Commander Slifkin Reflects
A guest post from my daughter, Commander Tikvah Slifkin.
When my daughter surprised my wife and I by deciding to join a Midrasha/IDF program after high school, I subsequently wrote a post called Guns, Girls and Gemaras. A few months later, I wrote a post called The Adventures of Commander Slifkin, about her exploits in the IDF. It's now a year since she drafted, and I invited her to write a guest post about the rewards and challenges of being a religious girl in the IDF. (One piece of Israeli jargon that I need to explain is dosi/dosit - which is a term used in the non-charedi world to refer to being very religious, based on the Askenazi/charedi pronunciation of the word dat.)
Yesterday I celebrated completing one year in the army.
If you would have told me, my friends, my teachers or my parents four years ago that I would be able to say that, we probably would have laughed.
I come from a תורני school and family where the רצף (progression) is the same for most. Twelve years of school, then the girls go to Sherut Leumi, the boys to yeshiva, then the boys draft and some of the girls will choose to go to Midrasha and others will continue on with life. Something in that cycle at some point didn't seem right for me and I decided that I wanted to draft. But for me to draft is like saying my father would one day vote for a chareidi mayor over a dati leumi one. Crazy? Yes. Could it happen? Maybe. :)
So first I decided that after high school I would go to a Midrasha that could help guide me to understand if I really want to draft or if maybe Sherut Leumi would be the right path for me. I went to Midreshet Lindenbaum Lod, which my high school did not think was a good idea, and they were, to say the least, not so happy.
My parents thought I just wanted to believe that I was going to draft but that when it came time to decide I was 100% going to back out. After a lot of conversations with my rabbis and friends, and a long conversation which my rabbi had with my parents, I decided that it was actually really what I wanted to do.
So, one year ago today my parents each gave me a blessing and sent me off as the first soldier in the IDF in my family.
I drafted to a course called קורס הוד- הוראה, הדרכה ופיקוד. There were a lot of religious girls with me. When I walked in with a group of these girls, we all started singing songs of happiness, praising Hashem and blessing each other. It felt like just another trip in high school. But then the real stuff came. I was wearing green, getting a dog tag, I had to take my earrings off and was sent with a lot of screaming onto a bus with a long ride down south to my base.
I was so proud.
We had basic training and I was so proud that I was there, and even the smallest things I did with a smile, thinking that I am saving our country. (Needless to say, that was not the case.) When they made us run for hours in the heat, I had a smile on my face and did not complain once.
I graduated the course as a commander for olim chadashim, which means that I am trained to teach basic training and then teach a Hebrew course to new immigrants from around the world who are enlisting in the IDF. After the training, I did a course to learn to be a commander and was then sent to my home base called Michve Alon. There they told me that I would be starting with my group of soldiers one week later.
I led my first group of soldiers for three months, and it was hard. Very hard. No sleep, endless hours of teaching and work… But I was so proud once I finished. When they told me that these soldiers will really leave an impact in my heart I wondered if that would really happen to me. But it did. It has been about five months since I've seen these soldiers and I think about them almost every day. I have soldiers all over the IDF - Sayeret Givati, Sayeret Nachal, Sayeret Golani, Yamas, Sayeret Charuv, Kfir, Intelligence and more.
My next assignment was to create and initiate a project to see what happens with our soldiers after they leave Michve Alon and go off to their assigned bases. I visited a bunch of bases, traveled all across Israel and spoke with tens of soldiers. It was an incredible experience and the army will now be using this template for future graduates of the Michve Alon process.
This past year I learned a lot about myself and about the society and country that we live in. I learned how privileged I am to have grown up where I did and to have a family like I have, baruch Hashem.
Being Orthodox in the army is very challenging. Very. Unfortunately, I feel like I'm surviving my religion instead of living it.
· Sneaking away to daven so that people don't think that you're doing it so that you don't have to work.
· Feeling bad on fast days that you're either not on base or on base but not helping.
· Not being able to work on Shabbos and so having double the work on motzei Shabbos.
· Walking away from many conversations you feel are inappropriate.
· When I’m in base on Shabbos, staying in the shul most of the time, so that I'm not around phones and music.
· In some situations, not saying what I really think, so that people won't call me out for being the annoying religious one.
· Getting stared at for wearing a skirt.
· Feeling that I don't have so many friends since they all meet up and go out on Friday night or Shabbat.
· Having to sign for vacation days and use them on religious days like erev chag or fast days
I am proving myself at all times 24/7. I have to explain almost everything I do and am considered the “Dosit” everywhere I go. Which was fun and funny in the beginning (when I thought I was saving the world!) but then it gets hard. Let me wear my skirt, eat my food and daven when I want to. Why do I have to explain everything? These are things I still struggle with.
Just yesterday my friends made me a crown that says on it: "נגיעה נגיעה אבל שומר". Which means - I'm “touching the wall” (army slang for being halfway through) but I won't be touching the guys, since I'm shomer negiah.
I am very often considered the far more observant one than the others. There are many religious girls that are with me, which sometimes makes it harder. Since I sometimes am more observant it means that I keep more things than others. So, the question people around me keep asking is: she too is religious, why can she do this and you can’t?
I accept these struggles and know that this is what I chose and am still very proud and happy with my decision to draft. I learn so much every single day, my emuna and religious life b"H has gone so much further and deeper than it had been. I push myself to do things I never thought I could. I have grown and have become stronger as a person, a woman, a Jew and an Israeli. I have friends from all over the country, some of whom have never spoken to a religious girl before, and are now some of my closest friends. There are chiloni girls who have already finished the army texting me before chagim and at random times asking questions about what something means and wondering why did they see people in the street doing this and that.
I have a huge role in the army. I am “Tikvah the Dossi one”. Ironically, that’s not how people at home see me, but in the army that is what they see. I wouldn't give my decision up for anything despite the hardships and challenges.
When my mom asked me what I think can help my problems I told her that we need more religious girls to draft. Then these problems will become less of a problem because it would be the norm. I would be surrounded by people similar to me and my beliefs. It’s not that I have a hard time being religious in the army and so I don’t want to be religious. It’s that I have a hard time being religious in the army and so I will work even harder at it. But I can’t do it alone. You can be a religious girl in the army. There are many challenges, but it would only get easier if girls reading this will come and join. Me and the other religious girls in the army can't change it alone, we need you.
Note from NS - My wife and I are very proud of Tikvah. Nevertheless, we are not necessarily encouraging our other daughters to enlist - as can be seen from this post, the challenges are great, and not every girl is equipped to deal with them. But it seems clear that the number of religious girls enlisting will continue to increase, and programs such as that of Midreshet Lindenbaum (which has a framework to keep soldiers connected to the Midrasha with shiurim and Shabbatonim) will likewise flourish.
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