The IDF’s three (top) amigos

Trio of Spanish-speaking immigrants are among 120 soldiers to receive presidential citations of excellence.

IDF Spanish speaking trio 311 (photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)
IDF Spanish speaking trio 311
(photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)
Romi Kaplan still thinks she will wake up and everything will turn out to be a dream. But on Tuesday, when he stands together with 119 others to be recognized as the IDF’s top soldiers of the past year and receive a citation of excellence from President Shimon Peres, she’ll know it’s reality.
Kaplan, 21, made aliya from Argentina in 2009 and has served for the past year and a half as an instructor in the IDF’s Sarel Program, which brings Jews and non-Jews alike to Israel for three weeks of volunteer service at a military base. Since its inception in 1983, more than 125,000 volunteers have come to Israel.
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Kaplan will not be the only Spanish-speaker receiving the menorah-shaped pin from Peres. Alongside her will stand Michal Resnik, a 23- year-old from Buenos Aires who moved to Israel almost 10 years ago and serves in the IDF’s C4I Directorate, as well as Efraim Raza, who moved to Israel from Peru in 2005 after converting to Judaism.
“In the beginning, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to receive an award from the president,” Kaplan said. “I then spoke to some people who explained the significance to me. Now I am excited.”
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The 120 soldiers who receive the annual distinguished service award, presented by the president and the IDF chief of General Staff on Independence Day, are selected from thousands of soldiers nominated by their commanders.
Resnik, for example, serves in the Mamram Division of the C4I (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence) Directorate and is part of a team whose responsibility it is to install the Windows 7 operating system on all of the military’s computers.
Two years ago, the team developed a computer program that automatically shuts down all IDF computers at 6 p.m., to conserve energy. It has saved the IDF millions of shekels.
Raza serves in the 7th Armored Brigade as a tank driver. His story begins about 10 years ago when, as a 12- year-old, he began expressing interest in Judaism after learning about the religion from his uncle who had converted and moved to Israel.
Raza started attending Shabbat services at a synagogue near his home and with his younger brother began keeping mitzvot. His parents also became interested and three years later, after he turned 16, the family converted. Two years later, they moved here.
“Looking back, as a kid growing up in Peru, I never imagined that I would stand one day before the president of Israel as an IDF soldier,” he said. “But I am proud and know that the country has been good to me and that I have been privileged to serve in its military.”
For Resnik and Kaplan there is no doubt that they are in the right place.
Abroad, said Resnik, you can live comfortably, within a Jewish community, but the place is not Jewish. Then you come to a place that is also Jewish, and you know you have arrived home,” Resnik said.