Two lone soldiers realize their dream of serving in the IDF (Zahal) – and fall in love with one another in the process.
Corporal Rebecca Neufeld from Melbourne, Australia, and Second Lieutenant Adam Labaton from Manchester, U.K., traveled a long way to get to Israel. They met in 2010 while staying at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in northern Israel. Cpl. Neufeld had arrived on a gap year between high school and university, traveling around Israel for the year and getting involved in various volunteering projects. “My last stop of the year was two months working at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu,” Cpl. Neufeld said. There she met 2nd Lt. Labaton, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) and was living on the Kibbutz while completing an ulpan [immersive Hebrew language course] ahead of his voluntary enlistment into the IDF (Zahal). “We had an instant connection,” she said. “I kind of just knew this was the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”
Two months later, Cpl. Neufeld returned home to Australia and began her year of university while keeping in constant contact with 2nd Lt. Labaton. “At that point,” she said, “I was stuck between the crossroads – between staying in university or going to Israel. I knew I wanted to do the army.” While she always knew she would someday make aliyah, her connection to 2nd Lt. Labaton helped secure her desire to come to Israel immediately and volunteer for the IDF (Zahal). After a year in university, Cpl. Neufeld arrived back to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, began her ulpan, and enrolled herself in Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates army service in the IDF (Zahal) for Jews who are not from Israel. From then on it’s a classic love story as the two picked up right where they left off.
2nd Lt. Labaton came to Israel in 2009, dead set on joining the army and serving Israel. “I felt Israel is as much my country as it is anyone else’s,” 2nd Lt. Labaton said. Following a year of ulpan, during which he met Cpl. Neufeld, he went to serve in the Nahal Infantry Brigade, well on his way towards becoming a platoon commander in Nahal, which required him to sign on an additional 1.5 years from the required 3-year service. “Regardless of where I was, I knew during basic training that I wanted to lead,” 2nd Lt. Labaton said. While he is not yet a platoon commander in Nahal, today 2nd Lt. Labaton is an officer in the elite Center for Tactical Training.
When asked about his girlfriend’s enlistment in the IDF (Zahal), 2nd Lt. Labaton has the highest praise for her. “I’m definitely very proud of her. It’s not easy, especially coming alone from Australia,” 2nd Lt. Labaton said. “But we’ve been each others rocks throughout this whole process, each others family. I was in Israel for a year without her, and then she came and made the service and my life here so much better and easier. We just understood everything the other was going through, from basic training to guard duty, and we were lucky to go through it together.”
Cpl. Neufeld and 2nd Lt. Labaton are happy to be celebrating the Jewish new year together this year. In terms of their ultimate goal, they insist their plans will keep them in Israel. “We want to travel, see the world, and visit each other’s family,” 2nd Lt. Labaton said. “The end goal, however, is to build a family — here in Israel of course.”