Two young women explain decision to serve in IDF

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Eighteen-year-old Danielle Serota decided she wanted to serve in the Israel Defense Forces when she was in the fifth grade.

“I remember at (Solomon Schechter Day School) my teacher showing a video about the IDF,” said Danielle, who recently graduated from Parkway Central High School. “I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an IDF soldier. After a couple of weeks it was forgotten.”

Talia Wolkowitz, who also went to Schechter and just graduated from Parkway Central, was studying in Israel during her junior year of high school when she realized she wanted to serve with the IDF.

“I was in Israel taking an AP (advanced placement) test for one of my classes back home,” said Talia, who will turn 18 in July. “I started to ask myself why am I doing this. What I really wanted was to stay in Israel and serve.

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“Danielle also was in my program (in Israel, at the same time),” Talia continued. “I remember seeing her and telling her what I wanted to do and she saying the same thing. It was weird because we came to the same decision but we did so independently.”

In separate interviews, Talia and Danielle gave similar reasons for wanting to serve. Both feel a strong sense of obligation and responsibility to Israel, as well as a love for the Jewish State. They also say that as Jews, they must do their part to defend and protect the country.

“I don’t see a difference between my obligation and someone born in Tel Aviv,” said Danielle, noting that most Israelis her age serve in the army before going to college. “We are all Jewish and Israel is our homeland.”

Telling their parents about their plan, however, was another matter.

“At first it was shocking to them because they knew I had my sights set on getting into a good college,” said Danielle. “My parents weren’t surprised about my passion for Israel because they had raised me with that. But I think they thought once I started my senior year and my normal routine, this desire would pass.”

Talia took a different tact, telling her parents at first that she wanted to go college in Israel. “I didn’t want them to think I was being impulsive,” said Talia, referring to her ultimate goal to join the IDF. “So I told them I wanted to go to college at IDC Herzliya to see how they felt about that. And I was very interested in the school.

“Three months later, I told them what I really wanted to do was serve in the IDF. ”

Neither the Serotas nor the Wolkowitzes rejected their daughter’s decision outright. But each set of parents did strongly encourage their daughter to apply to colleges in the United States, along with pursuing the Israel path.

The teens heeded the advice, applying to colleges here as well as enrolling in the Midwest Garin Tzabar program in Chicago, which helps potential lone soldiers get ready to make aliyah and serve in the army. The program also holds sessions for parents to help ally their concerns and fears. Over time, both sets of parents came to support their daughter’s decision to serve, and are extremely proud of their dedication, sense of purpose and courage.

“When you raise your children to be independent, they will make independent decisions,” said Rich Wolkowitz, Talia’s father. “We’ve let (our three daughters) explore what they want, make decisions for themselves and follow their passion and path in life.”

Danielle says she was convinced she made the right decision when she started receiving acceptance letters to some of her top colleges choices. “Opening an acceptance letter from (University of California) Berkeley and being happy but knowing I still wanted to go into the IDF – that’s how sure I felt, ” said Danielle, who received permission from UCLA to defer her admission there. Talia, too, was able to defer her admission to the University of Maryland.

Talia and Danielle know that what lies ahead isn’t going to be easy. They’re likely to be in barracks with no air-conditioning enduring temperatures that often soar above 100 degrees. But that’s nothing compared to the potential danger given the volatility not only in Israel but also the Middle East.

“I know conditions will be way worse than I can even imagine. It’s definitely going to be culture shock,” said Talia. “But I think it will be good for me to be knocked down a few pegs. I’m part of a pretty self-absorbed generation and it’s important to me to do something much bigger than myself. I care so much about Israel that this just makes sense.”

Adds Danielle: “I know I will be giving up a lot of things that I take for granted here. But that seems negligible given all I will be doing and learning.”

Still, they say, there will be much they miss about home.

“Target, my two dogs and my mother’s Tex-Mex cooking,” said Talia, without missing a beat, when asked what she will miss most besides her family and friends. “We appreciate Mexican food in my house and I don’t think there are many places for it in Israel.”

“The Starbucks drink I always get,” added Danielle, in answer to the same question. “It’s this soy iced chai and it is delicious.”