Last week, a new group of soldiers swore their allegiance to the IDF (Zahal) and formally entered the Armored Corps. Many of them are immigrants who left their homes to defend the State of Israel.
During an initiation ceremony last week for the Armored Corps, the IDF (Zahal) formally recognized immigrant soldiers whose families live outside of Israel. “We must recognize the huge sacrifice that immigrant soldiers make to come and serve,” said the commander leading the ceremony. “We are very thankful and filled with pride that they stand here today with us.”
Many soldiers in the Armored Corps immigrated to Israel from across the world to serve in the Israeli military. We had the chance to speak with three of them and hear what brought them into the IDF (Zahal).
Pvt. Yony Weisinger: Committed from a young age
When he was a child, Private Yonatan “Yoni” Weisinger asked his mom where his name came from. His mother, L’via, explained that he was named after Yonatan Netanyahu, who lost his life during Operation Entebbe in Uganda. Since that moment, Yoni has wanted to serve as a soldier in the IDF (Zahal).
“Every kid wants to be a fireman or a police officer. I always wanted to be an Israeli soldier,” Pvt. Weisinger explained before the initiation ceremony. “The first time I came here I fell in love.” His mother came all the way from Teaneck, New Jersey to watch him stand among with his fellow Israeli soldiers. “It was really important for me to be here today, because Yoni has been dreaming of this since he was 4 years old,” L’via explains.
Yoni came to Israel when he was 15 years old and began to learn the language and culture, all with the goal of joining the IDF (Zahal) as an Israeli. He eventually finished high school and learned Hebrew and today is training to load ammunition into IDF (Zahal) tanks. “Seeing him in a uniform is very emotional,” Yoni’s mother said, holding back tears. “It brings me tears of joy and pride that chose to put himself on the line to defend the Jewish homeland.”
After the ceremony, Yoni recalled the significance of his first moments in the IDF (Zahal). “The first time I put on the uniform I couldn’t believe it was real,” he said. “When I received my dog tags it was a really sobering moment. I realized this isn’t a dream anymore. It’s real.”
Yoni looks forward to the rest of his service. He says he’s interesting in becoming an officer and possibly continuing a career with the IDF (Zahal).
Pvt. Frank Levy: From Peru to Israel
Pvt. Frank Levy is a soldier from Peru who immigrated to Israel two years ago. “You have to be brave and work hard,” he said of his experience. “Even though I never imagined I would be here, serving in the IDF (Zahal) is the best decision I’ve made in my life.”
Frank gets along well with the soldiers in his unit and has made several close friends. “In the battalion we’re not just friends, we’re also brothers. I feel like I have a family in the army. I feel as if I were at home.”
Frank spent three months in the army’s intensive Hebrew course before entering the Armored Corps. Now he speaks Hebrew with his commanders and says the language is no longer a barrier.
Frank’s father, Americo, attended last week’s ceremony and praised his son’s choice to join the IDF (Zahal). “Even though I miss him a lot, I am very happy,” he said. “I think he made the right decision.”
Pvt. Jeremy Pitts: Proud to serve his new home
Private Jeremy Pitts travelled to Israel for the first time from New York as a teenager. He came with a youth program and fell in love with the country. A year and a half ago, he immigrated to Israel and now serves as a soldier in the Infantry Support Unit of the Armored Corps.
“Coming from New York, I didn’t know Hebrew, but I feel at home here even though I sometimes have trouble communicating,” Jeremy said as he anxiously waited for his initiation ceremony to begin. “My fellow soldiers make me feel part of a family.”
Jane Mogel, Jeremy’s mom, traveled all the way from New York to see her son take the oath to defend the State of Israel. “I am very proud and all of our friends tell us all the time how proud they are. It’s quite an honor,” she said.
“It’s very special to have my mom here today, I thank God that she came,” Jeremy said. “I am proud to be in the Israeli army because it’s a feeling like non other, and it’s always been a dream of mine.”