Lysa Nataf was born and raised in France, but she knew from a young age that she wanted to leave her native country and come to Israel. Today, she’s not only fulfilling her dream of living here but also protecting the country by serving in the Border Police in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Growing up in Marseille, France, with a Jewish identity, she was no stranger to antisemitic incidents, as she explained to The Jerusalem Post.
She recalled several incidents where, even as kids, she and her friends were cursed and threatened, simply for being Jewish.
At the young age of 11, Nataf remembers, she was hanging out with friends at a train station, one of whom was visibly wearing a Star of David necklace.
“A group of Arabs came by and started shouting ‘We don’t like Jews. Why don’t you go back where you came from – we don’t want you in France,’” she said.
There were more incidents over the years, ranging from name-calling to intimidation.
That was when she realized that France would not be her home for long.
“I was still young, in school. I knew from the age of 15 that I didn’t want to stay in France,” Nataf noted.
Even before finishing high school, Nataf made aliyah with her mother, but things weren’t as easy as she had expected.
The language and local culture posed big challenges. While her mother returned to France after six months because of the difficulties in adjusting, the then 16-year-old was determined to stay.
She went on to graduate from high school and complete the army’s Hebrew course in November 2017, before joining the Israeli Border Police as one of about 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF (servicemen or women without immediate family in Israel).
“In the Border Police, women do all the same things as the men. When I put on my uniform and go on guard duty we do exactly the same job as the men. We deal with many incidents and always have to be alert. I believe all girls can do this job,” Nataf said, explaining her insistence on choosing the Border Police over other units.
“When I put on the uniform I feel like I’m really doing a meaningful service – protecting the state.”
Also in her service, the beginnings were challenged by stigmas that many young immigrants face when they first join the army – like being asked on her first shift why she had come to do the army.
“I was uncomfortable with it. This is my duty and my job. It was uncomfortable in the beginning but it’s much better now,” she said in her French accented but fluent Hebrew.
Serving in the Third Platoon in Jerusalem’s Old City, Nataf arrived to the unit at a time when the Old City was a hotbed of tension. In December, she found herself the target of a terrorist attack while on patrol at the Damascus Gate. An approaching assailant pulled out a knife and attacked police officers, wounding two before being neutralized by Nataf’s colleague.
Israel Police Spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld praised Nataf for her professional behavior in the chaotic situation, saying that she returned to duty straight away and put the incident behind her.
“It’s difficult but it’s worth it. There’s nothing like the Border Police,” Nataf proclaimed.
She said that she views her service in the matter-of-fact way of servicemen and women, without discrimination or political considerations.
“It doesn’t matter who anybody is. Jewish, Arab, Christian. We are here to protect everybody,” she said.
Her service has also had an impact on Nataf’s personal life. As she explained, she became more religious since enlisting.
“When I got to the army, I started to keep more [religious laws]. Being here in the Old City, and close to the Kotel, this is a holy place,” Nataf maintained.
With only 10 months left to her service, Nataf has started looking to the future. She plans to go to university to study and said she “cannot see [herself] anywhere but Israel.”
Lysa Nataf has come a long way from being cursed at as a young girl in France to protecting Israeli civilians in the Old City. Her story of endurance is one of many that make up Israel’s mosaic of diverse backgrounds – which ultimately is strengthened by every story that is added to it.