From IDF to Hebrew U

Me cutting my army ID card this past April

I would like to share my experience of finishing my IDF service and beginning my studies at Hebrew University to share my thoughts with you on endings and beginnings.

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It was April 23, 2016 – officially my last day in the army which I had been dreading for quite a while.  I had many conversations with many different people who assured me that everything was going to be OK, that so many opportunities would come my way, that it was great I had enrolled at Hebrew U. for the coming October, and that I would definitely manage to fill up my time until then.

But I was just a bag full of nerves and tears.  I cried at my good-bye party, the week before my last day.  I cried the day before I left the army when I had to return all of my equipment.  I cried also when I was cutting my army ID card.  Most people have huge smiles, often looking forward to a trip abroad once they are out of the IDF system.  Not me.  I was still waiting for a final answer regarding different jobs I’d applied for and although I had a few offers, nothing was final and I felt extremely anxious with all the free time I’d have on my hands.

I was used to the military framework that busied me 24/7.  Operational activity occurred all the time and being a part of the team working with the North American reporters based in Israel, was definitely not a 9 to 5 job. Reporters’ questions often had deadlines well past the 17:00 mark and meeting times arranged between reporters and military officials often changed suddenly.  These things kept me busy all hours of the day.  The constant work became addictive and having to suddenly disconnect from all that was a shock to my system.

The first two weeks at home were the hardest.  My friends from the army who I was used to seeing daily had become my closest friends.  Now they were a city away and normally busy.  That addictive sense of constantly being busy was nudging at me and I felt like a failure for wasting time doing nothing.  Guilt and emptiness filled me and I felt so unimportant.  I once worked with the biggest news outlets in the world and now, now I was starting at the bottom and doing nothing.

It is the change of perspective that is hard with endings. The way I was used to things suddenly changed and I had to get used to a completely different pace to life.  Realizing this and actually changing perspective can be very difficult.

Two weeks after I finished my army service, which seemed like an eternity, I got a job working with great people who were involved with different programs such as “Birthright Israel” and “Onward Israel”.  It was fulfilling and it was great to have an opportunity to meet participants face to face.  Once I had that base to start from, a lot of other things that I had always wanted to do just fell into place.  I started going to the gym, I started learning Spanish, I wrote songs, I went out with friends and I slowly began to change my perspective. I realized that my need to be constantly busy required the energy that would push me to do great things in the future.  I decided to focus on that good energy- being happy, being healthy and being pleased with everything I had around me.

This past Rosh Hashana, I bought a magnet that read: “I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health.”  I decided I wanted that to become my motto for the coming year- to be happy, to look at the bright side of things, to be calm, to push forward and to never get to that place where I feel bad about what I am doing.

But then I started school at Hebrew University and all the personal work I had done seemed to fade.  The first day was pretty awful; I walked to each classroom by myself, not speaking to anyone because I was so focused on finding the correct class, focusing on what the professor was saying, making sure that I was taking good notes, calculating where my next class was and hoping that the next professor would be interesting and nice.

I finished my first day having spoken very little to very few people and I was feeling like I was in my own little box walking from place to place with no one noticing or showing any interest in me, whatsoever.   That feeling of being alone in a crowd of people is not easy and on the way home that evening, a few tears fell down my cheeks.  The pressure to succeed in school, to manage all the technical issues and attempt to make friends, was overwhelming.

I once again spoke to a few people who calmed me down and told me this was my first day and things were going to get better.

But it was that feeling of beginning.  That feeling of loneliness when you look around you and you don’t know anyone at all, when you walk to different classes by yourself or eat lunch by yourself because everyone else has a different schedule than you.  That feeling that there is so much to read and do and that there aren’t enough hours in the day to manage it all.  That feeling that there is a huge framework around you and you have no idea how to even begin to fit in.

It took a little bit of time but I realized once again that a change of perspective was needed in this case.  The framework of University is very unique and the way that you see people and meet people is not the traditional way.  Yes, you will often eat alone because everyone you know has a different schedule, but a lot of people do it and it is OK.  Yes, there will be a lot to read and a lot to do for classes but with planning and motivation, it is possible to manage.

I also realized that being friendly is all about the right attitude.  I took some great advice which was to introduce myself to the two people I sit next to in every class.  It is sometimes surprising to see how a conversation can flow so easily once you make that introduction.  Also, there are many different social and political groups on campus, which I made sure to be a part of, so I could meet and speak to people not just in the 20 minutes between classes.

Transition from endings to beginnings is definitely not easy, but the right attitude can really change the experience you have.  As you can see from my personal experience, it is very easy to get caught up in those bad feelings that overwhelm you when things don’t seem to be going smoothly.  So make sure to take a step back, look at all that you have, where you want to end up and where you want to take your next step.  With the big picture in hand, it is

The magnet of my fridge which is my daily reminder to keep the right attitude
The magnet on my fridge which is my daily reminder of the right attitude

sometimes easier to plan the details that will help the big picture move forward and change into something new and wonderful.

The magnet I bought last Rosh Hashana is still on my fridge and it is a daily reminder to keep that right attitude: “I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health.”

About the Author
Netta was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and made Aliyah with her family in 2004. She finished two years of IDF service in April 2016, where she served in the IDF Spokespersons Unit working with American media in Israel such as The New York Times and CNN. She is currently a student at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem majoring in International Relations and Jewish History. She is also the co-founder of SIACH (students from Israel and America CHat), an initiative to create deep conversations and connections between American and Israeli Jewish students
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