Soldiers across the country will be celebrating Passover with their families- whether it’s the family they grew up with or their newly formed “military family”. Living side by side, military units forge strong bonds through their shared experiences, and form a close-knit group. When spring comes around, these families gather for a festival of renewal, rebirth and unity.
For the average Israeli, springtime brings to mind, among other things, the traditional holiday of Passover. Jewish families around the world celebrate this joyous occasion in symbolic memorialization of the story of Exodus. They hold a Seder and gather around the dinner table in order to retell the tale of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to a life as an independent nation. For the average IDF (Zahal) combat soldier, family does not necessarily apply to their relatives.
Soldiers in a wide range of IDF (Zahal) combat units wake up at the crack of dawn with their closest friends. They eat every meal together for weeks on end. They are there for each other in a flash, and often endanger themselves to protect their friends. This partnership inevitably forges an incredible bond and, in a sense, forms a kind of family that provides a support system for the tough times and for the moments of happiness and triumph. How exactly do commanders encourage their soldiers to bond? How is it that soldiers learn to trust one another, and to gain that level of comfort one associates with the closest of family members?
Small, caring gestures are detrimental in strengthening the connection between the members of a “military family”. “Recently, one of my soldiers had a particularly difficult guard shift. In the middle of the night, a friend of hers from the squad surprised her with a cup of hot tea and kept her company throughout the rest of her shift,” tells Sgt. Sapir Tzur, a commander in the co-ed Caracal Battalion. “The soldiers feel that they need to support each other, and know that that they will receive support when they are in times of need.”
Sgt. Sapir Tzur with her #IDF (Zahal)amily
Facing challenges certainly plays a factor in bringing soldiers closer together. Second Lt. Nadav Efrati, a platoon commander in the Paratroopers Brigade, recalls a night out in the field during which it rained so hard that all of the soldiers decided to join the soldier who was on guard duty for the night. “We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s the tough moments that can really bring us together,” says Second Lt. Efrati. Nevertheless, the sweet moments also play a critical role. “We start off each week with ‘the cake rule’. Everyone brings sweets that are generally off limits during the week, and we discuss the goals for that week.”
2nd Lt. Nadav Efrati with his #IDF (Zahal)amily
Challenging exercises can teach soldiers to develop trust and to cooperate well with one another. “I make my soldiers climb a hill- blindfolded,” says a platoon commander in the Kfir Brigade, Second Lt. Amit Alon.“They need to work together and build trust in order to reach the top quickly.” Conditions get increasingly tough as soldiers’ training progresses, and they learn to cope by looking out for one another. At the end of a strenuous week, “they really enjoy Shabbat meals, where they sing, laugh and take a break.”
“When the going gets tough, you really get to know people and what their true character is,” explains Lt. Or, an air control and monitoring officer in the IAF. “Everyone is extremely preoccupied with what they need to get done, but they know that when someone needs help, they need to be there for them. It’s just clear to them.”
Lt. Or with his #IDF (Zahal)amily
For IDF (Zahal) soldiers, the army is a home away from home. It is where soldiers not only learn profession skills that enable them to defend the country, but it’s where they find the ultimate support network they cherish for life.