Why I left everything to be a lone soldier in the IDF

Man does not live forever.  He should put the days of his life to the best possible use. How to do this, I can’t tell you.  I only know that I don’t want to reach a certain age, look around me and suddenly discover that I’ve created nothing.  I must feel certain that, not only at the moment of my death shall I be able to account for the time I have lived, I ought to be ready at every moment of my life to confront myself and say—this is what I’ve done.”

Yoni Netanyahu wrote these words in 1963, his family was living in the US when he joined the Israeli Military to complete his national service. He was a kind of lone soldier, at the time. 55 years later, I’m here, writing this post on my computer, thinking about how I may start to explain why I chose to leave everything to enlist in the IDF. Me, the nineteen years old french, fashion designer, dreamer, used to achieve every single dream I have, every single goal I set.

My name is Reouven Zana. I have been thinking about the way I would write this text for a long time, more than a year now. To put words on the most inherent part of your soul isn’t easy. In 11 days, I will draft in Tsahal, the Israel Defense Forces, and officially start a 18 months service in a combat unit.

I began my enlistment process two months ago, leaving behind my family, my friends, my studies and a successful carreer in Fashion, design & entrepreneurship. I was born in Paris and grew up in a family who always pushed me to go further, who always taught me that my only limits were the ones I set myself. I wouldn’t be anything without them. I learned to stand for my beliefs, to be proud of my origins and to respect everyone in a country where wearing a kippah outside can be seen as oblivious or crazy. I studied in Jewish Schools from my earliest years to highschool and got used to see french soldiers protecting us everyday. I realized we were targets when I understood that only our schools had to be protected.

The origin of a choice

I was 14-years-old in 2012, when three Jewish kids and their teacher were shot in the head by a terrorist in a Jewish school, in Toulouse, France. They died “to avenge the palestinian children“, they were 3-, 4-, 8-years-old and their only crime was to be Jewish.

I was 16-years-old in 2014, when the Protective Edge Operation against Hamas started. The first war I was truly able to understand, to feel. Being jewish in France became even harder, we were seen as responsible. BDS and our other enemies are constantly claiming that antisionism isn’t linked to antisemitism, but their actions always prove the opposite.

I was 17-years-old in 2015, when four Jews were killed in the Kosher Supermarket of my neighborhood, while 17 customers were held hostages, just before Shabat. They all died because of a conflict they didn’t have any connection with.

Today, in France and in the world, our existences are only built on hope, the hope of being far from the next attack, the hope of being a stranger to the next victims, the hope that flowers and tears will cease to fall in our streets and to flow on our cheeks. I got used to wear a bullet-proof vest after school to be sure that the youngest students would be able to take their buses safely. My friends and I got used to come home around 1am after the Theoretical & Physical trainings of the Jewish Community Protection service, where I learned Krav Maga and how to react to a grenade or to a terror attack. I was 17 years old, it was in Paris. These are not things you have to know in a normal world.

As time went by, I understood my place was somewhere else. Being 19-years-old in Paris is a synonym for freedom : student life, parties, travels, work, it’s just about being young. In Israel, being 19-years-old sometimes means to be a commander in a combat unit, it means getting a lot of responsibilities and putting aside your own pleasure to serve for a bigger cause, it means giving three important years of your life for the safety of your country. Why should I stay in France while all these soldiers of the same age have to fight for my right to exist ? How could I let some of my brothers and sisters risk their lives to protect my family without doing anything? It seemed pretty unfair to my eyes.

It’s completely wrong to think that the Israeli-Arab conflict only affects the Middle-East, I’m french and I always lived in France, that’s where I saw how far and how high could fly the seeds of hate. We’re not israelis, we’re jewish, but some of us died for the sake of a country they never saw themselves.

Being a lone soldier, a “Hayal Boded”

A lone soldier is a soldier who doesn’t have any family in Israel. We’re the “Hayalim Bodedim“, jewish volunteers coming from abroad to defend the country, or israelis who chose to serve their nation and were banned from their communities, families and houses.

I realized that the Israeli society and the jewish world as a whole doesn’t know a lot about us. Through this article, meant to be the first one of a Chronicle, I would like to pay tribute to the memories of the lone soldiers who fell for Israel and the Jewish people, but also to all of us, released soldiers or in active duty. I want this blog to be the voice of the 2500 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF. Men & Women from 18 to 23 years old who went through everything to enlist from all over the world to help Israel. 2500 voices, 2500 stories, 2500 roles taking part in the active defense of the country and its people. Combat, non combat, intelligence, education, navy, airforce, elite units & special forces, we’re everywhere to give and learn at the sides of our israelis brothers & sisters.

We left our families, studies, lives, carreers & friends to embrace a military service while remaining “foreigners”, for the sake of Israel. And there we are, after a year of training for the tryout of the unit I want to join, after several trips around the world and beautiful memories, I’m about to write a new chapter of my life, which will be certainly among the most meaningful. 11 days before my draft, 11 days to remain focused on my goal, on my motivations, on my will to fight for this land. 11 days to remember that a life without ideal has no value.

From the fashion week to the military base, from the couture dresses to the green uniform, from the university lessons to the shooting courses. That’s what my life is going to be for two years. Now I can finally say : אני מתגייס” — “I’m enlisting”.

About the Author
Reouven Zana is a French lone soldier serving in a combat unit of the IDF. A designer, entrepreneur and dreamer who always stood for Israel and its right to live. Born and raised in Paris, he studied at La Sorbonne & Harvard University.
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