At a time when fewer teenagers are interested in driving cars, West Hempstead resident Yehuda — who asked to be identified only by his first name — found himself, at age 19, training to operate an army tank. “I was essentially in charge of the entire bottom half of the tank,” said Yehuda, who was a sergeant in the 188th battalion of the Israel Defense Forces from March 2015 to July 2016.
Now 21, Yehuda, who is the second member of his family to join the IDF — his grandfather Eliezer Rosman, was the first — said he wants to move to Israel eventually. “I wanted it to be something for my children in Israel to eventually look up to,” he said of his service. “That I was part of the army, and it was something I believed in.” He also mentioned biblical commandments that he fulfilled by joining the IDF. “Many would say that being in the IDF and defending [Israel’s] borders is protecting the land that we’re supposed to have,” he said. “It also protects citizens and other human beings.”
After arriving in Israel, Yehuda underwent eight months of training — four basic and four advanced — and learned everything from how to operate an M-16 rifle to how to be part of a military team to how to drive and maintain a tank.
After his training, he was stationed for six months at what is known as the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel that was established by the United Nations in 2000. “There are these blue empty oil cans to mark where the actual border is,” he said.
Being right on the border was at first somewhat unsettling for Yehuda. “It was intimidating at first, and then you kind of get used to it,” he said, adding of Hezbollah, the militant group in Lebanon, “We know that they also know that if they were to fire at us, we would obviously need to retaliate, and it would most likely escalate into something both parties didn’t want.”
Yehuda recalled his first five days as a tank driver near the border. “We were up in the middle of the night, overlooking the border, and they lasered our tank,” he said. “That was definitely scary, but then for the next six months, every time we were visible, we were lasered.”
Because he did not speak fluent Hebrew, communication was Yehuda’s biggest challenge when he arrived in Israel. By the time he left, however, he said, he was fluent enough, thanks to several American friends who knew the language and also joined the IDF. In fact, several of them — including West Hempstead resident Tyler Peller — are still in Israel, defending its borders.
“I wanted to stay with them, but I came back,” Yehuda said, adding that he had a fiancée in America waiting for him.