Coming to live in Israel is hard. One has to really want to be here, and even then, it’s hard. The issues of language, culture, family, and faith are magnified in the Land. Coming as a believer, with one’s family, is difficult. Coming as a young person, without family and friends, is a brave and gutsy thing to do.
Many young people who make Aliyah join the army. This constitutes a rite of passage, and helps tremendously with the process of learning about and truly connecting to society, and developing relationships. However, they may find themselves thrust into a world they had never even imagined.
From the safety of a protected environment, these young men and women find themselves defending their adopted country. This has far reaching implications, for Israel, their own lives, and their witness in the future.
Here is one courageous young woman’s journey. Her name is Naomi and her humility and dedication shine through in her words.
Naomi had been raised in a Messianic congregation in America and spent most of her time around other believers. Then, she joined the Israeli Army. Talk about total immersion in a culture!
She says, “It was definitely hard at the beginning, being in a secular environment. But after over a year in the army I’ve gotten more used to it. I don’t think I realized how much of a “bubble” I lived in before; how much I barely even knew how to be friends with secular people, how little I actually knew of loving people. For a while (and still today sometimes) I struggled with feeling like I was behaving too similarly to everyone else when it came to getting stressed, losing my temper, saying harsh and unnecessary things. Today I feel that God has taught me a lot about being a friend and about loving others no matter who they are and what their background is, and he has taught me to rely solely upon Him and not upon others for my spiritual fulfillment. When I’m the only believer in the area, it’s all I have – to fall on and look to Him”
She was asked if she experienced loneliness or if she was rejected after telling people about her faith and her response was that she was not! Most of the people she told were indifferent. Some asked a few questions, but most were happy enough to “live and let live”. This shows a shift in the thinking of many Israelis. Just a few years ago, there was a great deal more isolation as a result of being a believer in Messiah. However, through melting pots like the army and the workplace, believers now rub shoulders with secular, as well as religious, people. There seems to be less fear and more openness.
The army is a great equalizer, and often secular soldiers serve right along with those who are religious, and form close friendships.
Naomi had not originally intended to join the army. After she had moved to Israel she decided to enlist,, but didn’t know what to do in the army. Then one day while she was praying, she asked God what He would have her do, and she felt led to join a unit, in which she would be dealing with Palestinians and learn Arabic. In her own words, “I ended up in a unit called COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories), and I personally serve in the permits department (any Palestinian who wishes to enter Israel for whatever reason must pass through one of our regional Judea and Samaria offices). My job is exceedingly interesting, and there is no shortage or challenging moments. I feel that through this job I am not only working exactly where God placed me, which is fulfilling in and of itself, but I am in a crucial position – I have the opportunity to represent Israel as positively as possible in front of the population who hates Israel most, and am able to assist both them and Israel in the process.”
Naomi’s family is in America and has undergone many different reactions. Her immediate family has been very supportive and proud, though her mother has dealt with worries and fears.
In her own words, “My mother and brother were able to visit recently, and because she’s now seen where I live and work and the life I’ve made, she feels a lot more secure in what I’m doing. Soon I will be going to the Officer Training Course, and instead of fear she is immensely excited for me. This is a great blessing and answer to prayer! Among my extended family I’ve received a mixture of reactions as well; most don’t truly understand the magnitude of what I believe I am doing and are more concerned about my personal safety than anything.”
Many believers go on to serve above and beyond what is required. There are many soldiers who are commanders, officers, medics and have received the “outstanding soldier” award. Their faith and commitment impel them towards service and success.
Joining the army has helped Naomi in many ways. It has forced her to improve her Hebrew. It enabled her to meet many Israelis and understand society better. It provides a salary and a place to serve, and also, perhaps, it will open up doors for the future.
Naomi said that the Messianic community in Israel has been a great support to her. She has attended meetings and conferences, and has felt a great deal of love and encouragement. She is, frankly, more worried about how her family and those abroad experience her service. So, she is finding herself in a sort of public relations position, both toward the Palestinian population and her family and friends in the States.
Perhaps it is time for those abroad to “come and see” for themselves!
Pray for Naomi and for all of our committed young men and women in the service of their country.