s main focus is to guard and secure the Jordan Valley and Beit She’an area.

“We need to make sure that the border with Jordan is quiet, and stays quiet and safe.”

For the captain and company commander, one of the highlights of her position is working with people and taking care of the soldiers in the company she heads up.

“They are amazing, high-quality people and I really love being with them. I love getting to know them and learn from them,” she said.

One of the challenges that keeps her on her toes is the responsibility that comes with being in charge of this group of soldiers.

“Although I really enjoy being with them, at the same time, it can be a challenge to take care of them. Sometimes there are issues. Most people have their own problems to deal with, so to deal with everyone’s problems, you find a balance.”

Sapir has a strong message for young women who hope to join combat units in the IDF.

“If you want it, go for it. You can achieve it. Being in the army, being in a combat unit changes you. It shapes your personality and shapes you for the future. Don’t let anyone stop you. Follow your feelings, follow your heart and do what you love.

“It’s okay to be scared. It’s normal to be scared when you’re doing something new, but it’s important because that is what pushes you to succeed.”

AMBAT, A lieutenant first class in the Home Front Command, looked forward to spending Passover on base. Serving in the Home Front Command is not an easy feat for anyone and she has worked her way up into a leadership position.

“I was really excited to close the holiday [and stay in service]. I am now commanding the line, which is a big thing for me. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I look forward to it, having a quiet, relaxed, kosher and happy holiday.”

Although there are a lot of challenges being in the Home Front Command, Ambat continues to face them with enthusiasm and a smile on her face.

Ambat (center). a lieutenant first class in the Home Front Command, looked forward to Passover on base with her fellow soldiers (Credit:  IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

“Just like in everything, there are good things and there are challenging things, it’s all about the attitude and how you face them and deal with them. I love what I do and I know how essential it is for the country and its security.”

Asked about her day-to-day job, Ambat said she works in intelligence, and in addition to dealing with situations like rocket attacks and the like, there’s a lot of training, drills and courses that they do.

“It’s a hard journey and there’s a lot we have to do and balance – we have several jobs we focus on – but it’s really great.”

 Women from a mixed IDF Combat Unit pose during a training exercise (Credit:  IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

As a woman, it wasn’t easy breaking the glass ceiling in combat units, but Ambat emphasized the impact of doing so and of smashing the stereotype that “only men can do it.”

“Women are able to do the job just as well as men; many women in combat units have proven that.”
She said that her message to women or young girls who are considering to go into combat units in the IDF is “just to do it.”

“Know that you can do it, because you can. You’re strong and you’re able to do it. Don’t let anyone get in the way or tell you that you can’t.”

A female soldier from the Home Front Command in action (Credit:  IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

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