‘Nothing like it in the world’

“I made the decision in 12th grade, when everyone wanted to go to university. I decided that I wanted something different than my friends.”

Yam Elias, an IDF lone soldier from Mexico. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Yam Elias, an IDF lone soldier from Mexico.
At first glance, there would seem to be little connection between Cancun, one of Mexico’s most famous resort destinations, known for its coral sands and blue Caribbean waters, and the Caracal Battalion, a crack IDF infantry unit that patrols Israel’s southern border. However, in the case of Yam Elias, a member of the unit, and a lone soldier, the association is essential.
Elias was born in Israel, and moved to Cancun with her parents when she was six months old. She grew up in Cancun, whose Jewish community numbers approximately 500 out of a total population of 450,000. She says that while she was not deeply involved with the Jewish community in Cancun, her family observed Jewish holidays, and she did have some Jewish friends growing up.
Her father, who comes from Mexico City, has a real-estate company in Cancun, and her mother, who is Israeli, is an event coordinator.
She also has a 17-year-old brother who is in Cancun.
As a child, Elias visited Israel many times, and spent a year in Israel when she was 14.
Yet the thought of moving to Israel and joining the army didn’t occur to her until she was in her last year of high school.
“I made the decision in 12th grade, when everyone wanted to go to university. I decided that I wanted something different than my friends.”
A month after graduating high school, she was on a plane to Israel.
“I decided that Mexico was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to live in Israel. There was nothing connecting me to Mexico. I decided to make aliya and go into the army.”
After arriving in Israel, she visited the IDF recruitment office. She stayed at her grandmother’s home in Netanya, and visited and slept at the homes of other relatives. Before officially joining the army, she spent eight months touring the country, worked, and even had a chance to visit her parents in Mexico.
In March 2016, she officially enlisted and went through four months of basic training, before becoming a part of the Caracal Battalion, one of only two combat units in the Israeli military that is composed of both male and female soldiers. The Caracal unit patrols the Israeli-Egyptian border, and it is named after the caracal, a small cat. There are twice as many girls as boys in the company, according to Elias. The Caracal is also called by the name “Battalion 33,” in memory of 33 women members of the Palmah who fell in battle.
Elias says that the most difficult part of her army service was the time that she had to spend in the field during the winter months.
“I came from Cancun, where there is no winter, and even when it rains, it’s a warm rain!” Nevertheless, one year and five months into her two-years-and-eight-months stint, she is clearly happy.
“I love the country and I want to fight on its behalf.”
While she learned Hebrew at home from her mother, her Hebrew has improved greatly since she joined the army.
Elias is one of several thousand lone soldiers, who made aliya without their parents and who serve in a range of positions in the army. Lone soldiers receive an increased monthly salary, assistance in housing expenses, and special leaves.
Speaking of her entry into the army, she says, “It wasn’t difficult for me to become acclimated to life in the army because my family and friends were very supportive. I was concerned that it would be much more difficult, and that no one would care, but everyone was extremely supportive... I have many friends and people who help. There is no moment that I feel alone. There is always a place for me to go.”
Currently she shares a Jerusalem apartment with friends near the Mahaneh Yehuda market and says she loves to go out with friends for coffee, to clubs and to tour the country. After the army, she plans on taking the very common route of working and then traveling to see the world. She plans on staying in the country and is thinking about studying architecture in university when she is ready.
Elias says that three things about living in Israel stand out. First, she feels that living in Israel is like living with one big family.
This is especially true of her army experiences.
“You always meet people with different opinions and different ideologies, and it is for life. You grow together, cry together, and mature together – there is nothing like it in the world.”
Second, she feels far safer living in Israel than she did in Mexico.
“Living in Mexico, I heard about wars in Israel, but when I got here, I saw that it is much safer. In Mexico, there is a saying that ‘when the sun goes down, you go down.’ It’s unsafe for a woman to walk around by herself.”
The situation is far different here in Israel.
She points out, for example, that little children can walk by themselves to school.
Third, she mentions the remarkable diversity that she has found living in Israel, especially among the lone soldiers.
“There are so many lone soldiers from so many different countries – such as the US, Canada, Denmark, Russia, Venezuela – who have love of Judaism, and love of Israel.”
Elias, who is a corporal in the Caracal Battalion, says, modestly, that the work that she does in the army “is not all that difficult. We do what is necessary so that the citizens living in the area can feel safe.”