Post-army trips: A dream of the past?

Many newly released IDF soldiers who’ve just completed their national service are dealing with the same disappointment of not being able to take a long, post-army trip overseas before they settle in.

MANY NEWLY released IDF soldiers are dealing with the same disappointment of being unable to take the rite-of passage trip. (photo credit: YAEL ZAMIR/FLASH90)
MANY NEWLY released IDF soldiers are dealing with the same disappointment of being unable to take the rite-of passage trip.
(photo credit: YAEL ZAMIR/FLASH90)
‘I guess I’m still in denial, but I do understand that the big trip I was planning to take is not going to happen, or at least not how I was planning it to be, since I can’t put my studies on hold for five months,” explains Noa Shapira, 23. “This was going to be my classic, once-in-a lifetime, long trip, but I guess I’ll just have to come to terms with the fact that it’s just not going to take place.”
NOA SHAPIRA: ‘I had such a great trip planned.’ (Noa Shapira)NOA SHAPIRA: ‘I had such a great trip planned.’ (Noa Shapira)
Shapira is not the only one in this situation: Many newly released IDF soldiers who’ve just completed their national service are dealing with the same disappointment of not being able to take a long, post-army trip overseas before they settle into university studies, advancing their careers or starting a family. To their great dismay, the COVID-19 epidemic has disrupted the plans of all the newly released soldiers. Some of them were forced to cut their trips short and return to Israel on special rescue flights, whereas others never even got the chance to embark on the trips they’d so looked forward to taking after completing their national service before the skies closed to all international air travel.

Shapira, who lives in Shoham and served in an electronic warfare unit in the Israel Air Force, completed her service in June 2019. “For years, I’d been dreaming about taking a long post-army trip to the Far East, but immediately after I was released from the IAF, I flew to the US to serve as a Jewish Agency representative in Jewish summer camps and then I stayed on in the US afterwards to travel around,” Shapira explains. “This wasn’t supposed to be my ‘big trip.’ I’d been planning to a long trip to the Far East and I’d already bought a ticket for Nepal for Pesach. I was planning to stay there until September, about five months. I had a ticket for Tel Aviv to New Delhi, and from there a connection to Katmandu in Nepal.” And then COVID-19 hit.

“Yep. At first, when the virus was just beginning to spread, I thought I might still be able to go on my trip, because there weren’t many cases in Nepal. And I figured by April the epidemic would be over and I’d be able to fly. In the end, as we all now know, it hasn’t ended yet. For a while, I kept calling the airline, but at some point, I gave in and canceled my ticket. I haven’t been reimbursed yet by the airline and I’m not sure I ever will be.”
How much has the pandemic put a dent in your post-army plans?

“I started working in sales for a credit card company as I had planned. I thought I’d work up until my flight, but in the end, I just kept working there since I couldn’t fly anywhere. A little while later, I was put on furlough though, due to COVID-19. I’d been planning to start university this October after my trip – I’ve matriculated at Ben-Gurion University in the Electric Engineering department. If I thought that foreign travel would be possible at some point this year, I might have considered delaying my studies, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much chance of that happening, so I’m following through with my plan to start studies this fall.” Shapira is having a hard timing getting over the fact that she will not get to take her extended post-army trip like so many Israelis do. “I had such a great trip planned,” she says wistfully. “I was going to start out in Nepal, then continue on to India. My parents had even purchased tickets to come join up with me in India. And a few of my friends were going to come with me, too. Now, the coronavirus has wrecked all these great plans. I will never get to experience a post-army trip. Ever. Maybe I’ll be able to do a shorter trip at some point between semesters.” Shachar, 23, a friend of Shapira’s, who completed her mandatory service in the army Intelligence Corps, was planning to join Shapira on this trip. “Since this was meant to be a really long post-army trip, I worked really hard to get everything done ahead of time, such as taking the psychometric exam and applying to university so that I could arrive home just before classes started and immediately begin the next stage of my life. I spent many months working after I finished the army to save up money for this trip.” Shachar, who will begin studying computer science at Tel Aviv University this fall, is also extremely disappointed that she will miss out on this very important rite of passage many Israelis engage in following their army service. “I was so looking forward to this trip. I’d been working really hard to save up for it. While COVID-19 seemed to be an issue only in China, I was still hopeful. But the moment we saw that it was starting to spread all over the world, we knew it was only a matter of time before it reached Israel, too. And just like that, we missed out on this opportunity of a lifetime.”
How did you deal with the disappointment?

