Making the decision to move to Israel was neither complicated, difficult, nor scary. Sending our five sons into the Israeli Army, however, multiplied all of those feelings and struck us like an earthquake, deep to the core. Don’t get me wrong. There wasn’t a moment that I wished for my boys not to serve, but there were many moments I wished there was not the need. I realize I sound naïve, but I longed for the days when I would roll my eyes in boredom as my children discussed football scores and basketball statistics, not army units and ammunition.
In retrospect, our aliyah was what one would describe as “a soft landing.” Our children easily adjusted to the language and the social culture in so many ways; they “tremp” (hitch hike) around the country; they stay out late; they enjoy long, dangerous hikes. They test the limits the way they should. They live Israel; they love their lives in Israel and with that passion, they love that they serve in the Israeli Army. They do so with Jewish and Israeli identity.
I have “nachas” (pride) from their strong, positive and unconditional commitment to the State of Israel. I have witnessed many challenged by army conditions— suffering physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion because, as exciting as the army may sound to enthusiastic young people, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that the experience is very challenging, very frightening, and very taxing.
My oldest son has finished his service, and my second is still serving. My third and fourth will serve within the next couple of years, and my fifth has already been recruited to the Air Force, having signed up to learn in the Air Force’s first Yeshiva, before he continues on with his service. My husband, Bruce, and I, have schlepped many meals up to our son’s Golani unit army base. We accepted the idea that guns and bullets would be in our home; we have listened to stories of all night hikes, soaked blistered feet, and we have been dumbfounded by their nerve wracking stories, and yet, we have asked ourselves: what more can we do? How else could we contribute?
As a psychologist and trained yoga teacher, I am very sensitive to mental health and wellness. I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Africa this year to be further trained in yoga, but I learned much more. There, while my physical comfort was tested hourly, I practiced how to connect to different types of people and situations. I learned to adjust to new surroundings, smells and sweat. One morning in meditation, an idea came to me like lightening; it burned such an impression on me. I announced, “I will bring powerful yoga into the Israeli Defense Forces.” My palms became sweaty, my heart beat faster with anticipation. My eyes were closed; I didn’t see everyone smiling and nodding, but I did hear their powerful, strong affirmation, “Yes, you will!”
I arrived home and shared my vision with Bruce, and together, we committed ourselves to making this idea a reality. We would attempt to facilitate and coordinate as many yoga classes as the army would allow. Since then, we have successfully given yoga classes to diverse units and populations within the Israeli army. We have created the non-for-profit organization, Masa L’Koach, Journey Into Power, which is committed to offering yoga to soldiers for free, while also paying those who teach the classes. As a workout, power yoga is a physical strengthener, but it also infuses a message of personal empowerment, and it creates space for the participant to release stress and access internal equanimity.
Masa L’Koach has also created an ambassador program, providing yoga to pre-army programs, such as a school for non-religious girls from low socio-economic backgrounds. By offering them yoga, we have helped them feel stronger about their potential, so that when they go into the army, they will be ready to learn professional skills and ultimately gain employment. We work with Hebrew speaking yoga teachers, some of whom have recently been through the army themselves and have a strong desire to give back. We have made plans to create yoga teaching centers so we can train officers to add yoga into their workouts.
While the experience of creating Journey Into Power is my own personal narrative, it is also a strong symbol of how we can make greatness in the world. With Masa L’Koach, soldiers in the Israeli army benefit from a well designed power yoga program, not only taking them to greater places of physical strength but also to a place of personal empowerment. Incorporating Yoga into the army brings peaceful thinking into our soldiers’ minds, and believe me, as an Israeli, and even more, as a mother, I deeply understand the importance of peaceful thinking.
For more information or to contribute to Masa LKoach, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.