Diversity of the Israeli Army

Everyone had forgotten that it was Christmas Day. We worked until 5:00 PM with an hour before dinner. After intensely working and being on my feet all day, it felt good to lay down on my cot and be lateral with my feet up. At 6:00 PM.

I walked over to the dining room with two women I had met the first week and had become good friends with: Leah from Seattle, Washington and Linda from Johannesburg, South Africa. This is how it goes when you volunteer with Sar-El: you meet people and the gravitational pull of like-mindedness creates bonds of friendship that last beyond your time of service. There’s Edna from Montreal, Lili from Argentina, Avi from Jerusalem, Michael from New York and the list goes on. We stay in touch through a What’s Up group. Last May when I was in Israel, Edna was also there to visit her son so we had an opportunity to get together. We felt so aligned with each other that it was like we had known each other since childhood. 

As I walked into the dining hall, I was struck by the diversity of the Israeli army: men wearing kippahs, some with tzitzits, some with just IDF regulation uniforms, some light-skinned, some dark-skinned, Ashkenazi, Sephardim, Mizrahi, Falashash from Ethiopia, men, women, officers sitting with non-officers, volunteers blending into the groups chit-chatting in various languages of French, English, Hebrew and some other languages that I couldn’t identify. The mix was striking and heartwarming. People who have never visited Israel do not have any conception of its diversity.  

My work group for packaging drug kits is also diverse: Laurent and Alain from Paris; Howard from Baltimore, Marcos from Florida, Murray from Atlanta, and I’m the California girl. But in the army, things don’t always stay the same. Howard gets switched out and reassigned to a different work group that needs another man for lifting and moving boxes, and I get switched out because they need a person who is fluent in Hebrew for some new tasks. So I change places with Martine a woman who now lives in France but who had previously lived in Israel for 20 years and speaks perfect Hebrew. I am re-assigned to a different warehouse where the work group is sorting vast amounts of medical supplies. Now I’m working with Modya from Toronto, Sarah from Washington, DC and John from Washington state. Our work group coordinator is a reservist who was called up to a logistics assignment. He is 32 years old and lives in Herzilya-Petuach, the high-tech capital of Israel. His regular job is working security for El Al at Ben Gurion airport. This involves a lot of training and awareness of the surroundings and people who are boarding flights. I never really thought much about the people who clear me for boarding my plane, but now I know more about the extensive training that these airport works receive, information that I never thought I would acquire.