Young Israeli athletes who reach the age of enlistment in the IDF (Zahal) have a difficult decision. Remaining a world-class athlete means maintaining a strict training regimen and competition schedule — not so easy to do as a soldier. And yet, the IDF (Zahal) has many young professional athletes who, though hungry for success, report for basic training nevertheless.
We profiled four outstanding athletes who balance their time between their army bases and their training grounds. Their dedication to the IDF (Zahal) is a testament to the lively sense of national duty that permeates Israeli society.
Pvt. Sylven Landesberg (23)
Pvt. Sylven Landesberg (Credit: Bamahane)
Army service: Fitness instructor at Tel HaShomer military base
More than a hobby: Pvt. Landesberg was born and raised in New York. He began playing basketball at the age of five, and received a high-school basketball scholarship to the University of Virginia. (Watch an interview with Pvt. Landesberg). In 2010 he signed with the professional basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv. At that time he also became an Israeli citizen. (See some of his highlights here)
Life in uniform: “Draft day was an amazing experience for me. I barely managed to get on the bus because of all the photographers. They let me go before everyone during the draft process, and I finished the day in five minutes. Nevertheless, being a player for Maccabi Tel Aviv isn’t always an advantage. One of the officers at my base is a fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv. This has caused a little friction between us.”
On the army: “When I immigrated to Israel, I knew that I would one day enlist. I wanted to be a part of the country like everyone else. Basic training was much harder than I thought it would be. I learned to appreciate things a lot more.”
Cpl. Jordan Meyerson (20)
Cpl. Yarden Meyerson (Credit: Bamahane)
Army service: Clerk at the commander’s office of the training base at the Wingate Institute sports facility.
More than a hobby: Meyerson began practicing at the age of three with the famous Israeli judoka Oren Smadja.
Notable achievements: Fifth place in the European U-21 Championship; U-21 Israeli champion, and number two in World Tour in Portugal. (See Meyerson dominate her French competitor at the 2013 European Championship.)
Life in uniform: “During the first week, I found myself in a Krav Maga class. I volunteered to compete with an especially strong soldier. Contrary to what most were expecting, I managed to drop him pretty quickly. Since then they know not to mess with me.”
On the army: “A lot of people in my family were IDF (Zahal) officers. My big sister will become a Lieutenant soon. I had agonized over whether to continue the family legacy, or to continue in pursuit of my profession. In the end, I decided to continue in Judo and my family supported the decision. Nevertheless, it was clear to me that I would always complete a regular military service.”
Cpl. Keren Zivner (23)
Cpl. Keren Zivner (Credit: Bamahane)
Army service: Control Commander at a major IDF (Zahal) base.
More than a hobby: Cpl. Zivner began swimming at the age of nine, and maintains at least nine training sessions per week — and that’s just in the water.
Notable achievements: Gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly at theMaccabiah Games, and Israel’s champion in 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter butterfly.
Life in uniform: “When I get to the army after swim practice, I feel a bit of a distance between me and the other soldiers on base. Maybe it’s because of the smell of chlorine.”
On the army: After high school, Zivner received special permission to postpone her military service in order to attend college in the U.S. and continue her swimming training. “All this time I knew I wanted to return home and have a meaningful service. Today I’m very happy with my choice. My father is a Lieutenant Colonel [in reserves], so since I was a child I knew I wanted to give of myself to the State of Israel.”
Cpl. Tzur Lieberman (19)
Cpl. Tzur Lieberman (Credit: Bamahane)
Sport: High jump
Army service: Serves in the Telecommunications Corps.
More than a hobby: Lieberman played professional basketball for ten years before switching a year ago to the high jump.
Notable achievements: Israeli youth champion; in adult division: number two in Israel and Maccabiah games, and number 23 in Europe.
Life in uniform: “At the European Championship, the Portugal team sat around me and asked me about the army. It sounded very strange to them that I am both a professional athlete and a soldier. In the end though, they were really excited.”
On the army: “I’ve never given up on myself — not in sports and not in regular life, and certainly not when I chose to enlist. I have an interesting and challenging service, and I’m contributing to the State of Israel. This truly gives me a good feeling.”
(Photo credits and interviews to Bamahane)