By Shoshana Bederman
The First FIDF Women’s Mission was an inspiring and memorable experience. Thirty one women from different parts of the U.S. came together for a week in Israel beginning March 3, to meet with Israeli women in top fields such as law, politics, intelligence and the military. We visited several IDF bases where we spoke with soldiers about their army experience and learned how women advanced in the IDF.
We began the Mission in Jerusalem at the Kotel on Shabbat evening. It was spiritually uplifting to see hundreds of people gathered to pray while soldiers were dancing and rejoicing. At the Knesset, we spoke with member Dr. Anat Berko, an author and specialist on terrorism.
The group visited a pre-military academy for religious girls who chose to enlist in the IDF, instead of doing the national service. The girls take a preparatory course (Mechina) that builds skills needed to serve in the army and function as an IDF soldier.
Michelle serves as an IDF social worker for Lone Soldiers and economically disadvantaged soldiers. She explained that for religious girls, “being integrated with male soldiers and secular male and female soldiers takes getting used to.” I asked her what were some of the positive things? “Teaching secular soldiers about Shabbat service and lighting candles,” she acknowledged. “Seeing the world through the eyes of secular soldiers and expanding my horizons”. She described how she once forgot to pack candles for Shabbat. Her secular friends on the base were sensitive and helpful and found candles and a prayer book for her to use.
Ronit, a 21 year-old Second-Lieutenant in education was in charge of 180 soldiers in basic training and 35 commanders. At her base in the North, she oversees special populations of soldiers including immigrants, Bedouins, Ethiopians, Druze and Israeli Arabs. Ronit talks about her work with passion: “We help these soldiers believe in themselves because they come from difficult circumstances such as poverty and trouble with the law.” I asked her how she handles the stress. “I must stay calm and collected because the soldiers depend on me,” she answered.
The Mission visited the first co-ed combat battalion. The soldiers guard the Sinai-Egyptian border against terrorist attacks, smuggling of drugs and weapons. We got a first-hand look at their combat training. The battalion’s female combat soldiers have the equivalent duties as their male counterparts. They serve as shooting instructors, combat officers and commanders. The female soldiers I spoke with told me that being treated equally in training and on the combat field, empowers and motivates them to do their best. The confidence and knowledge that as women, there is nothing they cannot accomplish, carries over to civilian life.
We also visited an IDF’s officer’s training school where male and female officers train in building character, leadership and professionalism. I spoke to a Lone Soldier cadet who made Aliyah about her motivation to join. “As an officer, I wanted to give back and lead by example,” she mentioned. “I wanted to integrate into Israeli society on an academic track, officers training is part of that.”
Our group traveled to Zikim training base where we met soldiers from the Home Front Command who lead brave search and rescue missions both in Israel and abroad, saving civilian lives. The soldiers on the base are trained in urban combat, what to do in case of collapsing buildings, natural disasters or humanitarian missions.
At the Kirya, the IDF’s headquarters, our group was inspired when meeting the Women’s Affairs Advisor to the Chief of Staff and other top ranking female officers. These trailblazers, all accomplished women, explained the IDF’s vision of women’s roles: The objective is equal opportunities for female soldiers because the IDF needs women and recognizes their abilities, strengths and talents. The goal is to have 100% of missions open to women.
We spent our last evening in the amazing Jaffa home/ gallery of the renowned Israeli artist Ilana Goor. Over this exciting and emotional week, 31 women have bonded, cried and danced (on tables!) together, as we celebrated our amazing Jewish homeland.
Shoshana Bederman, a resident of Scarsdale, is the co-founder and President of Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism