This is the third 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. Elad 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.
Elad’s parents worked for the Israeli Security Forces and his childhood was spent all over the world including Egypt. He admits to being a country boy who loves driving four-wheelers, playing guitar and hillbilly music. It all fits into life on the kibbutz he settled into near the Lebanese border. 31, Elad just finished a degree in Nutritional Science from Tel-Chai Academic College.
Growing up as the only Jewish kid on his block in Paris wasn’t always easy. He remembers his teacher locking him in a darkened bathroom calling him a dirty Jew, or blaming him for all of the world’s problems. “That I was 9-years-old did not prevent her from doing what she did,” he recalls.
In high school, Elad had a band good enough to get a record contract. But, dreams of stardom faded when the band’s drummer was drafted to the army…and then the lead guitarist… and eventually Elad.
What unit did you serve with in the IDF and why did you serve there?
The military was pretty cool. I was in a combat military infantry unit, eventually reaching mortars sergeant. The first day in basic training, we were instructed to “first be human beings” and then, be “soldiers.” It made me feel proud for some reason.
I met many different people from different places. There were young inspiring Jewish teens who left friends and family from places such as: Argentina, South Africa, the US, Canada, Russia, India, France and others to serve in the IDF.
Only one month after advanced training, in 2002, we were stationed in Hebron. Located in the West Bank, Hebron is considered holy for both Muslims and Jews. According to the scriptures it is believed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives are buried in the patriarchs cave, in the heart of Hebron.
Demographically, it is a heavily Palestinian area, with a Jewish minority living a fragile co-existence with their Arab neighbors. The city is saturated with a history of violence, mainly towards the Jews.
Can you share a story about active duty that illustrate what life was like?
It’s Friday night, and we sat down for Shabbat. Suddenly, we hear gun shots! Automatic gun shots, explosions and lots of screaming.
We grabbed our gear, but by the time we arrived, there were already casualties, including a general who had been killed.
Heavily armed Islamic terrorists opened fire in a well planned ambush on civilians on their way to Shabbat prayer in the holy patriarchs cave. Their sole target was to kill as many Jews as possible.
After an hour and a half of combat, another good friend was shot and killed….and before I could comprehend what had happened, I was shot. Pieces of the bullet penetrated my skull.
I remember that moment like it was a minute ago. My whole short life passed before me – my beloved parents, my girlfriend who was my first real love, my band members…I thought how sad that we will never get to play together again.
I lost consciousness twice, but kept fighting despite a huge loss of blood. I realized that if I don’t fight, it will be the end of me and even worse – the end of my comrades.
After two and a half hours, we managed to eliminate the targets, but we paid a heavy price. 12 people were killed and some of my best friends were among the fallen soldiers including one that lost his hand.
It’s so sad to think that whatever our differences are, Jews have to be afraid to visit and pray at their holiest sites.
I was hospitalized and lost my memory.
What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) and consequently, we soldiers are widely demonized. I want to correct these false misconception by sharing my perspective, the IDF’s values and showing that we are not all that different from everyone else.
I was drafted more than 10 years ago into a difficult security situation. But that’s not unusual in Israel. Although as a child I was singing songs about peace, and was taught to love all human beings regardless of their race, religion, and ethnicity, Israel has never known peace.
Seems as if there is always something. Just last month, Israeli soldiers were attacked while on border patrol, an inch from my kibbutz. I was called to my reserves unit to serve and protect my home.
I still remember that constant fear when I was in high school. I would go on the school bus, and with all the vicious suicide bombings that targeted civilian buses, you never knew if you would make it off that bus to school.
What message do you want people to take away from your story?
I love kids.
I remember as a sergeant, we were on missions to hunt terrorists with blood on their hands, and they sometimes had families, including kids.
As we arrested their fathers, we thought of these kids, who sometimes were too young to even understand the situation. So I packed my pockets with candy to give to every child, so maybe they wouldn’t be quite so scared.
Our future is our children. Our future is our hope.
Hope is every Israeli mother, including mine, telling their kids that when we turn 18, we won’t have to go to the army, because there will be peace.
Hope is that little voice that says “maybe” when everyone else screams “NO”!!
Live and let live, peace and love.