This Young Woman Battled the Israeli Army to Become a Combat Soldier

Arrivals / Departures: After eight months in one of the cushiest positions in the IDF, Eden Levy will start her army service over; an American chemistry student on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Krav Maga says the Israeli martial art helped him get over his fear of bullies.

Eden Levy.
Tomer Appelbaum

Eden Levy, 20, lives in Nahariya; flying to Varna, Bulgaria

Hi, can I ask why you’re traveling?

I start my army service next week, and I’ve been living at home for the last while. I’m flying now so that I can take a little break with my sister before I come back to a routine where I have to get up at 5:30 every morning. It’s my first pre-army and post-army trip, together.

You mean you are re-enlisting in the IDF?

I’ve already served for nine months as a computer technician and now I’m going to be a combat soldier. I’m starting a whole new track, which involves basic training and everything.

Why are you starting all over? 

Because those are the conditions that the army imposed. I already did some basic training, but I had to accept the fact that the time already invested wouldn’t count for the new job.

But why are you switching? What’s your motivation? 

With the way things are today, I felt that it was one of the most important things I could do, and if I have the chance, why not? If I can qualify as a combat soldier, then why not do it? 

Seems kind of extreme.

I know that it’s a very unusual choice to give up the time I’ve already put into my military service, but I was really bored in that other job. I wanted to be a combat soldier from the start, but they wouldn’t let me.

Computer technician doesn’t sound like such a bad job.

It’s considered one of the best jobs in the IDF, and there was also a connection with the Hewlett-Packard Company, so I could have maybe done something with it after the army too, but not everyone is cut out to sit in front of two computers and a telephone nine hours a day. It’s definitely not what I was looking for.

It’s hard to switch jobs in the army.

It took me half a year to get out of my old job. I served in the navy, and small as it is, it’s very hard to get out of there once you’re in. I had to persuade my commanders, and then persuade their superior officers to let me go through the whole induction interview process again. I pretty much had to argue with every possible commander in the navy. 

How did you manage to convince them in the end?

Basically, you have to write a convincing letter that will get through to them. But without the support of my direct commander, and my family, and my mother who dealt with all the paperwork, it wouldn’t have happened. I think I submitted the same request form three times. Twice I was turned down and on the third time they said yes. 

You’re not afraid to enlist as a combat soldier?

Sure, it won’t be easy to be thrust into that, and not be home for weekends or sleep in a normal bed. And of course we’re all aware of what the security situation is like, and when you’re a soldier you’re more of a target and the danger is greater. It is scary. And now I also have to start basic training all over again.

That’s a nightmare in itself.

I think I’m coming into it in a more aware state. I’ve been through it before. Maybe it will be harder because the commanders will mostly be my age and they’ll be above me. It won’t be easy, but I’m preparing myself for it beforehand.

Harrison Zwolshen, 20, lives in Columbus, Ohio; arriving from New York

Harrison Zwolshen.
Tomer Appelbaum

Hi, what’s written on your shirt?

I’m majoring in chemistry – it’s the Periodic Table. Two new elements have been added, but they’re not on the shirt.

What brings you to Israel?

I’m part of a group of eight. We’re all learning Krav Maga and decided to come to Israel because our chief instructor is here. His name is Guy Dar. We also want to see the country that Krav Maga came from.

What is Krav Maga?

Krav Maga is all about self-defense ... It’s very practical and easy to learn. There are usually about 20 people in a class, men and women together, and two instructors; we work out for 30 minutes and practice Krav Maga for 30 minutes. We don’t really hit each other, but sometimes we wear gloves.

Have you been doing this for a long time? 

For six years. There are different levels: from white to yellow to orange to green to blue to brown, and I’m studying now for the black belt. We actually came to be tested in Israel for the black belt because we want our chief instructor to test us. We’ve also heard it’s more serious here.

You say “chief instructor” with reverence.

I’ve only met him once; he’s a big guy and can be very intimidating.

Is it hard to get a black belt? 

There are 10 points to the test. If you miss three, you don’t pass. If you make a mistake or feel you didn’t do something well, you can ask to do it again. You have to execute the move very precisely but without hitting or hurting the opponent. You must stay very much in control. I think they basically want to pass you but only if you really know what you’re doing. Usually, people pass, but that’s because they come prepared.

Are you ready? 

Absolutely.

Have you ever had to use what you’ve learned? 

I’ve never had to put Krav Maga to use in America, but I think that’s exactly part of why you learn it: You want to be able to identify situations you don’t want to be in. Our chief instructor in America was a sergeant in the IDF, and did workshops with us on identifying threats.

What did he teach you?

How to be able to look people in the eye and figure out who is okay and who isn’t; what to do if you see someone suspicious. You can do this anywhere; it’s very effective if you’re downtown or someplace where there’s a big crowd.

How do you do it? 

One of the most important principles is to look for something that’s out of context: like somebody wearing a puffy coat when it’s hot outside, or someone who’s talking to himself or not moving. Not that I’m going to suddenly go and beat up someone like that, but I’ll know what to do. Here in the airport I’m not worried. I can already see there are a lot more security people here than in America. 

Has your life changed since you started learning Krav Maga? 

I feel more self-confident, I feel like a better person, and I’m also in better shape than I was before. I feel I can defend myself if needed and it’s also nice to think that I could defend my friends and family if they were in trouble. I also feel that my mind is sharper. Not surprisingly, as a kid, I was terrified of bullies. I was never harassed by them, but still the fear was very real. I don’t have that fear anymore.