Canadian immigrant among 120 outstanding soldiers

Stern's two years in Israel have not in any way dented her idealism.

peres ashkenazi 224 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
peres ashkenazi 224
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
At a time when Israel faces an internal crisis of commitment, with increasing numbers of young people opting out of military service - especially in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War - there are Jews abroad for whom service in the IDF signifies the realization of an ideological and idealistic goal. One such person is Natasha Stern, 21, who immigrated to Israel from Toronto two years ago through Nefesh B'Nefesh with the singular aim of joining the army. Stern was one of 120 outstanding members of the IDF who participated in the annual Independence Day ceremony at Beit Hanassi on Thursday, in which such soldiers are honored by the president, the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief of General Staff and past and present senior commanders. Stern, who has mastered Hebrew since her arrival, serves as a non-commissioned officer in the education corps working with new immigrants, and plans to remain in Israel after completing her army service. But first, she told The Jerusalem Post, she wants to be a commissioned officer, still working in education. Initially, her parents, Ellie and Arthur, were not overjoyed about her decision to go to Israel and join the army, but they soon gave in, supported her ambition and gave her their blessing. They came especially from Canada via Poland to join other proud parents whose sons and daughters were among the soldiers being publicly recognized and rewarded. Each soldier, in addition to pins and citations, received a $1,000 scholarship through the Soldiers Welfare Association. Stern's two years in Israel have not in any way dented her idealism. The IDF is not only the defense force of Israel, but defends the Jewish People all over the world, she said. "I think all Jews should serve, or at least volunteer to serve, in the IDF. It's just something we have to do. It's not a question. All Jews are obligated to go into the army of the Jewish nation." Stern's parents joined the adult group from Toronto in the March of the Living, and Natasha's new status made an astounding impact on her fellow Canadians, her father reported. Both her parents and her sister Alex, 18, who is studying in Israel, were extremely proud of her. Alex has not yet decided whether to follow Natasha into the army. "I might," she said with a grin. Her parents would like to spend six months in Israel and six months in Canada each year, but they have a 16-year-old son, David, at home, and must consider his needs. Despite her original objections, Ellie Stern now believes her daughter made the right decision. "I'm proud, very proud. It's amazing," she said. "There's no such thing as coincidence," observed Arthur, whose mother, Dorothy, was an inmate in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The date of her liberation was May 8 - the date on which Natasha was given her award as an outstanding soldier. Dorothy Stern had wanted to make her home in Israel, but somehow ended up in Canada. "Natasha is living her dream," he said. Some 30 percent of the outstanding soldiers were female, and there were fewer soldiers of Russian background and more of Ethiopian background than in past years. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi saluted each of the soldiers as he presented them to President Shimon Peres. "They are the proof," he said, "that despite the fact that service in the IDF is something that Israelis no longer take for granted, there are those young people who still have a sense of mission, and these are the best of the best." Peres recalled that Israel had come into being against all odds and had been under constant attack since before the formal creation of the state. Logically, he said, the state should not have come into being at all, because there were 650,000 people without a permanent army, without a single plane or cannon; there were only two tanks, which had been appropriated from the British, fighting against seven well-equipped Arab armies. No other country has been attacked so often in a span of 60 years, he said. The secret of Israel's triumph and survival, he said, was the outstanding quality of Israel's fighting forces. There were outstanding soldiers then, and there are outstanding soldiers now, he declared.