This past Shabbat marked one year since I completed and was released from my service as an infantry soldier in the Nahal Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. One year since I turned in my gun, my gear, my uniform, my boots and left everything I had known for the last two years. The transition was marked as I put on a pair of jeans, a normal t-shirt and athletic shoes, clothes I could wear seemingly for the rest of my life.
No more were the days of going to sleep at 4 pm to wake up at 10 pm and train throughout the night to avoid the dangerous Israeli heat. No more marching kilometer after kilometer, with shooting pains through parts of my body I never knew existed. No more having my biggest worry be, “will the person switching me off of guard duty g-d forbid be late?” Also missing was the sense of camaraderie and purpose that came from being an infantry fighter in the Israel Defense Forces.
While finishing the army is cause for celebration, it is also a very scary time. For many lone soldiers, including myself, our ultimate life goal was to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. I didn’t have any plans for what would happen after the army. I completed the army, my ultimate life goal, and still had a whole life in front of me. The question of “what’s next” made me anxious and stressed. I avoided thinking about it for as long as possible and I was successful up until the very day I was released. I truly had no idea what the answer to that question was. Yes, the army was the place I where truly turned from a boy to a man, and it wasn’t easy, but after enough time, it became comfortable. I knew my place, I knew my purpose, and I knew my people. When I was released from the army, and cut my army ID in half, all of that disappeared.
In the last year I have accomplished many things. I traveled through Eastern Europe and India for the first time, I made the decision to leave Israel and build a life in Chicago, I started working full-time for Springboard Chicago, and was accepted to my top choice Masters degree program for the coming year. These milestones have allowed me to take time and reflect on just how different my life is now compared to a year ago. My bus rides to the army base have been replaced by Metra commutes. My smelly, crowded army bunk is now my comfortable room at home. Army dining has turned into eating whatever I want, whenever I want. I used to go weeks without an electronic device and now I check screens regularly. Workouts used to be long runs through the desert and now I visit an air-conditioned health club. To many, these are improvements, but for many soldiers, it is a difficult adjustment.
I take great pride in continuing to serve Israel through the Israel Defense Force Reserves (Miliuim). When I decided to build a life in Chicago, it was important to me to still fulfill my duty as an Israeli citizen, and to continue with the army reserves so that I am ready to do whatever it takes to defend the Jewish homeland. My work through Springboard helps me to continue my goal of serving the Jewish people in any capacity. I look forward to my second year of freedom and my role helping more Jewish teens to find their connection to Judaism. I'm excited to continue sharing my Jewish Journey and hearing about the journeys of others in our community.