While one grew up in a secular Jewish family in Las Vegas, the other lives in Tel Aviv, but together Joey and Eden are among six teams of two Israel Defense Forces reservists who are touring the United States through Nov. 5 as part StandWithUs’ ninth Israeli Soldiers Tour.
Among other Georgia stops, the two reservists, whose last names are being withheld for their protection, visited the Weber School’s Rams for Israel club Thursday, Oct. 26, to share their stories of life in Israel and the IDF.
Eden served as a social welfare officer in the IDF for 3½ years and assisted soldiers with social, financial and economic needs. She also was in charge of officers’ basic and professional training.
She recounted the story of a soldier who could no longer support his family while doing his mandatory military service. Eden entered the soldier’s three-room apartment, which housed 13 people and had a trash-strewn staircase leading to a storefront.
“I can only imagine what that soldier felt as I have never really experienced it, but try to understand that you are 18 years old and you can no longer help your family because you have to go serve your country,” she said.
Eden said the IDF looks after soldiers, however, and deposited money directly into the family’s bank account to provide support.
“When we think of soldiers, we think of violence and somebody who protects their country, but it’s actually much more than that,” she said. “I think we should keep in mind that the Israeli army is composed of different populations of Israeli society, including Bedouins, Druze, Muslims and Christians, and we need to help all of them with their needs.”
Eden now works for Intel and volunteers once a week with 180 Degrees, an organization that helps people with disabilities through sports.
Although she is a reservist, Eden understands the complexities of an Israeli soldier’s life. “Soldiers are human. They want peace,” she said. “There is no better reward than to defend our country, but if we had a choice, I can assure you, and speak on behalf of all of my friends, that we would prefer having peace.”
Eden also said Americans need to recognize how the U.S. and Israeli militaries complement each other. “The U.S. and Israel are fighting the same battles and have the same enemies, and everybody is needed, meaning you are true soldiers and are on the front lines of advocating for Israel. … You don’t need to be in the Israeli army to defend the country.”
Joey spoke with his mother about joining the Israeli army after he returned from a March of the Living trip while in high school. But it was not until he graduated from the University of Arizona that he enlisted in the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade as a lone soldier.
Joey was stationed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and took part in Operation Brother’s Keeper in June 2014.
Before Joey enlisted in the IDF, however, Israel experienced a day in November 2012 that he will never forget. “Hamas fired over 100 rockets into Israel, and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘What is the difference between me and the rest of the Jewish people who are defending Israel?’ ”
Afterward, Joey contacted an IDF recruiter.
Another incident occurred on his kibbutz near the Gaza Strip while he was on leave from the army.
He heard loud noises outside his room one night and received a text message from the head of security of the kibbutz, asking him to lock the doors and to aim his gun at the door. When Joey turned on the news later, he discovered that Hamas had tried to infiltrate Israel by digging tunnels, and his kibbutz was among the first attacked.
“This is the reality people near the Gaza Strip live with. It’s a sad reality, but if there is one thing I would share, it is that it’s not how you defend Israel. It’s that you are,” Joey said.
He now works for StandWithUs in Jerusalem and often meets people from Weber. He does not encourage everyone to join the IDF, even though it was the right decision for him, but he does urge students to support Israel.
“The army isn’t for everyone, but just being an activist for Israel is important,” he said.
Rams for Israel founder Aaron Gordon spoke about the importance of the program, which helps promote Israel advocacy. “The organization is meant to educate students on different aspects of Israel which are important to them, to help them find what is meaningful about the Jewish state and help foster a connection with Israel.”