Israel is a country made up of a diverse social fabric of cultures and ethnicities. The IDF (Zahal) is the army of the nation and therefore also represents this diversity. The following are seven stories from seven distinct individuals, told over seven days.
Urilinda moved to Israel 6 years ago from the Philippines. She came to Israel by herself to serve in the IDF (Zahal), even though she’s a Christian.
Sergeant Urilinda’s lifestyle has changed radically. Back in the Philippines she lived in a small village and didn’t have running water or electricity on a regular basis. Today, Sergeant Urilinda serves as a combat soldier in the Caracal Battalion, protecting the lives of thousands of people.
“Ever since I heard about the Israel Defense Forces I wanted to take a part and become a combat soldier,” Sergeant Urilinda says. “I figured that if I make a decision to do something, I want to be all in and become a fighter.” Sergeant Urilinda laughed and added, “My friends from the Philippines call me ‘Xena Warrior Princess’.”
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Alon’s journey started in a far away land, New Zealand. It all started when the stories and experiences of those surrounding him inspired Alon to explore Israel. He came to volunteer in Israel for 6 months, when he began to think about joining the IDF (Zahal).
Alon joined a “Mechina” (a pre-military program that combines Israel studies and combat fitness), and following that program he joined the IDF (Zahal). “I figured that I won’t be at peace with myself if I skip this opportunity.” Private Alon asserted, “It’s a chance to give from yourself to others, and at the same time to grow as a person and learn a lot.”
Private Alon is serving now as a combat soldier in the Paratrooper Brigade. “My friends in New Zealand don’t understand what is going on here, why I moved here or became a combat soldier,” he says. “But they’re very proud and supportive.”
“If you asked me a year ago if I would join the army and become a paratrooper, I would say that it was impossible. Today, I ask ‘What’s next?’ Anything is possible.”
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Since his childhood, Avi had a dream of serving in the IDF (Zahal). It wasn’t an easy choice to take. He was born and raised in an Arab country in which the Jewish community was very small.
Today, Corporal Avi is a combat soldier in the Kfir Brigade. Childhood memories from his homeland appear during his service in an unexpected moments. “In one of the exercises in the unit, we passed next to a flock of sheep,” Corporal Avi tells, “The scent and the location suddenly reminded me of my childhood home. My father used to be a sheep farmer.”
Corporal Avi feels a great satisfaction in serving in the IDF (Zahal). “It feels very good to be here, especially when I’m the only soldier from that country.” Corporal Avi is also inspiring other young Jewish people from his country to contribute and represent their heritage as IDF (Zahal) soldiers. “I encourage them to join the army, and I tell them the truth about it – it’s difficult and not easy to be a soldier, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s worth every moment.”
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Three years ago, Ester was celebrating the same holidays celebrated in any other Jewish home. The only difference was the location – Panama. Today, Pvt. Ester is the only soldier serving in the IDF (Zahal) from Panama.
Pvt. Ester proudly serves in a classified unit of the Israeli Navy. “I’m very satisfied with the path I’ve chosen. I’m proud of myself and of each step I took in order to get here.” Pvt. Ester added, “My mother is very proud of me, and that makes me happiest. I miss her very much.”
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2nd Lieutenant Ion
Second Lt. Ion was born and raised in Athens, Greece, but in the past five years he has called Israel his true “home”. Originally, Ion moved to Israel in order to complete his academic degree, but after a while he decided to join the IDF (Zahal).
Second Lt. Ion is an officer in the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and serves at the Erez Crossing. During Operation Protective Edge, 2nd Lt. Ion was responsible for facilitating the connecting between international organizations and wounded Palestinians in need of evacuation.
“I’m proud to be Greek, especially being the only one [in the IDF (Zahal)],” said 2nd Lieutenant Ion. “In the Jewish community in Athens, there are young people who are inspired by my story. I share experiences from my service with them. No university will teach you what you can learn and the experience in the army.”
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Pvt. Sevilla is a soldier in the Technological and Logistics Directorate. A few years earlier while living in Cuba, she couldn’t have imagined how much her life would change.
“I moved to Israel because life wasn’t easy in Cuba, and I needed a new beginning,” said Pvt. Sevilla. “I joined the IDF (Zahal) shortly after arriving in Israel. For me, it’s the first step of the life I want to have here.”
Though Pvt. Sevilla admits to having concerns before joining the IDF (Zahal), she asserts, “I now realize that it is an amazing opportunity. My life here is good, and I like being in the army.”
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Pvt. Moshe traveled a long way to make his dream come true. Though he was born to a devout Christian family in Zimbabwe, he was educated in a Jewish school. When he grew up, Pvt. Moshe decided to convert to Judaism and move to Israel. When he landed in Israel, he felt like he’d arrived at his home.
“My mother was worried when I told her that I wanted to serve in the IDF (Zahal),” said Pvt. Moshe. “Before Zimbabwe became an independent state, there was a war and many of my mother’s friends were killed. But now that she knows what I do in the IDF (Zahal), she can stay calm.”