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For Americans Who Served with IDF, Service Continues on Campus

David Abraham (far right), who served in the IDF's Armored brigade and is slated to attend graduate school at Columbia University.

David Abraham (far right), who served in the IDF's Armored brigade and is slated to attend graduate school at Columbia University.

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As Abraham prepares to return to the academic world, he relishes the opportunity to share his perspective on campus.

“I think that I can definitely convey my experiences, but something so wonderful about life in general is that no two people will ever experience the same thing in the same way. I feel fortunate that I had such a positive impact from my time in the army and can only hope that others would be open to learning from my experience and maybe try to find their own experiences in helping Israel,” he said.

*** Elliot Charles felt propelled to join the IDF from an early age. His grandfather survived the Holocaust and his grandmother served in the Haganah (which would later become the IDF). In 2006, Charles’ good friend, Michael Levin was killed in action in Lebanon, fighting for the state of Israel, when he was 22 years old. Charles recalls that Michael had written to a friend in his yearbook ‘you can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all,” a quote that would become his legacy.

Charles joined the IDF in 2008 after he turned 18 and served for two and a half years in a combat infantry unit in the Nahal Brigade.

Before he enlisted, he was anxious, nervous and excited, and he knew it was something that was vital for him to do.

“I wanted to ensure that someday my children and grandchildren — if faced with another mass genocide of my people — will have a safe haven,” Charles said.

Like Abraham, Charles participated in Garin Tzabar, through which he and his group volunteered on a kibbutz and then enlisted in the military together.

His period of military service presented Charles with both the most amazing and difficult periods of his life. He trained for eight months, served as a squad commander and specialized in Hummer patrols.

“The friends and comrades that I served with were and still are very important to me. I learned Hebrew, humility, sacrifice and appreciation for all that I have,” he said. “I did not know Hebrew very well in basic training, to the point that I wasn’t able to hold a conversation. This was both frustrating and challenging. As my Hebrew improved I was able to understand and speak, thereby allowing me to integrate into my unit.

“I matured greatly through my service,” he added, noting that he grew stronger from the experience.

After the army, Charles moved back to Denver, Colorado, where he will start his sophomore year at Metropolitan State University in the fall.

“My experience has helped me advocate for Israel due to my strong connection and patriotism for America,” he explained. “Now back in America, I plan to give much more to the country that has given both me and my family all that we have.

“It’s not necessarily that my connection changed,” he continued. “I just envision something different than others when I think about Israel. I think most American Jews envision a utopia when thinking of Israel while non-Jews think of a desert or chaos with bombs exploding everywhere. I think of the good and bad times, of my friends, but most importantly, I think of what Israel was, has become, and could someday be.”

*** Sam Besser spent almost two years in Israel as a soldier in the IDF, during the time that most of his friends were in college. Besser attended Solomon Schechter Day School in Chicago and knew basic facts about Israel, but after his first visit — in high school, for a distant cousin’s wedding — he knew a little bit more about the place that would soon become so important to him.

Besser said that some of his older friends had not been ready for college when they enrolled. He wanted a different experience and — after promising his parents that he would attend college later — he decided to volunteer for IDF service. He participated in Machal, a program for volunteers from outside of Israel. When he departed for Israel, he had every reason to be nervous: He didn’t know much Hebrew, had no idea how to get around the country, only knew a few distant relatives and knew he would have to adjust to a completely different culture.

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