Notice to readers: Israeli Air Force security severely restricts private information on pilots, whose identity could be exploited by enemies. Lt. B says that many readers who know him will understand from this article that he is the subject. Both Lt. B. and the IDF request that all readers will respect Israel’s need for strict security and will not use the Internet for any communication concerning Lt. B.
“Lt. B.” of New Jersey has become one of a few but growing number of religious Jews to pilot Israel’s fighter jets, and he is one of a tiny number of American religious immigrants to do so.
“I had a childhood dream to be a pilot,” says Lt. B., whose name and home town cannot be revealed for security reasons.
In a special interview with the Jewish Press that was arranged through IDF spokesmen under security supervision, he spoke about his unintended venture into the Israeli Air Force. Lt. B. spoke with the Jewish Press on the Fourth of July and said, “Independence Day was a holiday for me when I was in America, but Yom Ha’Atzamaut now is my Independence Day.”
He graduated from a religious high school in New Jersey, and with the support of his father and Israeli-born mother, Lt. B. packed up his bags at the age of 17 for the common “spend a year in Israel” idea before planning to go back to the United States to attend university.
Lt. B. chose a Golan Heights “mechina,” the Hebrew word for a pre-army Torah learning academy, even though he had no intention of serving in the IDF.
He already had made some applications to universities when he was learning in Israel. He was not keen on going into the army until his experience at the mechina “brought out my love for Israel and ambition to do something more special than regular university studies,” the new pilot relates.
Lt. B.rejected the idea of joining the “Machal” program for foreign youth who want to serve for a couple of years before going back home. “I decided to join the army but not to make aliyah,” keeping his eye on university, he admits.
Once he went through the induction tests, the army saw that he was fit both physically and mentally to be a candidate for the Air Force program, in which only one percent of the candidates for pilots’ course eventually end up with their wings.
“I always had a dream about being a pilot,” relates Lt. B. “The Air Force liked my test results. That is when I decided to make aliyah. I told myself, ‘I have a dream and will try to fulfill it.’ I was 18 and fit. If it had not worked out, I probably would have served 2-3 years and gone back to the States.”
But it did work out.
Lt. B. had a bit of family history to fall back on. “My mother served in the Air Force for five years,” he reveals. “I was not expecting to finish the course because it is difficult, but I did not look that far ahead. You don’t even know what is happening next week.
“My agenda was to take every day and every hour at a time and give 110 percent, finishing the day and knowing that I did what I could, and no less.”
At the age of 22 – yes, girls, he still is single – Lt. B. was one of several pilots to get their wings last month. His parents were there for the ceremony but did not arrive from the United States. They already had followed Lt. B. to Israel, making aliyah with all of their children and now living in “central Israel,” which is the most specific location that can be published.
The intense pilots’ program is three years, including three semesters of nine courses leading to a Bachelors of Science degree.
Lt. B. is obligated to serve in the Air Force for another nine years.
In training, he flew a Skyhawk fighter jet and his daily routine, after morning prayers and breakfast, is to hop into his plane and fly – every day, except for Shabbat
Lt. B. says that approximately 3-5 percent of Israeli pilots are religious, a sharp increase when compared with 30 years ago when a religious Air Force pilot was a rarity.
He says his being American and being an observant Jew is accepted and respected by his colleagues, and that he has been involved with “very interesting discussions” about Judaism with secular Air Force soldiers and officers.
About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.
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