‘Mom, I’m defending Israel’s skies’

IDF volunteer says her role model is Hanna Szenes.

311_lone soldier (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_lone soldier
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jacqualine Elbaze does not know much about what her daughter Sophie does. In a conversation with Jacqualine from her home in Lyon, France she says that Sophie “defends Israel’s skies” and was in a place called “Bahd 1.”
Without meeting Sophie, these few pieces of information are enough to understand that she is a graduate of the IDF’s Officer Training School and is an officer in the air force’s Air Defense Division, responsible for keeping the country’s skies safe.
Sophie, 23, today a lieutenant responsible for preventing enemy aircraft from infiltrating from the south, moved here in 2006 shortly after the Second Lebanon War. She was 19 and had just completed her first year of medical school at the University of Lyon. Soft-spoken and humble, Sophie and her three sisters grew up in a Zionist home, visited Israel often and even spoke about moving here in the mid 1990s.
“We had always wanted to make aliya and move to Israel, but professionally it was just too difficult for us,” explains Jacqualine.
But after spending a number of summers here, Sophie decided that one day she would make aliya. The question was when.
“I always dreamed about being a doctor and decided to first go to school and then try to make aliya,” she says. “All that changed, however, during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.”
Despite the Hizbullah rocket attacks, Sophie boarded a plane, landed in Tel Aviv and immediately joined Sar-El, which brings foreign nationals to volunteer on IDF bases, mostly filling kitbags.
After the war, Sophie returned to Lyon, walked into her house and immediately told her parents that she was dropping out of medical school and moving here to enlist in the IDF.
Sophie put up a strong argument. “My family raised me and my sisters on Zionist and Jewish ideals,” she says. “After spending the duration of the war in Israel, I knew that I belonged here more than any other place in the world.”
“It was very hard for us that she left, but we couldn’t say no to her since we were always talking about going to Israel,” Jacqualine says.
The growing anti-Semitism in France also helped her make the decision. “It is difficult being a Jew in France,” she says. “You cannot go to synagogue peacefully and there are always policemen around to protect you... I wasn’t comfortable being Jewish.”
After arriving, Sophie was sent to the IDF Education Corps’ Michve Alon Education Center near Safed where she learned Hebrew and about the military she had just joined.
“I knew that I wanted to serve in a combat unit but was not sure which was the right one for me,” she says. “A friend told me about the air force’s Air Defense Division, it sounded interesting and I asked to join.”
Stationed today at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Sophie serves as the commander of a unit whose job is to man radar stations and ensure that foreign aircraft or missiles are not on their way.
“We basically have to keep our eyes open in all directions all the time,” she explains. “I have no doubt that we play an important role in Israel’s security and I believe in the Air Defense Division’s capabilities.”
Her role model, throughout her journey, is Hanna Szenes, the Hungarian- born Jewish immigrant to Palestine who volunteered to parachute into Yugoslavia to fight the Nazis during World War II. Szenes was caught, tortured and eventually killed.
“Szenes also volunteered to do something significant with her life,” Sophie says. “That is what I am trying to do.”