Barack Mandela
American Soldier/Israeli Soldier

Journey of an Israeli Soldier and American Soldier

This is the second article in the series, “Black and Jewish: Memoir of a Shifting Self, about my experiences as an African American, Jewish person who served in both the Israel Defense Forces and United States Army. This article compares my service in both national militaries.

I served in the IDF during the Second Intifada, and I served in the US Army during the global war on terrorism after 9/11.

I was inspired to write this series after reading Rebecca Walker’s “Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self“. This series on Jewish identity and African American identity is being published exclusively in the “Times of Israel”.

Serving in the Israel Defense Forces:

Barack Obama Mandela in “Sayeret Golani” @ “Bezeq” military base near the Palestinian town, Jenin, during the Second Intifada.

To enlist in the IDF at age 29, I wrote a letter to Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz asking his special permission to become an Israeli soldier. Most of the other soldiers are 18 years old.  I also received a letter of recommendation from Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem and from Haggai Elias, Jerusalem spokesperson.

The enlistment center in Jerusalem finally agreed to allow me to enlist. I was thrilled. I was required to take the “Technimetrics” exam and undergo physical and mental examinations.

On August 20, 2000, I was picked up by a military transport at the Beit Chayal (Soldier’s House) near Sacher Park in Jerusalem. There were six other IDF enlistees present with their families taking photos and videos. As a lone soldier (Chayal Boded), none of my family members were present to wish me well.

We were transported to the Bakum base near Tel Aviv. During in-processing, we were provided with supplies and uniforms and boots and berets. We were given inoculations. Then, we met with the “Ketzin Miun” (officer in charge of appointing).

Since I needed to learn Hebrew, I was transported to Mikve Allone educational base in the Carmiel region of Northern Israel. Most of my fellow Hebrew language trainees there were from the former Soviet Union and were Russian speaking.

During the Hebrew training, I also learned some Russian words such as “aftomat” (rifle), “saldat” (soldier) and “previet” (hello).

After Hebrew language training for two months, I was transferred back to the Bakum to be assigned to a permanent unit. I was sent to a base in Northern Israel to interview for a position in either the elite “Sayeret Golani” unit or the elite “Egoz” unit. After my interview and psychological exam, I was accepted into the “Sayeret Golani” unit without a “gibush” or “physical tryout”.

Tzvika Levy, who was in charge of lone soldiers, arranged housing for me at “Kibbutz Chafetz Chayyim” in South Central Israel near the town, Gedera. This is a famous religious kibbutz with a zoo and water park. The family of Eli and Tzvia Feldheim agreed to provide meals for me.

Serving in the United States Army:

Barack Obama Mandela, who served in both the United States Army and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is a member of the American Legion veteran’s organization.

In 2006, I met with Sergeant Mike Smith of the United States Army to prepare for my enlistment. I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and scored in the 92 percentile. I then returned to the Los Angeles MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) where I was assigned to Biomedical Equipment Repair detail of US Army.

In the early morning on the day after enlistment, I boarded an airplane to Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozark mountains. This base is much larger than my bases in the Israeli military. It’s like a large city with plenty of greenery and wildlife. Sometimes it’s referred to as “Fort Lost in the Woods”. It is the main training base for the military police.

Each morning during training, we wake up at 4 am, complete our personal hygiene, and then conduct rigorous physical training. United States Army basic training lasts for approximately ten weeks. After a week of intense training, we are assigned an M-16 assault rifle. This is the same type of assault rifle I used in the Israeli military.

By serving in both the Israel Defense Forces and the United States Army, I was exposed to two different styles of combat. For example, in the IDF, we learned “krav maga ” which in an Israeli form of martial arts. In the United States Army, we learned hand-to-hand combat using the “pugil stick”.

I served on many military bases both in Israel and the United States. In the aftermath of my service, I still consider myself an unofficial “Dover Tzahal” or “Spokesperson of the IDF”. I continue to watch speeches and announcements by IDF chief of staff, Aviv Kohavi.

In the United States, I joined the American Legion, which is the largest veteran’s service organization. I briefly served as “judge advocate” or “legal officer” of my American Legion post. While in the American Legion, I interact with veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

In the future, I hope to establish an organization for individuals who have served in both the Israeli military and the American military.

When serving in both national militaries, I was a soldier during wartime. However, I now consider myself a soldier of peace, a soldier of love, a soldier of mercy, and a soldier of grace. Ultimately, I am a soldier of faith in the army of God.

This in-depth series, “Black and Jewish: Memoir of a Shifting Self”, will continue in the Blogs of The “Times of Israel”.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1997). I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside (1994). I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law (1991-1992) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law (Summer 1996). I am a military veteran of both the United States Army and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon (2006). I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer and Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem and Jerusalem spokesperson Haggai Elias.
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