Doron Cheses ‘14 with Adi Levitz at a recent IDF tekes (ceremony) in Beit She’an. Adi is a former Bnei Akiva shlichah at Maimonides. Her parents are one of Doron’s host families while he’s a lone soldier.
Five Maimonides School graduates from the Class of 2014 are on active duty with the Israel Defense Forces.
“Everybody decided by themselves,” said Ariel Warren. “I didn’t know who else was in Israel until after I drafted (enlisted).” Ariel is no stranger to the landscape of Israel. He lived there with his family when he was in tenth grade, and his grandparents spend part of the year in a retirement community near Jerusalem.
Ariel said he joined because “I wanted to actually make an impact.” During his gap year at Mechnat Ye’ud, “I was set to go to Rutgers. But then I decided around Pesach time that I was going to enlist in the IDF through Garin Tsabar,” an IDF program that accommodates new lone soldiers. Ariel, who is an Eagle Scout, is training as a tank operator. Infantry was out because of his glasses, Ariel said; the assignment is “based on your physical profile.” Tanks are also considered one of the combat arms.
“In general, I’m happy with it,” Ariel said of his decision. He pointed out that the IDF experience “really helps religious and non-religious Israelis learn to depend on each other.” When off duty he lives with others in his garin class at Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa.
As a student at Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Ma’aleh Adumim, Doron Cheses has an 18-month military commitment through the Hesder system — yeshivot that require a military component. He enlisted in March, and after four months of basic training and three months of advanced training, was accepted into an infantry commander’s course (where he joined classmate David Solooki). “Once I finish the course in March, I will become a squad commander responsible for about 10 soldiers,” said Doron.
He noted that he originally intended to go to Yeshiva University and then make aliyah. “I’m really enjoying the army, and am very happy that I drafted,” Doron said. “I have learned navigation skills and how to shoot a rifle. I have spent a lot of time in the field, gotten into shape, and most importantly learned to work well as a team. In commander’s training I will learn leadership skills, learn in depth about many weapons, and exercise a lot.”
“Very quickly in yeshiva I understood that you didn’t need to be a big macho army guy in order to accomplish impressive achievements in the army,” he continued. “Every regular yeshiva bachur with a strong will and a desire to serve and protect his country can be very successful in the army. I very much wanted to live in Israel and to be fully integrated into the society, and I felt that being a combat soldier was a great way to integrate into the Israeli culture.”
“The army is definitely more mentally challenging than it is physically challenging, as we like to say ‘haKol baRosh’ (the real challenge is in your head).”
Ben Almekies is in advanced infantry training, serving in the Givati unit. He has learned to handle the shoulder-fired anti-armor missile known as Matador. “It was created by Israel, and it is meant for blowing holes in buildings without harming those inside,” he explained.
Ben began his active service last April in Machal, the platform for volunteers from the Diaspora, because “I wanted to do something for Israel, and I also wanted to see Israel in a more realistic way.” He said his year at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah “inspired me to do it.” Indeed, he was part of a mechina program that the yeshiva operates for students who want to enlist. “They not only helped us get into the army but also provide an apartment in Beit Shemesh, a place to stay” when off duty.
The army has introduced him to Israelis from most parts of society, said Ben, who participated in a special IDF Ulpan for the first three months to strengthen his Hebrew skills. “There are definitely days that are harder than others,” he acknowledged. But without the full range of experiences, “you’re not getting a real view of what this is.”
David Solooki is part of an exclusive IDF unit — a commando brigade — where he experiences long navigation exercises and parachute training as preparation for both open field and urban warfare. He entered the army in November 2015 because “I believe Israel is the home of the Jewish people and it is important to serve and give back to your nation.”
He emphasized that as a member of the IDF, he considers himself a representative of the Maimonides School community.
Training for this military specialty is unusually long — about 17 months. “Then we will do missions inside and outside of Israel,” he said. When off duty, David is based in an apartment for lone soldiers in Beit Shemesh.
David noted that their classmate Josh Rosenbaum is also in a special unit, training in counter-terrorism.