This is the fourth 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. Ashager 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.
Ashager, 24, studies Government Diplomacy and Strategy at the I.D.C in Herzilya. Her family lived a traditional Jewish life in a small village in Ethiopia until anti-Semitism escalated to the point that the Israeli government recognized it needed to save this community. In 1991, it initiated Operation Solomon to airlift them to Israel.
Ashager’s family began it’s trek across the dessert to the capitol Addis Ababa, where the planes took off. Her grandfather and other men scouted ahead each evening and reported back. But, one night, they did not return. They were murdered by robbers. The families were faced with a terrible decision: move ahead without a leader, or return to a place of danger. At this moment, a baby girl was born. Her family saw her birth as a sign from God that, “this child should live in Jerusalem…this girl should be able to live safely as a Jew.” The baby was named Ashager, which In Amharic, means going forward – from something bad into something good. On that day the Israel Defense Forces saved 14,310 Ethiopian Jews from life-threatening danger.
What unit did you serve with in the IDF and why did you serve there?
This is the story I grew up on: values, Zionism, loving your country and appreciating what you have. What I love about Israel is that my story is not unique. People from all over the world – Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Poland, Russia – often fleeing violent anti-Semitic actions, emigrate to a safe haven for Jewish people seeking self-determination.
I think the body that most reflects this rainbow of diversity is the IDF. Military service is mandatory in Israel at age eighteen. Sure, you’d rather travel, or begin college, but I think there is something beautiful in being asked to serve your country, to contribute to your community. I think it gives one a great sense of responsibility by doing something that is bigger than you.
I was selected to be an M.L.R.S (Multi Launch Rocket system) instructor, teaching new soldiers about the M.L.R.S system. To become an instructor, we had to pass a grueling six month training course. On day one, our Commander stated that in each course there are girls who break in the middle and leave. I realized that my chance to be one of those girls is very high. I come from a low income family; since age 15, I had to work two jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. I wouldn’t give up one difficulty that I had, because it made me who I am today.
The next day, I explained my situation to the Commander Shani, who couldn’t have been more than two years older than me. I offered to leave now. She listened quietly, and then said “no! You are not going to leave. If you need help, we will provide it. But all that other stuff is simply irrelevant. You are going to wake up tomorrow morning, and wear the same uniform as everyone else and do your best.” And that’s what I did. I finished the course with honors!
The first goal of the IDF is to protect the citizens of Israel, but more than that, the IDF takes care of its own. It is an army that educates its soldiers to the highest standards of ethical code, Purity of arms, responsibility and Human Dignity. These are not just empty words. These are the values which every soldier is expect to adhere to throughout their service.
What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?
Last year, I participated in a similar delegation to South Africa during “Israeli Apartheid Week.” I met Jewish students who were
Zionists, but were afraid to express their opinions because of the anti-Israel atmosphere on their campuses.
I look at U.S. campuses today and see the beginning of what happened in South Africa, and we can’t let that happen. Relaying my story and service in the IDF is one way I can help people deal with this situation.
What message do you want people to take away from your story?
There are many negative stories told about the IDF. Whether people believe them or not, the only thing I ask is that they remember my family, and how the IDF saved them. I want them to remember my story and how the army influenced my life.
Although army service is one of the more significant experiences in my life, at the same time, looking to the future, I don’t want my children to have to join. I understand the only way to achieve this is through education, an understanding of the complexity of the conflict, and recognizing there is more than one side to every story.
When you strip everything down, you will find each side is comprised of people who simply want to live their lives quietly and in peace.