IDF soldiers discuss their commitment to defend the Jewish State

Noah Oberlander poses with his sister Naomi. Photo courtesy of Naomi Oberlander.

BY ADAM RUSH, SOPHOMORE, LADUE high school

While some teens want to defend America, others want to defend Israel. Some Jewish Americans feel the need to join the Israel Defense Forces to help protect those living in the Jewish State. Most of these individuals are teenagers because the oldest one can be and still join the Israeli military is 23.

Josiah Simmons, a senior at Hazelwood Central High School, wants to join the IDF after he takes a gap year at Nativ University in Israel. Josiah neither has relatives in Israel, nor has he ever been there. Both of his grandfathers were in the U.S. military, but that’s not his reason for joining; he wants to enlist because he believes Israel and the IDF could always use more support.

“I want to help people. I want to improve people’s lives and feel like I’m making a difference,” Josiah said.

Noah Oberlander, a graduate of the University of Maryland, has always felt a natural affinity to Israel, which is why he joined the army in mid-December. Currently, he is taking a class to help him adjust to speaking “military Hebrew.” He will join basic training in March, and then attempt to join a more elite unit.

In addition, Oberlander is hoping to integrate more into Israeli culture and society. His sister, Ladue Horton Watkins High School senior Naomi Oberlander, says her brother has always planned to join the Israeli army, and has entertained the possibility of living there once his service is over.

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“The way my parents raised [us] is that going to Israel and [joining] the IDF was always on our mind,” Naomi said. “Ever since we were young kids, we were instilled with the belief that we should move to Israel. Noah face timed me one day and said he had news. He said, ‘I’m going to go to Israel and join the army.’ I saw it coming. I knew he really wanted to be in Israel.”

Even though Josiah and Oberlander are prepared to join the IDF, some Israeli soldiers who were born there aren’t used to fighting alongside Americans. Some have a hard time understanding their motivations.

St. Louis native Rony Wolfe, who made aliyah with his family, is a foot soldier in the Israeli army who chose to enlist before moving to Israel. He has been serving for nine months.  At first he couldn’t understand why Americans would choose to serve in the IDF over the American military. After talking to some American-born IDF soldiers, he began to understand that a person doesn’t have to be living in Israel to feel a duty to protect it.

“I don’t think it matters whether you’re American or Israeli,” Wolfe said. “If you’re Jewish, this is your fight. We know our people have been threatened and persecuted for thousands of years, never able to protect themselves. Now we have that ability, and [I] view it as a great opportunity, honor and duty.”  

Josiah first began thinking of joining when he thought about life after he finished high school. He wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and he believes the IDF is the best way to do that. While he has had a few people try to discourage him from enlisting, he hasn’t let it bother him or get in his way.

“My dad [is] going to support me because he wants me to do what I feel is the right thing, and he just wants me to be careful of my decisions,” Josiah said.

While not all parents condone their children joining the armed forces, Josiah, Oberlander and Wolfe are all grateful that their families encouraged them to serve. In Oberlander’s case, he had many conversations with his parents about whether the IDF was the right choice for him.

Sima Oberlander, Noah and Naomi’s mother, chose to support her son enlisting in the IDF. Her main concern was that he wouldn’t be able to finish college in a normal progression, but Oberlander does plan to finish college after his service.

“Both his dad and I feel like it is the right thing for him to be doing at this time,” Sima Oberlander said.“ It was not a rash decision. Noah and our entire family believe strongly in Israel as a Jewish homeland and the need for all of us to contribute and support [Israel].”

While Naomi will always worry about her brother, most of that worry is in the back of her mind. She knows that there is risk involved, but feels the risk Noah is taking is a good one.

“I’ll always hope my brother is safe,” Naomi said. “But that happens to me no matter where my family is because anything can happen at any second. There is danger with whatever you do, and I’m happy that the danger he is taking is something I’m proud of.”

While Naomi herself doesn’t have plans to join the IDF, some of her other siblings have entertained the idea of joining. But she’s not afraid if they do make the decision to enlist.

“I remember when [my brother] was 13 years old [and] he wanted to join the army, and I would cry because I didn’t want him to go,” Naomi said. “I was scared, but I’m not scared anymore. I know the army is a place you should be to protect your country.” 

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