One of the IDF’s most unique attributes is a vital role played by women in all spheres of the military, including combat units, the air force and intelligence.
American born Rami Diamond joined the IDF for a challenge, entering the Combat Field Intelligence Unit in Israel. Diamond studied for one year in Israel then decided to become a soldier.
“I felt like I left my mind and my heart in Israel,” she said. “Because of my age, I am no longer required to serve, although it was never a question. I came from a military background. My father was in the United States Navy and I grew up with the principle that freedom isn’t free. You have to fight for it and what you believe in.”
The San Diego chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces will honor Diamond and other women who have served in the IDF at the Fifth Annual Celebration Dinner and Concert, at 7 p.m. on November 21 at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel. For tickets and more information, email Nir Benzvi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FIDF provides many worthwhile programs to soldiers in the IDF, with donations funding the cause. These programs are designed to broaden soldiers’ horizons, strengthening their Jewish, Zionist and Israeli identities. Recently, Diamond spoke to L’Chaim Magazine about her passion for and experience in the IDF, as well as some of the programs the FIDF has in place to support soldiers. The following is Diamond’s story of her experience as a lone soldier in the IDF, as told to Deborah Vietor.
I can’t remember any one thing that my parents specifically said or did to infuse within me such a strong love for Israel. At the most, I can only recall a coffee table book of Israel landscapes in our living room. In a way, my parents’ love for Israel was not something to be passed down as any sort of “education.” For them, loving Israel was a way of life, and it emanated in the way they raised my sister and me. I can’t recall a single conversation about Israel. Israel was not bound by our words or by our thoughts, or even our feelings. Israel lived in our actions and in our character. My parents raised us to be fearless, to take risks, to speak our minds, to love nature, to respect others, to be confident, and most importantly to love ourselves. And in that manner, I was raised to be Israeli. I was living Israel before I even knew what she was.
I recall at a certain point, the image of the Israeli soldier entering my awareness. This was a breed of Jew I had never encountered. The concept of strong Jews, who could bear arms and fight their enemies, win battles, and defend our country and people, seemed like a dream. To me, they seemed like titans. Slowly but surely, the Israeli Defense Forces became my hero. The [IDF stood for] the archetypical Jew, that didn’t cower in the face of his enemy. The Israeli to me was not just a symbol of strength and freedom, but also that of hope and the fulfillment of the basic human right to exist. I wanted to be a part of that.
In the summer of 2007, I travelled to Israel for the first time with Taglit Birthright. It was an experience I will never forget. My love for Israel finally manifested in a physical connection, and my hypothetical understanding of Israel became concrete with the experience of living it. In 2008-2009, I studied at a seminary in Jerusalem called “Emunah V’Omanut.” This was my first extended period of time living in Israel. The entire year, I tried imagining myself living in Israel but something just seemed missing. It was only on my last day of the program that I asked my friend to tell me why I should move to Israel.
“It’s not about you and what you need from Israel,” she told me, “It’s about what Israel needs from you.” With that thought lingering in my mind, I returned to America to study at Hunter College in the fall of 2009. It was only then, only after returning to America, that I suddenly felt foreign. America is and will always be my home as an American. But as a Jew first and foremost, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I felt most at home in Israel. Suddenly the culture in America seemed so vain; the people so very different. I felt they couldn’t understand me.
Life in Israel is so precious. It can be over in an instant. When war is fought at home, you never know which bus ride might be your last. Don’t get me wrong; Israel is not some terrifying battlefield. But there is something said and learned when there isn’t an ocean to separate you and your enemies. Returning back to America felt like an entirely different reality. A reality of superficiality; of “ignorance is bliss,” of Coca-Cola and Nike and BMW, of billboards telling me why my life is unfulfilled. I love America and I would risk my life for her. But the time had come for me to go home. Not just my home, but the home of my people. The home of our dreams. The home in whose direction we have prayed for thousands of years. A dream never forgotten. A dream finally come true. And I was ready to live that dream.
My two years at Hunter College started as an academic pursuit, but quickly turned into a raging battle against ignorance and anti-Semitism. The more I delved into the world of advocacy and activism, the more I felt the walls of baseless hatred bearing down on me. The culture gap crept wider and wider. I wanted to feel comfortable in my own home. And I knew I would only find that in Israel. My whole life had been building up to this moment.
At the age of 23, I was not required to draft. But for me, serving in the IDF was not only a dream, it was an ideology. I recognized that Israel’s mandatory draft is not in vain. That she has an enemy. That young boys and girls go off to defend the independence and freedom of their people and history and sometimes never come home. I didn’t see myself as any different. I didn’t see my foreign background as an excuse to not give back to the country that gave me so much and represented something much deeper than mere borders. So I joined a program for “lone soldiers” (soldiers without parents living in Israel) called Garin Tzabar and moved to Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi. And on March 7, 2013, I fulfilled my lifelong dream and drafted into the Israel Defense Forces. That was the day I became a titan.
