Boot Camp: Take Two

IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

Stu Davidovich completed basic training, but returned to train as a combat soldier and now serves in the IDF (Zahal) Artillery Corps

Date: 19/10/2010, 7:13 PM     Author: Gilad Skolnick

Pvt. Stu Davidovich smiles as he recounts the most moving moment in his life, the first time someone referred to him as “chayal” or soldier. He has just finished basic training for the second time around, and this time it was much harder. Now he is proud to show off his new turquoise beret which attests to the fact that he is a soldier in the IDF (Zahal) Artillery Corps.

Stu had already completed basic training for non-combat service in February and was supposed to be released by now from the IDF (Zahal), but he volunteered to serve in a combat unit and had to go through intensive training all over again. As someone who often “likes to do what no one else usually wants to do”, he volunteered to serve for 13 months more than he had to.

When Stu made Aliyah and immigrated to Israel last year, he never expected to find himself in the Artillery Corps. His father had actually served as an artillery soldier in the Soviet Union, but Stu believes that his Zionist feelings which were developed while he was a participant on a high school program to Israel had the strongest influence on his decision. “Little by little I started to feel more and more at home here. I identify with the history, the culture…I feel like I belong here” he explains.

His parents pressured him to stay close to home and apply to graduate school, but were supportive of his move to Israel. “My brother made Aliyah in 2007. If he hadn’t done so I probably wouldn’t be here either. He paved the way for me.”

In addition to learning how to be a combat soldier, Stu is also learning the finer points of Hebrew language and Israeli culture. His artillery battery consists mostly of native Israelis, with two immigrants who have been in the country for several years. Stu had been in Israel for just about a year when his life became completely different from what he had imagined when he was studying Geography at the University of Maryland only a few short years previous.

Upon graduating at the age of 23, instead of following the expected track of finding work, he decided to make Aliyah. After half a year in an absorption center with intensive Hebrew study, Stu was drafted into the IDF (Zahal).

Currently, Stu is taking advantage of every precious moment of free time available to him in order to catch up on some badly needed rest and relaxation, something even more necessary after finishing the mentally and physically taxing basic training for the Artillery Corps. As part of his training, Stu has undergone intense exercises in obstacle courses with high walls and long ropes that need to be overcome. At any time he must be ready to drop to the ground, be it covered in sand, sharp stones or thorns. “You think it can’t get harder, but somehow it does,” Stu says, adding that the commanders are rigidly strict but that discipline is after all the point of training.

The language barrier is another challenge. “Everything becomes harder with this additional obstacle,” he laughs, explaining that lectures can be difficult to understand but that his commanders provide him with extra assistance and that a shortened Hebrew course was provided to him as well. “There were times when they were more lenient [with me] because of the language issue,” he adds. On the plus side his spoken Hebrew is improving, although catching the subtleties of conversations is still difficult. Everyone is really supportive, acknowledging Stu as a lone soldier (one who does not live with his family), and they all try to help.

Support has come in many different forms, including extra subsidies provided by the IDF (Zahal) to lone soldiers, Friday night dinners at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem organized by the Michael Levin Memorial Center for Lone Soldiers, care packages arranged by different groups such as the American Zionist Federation and Nefesh B’Nefesh, and letters written by American Hebrew school students asking Stu to stay safe and thanking him for serving and protecting Israel.

Stu did not come with any expectations, so nothing is too much of a surprise. However, he says, “I’m surprised with myself that I chose to do combat service, but then again I’m still surprised at my choice of following my Zionist passion and moving here.” He summarizes this new exciting chapter in his life, saying “The whole thing is like a big dream, but I’m happy.”