“Of course, I was super bummed, but I could see that my situation wasn’t that bad, compared with people who got sick or lost loved ones to COVID-19. I know I will never be able to return to this period of my life, after the army but before I need to become serious and go to college. But I can also see how my situation isn’t bad compared with a lot of other people. Now, I’m more concerned about whether I’ll have to spend my first year of college doing classes online, instead of interacting with people on campus. College is going to be really different than it’s been up until now, both from a social point of view, as well as academic. This is really unsettling. I hope that I’ll have time after I finish my degree to travel for a while, but who knows what will be by then.” Arad Lahav, 21, from Ramat Hasharon, who completed his army service a year ago after serving in army headquarters in Tel Aviv, was supposed to start his long, post-army trip to Nepal on March 31. “I didn’t even purchase a return ticket,” Lahav explains. “I worked as a fitness instructor to save up for my trip. Then, just one week before my flight, I got an email from the airline saying that all the flights had been canceled. I was so disappointed. But it’s not like I was surprised or anything, since COVID-19 was already spreading pretty rapidly.”
ARAD LAHAV’S trip was canceled just a week before his departure date. (Arad Lahav)ARAD LAHAV’S trip was canceled just a week before his departure date. (Arad Lahav)
How did this change your plans in the short run?

“Well, I decided to study for and then take the psychometric exam, since it doesn’t seem like there will be any flights in the near future. I’ll probably start college this fall in the end, and then do a big trip after I finish my studies.”

“I was so looking forward to this trip,” says Noa Golan, 21, from Moshav Tidhar, who finished her IDF service in March 2019. “I spent so much time planning my trip, and I’d already bought my ticket. I’m finally starting to accept the fact that I will never ever take a post-army trip.”

Golan, who served in the army General Corps, had made plans to fly to South America after completing her army service. “I had a ticket for Argentina for April 12, and I was planning to travel around for four months,” Golan says. “I worked in a factory in a muadefet job (with improved conditions), which is offered to newly released soldiers, so that I could save up for my trip. By March already, we realized our plans would probably not pan out. Then I was notified by the airline that our flight was canceled.”
NOA GOLAN had planned to travel for four months, beginning in Argentina. (Noa Golan) NOA GOLAN had planned to travel for four months, beginning in Argentina. (Noa Golan)
Were you disappointed?

“Of course. I’d been dreaming about taking my post-army trip for years. I’d only recently decided on a specific location, but the idea of it was in the works for a very long time. I decided that South America was where I wanted to go, since I was fascinated by the landscape, the views, the language and the culture. Going away on a long trip for a few months after an intensive army service and before having to get on with life is a really special experience. I was so incredibly bummed that I was never going to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I haven’t made any plans for any future trips, since who knows what situation we’ll all be in a year from now.” Golan is planning to begin studying computer science and chemistry this fall at Ben-Gurion University. “Instead of spending four months in the mountains of South America, I spent four months in a semi-lockdown situation,” she says with a sigh. “I know that I’ll never get to do a long post-army trip, but I am still holding outhope that I’ll be able to take a short trip somewhere at some point in the near future.”
Did you at least take some sort of holiday here in Israel?

“I haven’t yet, but I might have time before I begin my studies in the fall.”

“Every time I think about it I feel like I’m going to burst out in tears,” admits Shachar Naveh, 21, from Ramat Gan, who served as a behavioral science diagnostician in the Israel Police and completed her national service in July 2019. “I was planning to fly overseas with a few friends in April,” Naveh explains. “Our plan was to start in Argentina and then travel for a few months, and then flying back to Israel from Mexico in September. But by March I knew that this was just not going to happen. People all around me were being put on furlough from work and then before I knew it, they’d canceled all the flights. I had to come to terms with the fact that my dream of taking an incredible post-army trip was never going to come to fruition.”
How did that make you feel?

“I can’t even begin to describe how important this trip was to me,” continued Naveh. “My older brother had gone on his trip when he was 23 after serving for a few more years in the IDF after his mandatory service. He just wouldn’t stop talking about how amazing his trip was. So, for years I’ve been dreaming about the trip I’d take after the army. I absolutely love traveling. Getting far away for a long time was so important to me for my psychological health. I really wanted to see the world, to expand my horizons, to see how I would cope when I’m on my own and far away from home. Of course, I also wanted to make new friends and have exciting experiences, too. These just aren’t the same kind of experiences you have during a quick getaway trip to Europe.” For now, Naveh is using her free time to study for her psychometric exam, but she also hasn’t lost faith that one day she’ll be able to take her dream trip. “If the skies open up in January or April, then I’m definitely going to take a trip, even if it has to be much shorter than I’d planned. I’m not going to give up” she declares unequivocally. 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.