This is the eighth in a series of stories told by former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserve duty soldier-students about their time in service and life in Israel, brought to you by StandWithUs and Jspace.com. Kokit is one of 14 speakers traveling around the United States as a part of StandWithUs’ 6th annual “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” putting a human face to the IDF uniform. Last names are withheld for security purposes.
Kokit, 28, studies law and government at the IDC Herzilya, lives in Tel Aviv and loves to shop. Hailing from a tiny village in Ethiopia with no running water or electricity, Kokit’s family lived a biblical lifestyle, and kept the Jewish traditions. Cut off from the rest of the Jewish community, they thought all Jews were black. Imagine their surprise when landing in Israel! The Ethiopian community kept the Jewish identity, including the connection to Israel. Three times a day, they prayed “next year in Jerusalem” …and, for peace for Israel and rest of the world. Kokit’s family moved from the village to the capitol Addis Ababa and then to Israel. Twice, she traveled to South Africa to combat “Israel Apartheid Week” (which she calls “Israel Hate Week”) to communicate to students about her experiences as a black, Jewish woman living in Israel.
What unit did you serve with in the IDF and why did you serve there?
At age 18, similar to every teenager in Israel, I joined the Israel Defense Forces. It is mandatory service because we live in tough neighborhood with Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists as our neighbors.
After boot camp I joined commanders’ training course and went on to become an officer.
I served in the IDF for seven years and finished my service as an Air Force captain. I was in charge of cadet pilot training. My soldiers came from around the world: US, Russia, England and Italy, and I, their commander, from Ethiopia. Israeli society is multicultural and this is reflected in the makeup of the IDF. My main job was to teach them Basic skills such as navigating, dealing with stress and leadership. We teach more than just what to do and what not to do. We also emphasize the Spirit of the IDF – the 10-value Army Code of Conduct. The most important one is our Value of Human Life.
Can you share a story about active duty that illustrates what life was like?
I love living in Israel and being an Israeli. Of course, not everything about the move was easy or fun. I was a baby, but it was a difficult transition for my parents to move to such a modern country. It was also strenuous to communicate in a new language.
I didn’t realize how big of a transition it was for my parents until I started serving in the IDF. The moment that I understood this was a powerful one: I finished the officer course and I stood with a friend with my new rank on the collar of the army uniform. We waited for the graduation ceremony… and my family waited, too. Suddenly I saw my mother crying. I was so confused; she should have been joyous! After the ceremony, I asked her “why?” She answered that she was so happy that her eldest child is Israeli and a officer in the Air force. For my family, this was a dream come true.
What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?
I came all the way from Israel because I want people to have the opportunity to see Israel…through my eyes. The media and the international community criticize Israel and pressures it for no good reason. They forget that every coin has two sides. I think they ignore or simply don’t realize the magnitude of the threat Israeli citizens live with and that we are just trying to live in peace. I served for seven years and know very well what the IDF’s values are. I want audiences to know this.
What message do you want people to take away from your story?
There is nothing more that we want than peace with all of our neighbors. But unfortunately we don’t have it and we live in a very tough neighborhood. We have rockets fired at us from the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and also to the north, is Syria. Israel deals with these issues every day and it has a moral code that it must follow.
As someone who lives in the state of Israel and knows the reality, I can tell you that it is the only Democracy in the Middle East. Citizens are equal and share the same rights.
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