Our swearing-in ceremony was held one month later. And on April 17, 2013, on the eve of becoming an official soldier of Israel, I posted the following piece on Facebook (to share with my friends and family the passion and surrealism of living a dream):
“Tomorrow I will be sworn in to the Israeli Defense Forces. I have been waiting for this moment my whole life. Tomorrow, I will be joining the ranks of my heroes, both modern and ancient. Tomorrow, as I hold my Bible across my gun and swear to protect my homeland and its citizens, I will officially become a warrior of Israel. Just like David and the Macabees, like Devorah and Eta Wrobel, like Bar Kochba and Mordechai Anilewicz—I too will be giving myself over for the strength of my country. As I stand tomorrow, in the uniform I dreamed to one day deserve to wear, I will be thinking of you all … of our past and our future, and of the promise of our present.”
I drafted into the all female, Special Forces combat unit of “Combat Reconnaissance.” It is an incredibly difficult job. We specialize in camouflaged ambushes and on-ground intelligence gathering in the southern sector of Israel. I served there for two years—the maximum amount of time I was granted to serve. I served as sharp shooter, Operation Point engineer, and was in charge of the physical fitness of my squad. I graduated with the Excellency Award from sniper school and came within less than 1 mm of breaking the sniper school record. And in 2014, I helped lead my unit to third place in the Krav Maga event at the IDF Championships. But beyond my achievements within the framework of the army, my greatest pride came from merely existing. To live my life and know that every minute was dedicated to the protection of my country. To know that every freezing, sleepless night we spent out on the Egyptian border, someone else was sleeping soundly in their warm bed because we were out there making it possible. I have yet to experience a greater sense of importance.
On March 5, 2015 I was officially released from the IDF. On that day, I left behind not only my gear and uniform. On that day, I left behind a dream. It is hard to describe the feeling, and I am still searching for the words. But I feel like part of me was buried that day. A dream laid to rest in the eternal quiet of the past. But not in vain. No. Rather, in the hopes that something will spring forth from its resting place. A sapling of a new future and new dreams, for that is what life is all about. That is the point of it all: to toil the earth of time and plant our seeds where we can make a difference. In the hopes that something can come from it … that something will grow and lead to more. To make the world more beautiful and whole. We are that tree of life. And we must continue to grow and to dream. To never forget the dream. And to never for an instant believe that it’s impossible.
I knew a lot of lone soldiers who, like me, left their lives behind to pursue their dream of serving in the IDF. I noticed an unfortunate trend of young Americans who came with certain expectations of how their experience in the IDF would be. And these expectations were entirely unrealistic because they were building an expectation based on an American template of what an “army” should look like and how it should operate. I see this trend not just amongst American lone soldiers, but also amongst the community of new Olim that come from America. Many come to Israel expecting it to be a little America and enter a whole new chapter of their lives with baseless (or misguided) expectations. And it is because of this unfortunate outlook that many new immigrants can’t “make it” in Israel, get frustrated, can’t adapt, and choose at some point to return to America. It is not their lack of will, but their expectations that kill their future.
I met a lot of lone soldiers that fit this category and I just felt sorry for them. I felt sorry that they failed to see the beautiful, unusual, foreign experience that it is to serve in the IDF.
If I could do things differently, I would go back and blowtorch whatever small remnant of ego I may have carried with me. I aspire to live life with as little ego as possible. But it is challenging to erase it completely. Looking back, I called people out for acting out of ego. But at the end of the day, my desire to prove them “wrong” in their actions was in itself an ambition of ego. I wanted to be “right.” And when we choose the path of “right” vs. “wrong,” we close off opportunity for true connection. And I believe that more opportunities can come your way through connection than through barriers.
To women [or anyone] thinking about joining the IDF, I would say, don’t let anyone else define what is possible for you. And don’t let anyone else define for you what is “practical” or “realistic.” Dream big. And if anything, you will inspire those around you. There are countless positions for women in the army, a number of which are combat. It is always important to remember that every job is important at the end of the day. But I would advise using the army as an excellent opportunity to push your boundaries and strive beyond your comfort zone.
5th Annual Gala Appreciation Evening and Concert Honoring the Women of the IDF
The 5th Annual FIDF Appreciation Dinner and Gala will honor the women of the IDF with special guests Ettie Tevel and Yuval Dayan. Tevel, a conductor, arranger and accordion soloist is a former IDF soldier who received special permission from the IDF to serve as an outstanding musician. She is currently one of the top conductors in Israel. Dayan is the 2014 Israeli Singer of the Year, currently serving in the IDF as part of the Education Corps’ Music Ensemble.
Co-Chairs for the event are Alexandra and Ari Hirschhorn and Stacey and Alan Katz. Tickets for the evening, which include a cocktail reception, dinner and concert, are $200 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at http://fidf.info/fidfsd.org/sd1/. For more information, call (858) 926-3210 or email email@example.com.
About FIDF: Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces was formed in 1981 by survivors of the Holocaust under the leadership of John Klein, who did not want such a tragedy to happen again. Originally created to support lone soldiers, there are 15 regional offices throughout the United States and Panama today. Funded by donations and managed by a national and local board, FIDF is a non-profit 501(c)(3) with more than 120,000 loyal supporters providing a variety of services and events to support all IDF soldiers and their families.