“It was scary to be on my own,” he said. “I was only an 18-year-old American kid. When most of my friends were getting ready for college, I was preparing to go to the army.”
He served for 20 months as a machine gunner, attaining the rank of sergeant before being discharged.
Besser learned that he can accomplish anything that he puts his mind to whether it was a 13-hour march, surviving the harsh conditions of the Negev or thriving while based on the border of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The other people in his unit became like family to him.
“If we don’t stand up and protect ourselves and our holy land, no one else is going to it,” he said. Noting that there are many ways to support Israel, he said that volunteering to serve gave him a special connection and a deeper understanding of the Jewish homeland.
After his discharge, Besser enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a school that he knew had a large Jewish population. He will graduate in December.
He serves on the Chabad board as one of the Israel chairs, as well as organizes pro-Israel speakers, and passes out literature; He’s also helped bring Sgt. Benjamin Anthony of the IDF as a speaker and helps promote a pro-Israel image on campus.
Although he said he would have been involved in campus Israel affairs even if he had not served in the IDF, Besser is convinced that his experience has made him more knowledgeable and a more confident advocate.
“Israel is my home,” he said. “I was born in America and I am proud to be an American, but I always phrase it that I am a Jewish American.”