At 17, I finished high school, packed my bags and moved to Israel. I made aliyah with no friends, family or knowledge of the language. I moved because I am Zionist and I moved when I moved so I could be drafted.
I am an eighth-generation Yankee Jew. In other words, I knew as much about what it meant to be drafted into the IDF as I did about tax law in Holland. I was in my sophomore year of high school when I made the decision to move to Israel, so my mother and I decided I had two years to do everything I could to come to the army with the most impressive resume possible.
That way, I would get a good job and not, to quote my mother, “be stuck with some stupid job where I would be making coffee for a commander.” Because that’s how it works in the US army, you come to it like a job or college, with a resume and letters of recommendation.
So I convinced my Moroccan math teacher to tutor me in Arabic twice a week, I spent the summer in a guns and firearms course learning to shoot all types of firearms and hit targets at distances.
I took every advanced placement course my school offered and every day of junior year, I spent half the day at a vocational high school near mine, in Aviation – in other words, a private airplane pilot course. I wanted to show up to the army with an impressive resume.
In August 2015, I moved to Israel. I was 17 so I came with a letter from my mother giving permission for me to be drafted under the age of 18. I was ready to be drafted ASAP and then reality hit me.
I learned that most Israelis spend the last two years of high school in something called miyunim, where they are tested to get into very competitive units. I also learned that without having any Hebrew, my chances of getting a good job in the army were quite slim, and without miyunim, Hebrew, and a lot of luck, my resume that I worked so hard on was essentially worthless.
In fact, in my first interaction with the army, when I handed the 18-year-old girl in charge of my intake my very-carefully put-together folder with letters of recommendation, grades and a resume, and she tried to hide a laugh – pretty unsuccessfully.
How to postpone your IDF draft
SO ARMED with all of this newfound information, I decided to postpone my draft. The army decided not to cooperate.
After being in Israel for only a few weeks, I received a letter in the mail with a draft date in November. I called Meitav (the army unit in charge of drafting and everything pre-army) to try and postpone my draft and pretty much every interaction went as follows:
I call Meitav, listen to three minutes of Hebrew and then press seven for an English speaker. I wait on hold for three hours. Someone answers the phone.
“Hi! Can you hear me?”
“Hello? Hello?” and they hang up.
Rinse and repeat.
“Hi! Do you speak English?”
“No, Hold on a moment.” and I am put on hold.
After two hours the machine says something in Hebrew, which I later learned means they are closed for the day, and hangs up.
IT TOOK me about three days of this procedure to get someone on the phone. When I finally did, I tried to explain to the girl on the other side of the phone that I want to postpone my draft because I needed to learn Hebrew. She laughed and said that this is not a good enough reason but if I want, I can send a fax.
She of course hung up before I could get the fax number. What other army can you think of that would tell you learning their language was not a good enough reason to postpone your draft?
To make a long story short, I spent weeks calling, emailing and faxing Meitav, requesting over and over again to postpone my draft but to no avail. My draft date was drawing nearer and I was starting to lose hope. Finally, a week before I was supposed to draft, I called in the big guns.
I called Meitav and handed the phone over to the mother of the family with whom I was staying. And with all the strength of a 40-kilo Yemenite woman, she let it rip. For about 40 minutes, I listened to her scream at the top of her lungs in Hebrew while not understanding a word. Finally, she hung up, handed me the phone and said, “It’s done.”
What is the thing that makes every soldier, commander and officer in the IDF wet themselves? Iran and its nukes? Nope. Terrorists? Nah. A repeat of the 1948 war? Not so much. But put them in front of a Jewish mom and they hit the floor and roll on their back like a puppy in front of a seven-year-old female dog showing teeth.
And at the end of the day, that’s what makes the IDF so different. They don’t care about your resume, your background or even if you speak Hebrew. They will put you where they want you, they will decide when they want you and they will mold you into what they need you to be and the only thing that can make an ounce of difference in any of this is a Jewish mom.
Because at the end of the day, the soldier/commander/officer on the other end of the phone is just a kid and they really don’t want to get yelled at by a Jewish mom. But really, who does?
The writer is the founder of Soft Landing, a company dedicated to redefining what it means to move to Israel. YourSoftLanding.com