JONATHAN SLEISCHMANN 370.
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Jonathan Sleischmann was 13 years old when a firebomb was hurled into the open
window of his Jewish day school in Caracas.
He didn’t see it. He just
heard the screams. The teachers asked the children to quickly exit the classroom
and lie down outside. They hid in the grass for five hours.
the first bout of violence. A few years earlier, a Jewish student was kidnapped
in the same school – Venezuelan soldiers came through the doors and simply
escorted a child from his classroom seat. Everyone watched,
Chavez could do what he wanted. He happened “to have close
relationships to countries that don’t like Jews,” Sleischmann told The Jerusalem
Post in a recent interview.
Living in Caracas – whence a large portion of
the Jewish population had fled to the United States of Spain – the members of
Sleischmann’s family didn’t interact with anyone outside their closeknit
community. However, when he was 14, after the violence became too much, they
finally decided to pack their bags. They moved to France.
It wasn’t any
easier across the ocean. There were no Jewish schools within a reasonable
distance and when Sleischmann’s family went to synagogue on Friday nights,
police were compelled to guard perimeter because attacks were so
“As a Jew in France I never felt welcome. You could just feel
the anti-Semitism,” he said.
The family couldn’t go on living in fear.
They finally decided to make aliya six years ago, when Sleischmann was 18. He
immediately joined the army.
“In Israel I suddenly felt safe, proud even,
to be Jewish. Of course I wanted to defend other Jews,” he
“I actually feel the link between this country and myself. That’s
not something I’ve ever felt before,” he continued.
Sleischmann is a boot-camp commander in the Magal (“Ma’arach Gibui Lehima”)
unit, the Combat Support Center. He is responsible for the basic training of 130
soldiers who will not be in combat units and approximately 24 commanders and
Before joining Magal, the 24-year-old Sleischmann had
never worked with so many women. At first he was surprised at how obedient they
were compared to the men in basic training.
The unit trains many soldiers
who come from “special circumstances.” Some have spent time in
Others have suffered through drug or alcohol
Sleischmann remembers one female soldier who refused to
speak. The male commanders couldn’t shout commands at her. They had to talk
slowly and quietly – otherwise she would cry.
However, after a few weeks
of bonding with a female commander, she opened up.
The soldier told a
commander that she had been beaten and sexually abused for years by her
stepfather. She didn’t want to press charges, because she was afraid he would
find out. However, after a few months in the army she found the courage to talk
to the police.
“Maybe we saved her life. She was in a bad place.
If she didn’t have anyone to talk to she might have killed herself,” Sleischmann
Sleischmann understands fear. He knows what it feels like to not
“We are talking about girls that were violated, beaten, girls
that can’t even hear a man’s voice without breaking down. The commanders help
them understand that not everyone in the world is bad, that they are also not
Sleischmann plans to spend the next five years in the
He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t believe he was helping Israeli
youth. Over the years he has watched dozens of soldiers overcome
He remembers one who asked to quit the first day of boot camp
but ended up staying after his mandatory service ended, another who weighed 10
kilograms less after boot camp.
“After the army the soldiers feel better
about their bodies, their souls. They are not always afraid of what people think
of them,” Sleischmann said.
“There is no one that cannot be a soldier. We
receive everyone,” he continued.
For 18 years Sleischmann searched the
world for a place that would accept him.
But he didn’t want others to
have to go so far.
“The army is not only about making warriors and war,”
he said. “The training of the soldiers is less important to me than
helping them become good human beings.”