War Corps

Why would a nice white upper middle class Jewish girl from New York choose to leave her life in Long Island to join the Israel Defense Force?

These are some of the reactions and responses I have received after revealing my desire to enlist in the IDF after college graduation this coming August:

Don’t you know it will be hard? It will be difficult. It is not like summer camp. It will be hard and boring no matter what you do.
Spending hours on end staring at nothingness. Maybe I was wasting my time there (at my service). Why do I need to be here?
They don’t want girls over 19 years because they want you to start having babies for the country. It’s a sexist army.
Good for you. That’s exciting, right?
You really need to work on your Hebrew.
I do not even recommend joining the army. It is the best and worst part of my life. Sleepless nights…
I am proud of you.
Are you scared?
If you are not doing combat, it doesn’t really count.
If I serve, I don’t JUST want to be a jobnik…
Why not America- the home of the free and the brave?

I would like to begin by talking about being a New Yorker. I believe James Baldwin said that to be white in America means not having to think about it. I am privileged as white, middle class, and even as a woman and a Jew in New York. New York is diverse, filled with immigrants, people of all colors, different classes, different religions. To be a Jew is safe– well, if you are white. When I walk down the streets of Manhattan, I am white. Nobody knows I am Jewish just by sight. I do not dress in distinctive ‘Jew’ garb or have an overall “Jewish appearance”. I look white, and I am treated that way too.
I can easily go on with my day and think that all Jews are treated this way. What is all this Anti-Semitic banter?

Transport me to Europe or even to the south of the United States and I suddenly become more aware of my Jewishness as I am surrounded by Anti-Semitic violence both verbally and physically. My whiteness quickly dissipates along with most of the privilege attached to it because now I am grouped into the Jew category whether I choose it or not. I am a Jew.

I was always a Jew, but now I am made forcibly conscious of the fact.
That is the truth. I have one people and I have one land I can call my own. They are my priority. I must acknowledge my own privilege and fight for my people, so that they can live as freely as Jews as I do in New York right now. Why should they fear who they are and hide it from the world like a sin? Why should a peoplehood, ethnicity, religion, family, and culture be under a death-threat, when it can be celebrated instead?
It is my obligation as a privileged Jew to fight for those who cannot. To serve our country in a way that both the IDF and I see fit.

I have a lot of experience working on volunteer projects and with non-profit organizations. One of the biggest and most important rules is to make sure that what you are doing is actually helpful to those you are intending to help. That seems obvious, right? Why would someone try to help in the wrong way when volunteering his/her own time in the first place? Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Let’s say a group of people wake up one day and decide that they want to do something nice, let’s say, helping a local soup kitchen. They go to the soup kitchen and when they hear that most people will be in the back chopping up vegetables and a few people can sit and be friendly with the clients, and only one person can actually serve the soup; most of them may feel disappointed. They ALL wanted to serve soup. They wanted to be recognized. They were so excited before, but now they are split up into jobs they didn’t necessarily want to do. They weren’t needed as much as they wanted to be. This is egoism, a social psychological term which attributes the motive of doing something charitable for your own benefit instead of for the benefit of the cause itself (aka altruism). There are certain jobs that are allocated to specific people who volunteered because they were deemed as the best fit and needed most for those specific jobs. Each person has his/her own role that is necessary to operate the soup kitchen. It is and should be about “what can I do for my country instead of what can my country do for me”.

This is how I feel about the IDF as well. There are a plethora of jobs in the army for both combat and noncombat (aka ‘jobnik’). I want to work at a job for which I am most qualified. My top choice is to become a ‘mashakit tash’ or something similar. It is a social services NCO. Its role is to help peer soldiers understand their benefits and resources on and off base. This is an extremely important job that allows soldiers to feel that they can work on their bases at their fullest capacity, without having to worry too much about what is happening off base. It is a combination of social worker and HR. My Hebrew will need to be very good, and I am working hard on improving it. I feel my bachelor’s degree in Human Development, my past experiences, and even my age will help me provide the best care and authority in a position like that.

Yes, I will be older than most of my peers and even my commanders. It may be difficult and frustrating at times, but for whatever reason we are all together in the army regardless of age, we are all there to serve. I hope my age will be advantageous in that I can help peer soldiers out through advice and in ways I wish I would have had growing up. The truth is, I am still young. I will be twenty-two years old, just out of university and taking time to give back to my country during one of the few natural transitions in my life. This is the time to decide what I want to do with my life and how I want to do it. I can try out social work and HR in a very real way. I can get a glimpse into life in Israel as an Israeli immigrant and decide if living in Israel is right for me. This is my chance to explore while giving back to my people and land.

As you may have noticed, I am social-justice oriented. Whenever the Peace Corps advertises in the Binghamton University tables in the New Union, I stop by interested, with lots of questions and take packets and paraphernalia. Maybe one day I will volunteer in another country. I am interested in international development. I believe it is so important to help other people. I would love to spend a year or two working and helping others.

So how is serving a people and a country that is mine any different? My priority is Israel first and foremost. How can I help others if I have not even helped myself first? My brother summarizes these reasons into a single phrase. He says that I am joining ‘War Corps’.

As with any service, I will have to give up privileges and amenities and may even do things that seem meaningless, and perhaps they are sometimes. I will have to remind myself why I am there. I will remind myself that I am not there just for my own needs but for the greater country and to make the very statement I feel obligated to confront: I am a Jew.

About the Author
Nina is a recent graduate of Binghamton University with a Bachelors of Science in Human Development with a minor in Studio Art. She is passionate about working on and learning about social justice and mental health projects as an advocate and community organizer.