IDF Soldiers Tell of Experiences While Visiting UT Austin
In October, University of Texas at Austin students connected with two Israeli Defense Forces reservists, Kayla and Itamar (last names withheld for security reasons), one of six teams of IDF reservists traversing the United States as part of StandWithUs' ninth Israeli Soldiers Tour.
Kayla, 22, lived in the United States until the end of high school. She participated in multiple Jewish youth organizations, which allowed her to visit Israel for the first time when she was 15 years old.
After graduation, Kayla volunteered with the IDF as a lone soldier. She served in a coed combat unit that specializes in search and rescue. She was stationed in the Gaza Envelope and throughout the West Bank.
In 2014, she participated in Israel's war against Hamas' terror tunnels in Gaza. She remembers having only four seconds to take cover from the barrage of Hamas rockets, never knowing when or if a terrorist will emerge from under them, and the stress of feeling helpless while living for weeks in bomb shelters.
Kayla now studies government and counter terrorism at Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.
Itamar 25, is from Pardess Hana-Karkur, in Northern Israel. He lives in Kibbutz Magal and studies education and political science at Oranim College.
Itamar served in the intelligence forces of the IDF in a classified unit dealing with the complicated encounters between soldiers and Palestinian civilians.
He survived two attacks. When he was 10 years old, a car bomb made by Islamic Jihadists from the West Bank was detonated near a bus near his home that murdered 14 and injured 50, including children. The second occurred when he was on a date at a restaurant in Caesarea. Two rocket attacks forced Itamar and his date to duck for cover, helpless under the threat.
Itamar and Kayla long for a better future. In Israel, Jews and Arabs live and work together. Both reservists hope that they will be met with a partner on the other side that will prepare its people for peace and not hatred and terrorism so that the conflict can finally end.
While visiting the UT Austin, Kayla and Itamar spoke to Texas AEPi during its weekly chapter meeting. They discussed their personal IDF experiences, their backgrounds and life in Israel. They answered tough questions in order to put a human face on the IDF uniform.
Eliav Terk, the StandWithUs Emerson Fellow at UT Austin and the Israel Engagement Chair of Texas AEPi explained, "We wanted to hear their experiences and gauge the differences between what people our age are doing as college students in contrast to Israelis our age who serve in the military."
The soldiers were warmly received. After the program, they stayed to answer more questions and interact with the brothers of the fraternity.
Accompanied by Jesse Stock, SWU Texas associate director, Kayla and Itamar also spoke at UT Hillel and to the ROTC class at the university.
Both are "thankful for the opportunity to share our stories and gratified to know the love and support we have in the United States." ■