With the rise in aliyah in recent years, it has become increasingly common for families to move from the United States to Israel. It is less common to see individuals who are so committed to living in Israel that they will leave their families to pursue living their dream. With this solitary move comes many adjustments, both material and social, as well as different governmental requirements, chief among them national service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). While many try to delay or exempt themselves from serving, there are a few brave olim who hit the ground running by going straight to the army, immediately before or after making aliyah. There are also individuals who, while they are not necessarily planning to live in Israel, feel that they would like to do their share in protecting the Jewish State. These soldiers will often serve in mach’al, a shorter form of voluntary army service for non-Israeli citizens.
The Jewish Link met with Chanan Schnaidman, a Bergen County native who is serving in mach’al now, to hear about his story and his experiences in the IDF.
Chanan Schnaidman, 20, is a native of Teaneck, NJ, and an alumnus of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey and Torah Academy of Bergen County. After high school, Chanan studied in Israel for a year and-a-half at Yeshivat Yesodei Hatorah near Bet Shemesh.
Chanan recently joined the religious Netzach Yehuda infantry unit of the IDF. While Chanan was mostly inspired to join the IDF during his time in Israel, his mother, Esther Schnaidman. noted “B”H there are so many Teaneck boys who have already been through it, that it makes it easier... to envision him there.”
Chanan has said that he is very appreciative of the support of his family, friends, and community ghave him when he joined the army. When asked what he enjoys the most about being in Israel, he replied, “Feeling the holiness of Hashem (God) all around me.” He admits that the language barrier with those around him sometimes has him missing Bergen County. Chanan plans to return to the United States once he finishes his service to go to college, though he doesn’t plan on staying too far from Israel and hopes to move back eventually.
“The [Israeli] army is the supreme symbol of duty … if the daughters of Israel are absent from the army, then the character of the Yishuv (Jewish Settlement in Israel) will be distorted.”
These words of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, still stand strong 65 years later as Israel is the only country in the world requiring the same amount of service from both men and women. Since the inception of the state, laws have been passed to make it easier for women to receive a p’tur (exemption) from army service and either do types of sherut le’umi (national volunteer service) or be entirely exempt for religious reasons. While most women who come to Israel on aliyah are automatically exempt from army service, there are some who nevertheless decide to join the IDF, mainly as training instructors—to the chagrin of their male charges.
JLBC met with Emma Rand, a Bergen County native, to hear about her experiences as an American woman in the IDF.
Emma is a graduate of Yavneh Academy and Maayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls. After graduating, Emma studied for a year in Ein Hanatziv, a religious kibbutz in northern Israel, one where most of the girls continue to go into the army. Last year, Emma joined the IDF and trained to become a Madrichat Kasher Kravi (army fitness instructor), first completing a general four-month training course, then continuing to the Maglan deep infiltration unit, where she is currently serving as a fitness instructor. Emma said that one of the highlights of her job is “... doing their masa kumta, their sort of ‘finale’ hike at the end of seven months of basic training. It’s generally about 60km, the boys all carrying heavy packs, hiking all night...”
While Emma was most inspired to join the IDF by her friends at Ein Hanatziv, she said that she was also inspired by Bergen County’s Zionist attitude and its approach towards the Jewish State. She said that her family’s many trips to Israel helped inspire her to one day serve in the army: “In my first month in the army, in basic training, we went to Jerusalem for a ‘culture and education day’. I was the only American.... At the end of the day my commander asked if it was my first time ever at the Kotel (Western Wall). When I told her it was probably like the 200th time [as compared to a lot of secular Israelis who had only been there once or twice], she couldn’t really comprehend that American Jews who visit Israel often do exist.”
Emma is undecided about staying in Israel once she finishes her service, but she does hope to keep her connection to the country she is defending now even after she leaves. Emma thanks her family, especially her mother, for supporting her as she continues to live her dream.
While these Bergen County natives are categorized as “Chayalim Bodedim” (lone soldiers), they are definitely not alone. The North Jersey community is proud of them and salutes them as they work hard defending the Jewish homeland.
By Tzvi Silver