KIA Tendler becomes a heroine

When Avital, 18, read about the death of Sgt.-Maj. Keren Tendler, the only woman killed in action during the war in the North and the first woman killed in action since the Yom Kippur War, she was not deterred from realizing her dream. "Obviously I was sorry for her and her family," said Avital. "But I was proud of her bravery. She showed the nation that a woman has the courage to do what she did in the IAF." Avital wants to be what Tendler was: an on-flight IAF mechanic. She is in the middle of her 18-month mechanical engineering course, where she is learning to be an IAF ground mechanic. If she finishes at the top of her class, she has a chance of following in Tendler's footsteps, and would become the first religious woman in IAF history to serve as an on-flight mechanic. The IDF's decision in the early '90s to open up more diverse and challenging military positions to women has also exposed women, both secular and religious, to more dangers. "Halacha (Jewish law) makes no distinction between men and women when it comes to exposing them to life-threatening situations," said Rabbi Israel Rosen, head of the Tzomet Institute, which fuses science and technology with Halacha. "I would never tell a woman not to be an ambulance driver in the dangerous areas of Judea and Samaria just because she is a woman. Nor do we see in Jewish sources that women are any less courageous than men. After all, the book of Judges tells how Ya'el killed Sisera, the commander of Yavin's army." Rosen admitted, however, that female prisoners of war were much more vulnerable than male POWs. "What would have happened if Tendler were taken prisoner?" asked Rosen. But the vulnerability of female POWs is not the reason why Rosen and most rabbis oppose military service for women. Rabbis object to the intimate coed living conditions in the IDF that create too many sexual temptations for young soldiers. "The IDF is no place for young women," Rosen said. Lior, 18, who served in a tank division for the last three weeks on the Lebanese border as a communications technician, said her superiors treated her with special consideration during the war. "At first they did not even send me to the front," said Lior, who graduated from Tzeitlan, a religious high school in Tel Aviv. "They were very careful to keep me out of danger as much as possible." Yifat Sela, director of Aluma, a nonprofit organization that provides moral support and practical advice to religious women during IDF service, admitted that women are not built for serious combat. "The female body is not built to carry heavy weight or to hike long distances," said Sela. "Medical research has proven this. But I don't think women lack the resolve or the courage to serve in life threatening positions." During an interview conducted four years ago that was quoted this week in Ma'ariv, Tendler was quoted as saying, "I see myself as a combat soldier in every way. I signed up for three years of career service and I have no regrets. My goal is to show other women that this position, an on-flight mechanic, can be performed by women." For Avital, Tendler, who was buried Wednesday in Rehovot, realized her goal.