The Mexican who protects Israel’s coast

Sergeant Haim Roffe moved from Mexico to Israel and serves on a patrol boat based in Ashdod. He talks about his experiences in the navy

Date: 21/04/2011, 10:55 AM     Author: Netael Bendel, Israel Navy website

He arrived in the navy by accident but stayed on purpose. He misses Mexican tortillas from home but certainly enjoys Israeli hummus. For him, words like “Zionism”, “contributing” and “army” are not dirty words. And what about an Israeli girlfriend? “That day will come,” he says. Sergeant Haim Roffe, 21, based in Ashdod, is a new immigrant from Mexico and serves in Unit 916 of “Daburim” patrol boats.

Why the Navy?

“The truth is, on my manila I wrote Golani, Paratroopers and Daburim. One day they called me and said that tomorrow there is a tryout and I did not know for what. I came and saw that it was the Navy and I looked into service in the Daburim. I decided that this is what I wanted because it is operationally-inclined.”

How is it serving on a boat?

“It’s fun but hard. It’s not a simple service. We operate off Gaza from where we protect the country. It’s not simple because you need to learn, to cook, to stand at battle stations, to sleep and to pick up phrases, all together. When you finish a shift you say to yourself ‘I’ll study for two hours and then go to sleep’ and then immediately when you go to sleep an alarm goes off to man the battle stations. I don’t mind because we are defending the country. I am dying to tell everyone about what we do but it is secret information and needs to be protected.”

Why did you enlist when you were not required to?

“I wanted to contribute to the country and immigrate to Israel. I noticed that in Israel there are many people that see the country as if it is just like any other country, except that Hebrew is spoken here. I don’t see it like that. This country is ours, it belongs to all of us, it is like a home and it is the country for the Jewish people.”

What do you have to say to those who evade the draft?

“I think the army gives for life. Even though it is hard. Furthermore, this is a country that any Jew can immigrate to and arrive whenever he wants. I immigrated to Israel and the country helped me. This country helps you a lot. This country was established by people who risked their lives for it, were injured and were killed for it. I feel the need and duty to contribute to the country. My grandfather fled to Israel from Morocco and was a company commander in the paratroopers. Now it’s my turn. On Purim, I saw in Jerusalem people burning the country’s flag. That’s horrible.”

How are you treated in the army?

“Excellent. At first I had social and language difficulties but the guys helped me. I wrote a letter to the commander of the Navy to tell him I’m grateful for everything that was done for me to support me. I appreciate the people who helped me. A major at the naval training base helped me move into an apartment. He drove for me with his car from Haifa to Jerusalem. A NCO came to check that everything is o.k. in my apartment. My boat commander takes care of me personally. He helps me a lot.”

“When I am at home [off of base], I have to take care of myself. It’s not simple being here alone. I very much miss my family. I’m the oldest child and have seven siblings. I have many friends and acquaintances that write me all the time on Facebook asking me when I am coming back. It’s tough and I have to cope with this.”

How do you deal with the difficulties?

“I don’t have a particular way of coping, I just need to be strong. I have sacrificed a lot for this. To do something that you’ve always wanted to do, you have to sacrifice something. I sacrificed my family and my friends. My parents are very supportive of me. When I have a problem, I see it as a step in the progress of life. My brother had a bar mitzvah that I could not go to so I sent him a bag of tefillin with his name on it. I knew there were going to be difficulties but not I can say I have learned many things because of this.”

What is next?

“I really want to be a commander at the training school in the course for Daburim boat fighters. I want to convey my thoughts to trainees. I want to send a message and explain to them what the army is. Many soldiers enlist because they are required to and have to do three years. If it was allowed, they wouldn’t enlist. I want to give them morale. It seems to me that this is one of the most important things. Also, when you see a trainee that is learning and advancing, it gives you satisfaction. My commander in the course gave me his rifle strap as a symbol of appreciation. He appreciated my effort in the army. It was fun to give and receive a lot of motivation.”